The elegiac David Crosby: Remember My Name is a rare melancholy rock doc
All of my life, my musical heroes have been old and getting older. Many of my favorite artists were at their creative peak before I was born, and they’ve always just existed. I know their music better than their stories because I didn’t live through the tabloid headlines. Their music has a non-linear quality to it. And I’ve already had to say goodbye to several them before I was ready, as with Warren Zevon, David Bowie, and Prince. At least with Zevon and Bowie, their parting gift to us was a final musical testament. A farewell.
David Crosby isn’t there quite yet. He’s released four albums in the last five years, but none with the elegiac tone of Bowie’s Blackstar or Zevon’s The Wind. But this new documentary, David Crosby: Remember My Name could take the place of a musical statement. Simultaneously an intimate portrait of Crosby and a celebration of his music, it captures both his shock at still being alive as well as his reflections on his career.
As seen earlier this year in Echo in the Canyon, Crosby isn’t shy talking about his wrongs. Here, interspersed with stories about John Coltrane and Jim Morrison, he talks about his regrets in terms of women he hurt emotionally or by drug addiction. He also reflects on the ways his anger and ego damaged his relationships with former lifelong friends. Although he mostly remains wry and almost grandfatherly for most of the documentary, there’s a wistfulness that peeks through in his voice. Always quick to make a self-deprecating remark or rag on Eric Clapton. Crosby can’t help but feel like someone who has spent his entire life running from his feelings finally opening up a little.
Crosby seems aware that his talents as a songwriter and musician are what draw people to him, and he makes a supremely charismatic figure to center a film on. And while there are hints about even worse things that Crosby has said or done over the years, even this somewhat sanitary portrait reveals a man so scared of himself he turned to hard drugs as an anesthetic for decades. For someone who had a long bout with Hepatitis C and also spent a few months in solitary confinement, he’s still not humbled. While filming at the Canyon Country Store–an institution often used by musicians in Laurel Canyon as a place to get groceries and cigarettes–for example, he points out all the pictures of people who he says never lived there, or at least moved there after he did first. This is not a man with smooth edges.
Directed by A.J. Eaton, Cameron Crowe’s guiding hand is all over this documentary. He appears, mostly off-screen, as Cosby’s interviewer, capitalizing on their long history together. At one point, Crowe plays a tape of his first Crosby interview from 1974, revealing another aspect to Crosby’s wry wit and inability to take his own advice. At the same time, Crosby is keenly aware that he is being interviewed and is on camera, in a way that is both playful, but also ascertains his own authorship over his image. He can’t help being himself.
David Crosby: Remember My Name opens in Philly theaters today.