Tag Archives: Journalism

Billy, How Did You Do it?

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Billy & Cameron. Photo By Neal Preston

We lost the great Billy Wilder 15 years ago today. I thought it would be great to remember him with this 2005 Sight & Sound piece that Cameron wrote. It’s new to The Uncool and we hope you seek out a Wilder film to watch tonight!

Billy, how did you do it?

‘Elizabethtown’ director Cameron Crowe pays tribute to Billy Wilder

 The first Billy Wilder movie to ever grace my family’s living room was Some Like It Hot. I was too small to catch all the subtext of those cross-dressing musicians, but this much was clear: something was going on inside that movie. A subversive sense of humour was at play, and those big laughs rocked our house. Later, someone pointed out that the same man made Sunset Blvd., another movie we all watched together as a family. Both were late-night ‘movies of the week’ on TV. The magic was palpable, even on that small screen.

I decided to become a film-maker to protect a script I’d written called Say Anything… A number of other directors had passed on it, and the script was about to fall into the hands of someone who cared a lot less about it than me. Wilder, a journalist who became a director for similar reasons, was one of the first masters I turned to in preparing to direct. Most writer-directors seeking inspiration eventually go to Wilder. I worked through his pictures one by one. His work was like a drug – character-rich stories filled with laughs and story turns so deft you could get a body rush sitting in the theatre. Eventually, I got to The Apartment, sadly after my father had passed away. Halfway through, it was already my favourite. When I heard the last line of the movie, “shut up and deal”, I realised where one of my dad’s favourite phrases had come from.

Part of the great fun of being a fan of Billy Wilder is that your favourite Wilder pictures change over the years. For me, sometimes it’s Love in the Afternoon; other times it’s A Foreign Affair; but usually I return to The Apartment. The characters, the score, the melancholy and the perfection of the script and performances… It’s hard to top. though the fizzy comic wallop of Some Like It Hot sure gives it a run for its money.

In my experience of interviewing him, Wilder usually chose Some Like It Hot or The Apartment as his personal favourite. His reasons he said, were mostly script-based. He just loved the structure and the successful collaborations with his writing partner Izzy Diamond. He often mentioned the ‘cracked mirror’ scene in The Apartment as one of his favourite moments in any of his films He explained that these pictures and Sunset Blvd. “just worked”. Of his audience favourites, the only one that seemed to displease him was Irma la Douce. As for his favourite actors, he always mentioned Lemmon and Matthau and, with an extra twinkle, Charles Laughton.

Double Indemnity survives because of its masterful victory of tone and performance and direction. For a still young director, it was a work of sly bravura. And Wilder’s favourite element – the inner ‘love story’ between Fred MacMurray and Edward G. Robinson – gives the movie its freshness and a dark kick. Many try for this tone; few get there.Wilder used to say that a masterful comic actor like Cary Grant would forever be beaten at the Oscars by a less talented, furrow-browed serious actor with a “physical ailment of some kind”. It was his way, I think, of waving the flag for what he felt to be a far more difficult exercise – comedy. He was a great fan of modem pictures that had a certain graceful comic perfection, like the Japanese film Shall We Dance?. He also loved the deep-tissue satire of American Beauty. As for his own legacy, Wilder sometimes scoffed, “Why would anyone care about me?” But, in fact, he’d noticed the parade of younger film-makers who cited him and made a point of telling me it genuinely surprised and touched him. “A lot’?” “A little,” he’d answer with a trademark flick of his eyebrow that indicated the opposite might also be true.

As Wilder once said of Audrey Hepburn, “there is only one”. But his lessons to other modern directors are clear: protect your script and your characters; observe the values of script structure… Take a look at the work of Wilder’s own heroes, from Ernst Lubitsch to William Wyler, and then go out there with a camera and tell your stories with glee and a ferocious lack of false sentimentality. But most of all, “don’t bore them”.

Courtesy of Sight & Sound – Cameron Crowe – October, 2005

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Mar 27, 2017

James Taylor: Mr. Homebody

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We are pleased to share a new addition to the Journalism section today. Cameron did this interview with James Taylor for the L.A. Times circa August, 1976. We hope you like it!
James Taylor: Just a Homebody Who Finds No Warmth in the Spotlight

The young man edged closer and stared for a moment to make sure the lanky figure in the corner of the restaurant was indeed James Taylor. The man then tore a soiled bandage from his own forehead and began shrieking that Taylor had just miraculously healed him.Within seconds, the other customers in the restaurant were gawking at the shy singer-songwriter. Taylor sighed quietly and buried his head in his hands. All he had wanted was a burger.

