With his first directorial feature David Crosby: Remember My Name (2019) emerging as a Sundance darling picked up by Sony Pictures for theatrical distribution, I was touched by A.J. Eaton's invitation to moderate the Q&A after the film's premiere at The Flicks in Boise, Idaho. Evidencing "a large dimension to small actions", as diarist Anaïs Nin once wrote, it was with genuine pleasure and satisfaction that I accepted the invitation. It was great to know that A.J. was still the affable, accessible young man I met so many years previously when Bruce Fletcher invited me up from the Bay Area to the Idaho International Film Festival where Eaton’s short film The Mix-Up (2007) stood out as singularly accomplished.
There is a double momentum informing David Crosby's revelatory presence in David Crosby: Remember My Name: sometimes it is only in looking back that we can actually look to move forward. I had no doubt that A.J. would eventually create a document like David Crosby: Remember My Name. Each time we conversed over the years, he leapt forward in experience and know-how. When we sat down at the 2013 Sun Valley Film Festival to discuss the theme of cinematic disruption, he was already displaying major growth through his experiences in the industry.
Without question, David Crosby’s music champions itself, a self-possessed body of work that has evolved into a tight weave with the evolving psyches of his fans and admirers. That Eaton has created a filmic valentine honoring the man and his music joins the global outpouring of felt loss with Crosby’s death at the age of 81. We each have our memories. For me, listening to the Crosby, Stills and Nash album for the first time, along with smoking my first joint. Many years later seeing him in concert here in Boise, Idaho, and being stunned by his rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “For Free.” Then of course, my friend A.J.’s David Crosby: Remember My Name and the welcome opportunity to talk to him and his brother Marcus after its local premiere.
This Throwback Thursday is for you, Croz, and many future listenings, looking back in time, looking forward in time, here in the present everlasting moment that music and film provide.
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Michael Guillén: I presume this film is as much a mirror for you as it was for me. I’ve been monitoring A.J.’s career since he started as a young man, so I’m delighted to bring him back on stage to talk with you. I’ll have a couple of questions for him and then we’ll open it up to the audience.
|A.J. Eaton (Photo: Unknown)|
A.J. came to me about ten years ago, telling me that his brother Marcus had become involved with David Crosby. At the time I thought, “Wow, that would be an incredible film, wouldn’t it?” Eight years later, here’s the film, a Sundance darling, picked up by Sony Pictures. Could we talk about that inception? About Marcus coming to you with this friendship he had developed with Crosby and your realization that it needed to be chronicled?
A.J. Eaton: Sure. Marcus and I met Dave when he was 69 years old. Marcus had attracted the attention of David because of his incredible guitar work. Marcus and David met and they hit it off. Having been around musicians my entire life, our entire life, there are a lot of people who will say things like, “Hey, I’m friends with Harrison Ford. You should meet Harrison Ford.” “Well, how do you know Harrison?” “I built his fireplace.” That’s not going to work. (That’s a true story, by the way.)
When someone offers to make an introduction and the introduction goes as well: the minute I met David after Marcus said, “You should come over to the studio and hear what we’re doing.” Having grown up in the ‘80s and ‘90s, I was expecting him to be a drug burnout. I knew he had abused his body. The only thing I knew about him were the headlines. I walked into the studio and I heard some of the music that they were doing—a song that they did called “Slice of Time” and a song that they did called “Radio”, which were on this album called “Croz” (2014) that they were working on, which was indeed his first solo album in 20 years. I was floored and blown away.
I said to David and Marcus, “God, I really love these changes and I love what you’re doing.” And David, he likes to have engaging conversations that are about the future. He describes it as “his antennae are up”. He immediately said to me, “You like that, huh?” So we became unlikely friends. Marcus, he and I were friends. Soon after that I realized that he was indeed in his third act renaissance and so I proposed the idea, “We should shoot some footage of you doing this.” I kind of had a hunch and had a number of people encouraging me to do so.
So I brought my crew one day and set the camera and just watched them working. The hunch paid off. He’s really great on camera. He loves to tell stories. He’s a damn good raconteur. Then I said to him, “We ought to do a documentary.” He said, “Well, okay, I don’t have any money so figure it out.” And I did! For a couple of years I was out borrowing money and trying to shoot as much footage as I could because the truth of the matter is that this guy has nine stints in his heart now, he’s had a liver transplant and most of those only last six years; he’s going on twenty years. He’s living on borrowed time and he’s trying to do as much with that borrowed time as he can. He’s made four albums in the last five years and he’s halfway through his fifth now. Some of Marcus’ music is working with that. If Marcus chooses to, he can do more music with him. The invitation’s open.
