Cameron Crowe was a teenage music journalist for Rolling Stone who grew up to become the hit movie director of 1996’s “Jerry Maguire.”
His connections in music and movies landed him unexpectedly as co-producer of “David Crosby: Remember My Name,” one of the most revealing, candid and best rock documentaries ever.
Crowe’s involvement was by happenstance. He was in the offices of J.J. Abrams, who was producing the Crowe-directed Showtime series “Roadies” in 2016, when Crosby and his rookie director, A.J. Eaton, were pitching their doc-in-progress to Abrams in another room.
Crowe got introduced to Eaton and agreed to film an interview for the movie with Crosby, whom he’d known for 45 years. It turned into multiple interviews that give “Remember My Name” its emotional resonance and, frankly, transform it into Crowe’s film.
The documentary is another high point in Crowe’s long career, which includes writing the novel and screenplay for 1982’s “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” and writing and directing “Singles,” “Jerry Maguire,” “Almost Famous” (he won an Oscar for his screenplay), “Vanilla Sky” and the 2011 doc “Pearl Jam Twenty.”
Crowe called from his Hollywood office this week. The interview has been lightly edited.
Q: Why do you think was Crosby was open?
A: He was ready to talk. That’s three-quarters of the job. When they don’t want to talk to you, it’s like pulling teeth. So I showed up with a thick notebook of every possible question and quotes from his friends about him and photos, which were really great. He’d go: “That’s the Byrds.” I’d go: “What is it really?” He said: “They hated me at that point.” Now you’re off and running.
I think it helped that I’d been interviewing him since I was 16, and he trusted that I wasn’t looking to do anything that was “gotcha” unless we’re looking at the whole documentary as “gotcha.” He’s at a point in his life where he’s found a state of grace with himself. You can talk about anything with him. There’s some bravery there.
Q: Crosby was aware of the camera but acted like he wasn’t aware of being filmed.
A: He’s kind of an ingénue — he’s coquettish with the camera. You really can’t take your eyes off him. Halfway through the film you start to know him so much that every little twinkle, every little grimace, you go, “I know what he’s thinking.” That’s a dream when making a movie or doing an interview — when you feel you know the character so well that their silences are communicating.
Q: What is his fatal flaw?
A: Selfish. He tells you, selfishly, that he’s selfish. He is epically selfish. But he’s also so charming about it. You can see how he’s been a rascal his entire life. You can see it at Monterey Pop [the 1967 festival where he annoyed bandmates with his political rants on stage]. He’s like, “I don’t care that the Byrds don’t want me to be political. I feel like being political.”
Crosby feels he’s largely responsible for 10 years of unheard music from Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young because he just wasn’t there for them. He was a junkie.
Q: Why didn’t you get Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Neil Young to talk about him?
A: We had kind of an open door, and they didn’t follow through the door. When I came on board, I thought the worst version of this movie would be us trying to get CSNY back together. It would be entertaining, but it would feel like a reality TV quest.
I thought it was much more interesting with a guy who doesn’t know why they hate him, a guy who can’t fix the problem, and we leave him on the precipice.
Graham Nash, who is sort of Crosby’s brother, went back and forth [about being interviewed] and ultimately decided this was a portrait of David. The other guys weren’t asked but didn’t volunteer.
Q: When you play a cassette of your 1974 interview with Crosby, is that really your tape?
A: Yes. And that’s my handwriting on the tape. I saved everything.
Q: What other music figures would be that human, that candid, that open to being the subject for such a movie?
A: I thought [David] Bowie, who’d been at a John Lennon level of honesty throughout almost his entire career, would be ready [a few years ago] and he said, “No.” Obviously he had his time plotted out differently. He ended up doing no interviews before he passed away.
Pete Townshend would be amazing. Maybe Ray Davies. Paul Westerberg would be amazing. Stevie Nicks.
Q: Talk about the musical of your autobiographical movie “Almost Famous” being staged in San Diego.
A: It starts Sept. 13, in my hometown. It will be premiering a mile away from where I first met [rock critic] Lester Bangs. The same 1-mile radius where I lived.
I love it. Maybe 75 percent is new songs by Tom Kitt [who shared a Pulitzer Prize for the musical “Next to Normal”]. We’re going into final rehearsal tomorrow.
My dream is that it makes it to Broadway so Jimmy Fallon can drop in and play his character whenever he wants to.
Jon Bream • 612-673-1719 • Twitter: @JonBream