Review: David Crosby: Remember My Name

Portrait of a man running out of road.


David Crosby has been many interesting things over the course of his 77 years: a founding member of the Byrds—the band that created folk rock—and of the subsequent super-duper group variously known as Crosby, Stills & Nash (CSN) or Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (CSNY). He has also been a junkie, a fugitive, a convict and a world-class pain in the ass. The new documentary David Crosby: Remember My Name lays out this story in ways that are often moving and, as you'd expect, never dull. (Some rarely seen club and concert footage helps a lot.)

The Crosby of today—his freak-flag hair now snowy but still flying—is a man battered but unbowed. He's had "two or three" heart attacks, he says, and there are eight stents inserted in that weary organ—the maximum number possible. Hepatitis C destroyed his liver, which required a transplant, which has been chugging along for 25 years now. He is also diabetic.

"But I'm happy," he tells interviewer Cameron Crowe (who first interviewed Crosby for Rolling Stone in 1974). "Yeah, I've got a huge regret about the time I wasted bein' smashed. I'm afraid of dyin', and I'm close. I'd like to have more time—a lot more."

He's making up for as much lost time as he can. He feels he still has things to say musically, and in the last five years, he's recorded four solo albums with younger musicians. But he also needs to stay out on the road touring, because unlike Steven Stills (author of "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes"), Graham Nash ("Teach Your Children") and Neil Young ("Ohio"), Crosby didn't write any of the big hits of the groups with which he's most closely associated. So he has to keep finding ways to pay the mortgage on the tranquil ranch he shares with his wife, Jan, and their horses, who also have to eat.

So it's tough. And kind of lonely. "All the main guys that I made music with won't even talk to me," Crosby says. "All of 'em. McGuinn, Nash, Neil and Steven all really dislike me. Strongly."

He doesn't blame them. Byrds guitarist Roger McGuinn—the man whose jangly 12-string has become a garage rock readymade—grew tired of Crosby's lefty political blathering, especially after he launched into a conspiracy rant about the Kennedy assassination onstage at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival. "David had become insufferable," McGuinn says in the film. "He was hard to hang out with. You didn't want to be around him."

After being fired from the Byrds, Crosby fell in with Steven Stills, whose own band, Buffalo Springfield, was just then falling apart. They were soon joined by English singer and songwriter Graham Nash, who'd grown bored scoring beautifully crafted pop hits with the Hollies. The first CSN album—distinguished by Graham and David's angel-high harmonies—was a smash. Then it was decided to expand the group's lineup, and Crosby recalls a one-on-one audition with, Young, another Springfield refugee, sitting on the trunk of a car late one night strumming through new songs like "Helpless" and "Country Girl." Déjà Vu, the first CSNY album, was an epochal money-gusher, and it triggered auxiliary solo careers for each of the group's members. (Crosby's first solo album was the 1971 If I Could Only Remember My Name.)

Crosby found a way to screw these good times up, of course. ("I was a difficult cat—big ego, no brains….") Now, along with tossing off colorful bits of period reminiscence throughout the film (Jim Morrison: "what a dork"), he cops to every bit of bad luck he created for himself and for others: the girlfriends he led down a dark path of drugs and sorrow, his own ruinous heroin addiction, and his unauthorized flight from a drug-rehab facility, which led to a five-year prison sentence (of which he served only five months—long enough to kick his heroin habit).

Through all of this, CSN and CSNY wobbled on, amid much bickering and recrimination. Then, in a 2014 press interview, Crosby described Neil Young's new girlfriend (and now-wife), the actress Daryl Hannah, as a "poisonous predator." Crosby says he thought the remark was off the record, but he knew it was way out of line in any case. Young hit the roof, and let it be known that CSNY was over. A number of other unpleasant things surely went down as well. "He tore the heart out of CSN and CSNY in the space of a few months," says a bitter Graham Nash, adding that he wrote a song called "Encore" with Crosby in mind: "Who are you when the lights have gone out and the audience has left? Are you a decent person? Or are you a fucking asshole?" Nash says that he hasn't spoken with Crosby—a man he talked to every day for four decades—in several years.

What may turn out to be the last CSN performance ever took place at the National Christmas Tree lighting ceremony in Washington, DC, in 2015. We see it in the film: the three of them standing out in the cold, struggling to harmonize a simple rendition of "Silent Night," and failing. "We were fuckin' terrible," Crosby admits.

So is that it? The end? Crosby hopes not. "I think you should be able to say goodbye, and tell them what they meant to you," he says. He knows time's getting tight, though.

NEXT: Republicans Are the Party of Trillion-Dollar Deficits

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  1. “I think you should be able to say goodbye, and tell them what they meant to you,”

    I didn’t mean to call Daryl Hannah a poisonous predator…I meant to call her a cunt!!!