I got to a point where I was literally going to lose my apartment in L.A. I had paid a crew and hadn’t paid my rent because there were some shots in there that were worth it. I got to a point where I approached a number of agencies and proposed the idea and they were like, “Wow, you’ve got Crosby’s permission?!” One agency said, “Yeah, we’ll finance it but you would have to include a bunch of our hiphop artists that we represent.” That wasn’t going to happen. Other people were saying, “He’s a has-been.” And I was like, “Au contraire.” Basically I got to a point where I was going to set this footage aside and I was going to work on some of my other film projects that were not getting attention: screenwriting, prepping another movie.
I went to see a wonderful lady named Jill Mazurksy, the daughter of Paul Mazursky, the director of Down and Out In Beverly Hills (1986), one of my favorite films, Scenes From A Mall (1991), Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969), an Oscar® winner, and she and J.J. Abrams—just a little name of a guy in Hollywood who’s directing a little film that he hopes makes it right now—she and J.J. wrote their first screenplays together. She has an office at Bad Robot, which is his production company, and—after one of these weird really bad meetings—she said she had produced a movie called Keep On Keepin’ On (2014), one of the best music docs I’ve ever seen. I was blown away because I just love that movie so much. She kept saying, “What’s going on with your Crosby movie? Let’s do something.”
|A.J. Eaton, David Crosby, Cameron Crowe (Photo: © Henry Diltz)|
I went back to Bad Robot to basically spill the news, “Basically, I don’t think the doc’s going to work. I’ve shot all this footage and I’ll sell it later.” Cameron Crowe
was there working on a show called Roadies (2016)
that he was doing for Showtime. That was like the lightning strike moment. I said, “Cameron’s the guy! That’s it
!” And Jill said, “I’ll go talk to him. That’s a really great idea. That’s a fantastic
idea.” So she went and advocated on my behalf and he said, “I’ll meet with you” the next day.
I went back to Bad Robot and I remember he was wearing shorts and he was tapping on his yellow steno pad. He has this iconic handwriting which is like the thought for Jerry Maguire (1996). He said, “You’ve got Crosby’s permission? That’s wild!” So we just had this epic brainstorm session right there. He said, “I can’t produce anything right now. I’ve got this show. But I tell you what, why don’t you let me do an interview for you”—because he could tell that Crosby was ready to talk and I was, of course, like, “Yeah, I think that would be rad!!”
The minute they sat down on a Saturday morning at Groupmasters Studio, which is Jackson Browne’s studio in Santa Monica, I had my cameras set up and everything, Crosby sat down and said, “Ah, Cameron, good to see you, man.” They’d been talking for 40 years. Cameron is the kid in Almost Famous (2000) who was 15 years old and Crosby, Stills and Nash is the band that Almost Famous is loosely inspired by. So I realized that I was tapping into something that was far beyond me. They had a rapport. I mean, Crosby and I are friends, but Crosby and Cameron are 42 year friends.
One of the first questions Cameron asked was, “When did you lose your virginity?” I was like, “We’re getting places fast!” I said to the camera crew, “Get more film, get more data cards, because we’re in for a wild ride.”
Roadies didn’t get renewed for a second season. There’s a longer story. I wasn’t even sure that this was going to happen, to be honest, but there was so much serendipity surrounding it all that I was convinced it had to happen—the move was willed to happen. I called BMG, the company that financed the film, and it turned out that Cathy Dong—who is the head of their film finance department—she said, “I worked for Cameron on Almost Famous. I’m going to call him up.” So she went and advocated on my behalf. After a number of conference calls and me pitching about how I wanted to do it, and how Cameron and I had brainstormed and decided we didn’t want to do the cliché rock doc with talking heads and famous people or people who maybe didn’t know him at all saying “He was so great; I love listening to his albums.” We decided, “He’s such a good storyteller. Let’s let him tell his own story. Let’s let him be almost the singular narrator for his own life, like he’s writing a long-lost letter to a friend.”
