From director A.J. Eaton and producer/interviewer Cameron Crowe, David Crosby: Remember My Name is not just a great music documentary about an iconic rock musician, but it’s also an intimate, honest and heartfelt portrait of a man who’s had soaring career highs and incredible personal lows, and isn’t afraid to acknowledge the role he played in it all. Through candid conversations with the singer/songwriter, the film looks at Crosby’s time in The Byrds, as well as Crosby, Stills & Nash, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and contrasts that with his experience touring today, surrounded by the young musicians who have helped inspire four albums, with his fifth currently in production.
At the film’s Los Angeles press day, Collider got the opportunity to sit down with two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee David Crosby to chat 1-on-1 about how this film evolved into what it is now, not wanting to make the typical self-serving music documentary, being fully committed to honestly answering every question that he was asked, no matter how difficult, what he thinks of Cameron Crowe as a filmmaker, why they’ve remained friends for so many years, the freedom of speaking your own truth, how his wife got involved, and what it’s like to tour and deal with the business side of things now.
Collider: I thought this was such an incredible film. It’s a great documentary, an incredible music documentary, and just a great movie, in general. It’s one of the best things that I’ve seen this year. How do you feel about all of this? It seems like this isn’t something that anybody set out to make, necessarily, and yet you have this incredible thing to show for it.
DAVID CROSBY: You know, these things have a life of their own. I’m 77 years old. I’m supposed to be quietly taking my wife’s hand and walking off into the sunset, and going, “Goodbye, it’s been great,” but it didn’t work out that way. I’ve made four albums in four years, and I’m half-way through a fifth one. That’s unusual. It’s an aberration. It’s not how it normally goes. So, I was willing to admit to (director) A.J. [Eaton] that, “Okay, that’s true, and maybe it is an interesting thing to do a documentary about, but I’m not really ready to take it seriously.” And then, Cameron [Crowe] got involved. I’ve known Cameron since he was 15. He’s one of the brightest people that I ever met. Don’t tell him I said. He loves music as much as I do, and he’s also not a bullshitter. And neither is A.J.. When we talked about doing this, they wanted to approach it at the only level that it was appealing to me. Most documentaries are shine jobs. They’re about as deep as a bird bath, and they tell you almost nothing about the person. If the documentary is about you, I want to know what you care about. I want to know what you’re afraid of. I want to know who you love. I want to know what moves you. That’s the important stuff to me. Those [other] documentaries don’t have any real value to me. They’re celebratory and they’re congratulatory and they make you feel great, but you don’t learn anything about that person, really. Occasionally, you see one where you can catch a glimpse of who the person really was. That one about Keith Richards was pretty good. I could see some of who Keith actually is there, but that’s very rare. I could name you a dozen that didn’t do that, not even close.
That honesty is what I responded to. I haven’t been so emotionally moved, seeing a documentary like this before.
CROSBY: I haven’t either, and that’s the truth. That was the only level we really were interested in trying it at, and you don’t really know if you can. As we started and as we found the chemistry of how we worked together, it went much deeper even than we hoped it would and it went deeper than we even thought it could, and that’s a blessing. That’s when you feel like you’ve just struck pay dirt because that’s absolutely where we wanted to go. That’s the stuff that’ll make you feel something, and a film’s job is to make you feel something. That’s what these guys care about. Their whole thing in life is to make you feel something, with a series of images juxtaposed exactly in certain ways and with certain timings. They set you up, and then they whack you. They’re really good at it, and I’m thrilled with how it turned out because it’s not a shine job. I’m proud of it because of that.
Were there times that you just wanted to kick them out and not answer the questions they were asking?
Did you go into it, then, with the mind-set of, “I’m going to answer everything they ask, no matter how hard or uncomfortable the question is”?
CROSBY: Yeah. If you go into it, you’ve gotta go into it whole hog. I was fully committed to it. I’m still fully committed to it. I think the proof’s in the pudding. It made you feel something, therefore it’s good art. That’s my whole criteria for art. If I look at a painting, if it doesn’t make me feel anything, I don’t care how much it costs. I don’t care what somebody thought was cool about it, if it doesn’t make me feel anything. It’s the same for documentaries, movies, books, plays, or anything. It’s about, “Does it make me feel anything?” I don’t think you can do that with shallow.
I went into this expecting to get a deeper appreciation for the music, but I wasn’t expecting to laugh and cry.
CROSBY: No, I wasn’t expecting it either. But it is what I was hoping for. I’m glad it did that to you. That makes me feel good. That means it was good art. You don’t expect it to be that emotional. You can do it any way that you think is right, but that’s what seemed right to us, and that’s why I let it go forward. I had complete unity of purpose, completely, and all of us wanted that, on the same level.
You’ve known Cameron Crowe for a very long time, and you essentially helped inspire Almost Famous. Have you watched his film career, over the years? What do you think of the work that he’s done and the movies that he’s put out?
CROSBY: He’s a storyteller, and a brilliant one. He was, right from the get-go. He’s developed into a master craftsman. He can make a film as well as anybody in the world. He’s at that level. People already obviously love his work. He’s made these hugely successful movies because they’ve really tapped into something in people.
There’s a clear love of humanity in his work.
CROSBY: And there’s a lot of humanity, a lot of compassion, and a lot of depth in his characters. He wants you to go in. I don’t think he’s even close to what he’s going to do. I think you have not yet seen what he’s capable of. He’s just getting started. He’s that good.
What did you think of him, when you first met him at 15 or 16, compared to who he is now?
CROSBY: He’s the same guy. What got all of us – the Allmans and Zep (Led Zeppelin), and everybody that he went with – was that he was brilliant. He was an absolutely brilliant kid. And he was pretty fearless and very honest, which is a very attractive combination. I just think people haven’t really seen what he’s capable of yet. I know he made Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous. I know what he’s done. He’s good. But I think he’s gonna be even better.