Perseverance might well be the trump card ’60s rock icons hold as they pass the crest of middle age. They’re the ones with years of invention, wisdom and recovery that certain rock ‘n’ roll factions love to celebrate. David Crosby, portrayed as a “fundamentalist hedonist” with a “patchwork of madness” on VH1’s popular “Behind the Music” series, is a gleaming example of full-circle turnaround with a bounty of reaffirming subplots.
Take the popular perception of Crosby: Onetime leader of the Byrds with a voice of velvet forms CSN super-group and is somehow deemed head of the hippies. He does lots of drugs, band splits and reunites more often than Little Richard stages comebacks, winds up in prison on drug and gun possession charges and becomes the butt of jokes about everything ’60s. After his release, records with CSNY and lays low until he’s on his deathbed in need of a new liver. Transplant successful, Crosby, to quote his bandmate Stephen Stills, carries on.
Hour-long show touches on all the public facts and attempts to find the sources of his despair, starting with the 1969 car-crash death of his steady girlfriend. He found solace in her best friend, eventually fathering a daughter. But family life doesn’t stop his heroin-and-cocaine freefall. In the early ’80s he hooks up with Jan, who will eventually become his wife, yet she joins him for the ride to the bottom: touring the country in a van, getting booed off the stage, an intervention, a one-day stay in rehab, the fugitive months and the Texas prison stint. (He served nine months of a five-year sentence.)
In the 10 years after his release from prison, Crosby is seen on a mission of reconciliation and closure. He returns to his source of rejuvenation — his schooner, the Mayan — re-forms Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young for an album, gets married, has a child and meets his son from a 1964 liaison. That son, James Raymond, forms the band CPR with his biological father.
Perspective on Crosby’s life comes from medical professionals, Jackson Browne, current wife Jan and his longtime cohort and No. 1 supporter, Graham Nash. Neither Stills nor any members of the Byrds offers recollections. Points of view presented are all about acceptance — Crosby is who he is and we love him for it.
For a 45-minute docu, producers seem short on footage and often rely on stills (some are shown three or four times) and canned footage of “the road.” Lengthy shots of the family frolicking at Santa Monica beach are schmaltzy — might the cameras have taken us to the Santa Barbara area where the Crosbys live?
Many of the “Behind the Music” episodes have focused on downfalls and deaths, with the occasional financial comeback tales. Often, there’s a lack of personal redemption, but here it literally overflows for a man whose artistry, if not his impeccable voice, has been in question since 1971’s “If I Could Only Remember My Name” album.