Artist Spotlight: Cameron Crowe
The Spectacular Life of Crowe
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The genius behind the ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’ book and script, the films, ‘Say Anything’ and ‘Almost Famous’ has a more exciting past than thought to be. Cameron Crowe born in Palm Springs, California graduated from the University of San Diego High School in 1972, at the ripe age of 15. As a child he skipped kindergarten and two grades in elementary school giving him the opportunity to experience all that life has to offer at such a young age and get a head start in the adult world. Before his tremendous success in the film industry, Crowe began writing as the youngest rock journalist for Rolling Stone Magazine in ‘72. He wrote for several music magazines like Creem and Circus as well during his time as a journalist. His very first cover story for Rolling Stone was on The Allman Brothers Band. He went on to write stories on Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, Pearl Jam, The Eagles, Lynyrd Skynyrd, etc . Crowe has stated that when he was covering Zeppelin, he had a difficult time getting an interview with Jimmy Page because of his hate for rock journalists and for Rolling Stone. After about 3 weeks of Crowe begging Page for an interview and following them on tour, he finally gave in out of pure sympathy for Crowe. It was a moment of sheer triumph.
This hardship that Crowe faced during his journalism days is loosely represented in the semi-autobiographical ‘Almost Famous’ when William, played by Patrick Fugit, has a strenuous time getting an interview with the lead guitarist (like Page), Russell Hammond(played by Billy Crudup) of the fictional band, Stillwater. Crowe has explicitly expressed that ‘Almost Famous’ was a love letter to music and was the story based on his personal upbringing. It so accurately captures the 70’s rock scene and creates a sense of true nostalgia for old and new audiences. When you watch the film you can’t help, but wish to experience the excitement of the 70’s and all the hectic life behind the music. The main character, William Miller, is a version of Crowe in his journey as a rock journalist and the supporting characters are based on the incredible people he met on the road. The famous band-aid in the film, Penny Lane, is based on a real life groupie that Crowe got close to while touring with many bands in the ‘70’s combined with many other groupie’s that he became close with. Penny Lane was played by Kate Hudson in the film and won a Golden Globe in 2000 for Best supporting Actress in a Comedy and was nominated for an Oscar for best supporting Actress. Unfortunately Hudson fell short that evening, but ‘Almost Famous’ won Best Motion Picture. Crowe won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay that same night as well. Hudson was nominated for an Oscar along with another supporting actress from the film, Frances McDormand, who played William’s mother. Most of his film related awards are due to his hard and genuine work in ‘Almost Famous’. The movie did amazing and instantly became a cult classic. It is my all time favorite movie and it is fully deserving of that title.
After writing for Rolling Stone for several years with such a success he eventually become a contributing editor for the publication. Before he wrote for the big times, he started writing for his school newspaper in high school and at 13, he started writing music reviews for an underground newspaper, The San Diego Door. Crowe began contacting,
Lester Bangs, the then editor for rock magazine, Creem. Bangs had previously wrote for The San Diego Door and had become a sort of mentor for Crowe. After Crowe started coordinating with Bangs, he started submitting his articles to Creem and Circus. All of this, is depicted in his personal film as well. After he graduated he met Ben Fong-Torres, the editor of Rolling Stone Magazine in LA, who also has a character that appears in the film. In an interview Fong-Torres said, “He was the guy we sent out after some difficult customers. He covered the bands that hated Rolling Stone.” Crowe went on tour with The Allman Brothers Band when he was just 16 and interviewed the band and the road crew. This was just the beginning of his exciting journey. To this day, Crowe is still friends with musicians like, Elton John, Peter Frampton, Robert Plant, and so many other iconic performers. He was known for his passion of music and his honest and unmerciful reviews. He wrote what he wanted and his career thrived off of that truthfulness.
Following his exhilarating lifestyle on the road, in 1984 he started screenwriting. His first script was the classic ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’ adapted from his first novel ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’. He went on to write classics like, ‘The Wild Life’, a pseudo- sequel to Fast Times, ‘Say Anything’, ‘Singles’, ‘Jerry Maguire’, ‘Almost Famous’, ‘Vanilla Sky’, ‘Elizabethtown’, ‘The Union’, ‘Pearl Jam Twenty’, ‘We Bought a Zoo’, ‘Aloha’, and the TV series, ‘Roadies’. His movie ‘Singles’ is about love and relationships during the Seattle grunge scene in the 90’s and interestingly enough, it was the inspiration for the TV show, ‘Friends’. There were cameo’s of Pearl Jam band members before they were famous and even an appearance from Tim Burton. The critically acclaimed, ‘Say Anything’ is a coming-of-age tale of first love with undertones of heartbreak and of course it holds the iconic boom box scene outside of Diane’s room window. The movie perfectly shows how Crowe is able to balance comedy and heartbreak within his writing. He has also directed a total of 4 music videos for Tommy Petty and The Heartbreakers, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains and Paul Westerberg. He has appeared in several film with minor roles, making his career include journalist, screenwriter, director and actor. Crowe married Nancy Wilson, one of the sisters of Heart in 1986. She helped with the production of ‘Almost Famous’ and even wrote some pieces for the background music in some scenes. They had twins together, William James Crowe (maybe named after the character, William, in ‘Almost Famous’?) and Curtis Wilson Crowe, in 2000, but unfortunately, Crowe and Wilson, separated in 2012.
His work has changed the film industry and journalism drastically over the last 40 years as we know it. Crowe’s success is what has kept the film industry thriving since he wrote ‘Fast Time as Ridgemnont High’. His work is something that many aspire to be close to, including me. As an aspiring screenwriter, he has become my role model and my inspiration.