Early on in David Crosby: Remember My Name, the subject of director A.J. Eaton’s music documentary talks about growing up a lonely kid in Los Angeles in the 1940s and 1950s.
“I wanted attention,” the singer and guitarist tells his interviewer, Almost Famous filmmaker and former teenage rock journalist Cameron Crowe. “Constantly trying to get attention. I’m always seeking approval. You know, scratch me behind the ear, tell me I’m cute.”
Improbably, Crosby, with his signature knit cap and white walrus mustache, is getting all that he could desire in 2019. The two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee — for his roles with The Byrds and Crosby, Stills & Nash — will turn 78 next week.
Talking from his home in Santa Ynez, Calif., Crosby — who on Aug. 18 will headline the Philadelphia Folk Festival — freely admits how unlikely it is that he’s even alive.
“It’s a miracle,” he acknowledges, sounding frankly amazed that he survived decades of abusing heroin and cocaine.
Indeed, it’s astonishing that Crosby remains upright. In Remember My Name, he notes that in addition to the liver transplant he received in 1994, he has eight stents in his heart as a result of “two or three” heart attacks. He also suffers from diabetes.
But it’s not just that the Mighty Croz — the brand name of his own strain of legal marijuana, yet to go on sale — is still breathing. It’s that he’s thriving, and in the midst of a creative revival.
After 1993′s Thousand Roads, Crosby didn’t record a solo album again until Croz in 2014. But since then there have been three more better-than-they-have-any-right-to-be albums in rapid succession, with Lighthouse (2016), Sky Trails (2017), and last year, Here If You Listen.
For an old hippie, Crosby is digitally savvy. He maintains a high profile on social media, often criticizing President Trump and fielding random questions. He and Nashville songwriter Jason Isbell connected on Twitter, and appeared at the Newport Folk Festival last year. He’s opening for Isbell at Red Rocks in Colorado on Sept. 19.
Crosby attributes his artistic awakening this decade in part to collaborators like his son James Raymond, who was put up for adoption in 1962 but reunited with his father 30 years later. (Crosby is the biological father of six children, including two for which he was the sperm donor for singer Melissa Etheridge and then-partner Julie Cypher.)
First-time director Eaton met Crosby when he was recording Croz in 2011. “I was just astonished and surprised at how great the music was, knowing what he’s been through,” Eaton told MPAA.org.
Eaton doggedly pursued Crosby, with the help of Crowe, who counts the singer’s 1971 album If I Could Only Remember My Name — once derided as stoner detritus, now regarded as a proto-Freak Folk classic — among his favorite records.
Remember My Name distinguishes itself from most music docs because Crosby comes off as an unflinching truth-teller who’s harder on himself than others.
His dismissal from the Byrds is cleverly recreated in the movie using animation. The reasons for his firing are elaborated on by Roger McGuinn — the only one of Crosby’s former costars who agreed to sit for an interview for the movie — who says, “David had become insufferable … you didn’t want to be around him.”
Crosby alienated nearly every one of his former illustrious collaborators, acknowledging in the movie that “one of them hating my guts could be an accident,” but a clean sweep proves that he’s to blame.
This past week, McGuinn denied despising Crosby, while also making clear he won’t accede to Crosby’s wish to reunite the Byrds. Neil Young hasn’t spoken to Crosby since his former CSNY mate trashed Young’s then-girlfriend, now-wife, Daryl Hannah, in an interview. Graham Nash wrote a song called “The Encore” about falling out with his partner, to whom he hasn’t spoken in years.
Crosby says he’s “very pleased” with the movie. “It stands out that it’s so blatantly honest. And that’s a really good thing.”
He’s frank about his heroin use, and how it made him feel “exalted,” a sensation that couldn’t be replicated after the first time. And also for the damage his habit did to others. “What you do to yourself is not a moral thing. It’s what you do to others. That’s what counts.”
Crowe “didn’t give me any room to hide at all. He asked me the hardest questions I’ve ever been asked. And I answered them honestly.”
Crosby loves to stir the pot. After Kanye West called himself “The World’s Greatest Rock Star” at the Glastonbury music festival in 2015, the cantankerous baby boomer told Andy Cohen that the rapper “can neither sing, nor write, nor play. The thing that bugs me about him is the ‘I’m the greatest living rock star.’ Somebody needs to drive him over to Stevie Wonder’s house right now so he understands what a real one is. Secondly, they should send him all of Ray Charles’ catalog so he can learn how to sing.”
Later, he told Rolling Stone that “I did get in trouble. That was fun.”
On Here If You Listen, Crosby includes a new version of Mitchell’s “Woodstock,” which Crosby, Stills & Nash recorded on Déjà Vu in 1970. The band — and Young — played at Woodstock and also performed at what is the anti-Woodstock, the Rolling Stones and Grateful Dead concert at the Altamont Speedway later in 1969.
The two events can’t be fairly compared, Crosby says. Woodstock’s idyllic reputation “was absolutely real. We tasted it there for a minute.”
Altamont, on the other hand, turned into a tragedy because of the wrongheadedness of hiring the Hells Angels to keep the peace. “You can’t invite a tiger for lunch and then be mad at the tiger for eating you.”
CSNY played Live Aid in Philadelphia in 1985. He doesn’t remember much. “I was smashed. I was in pretty bad shape. It wasn’t fun at all.” He was arrested on gun and drug charges in Los Angeles later that year.
Crosby says he’s “pissed at myself” for the time he wasted on hard drugs. “I was useless.”
Other than weed — never before or during a performance — Crosby keeps clean these days. “Listen, I only have a few brain cells that are still holding hands,” he says, laughing. “So I need all of those herded into one area when I’m on stage.”
He suspects that his relationships with Nash and Young are unsalvageable. “They don’t show any signs of wanting to be my friend anytime soon,” he says. “I’m OK with them.”
But he’s no longer the same guy who alienated so many people who were close to him, he says. “That guy was stoned on cocaine and smack. … I’m still opinionated. Probably sometimes rude. But I don’t have any evil intent.”
For all his ailments, Crosby appears to be in good health in Remember My Name. Spending prolonged periods of time on the road can be a struggle, but he plans on continuing to tour.
“I’m very grateful that I’m alive,” he says. “And I’m planning to work my butt off until I’m not alive. I need to do it monetarily. But I also need to do it for myself, for my heart.
“Look, you have a certain amount of time, whether it’s two weeks or 10 years. What matters is what you can do with it. So I’m making music as fast as I can that’s the best that I possibly can. That’s got to be the right thing. I said it in the movie. It’s the only place where I can lift things up. Where I can make anything better.”