On Music – Blender

These Songs Choose Us

What special effects are to George Lucas and semen jokes are to the Farrelly Brothers, seemingly meaningless pop songs are to famed director (Say Anything…, Almost Famous, Jerry Maguire) Cameron Crowe. How does he account for his peerless soundtrack selections?

Where are you, and what are you doing right now?

I’m in my kitchen, taking a break from finishing a script.

Did you know when you were directing Say Anything… that the scene in which Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack) stands outside the bedroom window of Diane Court (Ione Skye) and blasts Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” was music/movie perfection?

Oh, no. That was a lucky accident. The sad truth is, I wrote that scene for Billy Idol’s “To Be a Lover,” if you can believe it. There was one day I liked that song, and that was the day I wrote the scene. By the next day, I knew it was a hideously wrong choice. We searched for the right song the whole time we were making Say Anything…, and we ended up filming the scene to “Party at Ground Zero” by Fishbone. Cusack was in a deep Fishbone phase – he was a passionate fan.

Ska-punk doesn’t seem the smoothest seduction music.

Well, we put it together, and it was really wrong – as wrong as “To Be a Lover”. You’ve just got to imagine it” Ione’s turning in her bed, and this song is insidiously working into her soul – and then you cut to Cusack holding a boom box blasting… Fishbone? It’s like, “Pull it together, man! Have you ever heard about setting the proper mood? Dude, pick your moment.” It was so wrong.

So how did you land on “In Your Eyes,” then?

I was driving to work one day and listening to a tape I’d made for our wedding [Crowe married Heart guitarist Nancy Wilson in 1986]. Acoustic stuff, “What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peach, Love & Understanding” – and “In Your Eyes.” I hear Peter Gabriel singing about driving in his car, thinking of this girl, and I’m like, “Wait a minute!” I ran into the editing room, we played the song to the scene, and it was perfect.

Every girl who’s ever seen Say Anything… dreams of her boyfriend pulling a Lloyd Dobler.

People have actually proposed with that move, playing the song outside the window. It’s one of my favorite scenes. It gave me chills when I first saw the movie.

How did Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” become the focal point of Almost Famous?

Back when I was a rock journalist in the ’70s, I’d spend weeks on the road with bands, and they would always have these surprising guilty pleasures. Their true, secret musical passion was rarely the stuff you’d expect. I always loved how an insanely hard rocker would be listening to Woody Guthrie or Kiki Dee! I remember Led Zeppelin were obsessed with Neil Young and Joni Mitchell. In the movie, the band knew the Elton John song but didn’t want to look at each other as they sang. The idea was to show the kind of private moment I always tried to write about.

Which real band had “Tiny Dancer” as a guilty pleasure?

I’d heard it on a bus once with the Marshall Tucker Band.

So why “Tiny Dancer” for Almost Famous?

The song needed to be something comforting that could pull the protagonist out of a bad acid trip. Most of all, though, “Tiny Dancer” is about a groupie or “band aid” whom Bernie Taupin [John’s songwriting partner] had married. Her name was Maxine, and she was a Penny Lane, from what I’d gathered. It was a song about a Penny Lane, claimed by Penny Lane in the movie. It always felt like the centerpiece. Some people came up to me and said, “I love that cheesy moment when they all sing,” and I always feel a pang – like, “Your cheese is my sanctity!” These songs we associate with key moments in our lives choose us, not the other way around.

Who sang the worst during the “Tiny Dancer” scene?

Patrick Fugit [who played the young journalist William Miller] – it’s appropriate, I guess. We didn’t overdub anybody, but we turned him down as far as possible.

What’s your favorite musical movie moment?

I’ve always tried to use “Ruby Tuesday” in a movie, but I’ve never found the right way to use it without feeling bombastic. In The Royal Tenenbaums, Luke Wilson and Gwyneth Paltrow’s characters are listening to the Rolling Stones’ Between the Buttons while they’re hanging out int he tent. The brilliant thing that [Tenenbaums director] Wes Anderson does is let the album track into “Ruby Tuesday,” so you hear a bit of the song that comes before it. It completely catches you by surprise; it’s how you’d hear if it you were listening to the album. That’s the most brilliant musical cue since Martin Scorsese used “Be My Baby” in Mean Streets.

You’ve cast musicians from Eddie Vedder to Peter Frampton in roles. How do they typically do?

Hideously. Musicians are generally really bad actors. But with a little loving care, sometimes they relax into being great.

Courtesy of Blender – Matt Diehl – September, 2002