But, again, I’m walking around town like, “This is never going to happen.” I called BMG one day ready to make a deal that was going to be terrifying, like selling my soul to the devil or giving my liver to the movie, and they were like, “We’re so excited! Cameron Crowe called and he’s so excited to be working with you and he’s on board!” and I’m literally the last person in Hollywood to know. Maybe it was Crosby messing with me? Because he does that. Anyway, we sat down and did a number of shoots and the more me and Crosby and Cameron, the more we shot, the deeper he was ready to go. That shot of him on the couch at his house where he has this great Coltrane story that Marcus and I remembered from one of our great epic hangs in the studio, him telling that story, he did that and then five minutes later he said, “Finally, I’m free to die.” When someone tells you that, it’s pretty revealing.
Guillén: The engine of this movie—what elevates it above just being a rock documentary (because it is much more than just a rock documentary)—is that it has a double pull. He’s looking back at the same time as he’s looking forward, which has an incredible momentum. What elevates this film is that you captured that. It could have collapsed into a documentary about drugs and all that but it’s actually more about what he’s doing now and his looking into the future. Can you talk about how you maneuvered that?
A.J. Eaton: Sure. Well, first off, when I met Crosby he was working on these albums and I could see that these albums were indeed like his getting ideas and thoughts off of his chest after being latent for 20 years. I mean, he was always writing solo material; but, this was his first solo album in 20 years. The next album that he did was called “Lighthouse” (2016), which had no drums, no percussion, just singers singing harmony. I think he went back to the Laurel Canyon era. But there were lyrics in that album that talked about Christine, the girlfriend that he lost. And it seemed that even though he was going forward in his momentum, that he was reconnecting and getting these ideas and thoughts out of his head, trying to make up for lost time.
When we started constructing the documentary, I was like, “Look, it needs to come off just like that, where we start present day and we know what the stakes are. Like we were constructing a screenplay. By page 15 or 15 minutes in, I should be able to pause and say, “I have to know what happens to this character when we get to the end of this movie. Is he going to come back a changed person? Or is he going to come back at all?” Rather than go chronological, we found in the editing that we could go present, past, present, past, present, past, then come to the end.
We had an awesome Italian editor, Elisa Bonara, and of course I’m half-Italian and have a legacy of working with Italian editors, and we had some really great arguments. It was wonderful. “Why would you want to dramatize the Croz? Let him talk!!”
She has a European sensibility. There’s some footage of him on the boat where there’s nudity, but even more nudity, and she says, “That’s great! I love it!”
“Let’s just stick with R.”
It was really fun because I’m a former editor and we were able to take some chances that way.
Guillén: A quick editing question and then we’ll open it up to the audience. The animations in the film are intriguing to me, prefacing his flights away to the boat. Can you talk about that decision?
A.J. Eaton: Sure. It’s surprising to me that his dad [Floyd Crosby]—being an Oscar®-winning cinematographer—that there isn’t a lot of footage that his dad shot of him. I actually think that’s kind of a crime.
We found that there were certain places where he was talking that were key points—being fired from the Byrds, escaping to the Mayan—those were places that photos were not going to be taken. But there were other parts that were remarkable so Cameron was like, “We could do animation!” Again, that was like the two of us totally on the same wavelength, playing in the same key, and working in harmony like a good band. “Let’s do it.” So we found this guy, Billy Woodward, who had done work for Rolling Stone and had captured Crosby’s persona. He presented this wild idea and I got to direct it, which was fun, because of this guy’s work. You can move the camera wherever you want to. There were no limitations. We found those two scenes were where we needed the animation.
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At this juncture I opened it for questions from the audience. Carole Skinner asked about the fact that the musicians Crosby used to work with—Graham Nash, Stephen Stills—are not talking to him anymore and if Remember My Name might not reverse that?
A.J. Eaton: Often people ask, “Do you think this film is a way to wave a flag to get them back together?” Crosby said he didn’t agree to do the film for that; but, I’m really proud of the fact that we were able to reconstruct the story where hopefully they might see it or other people might see it and say, “Y’know, I’m gonna call my friend that I haven’t talked to in 20 years, and whatever we did to stop talking is bullshit and we should call and make music together.” That’s what I hope for.
An audience member asked if Crosby had learned his lesson about friendship? Is he lonely? Does he want to make amends?
A.J. Eaton: That’s for you as an audience to decide. I don’t think that he’s lonely. I think he has a pretty strong constitution and decided that, “Well, those guys aren’t going to talk to me so I’m going to make music with a bunch of younger people. I’m going to keep on making music because—if I wait around for that conversation to happen—perhaps it won’t.”
Guillén: He actually provides that in context. When he’s talking about this, he says, “I do have friends.” That’s what I love. That’s this double momentum I’m talking about. He addresses the past but is interacting with young musicians right now so I agree, he’s not lonely. I don’t see him as a lonely man at all.
