On Music – Mojo

Fast Times on Sunset

Former boy wonder of US rock journalism Cameron Crowe becomes Hollywood bigshot but remains die-hard rock fan.

Your professional writing career began when you were barely 16. How did you manage that?

My sister worked for an underground paper in San Diego, and she got me in. Then I sent tear sheets to Lester Bangs at Creem, who’d written for the same underground paper. He sent me back a letter that said, “Your writing is damn good, go write about Humble Pie”. My first real assignment was interviewing Steve Marriott, who had a Heineken and a big hash cigarette going backstage. And they published it.

Were you conscious of the enormity of what you were doing?

Yeah! I would try to tell the kids in my school that I’d been interviewing Black Sabbath, and they didn’t believe me. I was like a geek, but I loved writing about rock. And it really was my ticket out.

Were you any more self-confident when Rolling Stone took you on at the age of 17?

No, I was like, “When am I going to get caught?” And my first big assignment was a terrible thing! It was my first cover story, on The Allman Brothers. Gregg Allman panicked the night before I was supposed to go home that too many secrets had been told and asked for all the tapes. Neal Preston was the photographer and was able to talk Gregg into giving the tapes back.

Was there any particular interview in which you felt you had really captured the artist?

David Bowie, 1975. It really caught that paranoid, post-Ziggy period. He was saying, “What am I doing? I’m lost in LA with Iggy Pop”, and it was just amazing stuff to write about. It was all so entertaining and wild, like a rock dream come to life!

How did you make the transition from that fantasy job to the fantasy job of writing hit movies?

It seems like a bigger leap than it was at the time. I’d kind of burned out on writing profiles for Rolling Stone. And I got it into my head that a real rock story would not be Rod Stewart in a hotel room talking about his kids. The book which later became Fast Times at Ridgemont High was an attempt to write about rock but not about rock stars.

You’ve said the movie of Fast Times was done on a shoestring budget and without much corporate support.

I don’t think anyone believed in it, but on its opening weekend kids who’d seen the movie the night before were back, quoting Sean Penn’s lines! Sean really caught something.

If is true that you don’t have very happy memories of making Singles, your movie about the grunge scene in Seattle?

Well, it was a big fight to get it shot in Seattle, and it was a big fight before they would even release it. It’s so ironic that people think, Oh, they went and made a movie after Nirvana broke. At the end, what it came down to was they said they’d release the movie if Pearl Jam would play a premiere party which could be filmed by MTV.

Are you still a die-hard music fan?

Oh, yeah! I arrived in London the other day, took a nap, got up and went straight to where they shot the cover for Ziggy Stardust. I just had to go! I’m always the guy who bores actors by telling rock stories.

What do you think of rock journalism today?

I always thought Lester Bangs was the only guy who was able to put himself in the article and it was OK that the article was a lot about Lou Reed reacting to Lester. I liked Nick Kent, too, It was the lesser talents who made themselves the point of their stories. But I have to tell you this. In the Page/Plant interview for MOJO the first question was, “This is the first time you guys have done an interview together since the piece in Rolling Stone in 1975, right?” And it was so funny, because they weren’t together for that interview. I had to put it together. I thought I’d mentioned it in the lead, but …erm, I guess I forgot!

Courtesy of Mojo (UK) – Chris Marlowe – August, 1995