Cameron Crowe recalls an early-1990s event where he saw a dead man walking: singer David Crosby.
The hard-living rock icon “looked like he was at the end of his road,” Crowe, the director (“Almost Famous”) and music journalist, told the Daily News. “He just kind of said, ‘Safe travels, my friend,’ and I watched him walk away, and I’m like, ‘That’s the last time I’m ever gonna see David Crosby.’”
A quarter-century later, Crosby is still alive and kicking — but no longer speaking to the famous bandmates who created sublime harmonies in Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.
All that and more about the two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee is covered in A.J. Eaton’s documentary, “David Crosby: Remember My Name,” out July 19. The film’s slated to open at Alderwood Cinemas in Lynnwood on Aug. 23.
“I have no anger at them at all, truthfully,” Crosby, 77, told The News of his former CSNY bandmates, none of whom will talk to him. “I think they’re OK guys and I don’t hate ‘em or anything. I just … I don’t have a lot of time. So I don’t have time to wait around. You know, that’s basically the deal. I would work with them in a minute if they could get their selves together to do it … I need to make music in order to feel good about my life and what I’m doing here. I need to make music. Now, not later.”
The source of the acrimony with his bandmates is the one thing that gets Crosby to clam up.
Crowe, the writer of “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” and the Oscar-winning writer-director of “Almost Famous,” produced the Crosby documentary. He first interviewed the counterculture icon in 1974.
“It just kind of came together in a way that a lot of Crosby’s best projects came together: He willed it to happen,” Crowe, 62, told The News, laughing.
Given their 45-year rapport, Crosby says Crowe “knows where all the bones are buried,” and that he was subsequently entirely honest in their interviews.
Crowe encountered former friends of Crosby’s who “quietly kind of root for him” even if they don’t care to talk to him. CSNY is a bit more complicated. While the notoriously outspoken Crosby won’t talk about his rift with the others, much of it can be traced to his publicly slamming Nash over what Crosby says are inaccuracies in his 2013 memoir, and calling Young’s new wife, the actor Daryl Hannah, a “poisonous predator” in an interview.
“The wounds and the burned bridges are still hot and smoking,” Crowe said of the former supergroup. “The truth is, nobody is talking to him. The band is not getting back together, and he’s left alone going, ‘What did I do wrong?’ That’s the movie.”
After Crosby’s politically minded candor got him kicked out of The Byrds, which he co-founded, he turned turned turned, eventually taking up with Stephen Stills and Graham Nash to form CSN in 1968, rebranded as CSNY when joined by Neil Young.
The band made history in August 1969, making Woodstock their second-ever live performance.
Ahead of the festival’s 50th anniversary, Crosby believes what “meant so much to people is that we looked around for a moment there and we saw human beings being really nice to each other, being good human beings, decent human beings. And for a moment, we had hope.”
The film tackles his drug and alcohol abuse head on, which led him to serve nine months in prison in the 1980s, destroyed his liver and left him the wreck he was when he ran into Crowe.
Crosby later learned he was “about a week from dying,” before getting a liver transplant in 1994, giving him an encore so many of his contemporaries didn’t.
“I’m not sure why I’m so lucky that I made it here and I’m singing and I’m alive, when all of my friends — Cass (Elliot), Jimi (Hendrix), Janis (Joplin), so many friends of mine — are dead,” Crosby said. “But I do think since I am here, I got an obligation to make music as best as I can do it right now.”
But how do you sum up 78 years of anyone — let alone someone who “is classic rock,” as Crowe says — in just 95 minutes?
Crosby’s close proximity to “most cultural upheaval events,” as Crowe put it, made it difficult to whittle down his life story. But Crowe says their “Rosebud” moment was in the finale.
“He gets that look,” Crowe says. “It’s that last little beat where it’s kind of a guy reliving his entire life in a millisecond. And things don’t get beautifully resolved. He lived throughout that tour and he came home to the greatest hug ever from his wife, and that’s what his life is right now. It’s not playing stadiums, it’s not chasing Neil Young, it’s staying alive and making music. And he’s happy.”