PARK CITY — “What happened to your friends?”
That might be the most gut-wrenching question David Crosby faces in the Sundance documentary “David Crosby: Remember My Name.” From his visibly pained reaction, it’s even harder than understanding how he’s managed to make it into his 70s after surviving two heart attacks, suffering a lengthy battle with cocaine and heroin addictions and living with eight stents in his heart.
But Crosby knew those tough questions were inevitable — in fact, he encouraged them.
That openness is how he wanted to approach the documentary, directed by newcomer A.J. Eaton and produced by Cameron Crowe (“Almost Famous”) among others.
“I had to look at stuff that I’ve done and it was real hard,” Crosby told the press just minutes before the documentary’s world première at the Sundance Film Festival Saturday morning. “These guys were merciless. … They are my friends, but they absolutely gave me nowhere to hide at all. … And we’d agreed on that in front, that that’s where we wanted to go.”
But even still, that one question got to him: “What happened to your friends?”
Because after several decades of harmonizing with Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Neil Young, Crosby’s relationships with the musicians today are filled with dissonance. Aside from archival footage, Stills was absent from the documentary, and Crosby and Nash haven’t spoken in more than two years. But seeing some of that footage at the world première reminded Crosby things weren’t always that way.
“I’d like to still be their friends … (but) I don’t really have a lot of hope for it,” he said during an audience Q&A following the screening. “We were pretty horrible to each other. It wasn’t just me — we all did bad stuff. But I’d like it. … I love all three of those guys, and I would make music with them in a minute if I could.”
But in the meantime, Crosby, 77, is making his own music — a resurgence the documentary refers to as a “curious renaissance,” as Crosby has released four albums in the last five years.
“It’s the only thing I’ve got to offer,” he says in the documentary.
The raw, moving documentary got the sold-out Sundance crowd well-acquainted with Crosby. It showed snippets of his childhood with a doting mother and a father who never said “I love you.” It showed the house where Crosby, a founding member of The Byrds, got kicked out of the band not long after his discussion of conspiracy theories regarding John F. Kennedy’s assassination between songs at the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967.
It showed the house where Crosby, Stills and Nash sang their first song and includes footage of the band’s last performance in December 2015 — a butchered rendition of “Silent Night” at the National Christmas Tree Lighting. It didn’t gloss over Crosby’s politics or shy away from his many romances. And it dove into the downward spiral of Crosby’s hard drug abuse.
“(Eaton and Crowe are) not in it to paint a pretty picture for you; they’re in it to try and show you a human being. Unfortunately that’s me,” Crosby joked with press before the screening. “I think you get to see the whole guy, warts and all. I’m a highly imperfect being and I’m OK with that, but I don’t know if the audience is going to be OK with that, but we'll see.”
Based on crowd reactions following the premiere, audience members appreciated and were moved by the brutal honesty — one member even expressed hope that Crosby would eventually be able to reconcile with his former bandmates and friends.
Crosby was also clearly affected by the documentary, which he watched alongside his wife, Jan, and one of his daughters.
“It’s really very naked, and old people are not good at being naked. … It can be good to look at your life and you learn stuff, hopefully. And It’s been that (way) for me. Boy, it really caught my breath several times,” he said with a subdued tone. … “Hopefully after a few times I’ll be able to watch it more calmly. It’s very emotional.”
Although he was more subdued after watching his imperfections unfold on the big screen, Crosby continued to be just as open with his appreciative audience in person as he was in the documentary. He matter-of-factly addressed his long-term drug addiction, and quickly — and confidently — dispelled a prevalent belief in the music industry that drugs enhance creativity.
“Drugs do not help music. … They get in the way,” he said. “The drugs that I was doing are hard drugs. They do nothing for you except kill you. … There isn’t anything to be achieved by doing any kind of hard drugs at all for anybody. … I wouldn’t say it was a good thing for music at all.”
But not everything in the documentary brought pain to Crosby, who noted that his wife Jan, his music and his family are “things in it that are pretty good” and bring him joy to this day — his relationship with his wife is one of the documentary’s sweeter moments.
“I’m really glad that I’m here and I am the way I am now,” he told the audience. “I’m trying really hard to be a decent human being, and it’s not easy and I do need more time to get to there. … I just wish I could’ve done it when I was 40 — that would’ve been smarter!”
But as Crosby has subjected himself to “merciless” questioning over the last several years for the documentary — Eaton met Crosby when the musician was 70 — Crowe had some final words to say to Crosby and the Sundance crowd regarding that one particularly painful question about Crosby's friends.
”David says in the film that he wonders about his friends,” Crowe said. “Many of the friends he talks about have reached out to us (about Crosby and this documentary) and said, ‘Good luck, make it honest and say 'hi to David.’”