David Crosby, a two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member for his tenure with the Byrds and Crosby, Stills & Nash, has talked freely about his addictions and missteps over the years. He wrote about his lurid adventures in his 489-page 1988 autobiography and then revisited the subject in a 2006 memoir that also detailed the health problems — liver failure, arterial disease and diabetes — that put him at death’s door.
Crosby, 77, is still alive. But as we learn at the beginning of the new documentary “David Crosby: Remember My Name,” he doesn’t think he’s long for this world. With three heart attacks and eight stents in his heart — the maximum number — Crosby figures another heart attack will claim him in the next year or two.
Of course, he said this in an interview conducted a couple of years ago. Crosby continues to be with us, which is almost as remarkable as the fact that his voice remains pure and soaring. It’s his calling card. It’s his life. And even with the health risks that come with travel, his love of singing trumps his fear of dying. “No music?” he asks, when questioned if he’d give it up for a stable, fulfilling personal life. No way.
A.J. Eaton’s documentary captures Crosby’s commitment to making his final years count (“time is the final currency,” Crosby says) as well as the singer’s candid admission that he has failed a great many people over the years. If you’ve read Crosby’s two memoirs — or, really, any in-depth interview with him since he got sober during a 1980s prison stint — the substance of his regrets and self-inventory isn’t particularly illuminating. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t moments in “Remember My Name” when this old narcissist makes you feel a twinge of empathy over his failings.
Crosby loves to point out — and he does so again in this film — that he’s the guy in Crosby, Stills & Nash (and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young) who never had a hit song. It’s a little bit of self-deprecation, but mostly a boast. Graham Nash, Stephen Stills and Neil Young may have written all the songs you remember from the supergroup’s 1970s heyday (“Ohio,” “Our House,” “Carry On”). Counterculture figure Crosby was the man behind the weird stuff. (Translation: He didn’t compromise, man.)
The documentary, with interviews conducted by Eaton and producer Cameron Crowe, who goes back with Crosby to his adolescent days as a Rolling Stone journalist, covers the career high points. But the filmmakers are more interested in how Crosby survived (he continues to record, releasing four solid albums this decade), and they’re aided in this respect by the subject, a frank and gifted storyteller unafraid to delve into the most sordid moments of his life. Crosby’s spirit remains vital, and he’s determined to fly that freak flag into that good night.
“Remember My Name” relies almost solely on its subject. There are interviews and scenes with his wife, Jan, herself a recovering addict, and archival accounts from Crosby’s collaborators, none of whom, tellingly, participated in this project. Stills, Nash and Young won’t speak to him, period, Crosby says. The latest rift with Young came after Crosby called Daryl Hannah, now Young’s wife, a “purely poisonous predator” five years ago. Nash couldn’t even stand to look at Crosby during their last tour. Byrds frontman Roger McGuinn calls him “insufferable.”
You don’t really see that side of Crosby in “Remember My Name.” He gets a little grouchy when the filmmakers take him to the Laurel Canyon Country Store, but that’s about it. (When Crosby spies a picture of Jim Morrison at the famed “store where the creatures meet,” he calls the Doors singer a “dork.” He also makes the dubious claim that he was the first musician to move to Laurel Canyon, proving drugs do, indeed, cloud one’s memory.)
No, the Crosby in “Remember My Name” is the wise hippie bard, reflective and repentant. Perhaps it’s all a ruse, designed to spur one last musical reunion.
“Maybe I conned you into it,” Crosby says to the camera at the end of the movie. “Maybe this is all a clever ploy.”
Footage of Crosby, Stills & Nash singing a turgid version of “Silent Night” at the National Christmas Tree Lighting in 2014, complete with the Obamas’ horrified reaction, should signal that particular (wooden) ship has sailed. This elegiac doc would make for a much better career coda.
Running time: One hour, 33 minutes
Playing: Starts July 19 ArcLight Cinemas, Hollywood; The Landmark, Los Angeles