Rock icon David Crosby is not one to mince words - even when criticizing himself, which is a recurring theme in the new documentary 'David Crosby: Remember My Name.' And he's just as unapologetically candid when the cameras are off, I learned after chatting with Crosby over the phone to discuss the premiere of the doc, which opens this weekend (July 19) in New York and Los Angeles.
So far, the doc has received excellent reviews from critics who find his frankness refreshing in an age when so many public figures are afraid to go off script and drop their filters.
"Nobody does that anymore," Crosby told Civilized. "I mean, we have a president who lies just about every time he opens his mouth. Nobody’s honest anymore, so it probably takes people by surprise when they hear someone speaking open and honest, without any of the polish or the bullshit they're used to hearing these days."
And he expects the same frankness from the people he talks to. Crosby has no problem with veering away from a scripted question by posing a more personal one (like when he asked me, "What've you heard from critics about the film?" and "Hey, you've watched it, right? What'd ya think, man?"). That quirk might seem jarring at first, but it makes for a lively interview as well as an engaging documentary.
'David Crosby: Remember My Name' offers a touching yet unvarnished portrait of a flawed artist who has no shortage of regrets in life and very little time left to make things right with the people he's hurt.
And he knows it.
"People ask me if I've got regrets. Yeah, I've got huge regret about the time I wasted being smashed," Crosby confesses at the beginning of the documentary. "I'm afraid of dying, and I'm close. And I don't like it. I'd like to have more time—a lot more time."
But he knows that might not happen given his medical condition.
"I'm 76 years old, I've had two or three heart attacks, I've got eight stints in my heart. That's as many as you can put in," Crosby reveals later in the doc, when reflecting on how he's likely to have one final heart attack in the next few years.
Although produced by director/rock journalist Cameron Crowe and directed by A.J. Eaton, Crosby himself often acts as the host of the new doc as he invites viewers inside his home on the outskirts of Santa Barbara, brings them on the road while gigging across the country and revisits famous sites that inspired the songs he recorded as a member of The Byrds and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Those pit stops include revisiting the home that "Our House" was written about, and traveling to Kent State University, which was immortalized in the classic protest song "Ohio."
Along the way, Crosby opens up about the many mistakes he's made in the past, from treating ex-girlfriends terribly ("I hurt a lot of people), to losing years of his life to drug addiction ("The drugs became more important than anybody or anything, including music"), to alienating bandmates like Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Neil Young with his turbulent behavior ("I let those guys down terribly when I became a junkie").
Civilized: What's the best part about working on a documentary like this?
Crosby: Working with Cameron and AJ and the rest of the crew. We had a great team.
What was the hardest part about working on this doc?
Crosby: All of it. Talking about [longtime girlfriend] Christine [Hinton]'s death [in a tragic car accident in 1969] was especially hard. But all of it was difficult. Being naked in public is never fun.
Since Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young broke up for good in 2015, you've seen an unlikely resurgence in your career. A lot of critics probably thought you were down, but in the last few years, you've received more commercial and critical success than you have in decades. Do you think your musical renaissance is indebted to the mistakes from the past?
Crosby: Yeah, in some ways, I do. I’ve managed to work through some of those things from the past in the music I’m making now.
Was anything cut from the film that you wish had made it into the finished piece?
Crosby: Yeah, there was more stuff on my time in prison [for getting busted with cocaine and heroin in 1982]. And my liver transplant. We had enough material to make a three-hour documentary, but we cut it down to about 90 minutes, and I like what we put together in the end.
We’re a cannabis publication, so I have to ask, when you were redoing that notorious photo shoot with the gun made from an American flag—the one where you're pointing the gun at your head while smoking a joint—were you smoking real weed when redoing that picture.
Crosby: Yes, it was real.
Do you still smoke cannabis regularly?
Crosby: I've been a pothead for 50 years now. But I don't smoke it, I vape it. I use a Pax 3. After dinner, I like to vape and take the guitar down and play it. Helps me work on melodies.
Would you say cannabis is an important to your creative process?
Crosby: I don’t think pot makes you creative, but I find it helps when I’m working on music. You should definitely use it only for what it’s good for. I don't think you should smoke pot and fly a plane [laughs]. If you're high and flying a 737, then it's a big problem.
What should people use cannabis for?
Sex is good, and sleep, listening to music and relaxing, dealing with pain. When you get old, you’re always dealing with chronic pain. Weed is a great analgesic.
You mention in the documentary that Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young got together because you all genuinely loved playing together. Is there a specific song that helps you reconnect with the thrill you felt when you first played with Graham, Stephen and Neil?
No, and I don’t really listen to that old stuff. That’s the past, man. I’m focused on what I’m doing now. I don’t want to sit around and put on the old records. That stuffs in the past. I really don’t spend much time thinking about the past.
The doc focuses on a lot of ruined friendships with celebrities, but one person that you don't seem to regret not getting along with was Jim Morrison. In the film, you call Morrison a dork, and you mentioned that he made a bad first impression by grabbing your sunglasses when you two first met at the Whisky a Go Go. But why did you continue continue _*?
Crosby: I just didn't like him. I didn't like his poetry, and I didn't like his music. I didn't like The Doors.
Are you surprised that they became so popular?
Crosby: Yeah, I am.
Why do you think they became so big?
Crosby: I have no idea. I'm not sure why anyone gets to be that popular.
Are you at all perplexed by your own success?
Crosby: A bit, yeah. I mean, we wrote great music, and our harmonies are fantastic. But I can't tell you why one thing becomes so successful and another doesn't.
You spend a lot of time in the doc discussing the negative aspects of your past, but have you done anything that you don't you've received enough credit for over the years?
Crosby [laughs]: No, no, I don't think so.
Your laugh makes me wonder if maybe you think you've received too much credit for something over the years.
Crosby: No, I've received just enough [laughs more].
The documentary ends with you saying that everyone should get a chance to tell the people they love how much they meant to them. How do you think that message with be received by your former bandmates? Is there anyone in particular that you hope will receive that message?
Crosby: I don’t think they will watch it. And that message isn’t just for them. It’s for everyone I love. I don't even talk to those guys anymore.
Do you hope that Neil Young or Graham Nash might make companion pieces to the documentary/their own companion pieces to the documentary?
Crosby: No, definitely not [laughs].