Meet David Crosby in this portrait of a man with everything but an easy retirement on his mind.
A.J. Eaton’s “David Crosby: Remember My Name” was one of the most acclaimed hits at Sun dance this year and I recall what a critic friend told me about the reaction to the film he saw there. “Millennials seemed to love it,” he said with a note of amazement in his voice.
His surprise was understandable. Viewers too young to remember the ‘60s have spent their lives so inundated with the mythology of that decade that it’s easy to imagine them reacting to any new evocation of it with a reflexive yawn and roll of the eyes. That “David Crosby: Remember My Name” proves to be such a notable exception to that rule owes, I think, to a felicitous paradox while the documentary does conjure up the whole sex drugs rock ’n’ roll ethos of that fabled time with great flair and pungency, it also movingly probes the hazards and costs of the overindulgence and self deceptions the era’s lures often entailed. In essence, it serves up the myth and a necessary corrective to it simultaneously.
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That this blend comes across so powerfully on screen has a lot to do with David Crosby’s complicated charisma. I’ve been interested in and in many cases, a fan of Crosby’s work since the Byrds’ “Mr. Tambourine Man” first hit my teenage eardrums way back when. But if Crosby’s musical gifts were always clear enough, his personality was more muddled, a mix of charm and boorishness, cockiness and annoying self-infatuation.
Onstage at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, he embarrassed his fellow Byrds by haranguing the audience with a lengthy spiel about the assassination of President Kennedy. Not long after, Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman fired him from the band because Crosby had become, as McGuinn put it, “insufferable.” (In another recent doc, “Echoes in the Canyon,” Crosby explains his firing by saying simply, with a rueful smile, “I was an asshole.”)
Eaton’s film, which might’ve been titled “The Asshole in Winter,” gives us a Crosby who in many ways is unreformed and unreconstructed, but also, in his late 70s, is reflective enough to be his own harshest critic. And whatever you think of the guy’s character, he is one helluva raconteur. The film is built on a series of interviews, some conducted by Eaton, others by producer Cameron Crowe, who was all of 16 when he first interviewed Crosby for Rolling Stone.
These interviews, which were intended to be “brutally honest,” may be the best I’ve ever seen in a rock doc. Partly that’s due to how intelligent and incisive the questions are. But it’s also due to Crosby’s eloquence and willingness to bare his soul to the closest examination.