November 11, 2019
$25.99 DVD, $24.99 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘R’ for language, drug material and brief nudity.
Featuring David Crosby, Cameron Crowe, Roger McGuinn, Jackson Browne.
I’ve never heard how Keith Richards responds to all the “How can you still be alive?” jokes but also related legitimate questions that have followed him around for years. But fellow rocker David Crosby is used to it (probably never more so than when he was promoting the self-lacerating portrait, Remember My Name) and is always up front about it, in that he’s as amazed as anyone else.
Let’s put it this way: If Crosby’s body contained the submarine pathway in a remake of Fantastic Voyage, you’d want to make sure the craft had the best navigation system in the business because the dead ends, detours and checkpoints would be voluminous enough to make you think you were in a Jeep touring 1948 West Berlin. He’s survived addictions (and at the same time) to cocaine and heroin, has eight stents in his heart (the maximum, he says), has had hepatitis-C, also a liver transplant and sports unusually expansive purple-ish splotches under his skin, the kind one identifies with blood disorders. Crosby says sometime in the next two years, a heart attack is going to get him and that medical science won’t be able to do much about it.
So he’s trying to make amends for a lifetime of rotten behavior, a prodigious task in his case, for which there’s not a whole lot of time. This is a guy, to name one mammoth infraction, whose temper-fueled difficult personality managed to sink two rock supergroups: Crosby, Stills & Nash and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (which were, notably, different artistic entities). Now just think a moment. Given their own egos and short fuses, it isn’t all that tough to imagine hacking off Stephen Stills and Neil Young. But at least going by public personas here … Graham Nash? And all three? Late in the picture, we see Nash being radio-interviewed well after the final split, and he’s obviously still pained (what’s more, he and Crosby had teamed just by themselves in the ’70s to become an appealing touring/recording team). And in terms of women companions, it wasn’t enough for Crosby to become an addict; he had to take multiple partners down with him. Fortunately, eventual wife Jan went into successful rehab at the same time he did himself (post-imprisonment) and remains a steadying influence. Or at least she is in the footage we see.
New-to-me filmmaker A.J. Eaton had apparently been working with Crosby for awhile, fashioning what came to be a combo confessional, irresistible rock-memories clip show and something of an L.A. tourist road movie (obviously pre-fires) that veers off into footage of its subject on the road trying to survive the grind of touring to small venues while in his late 70s (not too well). Then rock-journalist-turned-auteur filmmaker Cameron Crowe, perhaps smarting from the reception of his last few films (though I’m in the tiny minority who had a really good time with the much lambasted Aloha), entered the picture to sign on as one of the producers and also as off-camera interviewer. The result displays the savviness toward its subject and milieu that we’d naturally expect from someone of Crowe’s origins, but virtually every movie he’s written and directed suggests that he’ll be compassionate enough to get away with asking a penetrating question and getting a straight answer. Of course, it helps that Crosby is at the point of his life where all he wants to do is give straight answers while gazing at you with eyes that somehow manage to seem both world-weary/tired and penetratingly alert.
The result is something of an anomaly for the genre, in that on the one hand, it has gaps that even a mediocre alternative might cover; unless I was dozing, for instance, I do not recall the words “Buffalo Springfield” crossing anyone’s lips here, even though two members of the group later contributed as many letters for CSN&Y — not even to mention Crosby’s own brief Buffalo fill-in on occasion. On the other hand — and, ultimately, this is what really matters — I’m not sure I’ve ever quite seen a soul-bearer like this, with Crosby offering un-procrastinated direct opinions on a variety of subjects. He’s the foremost of these, for sure. But on at least two occasions, he almost revels in how little use he had for the Doors’ Jim Morrison.
If you want seductive side issues, there are a few here. One truly wonderful passage has Crosby’s driver taking him and Crowe to the literal source of Nash’s pro-domestication “Our House,” a tune that celebrated the domicile he and Joni Mitchell shared in what the recording, at least, indicated was harmony. Crosby, by the way, is boundless in his praise for Mitchell, calling her the most talented of them all (which he should since it’s only her due). There’s also at least some discussion of what a cold cookie David’s father Floyd was, in contrast to a mother who exuded warmth. The senior Crosby had a spotty career (not in terms of personal craftsmanship but in projects he served,) but he did win an early Oscar for shooting Tabu (one of my favorite films of all time) and later High Noon. Later, he became part of the Roger Corman stable and then wrapped it up at Warner when David’s Byrds were riding high with The Cool Ones — which, as far as I know, is the only movie to feature both Phil Harris and Mrs. Miller. You have to wonder if Mrs. Miller ever came over to jam with the Byrds, though her back pages were a heavy lift.
In addition to deleted and expanded scenes, there’s a half-hour Q&A with Crowe joining Crosby on stage for questions after a pre-release showing of the film. Unlike most back-and-forths of this length (I did many with film folk back in the day), the two are standard. It must have been, and indications are, that it was an exuberant moment with a receptive audience, because otherwise, this is a performer who’s earned the right to sit down, no matter how forgiving or not you are of his offstage past.