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Movie review: Intimate ‘Remember My Name’ chronicles David Crosby’s highs and many lows

The portrait of the controversial rock star — who may be second only to Keith Richards on classic rock’s list of “guys who should be dead by now” — exists halfway between career retrospective and sullen confessional.

David Crosby attends the Maltin Modern Master Award ceremony at the 32nd Santa Barbara International Film Festival on Feb. 2, 2017, in Santa Barbara, California.
David Crosby attends the Maltin Modern Master Award ceremony at the 32nd Santa Barbara International Film Festival on Feb. 2, 2017, in Santa Barbara, California.
Richard Shotwell, Invision
“DAVID CROSBY: REMEMBER MY NAME” — 3 stars — David Crosby, Jackson Browne, Jan Crosby, Cameron Crowe; R (language, drug material and brief nudity); Broadway; running time: 95 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — There’s a sad melancholy at work in “David Crosby: Remember My Name.”

A.J. Eaton’s portrait of the controversial rock star — who may be second only to Keith Richards on classic rock’s list of “guys who should be dead by now” — exists halfway between career retrospective and sullen confessional.

Crosby recently turned 78, and he looks his age, with tired eyes and stringy white hair flowing out from under a knit beanie for most of the film. “Remember My Name’s” context is the start of Crosby’s solo tour, but it takes a while before we find out why the folk-rock veteran is setting out with a backup band instead of any of his famous friends.

David Crosby appears in “David Crosby: Remember My Name” by A.J. Eaton, an official selection of the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.
David Crosby appears in “David Crosby: Remember My Name” by A.J. Eaton, an official selection of the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.
A.J. Eaton, provided by Sundance Institute

After Crosby shares a quick anecdote about getting high and listening to a John Coltrane solo in a club bathroom, “Remember My Name,” which premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, settles into the standard documentary routine. We follow him around Los Angeles in a black Cadillac Escalade, down the Sunset Strip and up into Laurel Canyon as he talks about the milestones of his career.

We get a little bit about his childhood, growing up with a loving mother and distant filmmaker father, and an older brother who gave him his first guitar. Trouble in school followed, thanks to the rebellious attitude that would later make him a counterculture icon, and eventually he lands in the middle of the Bob Dylan-inspired, folk-rock band The Byrds.

A lot of what follows will be familiar to fans of the band or the era. We see Crosby hanging out with the Beatles, and he tells us about the drugs and the sexual escapades, and how his extreme political views eventually got him kicked out of the band. In one rare clip, we see him on stage at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 spouting conspiracy theories about the Kennedy assassination.

The profile isn’t always pretty, and Crosby openly acknowledges how difficult he has been with those closest to him. He seems to especially regret his dysfunctional relationships with women. There are plenty of quick anecdotes, such as an unflattering episode where Crosby explains how he conned his way into a deal on a sailing boat with 25 grand he borrowed from The Monkees’ Peter Tork.

After a while “Remember My Name” begins to feel pretty forgettable, as we make our way through the oft-documented historical markers like Crosby joining Stephen Stills and Graham Nash (and eventually Neil Young) in CSNY, and revisit the tragic Kent State shootings that inspired the hit song “Ohio” in the early 1970s.

But where the typical trajectory of this kind of “behind the music” exercise usually lands in a happy place where, years later, the subject has picked up the pieces and found harmony, a band reunion and a new album, “Remember My Name” has a darker landing. We are left with the feeling that even though Crosby is very aware of his demons, he hasn’t done much— or at least enough — to address them.

Director A.J. Eaton, producer Cameron Crowe and David Crosby at the LA Times Studio at Sundance Film Festival presented by Chase Sapphire, Jan. 25, 2019, in Park City.
Director A.J. Eaton, producer Cameron Crowe and David Crosby at the LA Times Studio at Sundance Film Festival, Jan. 25, 2019, in Park City.
Jack Dempsey, Invision

“Remember My Name” is produced by longtime film director and rock journalist Cameron Crowe, and his expertise gives the documentary a more intimate and informed vibe. At one point, Crowe even plays Crosby an incriminating audio clip from their first interview in 1974 which, to Crosby’s credit, he is willing to address openly.

The intimacy of the effort makes the film worth seeing. “David Crosby: Remember My Name” isn’t groundbreaking in the world of aging rock star documentaries, and you probably won’t walk out of it knowing any more about Crosby than you did on the way in. But as a portrait of a flawed and regretful human being, even one who has seen great successes along the way, Eaton’s film does have a valuable sobering quality that feels more universal.

Rating explained: “David Crosby: Remember My Name” is rated R for sporadic adult profanity and some fleeting glimpses of nudity in photographs and home video clips.