I have to begin with the following disclaimer: as a general measure, I don’t like Cameron Crowe’s films; I’ve always found them to be non-linear and they veer terribly off track into saccharine. What I do like about him is he is a true rock & roll person; he’s been a journalist, a film-maker, ex-husband of a musical legend and he has all the genuine credibility in the world to be able to make this kind of movie. And because he has such a long-standing and solid relationship with the subject, it makes it a lot more believable.
Anyone who has any education in music knows David Crosby’s history. Part of it is storied – being in two (some may argue three) of the biggest groups of all time; a career that has spanned over five decades and most notoriously, a spectacular, runaway juggernaut of drug addiction and immoral behavior that actually justifies this film being made, since Crosby is alive to tell the tales. And let me make clear – there are very touching moments, when Crosby is talking and you can see that he’s filled with regret that you can forgive his transgressions but you’re not going to forget any of it.
It’s a delicate balance but let me remain on the focus – David Crosby was never a “typical” rock & roll musician; certainly, not after he began presenting and performing his own contributions to The Byrds at the time of the their third album, 1966’s 5D. His songs were always slightly skewed with unconventional tunings, obtuse lyrics and not always listener-friendly in the context of a traditional rock & roll band like The Byrds. His ego, arrogance and talent drove itself right into a head-on collision with The Byrds and he was fired in late ’68. His couldn’t-care-less-approach was tempered by the chemicals he was ingesting, the women he was conquering and the (awkward) political preaching he was now heard doing frequently (which directly started his unraveling with The Byrds, when he mis-spoke on-stage at the Monterey Pop Festival). Crosby never seemed to know his own limit and he became hard to be around – as Roger McGuinn puts it, “David was insufferable”.
We all know the story of Crosby, Stills, Nash and then Young becoming one of the most legendary acts in modern music history, but Crosby also shares experiences that he’s not proud of – his fractured relationships with women he claimed to care for, but left them either pregnant or drug addicts; this is probably the one place you see genuine remorse and hear the regret in his voice. You see how ill he’s become (diabetes, stents in his heart, etc.); he was 76 when this was filmed (78 now) and how scared both he and his wife, Jan, are about his imminent demise. While this is very warm and humanizing, it still needs to be kept in perspective as Croz hasn’t exactly backed away from being the agitator – most notably in what became the final fracturing of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Crosby has never been one to hold his tongue, he finally managed to alienate Young in 2014 and (seemingly) irreparably damage his forty-plus year friendship with Graham Nash.
While it’s not one of the best documentaries I’ve seen on a musician (or band), this is very strong and riveting – you can almost see the wheels turning in Crosby’s mind as Cameron Crowe asks him questions and it has to be said – Croz is a fascinating guy. For good or bad, he’s smart, talented and a legend. He’s also a fuck up of the highest calibre and Crowe does a very good job of not sugar coating it.