'David Crosby: Remember My Name' Producer Cameron Crowe On Interviewing Rock Stars And Staying Curious [Interview]

David Crosby: Remember My Name evenhandedly shows the highs and lows of a life in rock 'n' roll. The good times don't outweigh the bad in director A.J. Eaton's documentary on the iconic member of Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young. The documentary shows an artist struggling with the past and the future but still consumed by music.

No subject comes across as off-the-table for David Crosby. When he's not throwing hilarious jabs at Jim Morrison, the artist reveals himself, flaws and all, without asking for empathy or making excuses. From the opening of the movie, he goes deep with its interviewer and producer, Cameron Crowe. The feel-good filmmaker famous for Almost Famous and Jerry Maguire has been interviewing Crosby ever since his Rolling Stone Magazine days. All these years later, the journalist again got to share another candid conversation with the musician.

Recently, Cameron told us about his earliest interviews with Crosby, how musicians influenced his dialogue, and knowing when an interview subject isn't being honest.

In the press notes, somebody said there are lines in Almost Famous that shout Crosby. Was any of the dialogue in that movie directly influenced by him?

Well, there's a line in the poker game where somebody says, "Here's some weed and it's really strong, it's Crosby weed," which is a line from the day. I think a part of Billy Crudup's character has Crosby in it, it's also Glenn Frey from The Eagles. All the movies are generally flanked with real people, and real events and stuff, because real life is the best, the best writer of all of us, you know. The best stuff is when there's a big character, and Crosby is one of the biggest characters I've ever met. So, to do a documentary on him, you're never at a loss for colorful moments, you know?

He has such a way with words, as a lot of rock stars from that era do. Just growing up and listening to people like Crosby talk, do you think it had a significant influence on the dialogue in your movies?

A lot, 'cause I transcribed all my stuff, and still do, so when you do that, you know where people pause, and you know how much they don't say the most succinct version of what they're saying, and sometimes you help 'em out, sometimes you don't, but you know the rhythm of the way people talk. When you give actors stuff that feels like real life, it just comes alive. It's all journalism to me.

You first interviewed Crosby when you were sixteen or seventeen, so how does he compare to the guy you know now? 

He always has been surprisingly susceptible to positive feedback. When we made the documentary, it was fascinating to see that little kid who was the class clown. He's still that guy, long before I ever showed up. He's that guy in the school photo that has that gleam in his eye. You can tell when he says, "I was thrown out of every school I was in," and you see his yearbook photo, and you can see it then, the same guy. The same guy that says, "Maybe this whole movie was a con job." He was that guy in sixth grade.

So, I came along somewhere around here, he took his rollercoaster ride, but I would see him throughout. He was always honest with me. Whether I had an assignment or was writing about someone else, and we crossed paths, he never... You know how people suck up to you sometimes and you can tell all you do is represent a good write up to them? He was never that guy. You could tell he'd love a good write up, but mostly he was just a social scientist in the way that he judged situations, and sometimes threw himself into them like a human grenade. He's the same guy, in that he's forever curious and anxious for your approval. And now, he's close to the end, as he tells you, but he's not above using that to get you to listen to him. There's a part of me that thinks he's gonna outlive all of us. He's the frickin' Energizer bunny. He's been doin' press. He was in the Hamptons, he's been flyin' everywhere, it's like, what?! He's on Quentin Tarantino level, in terms of promotion. It's wild.

As you said, you could always tell he was genuine with you. After all your years of interviewing, I imagine you have a good bullshit meter. When do you know someone isn't genuine during an interview? 

Fucking amazing question. I'll tell you, there's one moment that's bullshit, and the whole thing is so achingly honest and real and just raw and shit. But there's one moment where it's a little bullshit, and I think we all know it, and it's when he says, "I don't even know where Neil Young's doorstep is." And you think to yourself, you kinda could find that doorstep, if you really wanted to, as David Crosby, I think you could work that out.

Is that your follow-up question in the moment?

No, because he's lookin' at you like... The look was everything. Greg Mariotti, the two of us are [my production company] Vinyl Films. So, Greg went through all the interviews at one point and found just the moments in between the questions, and in between his answers, and he's so present. You can see the wheels turning. It's just fascinating. One of them was the moment we choose to end the movie with, where it's kinda that Mona Lisa smile, where I think he's viewing his whole life in a millisecond, you know? But, to me, that one moment means he's been so honest throughout that we're able to be close enough with him, almost like a friend, to wanna reach through the film and say, "Come on", 'cause we know him at that point. My bullshit meter is pretty good, and so is his. And he'll bust you really quickly on your bullshit, sometimes just to mess with your head.