 

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Feb 10, 2016

Glenn Frey Tribute

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Eagles (November, 1972) (L-R) Frey, Meisner, Henley & Leadon. Photo by Gary Elam.

Cameron shared his thoughts with Rolling Stone in a new tribute to late Glenn Frey. We will share an excerpt below, but please check out Rolling Stone for the entire story.

It was 1972, and “Take It Easy” was still on the charts. The Eagles came to San Diego, and I was working for a small local underground paper.   I grabbed my photographer buddy Gary from high-school and made a plan. We were going to sneak backstage and grab an interview with this new group. I loved their harmonies, and the confident style that charged their first hit-single.

Glenn Frey introduced the band. “We’re the Eagles from Southern California.”

They were explosive, right off the top, opening with their acapella rendition of “Seven Bridges Road.” Then, with utter confidence, this new band, filled with piss and vinegar, launched immediately into their hit.   There was nothing “laid-back,” about them.   No “saving the hit for last.” This was a band with confidence. They were a lean-and-mean American group, strong on vocals and stronger on attitude. Gary and I talked our way backstage with ease, found the band’s road-manager, and he threw us all into a small dressing room where drummer-singer Don Henley, bassist Randy Meisner, and guitarist Bernie Leadon took us through the story of the band.   Every other sentence began with “And then Glenn… “ Glenn Frey was the only guy not in the room.

After about a half-hour, the door whipped open and Frey walked in. He had a Detroit swagger, a memorable drawl and a patter like a baseball player who’d just been called up to the majors. He was part musician, part tactician and part stand-up comic. It was immediately obvious, Glenn had his eye on the big picture. He’d studied other bands, and how they broke up or went creatively dry. He had a plan laid out.   He even used that first interview to promote his friends – Jackson Browne, John David Souther , Ned Doheny and San Diego songwriter Jack Tempchin.   His laugh and demeanor was infectious. Immediately, you wanted to be in his club.   At the end of the interview, I asked them all to pose together. The photo is one of my favorites. It captures one of their earliest, happiest, freest moments… a band that would later brawl memorably, was giddy and happy that night, arms wrapped around each other. Glenn’s look is priceless – this is my band, and we’re on our way.

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Jan 25, 2016

Frampton Comes Alive! Turns 40

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Can you believe it has been 40 years today since Peter Frampton’s seminal live album, Frampton Comes Alive!?  It was a phenomenon upon its debut and the album has now sold more than 11 million copies worldwide. To celebrate, here’s Cameron’s liner notes from the January 6, 1976 release.

Frampton Comes Alive!

It’s the classic tale of most inspired performers. Be they actor or musician or both, anyone whose art often burns with the passion of a man possessed is more often than not a soft-spoken personality away from their craft. Twenty-five-year-old Peter Frampton is no miraculous exception. He is a quietly good-natured man who, in his own words, lives for the stage.

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Jan 6, 2016

Chris Hillman Slips Away…

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Cameron talks with Chris Hillman on the cusp of his first solo album, Slippin’ Away. They chat about his long career with such legendary acts as The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers and much more.

Chris Hillman: Early Byrd Finds His Wings

Los Angeles – The laundry attendant at Holloway Cleaners was amazed. “You’re Chris Hillman, aren’t you? What are you doing here?” In another 15 minutes, Hillman was scheduled to make his Los Angeles solo debut at the Roxy nightclub down the street.  He handed over his claim check. “I can’t go to work in a dirty shirt,” he said.

Chris Hillman’s use of the word “work” should never be taken as an antimusic remark. He does not fashion himself an archetypal rock star, riding in limousines and worrying of nothing but art. Ever since his too-much, too-soon days as bassist/guitarist with the Byrds, Hillman has demanded none of the luxuries of his trade. “fuck all that other stuff,” he laughs.

Now 31, Hillman has made his reputation by staying out of West Coast music spotlights. Whether with the Byrds or as a founding member of the Flying Burrito Brothers, Manassas and the Souther-Hillman-Furay Band, he has been most content as the lurking accomplice.

Few even know of his discoveries. Hillman was one of the earliest supporters of the Buffalo Springfield, arranging for their first auspicious break as house band at the Whisky-A-Go-Go. It was even Hillman who brought fellow Byrd David Crosby over for a first look at the band that featured Crosby’s future partners, