The new documentary “David Crosby: Remember My Name” finds its subject in fine voice. A graying walrus of a man who favors knitted skullcaps and blue jeans held up with suspenders, he is a prodigious talker and still a terrific singer, having lost remarkably little of his vocal range after more than a half century of not always taking the best care of himself.
The anxiety latent in the title of the film, directed by A.J. Eaton, seems misplaced. Crosby’s name is affixed to two supergroups – one with Neil Young, one without – whose close harmonies and open-chord, acoustic-guitar-driven sound are fixtures of many a parental and grandparental playlist.
You’ll hear some of the classic CSN and CSNY hits, as well as some from the Byrds, Crosby’s first important band, wrapped around stories and gossip from the old days. Monterey Pop. Woodstock. Laurel Canyon. Among Crosby’s talents was a knack for being in the right place at the right time, surrounded by musicians and hangers-on who could be counted on to keep the jam sessions and parties going.
Though the camera follows him out on the road in 2017, during a solo concert tour, the emphasis is on the glory years of the late ’60s and ’70s, and on the train wreck that followed. The present-day interviews are conducted by Cameron Crowe (a producer of the film), who as a young music journalist was around for some of the highs and the lows. (At one point he plays a recording of a conversation with Crosby from 1974.)
Not that the highs and lows are always easy to distinguish. Even by the standards of the time, Crosby’s drug use was prodigious. A chronicle of tawdriness and glamour, “Remember My Name” follows the rock ’n’ roll-biopic template so closely that if it weren’t a documentary you might complain about the same-oldness of the story. Still, a few particulars stand out, like Crosby’s relationship with Joni Mitchell, one of the few artists he will acknowledge as a superior talent. (He still takes sidelong credit for her career, and grumbles a bit about how ungrateful she was.)
There is something both appalling and oddly endearing about his loathing of Jim Morrison, which still has the feeling of an active grudge more than 40 years after Morrison’s death. Ill will follows Crosby like a jet trail, but the sources of it often remain obscure. He expresses some remorse for hurting people – women in particular – in the past, but not much is specified. The loss of his lover Christine Hinton, who died in a car crash in 1969, still casts a shadow, and Crosby associates his grief with his later downward spiral into heroin and cocaine addiction.
He ended up in prison, after which he experienced a redemption of sorts, reuniting with his wife, Jan, and with his old band mates. Crosby, Stills and Nash – sometimes with Young – did the elder statesmen, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame thing for a number of years, but now none of the others are speaking to Crosby.
The film doesn’t really explain why, and the ex-friends only show up in borrowed clips. It’s hard to judge a story we haven’t heard, and also hard to take the measure of the man we’re hanging out with, despite his gruff, garrulous displays of honesty and self-reflection. Do we really know him? Do we really want to? Fans will enjoy the backstage access, the home movies, the snapshots and the reminiscences, but the movie keeps you at a distance, while implying that it may be just as well not to get too close.
‘David Crosby: Remember My Name’
Rated R for language, drug material and brief nudity.