Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage
David Crosby On 'Remember My Name': "It's An Opportunity To Tell The Truth"
David Crosby is one of the most well-known figures in what we colloquially call "classic rock." Watching the A.J. Eaton-directed, Cameron Crowe-produced documentary David Crosby: Remember My Name, one is reminded of just how there he was for rock's most transformative years: rubbing elbows with The Beatles as he came up in his own pioneering '60s band, The Byrds; performing at Woodstock and leading early '70s counterculture with protest anthem "Ohio" with Crosby, Stills, Nash And Young, among many other things.
As often is the case, with such monumental success came major obstacles for the 77-year-old Crosby: drug addiction, health setbacks, arrests and jailtime, professional bridges burned beyond repair. As Remember My Name points out a cringeworthy number of times, none of his former bandmates—Graham Nash, Stephen Stills, Neil Young, Roger McGuinn—will speak to him anymore.
Through it all, Crosby's upper-register vocals remain uncannily unchanged. He still prolifically writes and records music, releasing four studio albums in the last five years: Croz (2014), Lighthouse (2016), Sky Trails (2017) and Here If You Listen (2018). He tours constantly—to the point where his wife of 32 years, Jan Dance, worries out loud that the next time he hits the road will be the last time she sees him alive. But Crosby is compelled by a force greater than himself to keep going. "My job in this life is to make music. It's the one contribution I can make," he tells the Recording Academy in an exclusive sit-down interview.
Below, Crosby opens up further about the documentary, which he says makes him feel "naked in public," working with his good friend Crowe once again and why this movie does not serve as an olive branch to his former bandmates.
The documentary is quite moving, and it’s not always flattering. How is it for you, watching yourself speak and relive these less-than-complimentary moments of your life and career?
I've seen it a number of times. It’s odd, being the subject of it. You have two points of view. One is as a stranger just looking in at this piece of work because I grew up in films. My dad was a cinematographer, same as him. So, there's a part of me that's watching it as a [consumer]. As a person, it's hard being naked in public. Try it.
We went into it wanting to make a documentary about a person. Let's skip who it is. If you want to make a documentary about a person, let's say it's you, I want to know what matters to you. I want to know who you love. I want to know what you're afraid of. I want to know what your dream is. That's the stuff I want to know. Now, that's not common currency. You don't see that in most documentaries. They are two shallow to do that. We went into this once fully agreeing that that was the only level we would really approach it at. It has to be a real picture, otherwise we're really not interested in painting it.
And it seems like Cameron Crowe was the right person to tell this story, because of your long-term friendship.
We had history.
But so many of the long-term relationships in your life have become tense and splintered. How is it that you and Cameron have maintained such a successful one?
You know what, I'm not sure. I think it’s the difference in the person. I think if you're in a band with somebody, you're confronted with them every day and that can wear thin over a period of time. Cameron and I have not been confronted with each other every day, but we do have a lot of respect for each other. It’s hard not to. I see his work. I know who he is from his work, and you got to love that guy. And he sees who I am from my work. It’s pretty good.
In the film, you're so self-aware. You seem to have gained a real ability to look back with a clear eye and accurate hindsight. What did it take for you to get to that place, where you could unflinchingly reevaluate some not-so-pretty events in your life?
It’s an ongoing process. It’s something that I mostly learned in 12-step programs. You have to be able to look at your life. Take an event, let's say a place where you made a mistake. You have to be able to look at it honestly. Look at it. Learn from it. How did I get here? What choice did I make that lead me here? And then set it down and walk on. Catharsis, it works. It's a really good thing. It's a good process. That's how I got to here. I think you can't really learn from yourself unless you're willing to look at it. And in the process of looking at it, if you can communicate to it, it's not easy but if you can do it, it’s good.
Do you hope or expect that any of your former bandmates will see this film?
I do hope they see it because it's honest and they'll know that. They know me really well. It's not an apology to them and it's not a flag saying, “Oh, please [forgive me].” It's not. It’s an opportunity to tell the truth, which is rare in this life, and it's a really decent piece of work. And on that level, I'm really proud of it and really happy with it.
The film explores your various health setbacks and simultaneously shows you going back on the road, which your wife, Jan, says worries her. She even says at one point that every time you go out on tour, she’s not sure if she’ll ever see you again. How does that sit for you?
What I think is different from what I feel. I think I have to go. What I feel is pain because I love my wife and I love my son and I love my home and I don't want to leave. If you saw it, you'd understand. If you spent a day with us, you'd think I would never leave. I guess it's good. My job in this life is to make music. It's the one contribution I can make. You heard me say that in the film and it's the truth. It's the one place I can lift. I do have to do it...it is necessary that I do it, but it is also my chief desire. It's a place I can contribute.
In the film you also talk about how CSNY and CSN are totally different bands. I'd love it if you would elaborate on why that is.
Adding Neil [Young] to a band like that is like adding nitroglycerin to the mix. He's an explosion waiting to happen and that's why I like working with him. He's always pushing the envelope. He's always pushing it to go further and I love that.