    1. To be fair, he probably isn’t wrong. She’s nothing more than a bit actress now who’s value is largely nostalgic, she’s destroyed her looks with plastic surgery to the point that she looks like a puffer fish, and she likely needed a sugar daddy to keep her in the lifestyle to which she became accustomed.

      1. And Neil Young is such a two bit rock star that is who he had to settle for. I know he is old and ugly but that never matters if you are a rock star. Look at Keith Richards’ wife sometime.

        1. I remember seeing a Mad Magazine parody of a ‘public service’ ad once that said “Sometimes Heroin doesn’t kill you. Sometimes it turns you into Keith Richards”

          I always thought that was a hell of a lot more daunting than most of the REAL public service anti-drug ads I’ve seen.

  2. I loved CSN(Y) as much as anyone. I remember seeing CSN in the early 80s. Crosby tried to throw a guitar pick in my general direction and failed. Probably a metaphor for his life.

    Not really sure this is a review. Seems like more a regurgitation of what the film says. But I suppose that Kurt Loder mailing it in on a review is just an homage to Crosby’s career. So much potential wasted on the way.

  3. Good that his own band mates got angry with him about political rants at shows. More performers and artists need to learn that lesson: most of your audience isn’t there for your political punditry.

    I have to admit that, after buying an expensive ticket for a performance, I’d feel cheated even if the ranter was a fellow ancap and I agreed completely. It’s not what I damn well paid for.

    1. Imagine being so insufferably political that even your own radical left-wing bandmates have to tell you to dial it down.

      1. That is really a bold statement. The guy was such an insufferable woke asshole, even the music scene in the late 60s thought he was tiresome. Wow.

  4. Crosby is just an asshole. He has always been one. And he is really not that great of a musician. He has spent his entire career riding the gravy train as a harmony singer for more talented performers: first McQuin and then Nash and Stills.

    I saw CSN in 1990 and they were fantastic. Still one of the best shows I have ever seen. I saw them again just two years later and they were doing well to hold a tune. It was just a boring poorly done concert. They were on the downhill slide even then. I am glad I saw them in 1990.

    1. Yeah, a rundown of his career shows a guy whose main talent seems to have been networking and collaborating with really talented musicians and singers. He doesn’t really appear to have been the creative driver of any act he’s been associated with, although I’ll give him credit for having a pleasant singing voice.

      I think his relationship with the rest of CSNY really started to sour after the 80s, so it’s not surprising that their performances together reeked after that 1990 concert. It’s hard to put together a good concert when the chemistry’s gone, and you’re just trying to milk the nostalgia cow for Boomer bux instead of creating a good musical experience.

  5. So, a guy who was balding and overweight before he was 30 calls Jim Morrison, one of the most charismatic and good looking front men in the history of rock and roll, a dork.

    Irony is really ironic sometimes.

  6. taught the Grateful Dead how to harmonize so I like him for that.

    1. Jerry probably showed him a thing or two about the guitar.

  7. I have to say, this guy is high on my list of Famous People I would be sorely tempted to deck if I ever met them.

  8. Man, David Crosby makes David Lee Roth sound like Dale Carnegie.

  9. A jerk of a guy.

    One time I went to the concert and the first set fell flat. They took a break and came out. Crosby was up front doing Almost Cut My Hair. The audience woke up and was a great show from there.

  10. It was 1972. Crosby and Nash played at The Boston Music Hall. Couple of guys were wandering around backstage – first Stills came out and sat down – then Young came out to complete the quartet. An amazing night – I was 20 and in love with the music and the times. It was the first time they sang ‘Find the Cost of Freedom’ in public. The harmonies were perfect and it was magic.
    We all (most of us) wish we could go back and fix all the shit we screwed up. I’m with David Crosby – whatever time is left I’m going to try hard not to create any more regrets … mixed results so far.

  11. I saw a video once, many years ago, filmed in the 70’s, depicting the music of the 60’s early 70’s in relation to folk rock, light rock, etc., that included an interview with CSN among others. David Crosby was complaining about the “quality” of music indicating that harmony and intelligibility of the words of “today’s” music, meaning the music after CSN. Where I agree that “disco” was a anathema to harmonious music, except for maybe the BeeGee’s, music has degraded to a point that it takes zero talent to sing a crappy song (IF you can understand the lyrics.) I also find if incredulous that David Crosby is disliked by his cohorts for being too liberal. I mean CSN had always been anti war, which is the reason why I enjoyed their music when I was in Vietnam. But I still consider myself a Patriot despite CSN’s anti war proclivities.

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