A.J. Eaton: One of the songs on one of the new albums has a line—“Why must we be eternally alone?”—so I think he’s connecting with that and trying to grapple with the idea that maybe that’s it.
[At this juncture Marcus Eaton joined me and A.J. on stage.]
A.J. Eaton: This is a really big thing for Marcus because he was playing in Crosby’s band and then not playing in Crosby’s band because he’s a guy distracted by bright shiny objects, but Marcus was constant. Often times my producers were saying, “Oh, well you can just use Crosby’s music”; but, I went, “Wait a minute. I’m an old score guy and we’re going to get to a point where we’re going to need to delve deep into Crosby’s subconscious. He’s heavily influenced by jazz music and nothing symphonic would work." It came to me early on that Marcus was going to have to do the score.
Bill Laurance is the lead keyboard player in a group called Snarky Puppy. He’s a big jazz musician. Marcus and Bill worked together to create the score. Bill channeled these ethereal moody jazz things—like when Croz is talking about his father leaving—and then Marcus made these great instrumental musical pieces, especially at the end when Crosby says, “All my friends won’t talk to me.” I think that’s the most beautiful piece in the movie. Also, Marcus has never worked for someone else, so it’s kind of a big thing for him to work for someone else, and then his boss is his brother. So he’s really come a long way.
Guillén: Marcus, one element about the scoring that I think is very interesting here is that you’re referencing other musicians, like in the Joni Mitchell sequence, you definitely use some of her tunings and her chords. Can you speak about how you go about doing that?
Marcus Eaton: Oh boy, I was not prepared. In the stylings of other people?
Marcus Eaton: Well, Crosby was pretty simple because we had six years of playing together. I would go up to his house and spend the night, stay on his couch, wake up in the morning and we would play our guitars most of the day. I’d be showing him tunings and we’d just vett off of each other. When A.J. showed me this film, actually my first impression was that it should be just guitar because that’s him, that’s his soul speaking to you. So after learning his tunings, that was pretty simple for me because it was easy for me to channel into it: “Okay, I know the emotion but this will be a little bit more cinematic.”
On the Joni section, I went into her catalog and checked out some of her tunings, some of her changes, and I got to just, y’know, play around with the pieces and of course I had to run it by the boss to make sure it was okay. We were good, right? It didn’t take too long to get there. I was surprised; but, he pushed me. A.J. pushed me.
A.J. Eaton: That’s what a director does.
Marcus Eaton: I was going to tell A.J. to tell you about the Hammer footage.
A.J. Eaton: Hammer footage. Really quick story again. One of those serendipitous pieces. So you see this footage of them on the hammock. Then you see the scratchy 16mm footage of him sail. There was a guy named Bobby Hammer who was one of Crosby’s closest friends and he had a 16mm camera with him often. A lot of those film photos of Christine on the beach were taken by Bobby Hammer.
I knew that footage was out there. Crosby had told me a little bit. I kept asking, “Crosby, can you put me in touch with Bobby? Are you still in touch with Bobby?” Finally, on Facebook I found him.
One day I got this instant message and I said, “Bobby, I need to talk to you right now! I know that you have that footage and I would love to take a look at it and, I tell you what, I will have the best people in Hollywood treat it well.”
He said, “Well, I’ll have to talk to Crosby. I’ll get back to you.” Click.
A couple of weeks later I got this mysterious phone call from Monterey: “A.J., it’s Bobby Hammer. I’ve talked to Croz and we’ve had a gentleman’s agreement for 45-50 years about this footage, that I couldn’t let it go because it’s very personal.” They were sailing with women and there was nude sunbathing on the Mayan. He goes, “But, Crosby called me and said you’re the guy to have it.”
So I said, “Where is it?”
At that point, he says, “It’s in my garage in Monterey.”
We had this real cool associate producer Gabe [Caste] who was working for us. I said, “We have a mission.” So we rented him a car and he drove five hours to Monterey. Bobby Hammer is much older than Crosby, he’s in his 80s and not well, he fell down and broke his leg, he’s in a wheelchair and getting better, but….
So Gabe was going through this guy’s garage that has like 50 years worth of shit, pulling out all these boxes, and Bobby says, “There it is! There’s the footage. That’s where it is.” Gabe sees there’s all of these film tins. If you know anything about film, you don’t keep film in your garage, even in a cool, dry place. There were carousels of slides (which are in the movie) and then there’s one last manila envelope and it says “The Box” on it. There was this avant-garde film he made that consisted of shots of Crosby, Stills and Nash rehearsing. He had put together this footage and put it in this envelope. The edits were put together with scotch tape. Anyone who knows anything about film, that’s so many no-nos!!
We took it to Fotokem and Technicolor and they just finished restoring the Orson Welles footage. The film got the white glove treatment and I have footage of them unwinding this film and we got one last play on that film. It if would have stayed in that garage for two more weeks, it would have been bonded together and you couldn’t have played it. That’s the footage of them rehearsing; him on the hammock and Stephen Stills going, “You son of a bitch.” That’s all of that footage. Time’s the final currency.
An audience member wondered if the connection between Crosby and the two Eaton brothers had to do with the fact that they are sons of another artist, jazz musician Steve Eaton?
A.J. Eaton: Absolutely. My whole connection to this movie is that. I fell in love with making movies by watching my dad write a song for a documentary. I fell in love with the idea of merging moving image and music together. I tried to work as a composer but didn’t do a very good job, but I did it for a while. I had shown Crosby some other things, some other cuts of this and he could see how I treat music with respect. After the movie has come out, I realized how tremendous and crazy the responsibility has been because his music means so much to so many people. People come up to me after seeing this movie, crying, saying “Crosby, Stills and Nash is the first album that I ever bought.” We paid homage to the big ones, but we also went for some B-tracks. That was also Cameron and I working in tandem.
The other thing is Jan Crosby. This is the first time she’s gone on camera, to my knowledge, and spilled the beans on this stuff that’s not easy for her to talk about. And have a film crew come into her house. But she knew that I’m the son of a songwriter and she knew that I’m not here to be TMZ. I’m here to tell a truthful story because music is the truth. When things were not in harmony in their personal life, the music was great.
An audience member asked what were the greatest lessons A.J. had learned from Crosby, not only as a director, but as a person.
A.J.: That’s a hard one for me to encapsulate in what would be an hour-long conversation. Throughout this process, I’ve learned more about myself as a filmmaker and I’ve also learned, y’know, it’s not black and white with people. Crosby, himself, I see him as a human Rorschach test. Some people look at him and say, “Well, he’s a guy who’s trying.” Other people look at him and say, “He’s a jerk.” I’ve learned to appreciate certain things about him and I see some of his trying. I didn’t want to just do a movie about a guy. We wanted to do a movie about ideas and friendship and harmony and hope.
As friendship goes, Graham Nash was there for Crosby when he got released from jail. They went out and had a steak dinner. There’s other stories about that legendary steak dinner, but I wonder if these days such as on Facebook with people friending and unfriending if true friendship is lost? And I wonder if the true spirit of musicmaking like they made is lost in today’s autotune world?
An audience member asked A.J. what went through his mind as a director when Crosby, responding to a question, would take a long long pause before answering.
A.J. Eaton: The trendy way of editing would be to cut those long pauses down. But we found a lot of times that when he would say something you could watch his eyes and they would go places. He would say, “Christine. Miss her.” Long pause. That would say everything. Finally, we found our groove. That’s how these films work. You start cutting and you go back and show it to a couple of friends, then you cut it again. Cutting away from his open moments to anything else is manipulating the truth.
Guillén: And there is an old saying that cinema is thought. That the best films actually show thought. That’s what you’re looking at. That’s what you’re seeing. I think those long pauses speak to Cameron’s relationship with David. When you’re with a real, true friend and you’re talking, that’s often the case, that’s the way it works.
Another audience member thanked A.J. for making the film, saying that so many scenes took him back into his youth. I quipped, “Were you smoking a doobie?” Laughter. He then asked how they came up with the title Remember My Name for the film?
A.J. Eaton: That came from a conversation that was between Cameron Crowe and myself. One of the first days that I met Cameron he had in his backpack what he said was one of his all-time favorite Crosby albums, which was “If I Could Only Remember My Name.” We felt he had come full circle. It was not “if” I could remember my name, but remember my name. It also gives a sense of sincerity and, again, going to that idea of writing a letter to a long-lost friend.
Guillén: We need to wrap up. I want to thank you, Marcus, for the friendship you developed with Crosby that you then brought to your brother, and A.J., I just have to commend you on your tenacity and persistence. We’ll leave you with the bottom line review in The Hollywood Reporter, which said: “This film teaches its children well.