You got to see his world from a young age and you got to see the good times. What's it like for you now, having seen how some rock stars aged and all the repercussions? 

He just said something that was very interesting, that he never smoked cigarettes. A lot of these people that are dying younger than they should were cigarette smokers. So, some scientist could do an amazing study, using Crosby before we lose him, to find out how you can do that much cocaine and heroin, and a ton of weed, legendary amount of weed, and still be alive. And still be curious, and still be in there, 'cause a lot of guys that have been through the big rollercoaster, they come back, but something's missing. There's like a chink in their armor that's no longer there. He's got all his armor, and it's wild.

Something the movie does really well is respecting his accomplishments and his music, but equally, showing the pain he's caused. It made me think about how you separate the art from the artist. Are you someone that can separate the two? Has it changed for you since being a rock journalist and now? The conversation just keeps evolving. 

Yeah, it is, and thank you for noticing that. It's what makes you wanna create. Why are you creating? Are you creating for a marketplace, or are you creating 'cause you gotta get stuff out? I think you can do both, but I always respect the artist that just has to say it, because it's in their heart. And they don't know if anybody buys records anymore, or whatever, but they gotta just put this music out there. Even a guy like Mark Kozelek, who's supremely uncommercial, Sun Kil Moon, he's gotta say this stuff, he's gotta get it out. So, I've always admired the artistic sensibility.

What's changed, I think, is that it's harder to do music for a living, because you can't make as much making records. You can sustain a life by playing live gigs. It's just interesting now, to see more people dependent on live music, and I just want people to keep showing up for live music. To sustain the idea of being an artist or writer, and being able to make it now, with so many places where you need entertainment. I have two sons, and they're gamers. They get as excited over games as I ever got about music, but I didn't have games like that to get excited about when I was their age, and I'm glad I didn't.

What music has excited you recently?

I really like this kinda duo, Louis the Child. I just careened into their stuff, and I started using some of it in this thing that I was writing. Whether it'll end up being there in the end, I don't know, but I like the kinda pop beauty of these records they were doing. I'm still just a fan of singer-songwriters. I love the stripped-down artist in the song, and I love Brandi Carlisle. I still look to Joni Mitchell as the greatest of 'em all.

A moment that's stuck with me from the movie is you ask Crosby, "Could you live your life without music?" He says no. Could you live without writing? In your mind, how much does your work define you?

No. I feel like the guy in the movie right now, that's wild. It's like, "That's no life for me." Almost, I write every day, and I've had relationships fall apart over that. I've raised a son who's really happy to stay home, two of 'em, who are really happy to stay home and be creative. Sometimes I think we should all go out and live a little more life.

To me, I just feel like a reporter, always a reporter. If you can report back about feelings you've had or an opinion you've had about life, or relationships, and how it's changed over the years... My dream is to be able to keep making movies that are about various stages of life. I just love it so much. Crosby's documentary, which was a side project, kind of became a main project about mortality, and I love that we don't wrap it up. We leave him on a precipice, and it's so inspired that next movie we're gonna make, I wrote a little part for Crosby.

James Brooks, my true writing hero, along with Billy Wilder... Jim Brooks, when we were doing Say Anything even, I would come in and I would say, "I couldn't really figure out what that scene we talked about was supposed to be, but God, I had this phone call with my sister, and my sister's just telling me that blah, blah, blah", and he's like, "Why aren't you writing that? That's the most real thing in your life right now, write it." And I went home and wrote the relationship between Cusack and his sister in Say Anything. I'm still that guy.

I rewatched Pearl Jam 20 recently, and both Eddie Veddie and Crosby are two musicians who put a lot of their pain in their work. Joy usually defines your movies, but is there a lot of pain that goes into them?

They're all about pain. They're all about getting through pain to a point of realization that you can transmute this into joy. The joy will never be as deep and fulfilling if you haven't survived the pain, and that was always the lesson in my family. Keep going, you gotta keep going. Don't let it become an avalanche that you never get out from under. Keep going. And I've always felt that way, like when Cobain committed suicide, you gotta keep going, you got to keep going. Tomorrow, you're not gonna be as high, you're not gonna be as sad. You'll be sorry if you kill yourself today. That's the difference between Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder: Eddie Vedder lives to create decades more work that inspires him, and us. So, keep going.

Good words to live by.

Yeah, if we've gotten difficult reviews or anything for any of our movies, it's kinda like... Cool. Keep going, keep talkin'. Billy Wilder, stay curious, "[Billy Wilder impersonation] I must stay alive, because they've cloned this lamb, and I must know what happens with this clone." Okay!


David Crosby: Remember My Name is now in theaters.