David Crosby shouldn’t be alive.
This isn’t my opinion; rather, it’s the beating heart of “David Crosby: Remember My Name,” which is currently finishing its nationwide theatrical run after debuting at Sundance Film Festival. The deeply personal documentary follows Crosby along his latest solo music tour, while diving into his past in Crosby Stills Nash and Crosby Stills Nash and Young.
The fact that Crosby is alive, let alone has maintained his clear harmonizing voice well after his glory days of the ‘70s and ‘80s, is a miracle noted by television interviews, individuals featured in the film and Crosby himself. He is of course known today for his memorable career as a singer-songwriter, but also for his heroin and cocaine addictions and famed run from the law.
“Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice” — released this summer about the ‘70s and ‘80s singer Linda Ronstadt — feels so different from “Remember My Name” because of Ronstadt’s silence.
There’s considerable intersection between the careers of Linda Ronstadt and David Crosby. Both came out of high school to the late-1960s Los Angeles music scene with a burning passion to share their voice, trying to carve their way into a path dominated by the British music invasion as well as the national tumult post-Vietnam. Singer-songwriter rock was king, and Crosby and Ronstadt frequented many of the same music clubs like the Troubadour and befriended icons like Mama Cass and Joni Mitchell, hoping to break their way in. Both artists quickly did — Ronstadt through her successful solo career including hits like “Blue Bayou” and “You’re No Good” and Crosby under The Byrds; Crosby, Stills & Nash (CSN); and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (CSNY).
Both Crosby and Ronstadt have a unique talent and voice. Both have bold, larger-than-life personalities, daring to take creative risks and to speak their mind about politics and overall not giving a damn. Both had a distaste for touring, or anything that distracted from the heart and soul of their passion — making music. Both shared a deep loneliness throughout their career.
But looking at “Remember My Name” and “The Sound of My Voice”, that’s where the similarities end.
While the two performers may be from the same era, in 2019 they lead entirely different lives, and the two documentaries produced are stylized to reflect that difference; Crosby still louder than life, Ronstadt now silent.
Ronstadt’s lack of appearance throughout the documentary can be traced to the abrupt end of her career eight years ago due toParkinson’s disease. “The Sound of My Voice” is about looking back on the time Ronstadt had, a closing bow to her successful career and the legacy she’s left behind.
We see Ronstadt’s vivacious spirit not through her present but through her past, specifically in television interview clips and concert recordings. But the prime stylistic difference in the Ronstadt and Crosby documentaries is their physical presence in the film. We only actually see the current Ronstadt in the beginning and the end of the film. She’s been exceptionally private since her 2011 Parkinson’s diagnosis and didn’t allow an on-camera interview for the film. The sound of her voice is heard throughout the film (making the film’s title that much more fitting) through narration from one topic to the next, but the end result reflects the guarded nature of the subject.
“Remember My Name” is the exact opposite. Crosby himself drives the film, and the result feels far more autobiographical than Ronstadt’s film. In one particularly exceptional section of the film, Crosby is in the back seat of a car, stopping at some of the most prolific spots in the Los Angeles and Laurel Canyon area that shaped his career. He’s never one to shy from intimacy, and some of the most touching and candid discussions of those he’s hurt in the past come outside a small country store, what he calls the “least cinematic” of places. There’s a spontaneity to having a quasi-unreliable narrator as your star, and Crosby never hides from his fall from grace. Director A.J. Eaton, along with executive producer Cameron Crowe, establish a close rapport with Crosby, making you feel like you truly understand Crosby’s story by the time the credits roll. Eaton told Melena Ryzik, New York Times culture reporter, that his relationship unfolded naturally with Crosby: “the music was fresh, he was trying new things, and we became friends.”
“Remember My Name” is not Crosby’s final bow, but the opening of an entirely new second act. Crosby’s not done with his life; his solo career is proving what he can do with the time he has left. It’s the opposite of slowing down; he has produced four albums in the past four years and is currently working on his fifth.
Another key stylistic difference between the two films is how their stories are told. Because Ronstadt wasn’t interviewed for the film, directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman supplement partially with old footage of Ronstandt, but mainly through interviews of others, including former bandmates and collaborators. And not one has a bad thing to say about Linda.
But Crosby stands alone.
“Remember My Name” features few and far between interviews of other people, and Eaton didn’t even ask the members of CSNY to be in the film. The film isn’t a reflection (like with Ronstadt’s film), but a way for Crosby to share his side of the story. Just like with every other topic he tackles, Crosby is candid about his estrangement from Neil Young, Graham Nash and Stephen Stills, as well as other big music names who he fought throughout his career and addictions. Crosby’s story is a fall from grace and a decades-in-the-making rise. Ronstadt never falters. She just sings until she tragically can’t.
When comparing the films, you can’t help but see the irony in where the two rock stars have landed based on where they’ve been. If the world was just, it would be Ronstadt still singing; she steered clear of the male-dominated rock scene fueled by hard drugs and rock star image in favor of keeping her voice clean. Instead, she is left silenced by Parkinson’s.
“The rock and roll culture seems to be dominated by hostility against women. What happens is they lose the ability to focus on themselves as a person, rather than as an image,” Ronstandt says to a reporter in an old interview along the Malibu coast in her beachside home.
Crosby in his prime rockstar era was the type of man Ronstadt references in that interview. He spent his prime years “smashed,” as he often describes in the film, and CSN and CSNY was built on an image that looked ideal from the outside but was actually filled with decades-long hostility culminating in their 2016 breakup.
Considering Crosby’s rock star attitude, and especially his heavy drug usage, he should be the one silenced — not Ronstadt. Yet he still has time to sing, and the core of “Remember My Name” is how Crosby’s second act is a refusal to give up his voice.
Coincidentally, the films share a handful of producing credits: Gabriel Caste, Alex Exline, Michele Farinola and James Keach (both films were made by his production company, PCH Films). Editor Veronica Pinkham also worked on both films, as a co-editor on “Remember My Name” and additional editing on “The Sound of My Voice”. Cameron Crowe, a prominent music journalist and filmmaker from the 1970s, was interviewed for “The Sound of My Voice” and was a producer on “Remember My Name,” interviewing Crosby himself.
What the two share behind the scenes in no way leads to a similar final products of the films. That’s the beauty of documentaries — that these two stories, which on the surface appear the same, about rock stars from the same era grappling with fame and all it entails, quickly blossom into completely different films that set out with completely different aims and ways of achieving them. Both do their subjects the justice they so deserve.
Correction [Oct. 2, 11:42 p.m.]: A previous version of this article did not include that Michele Farinola and Veronica Pinkham worked on both films, and stated Crowe was an executive producer for “Remember My Name”. This article has been updated to reflect the correct information.