A Fan's Notes

After Jerry Maguire, Cameron Crowe comes of age...finally

Crowe, trading on his youth and innocence, managed to woo bands that had come to loathe Rolling Stone. Led Zeppelin had long insisted it wanted nothing to do with the magazine, since it had trashed every one of its albums. Crowe got Robert Plant and Jimmy Page to sit down for a lengthy interview in March 1975--and, in fact, Crowe is the only filmmaker to receive permission from the two to use Zeppelin songs in his films. He adored the artists whom the older Rolling Stone writers despised: the Eagles, Peter Frampton, Fleetwood Mac, the Allman Brothers, Poco, Linda Ronstadt, and Yes.

Though Draper suggests that some writers bristled at Crowe's "lack of a critical edge," by the mid-1970s, many West Coast musicians told the magazine they would only agree to appear in Rolling Stone if Crowe did the interview. Crowe was never bothered by accusations that he used his job at Rolling Stone to become friends with musicians, despite the advice of critic and mentor Lester Bangs, who is Almost Famous' conscience. The thrill of being so close to the source of creation rendered all accusations a moot point. He always considered himself the fan's surrogate, the guy reporting from the front-row seat a Rolling Stone reader might never have.

But Almost Famous is hardly a love letter to the 1970s or, for that matter, the author himself. It is criticism couched in nostalgia, the bitter pill coated in sugar, as Wilder used to say of his own films. The writer-director has made a cinematic version of the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds: There's a heartbreaking story lurking just beneath its grinning, stoned exterior. Crowe, still the true believer, revels in the metaphor.

Backstage pass: Cameron Crowe, right, directs Billy Crudup on the set of Almost Famous.
Backstage pass: Cameron Crowe, right, directs Billy Crudup on the set of Almost Famous.

"I love Brian Wilson," he says. "I love the thing that sounds sweet and is sort of pop, but you go back and listen to it again, and you realize that this is a guy who has given up, who's heading for the sandbox. Listen to Brian's song "I Just Wasn't Made For These Times.' It is deathly sad, but you'd never know it till the second or third listen. The same is true of Fast Times. It's very sad when the girl gets an abortion, but she's just fuckin' glad that her brother is parked outside and she has a car she can get into. I just like celebrating the small, sweet moments. I love that in Almost Famous, we cut to a kid's face who hears "My Cherie Amour' in his mind while a girl's getting her stomach pumped, because he's just happy to be in the same room with her. It's sort of my sensibility, and you get it or you don't, but to me it's more interesting. And, yeah, it all comes from music."

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