At one point in “David Crosby: Remember My Name,” one of the titular artist’s old collaborators observes of him, “You have a knack for causing trouble, and not the good kind.” Crosby — a founding member of three defining rock groups: the Byrds; Crosby, Stills & Nash; and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young — has become a mainstay in the music world, a simultaneously beloved and besmirched figure. The film traces Crosby’s 50-plus years in music in a comprehensive, earnest portrait of the artist.
In full, “Remember My Name” avoids becoming a hagiography. Rather, it aims for an honest reflection by Crosby on his years in the music business — years that were often tumultuous, marked by interpersonal difficulties and struggles with drug addiction. As Crosby puts it in the first minutes of the film: “Yeah, I’ve got regrets. I’ve got huge regret about the time I wasted smashed.” It’s a scathing self-critique, and one that helps buoy the film with honesty, making for an engaging look at the musician’s life.
The film begins by dropping immediately into the musical world Crosby has since inhabited. There’s scant mention of his origins and family. Ten minutes into the documentary, we’ve already arrived at the formation of his first project, the Byrds, with little rhyme or reason as to how the group manifested. Decked in a flat-brimmed hat and the first iteration of his signature handlebar mustache, Crosby immediately embodies the natural swagger of a charismatic frontman, which soon appears inseparable from his onstage persona.
But this persona had ramifications, with success quickly turning to discord. Crosby, according to himself, was best characterized at the time as “big ego, no brains, goofy, stoned.” This combination made for a toxic relationship with the other band members, and Crosby was fired from the group in 1967.
This wouldn’t be the end, however, as Crosby would go on to form CSN in 1968, adding Neil Young to the lineup in 1969 for Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. The supergroup would go on to have major success, cementing Crosby’s place in the late-1970s musical canon.
Throughout the course of the documentary, Crosby encounters various hallmarks of the musical period: flashing a grin in the background of a Beatles interview, making snide remarks about Jim Morrison, reflecting on his time with Joni Mitchell in Laurel Canyon. The film is nostalgic for the time in general, but Crosby maintains a level of self-reflection about his own behaviors to keep it from becoming saccharine. He talks about the women he hurt, the drugs he took, the mistakes he made over the years.
“Remember My Name” doesn’t reinvent the documentary playbook in any way, sticking to a tried-and-true combination of interviews, archival video and narration from its subject. Director A.J. Eaton stays behind the camera for much of the film, with brief, leading questions periodically being posed by producer and interviewer Cameron Crowe. But it’s Crosby who leads the way, waxing nostalgic as he drives around Downtown Los Angeles and Laurel Canyon, taking in the sites that defined his career.
For all that Crosby experienced, with his ups and downs and the stasis of well-earned reflection, the film ends on a somber note. In a final moment of self-examination, the singer reveals the extent to which the group has become fractured, with none of the other band members on speaking terms with him.
Though he leaves the door open for reconciliation, there is a feeling that some bonds have cut too deep to be mended. It’s a moment that feels real — an artist honestly reflecting on his role in the business and holding tentative hope about the future. The final shots continue in this vein, showing Crosby recording new songs with a band of young musicians, looking ahead while maintaining awareness of the past.
Contact Camryn Bell at [email protected].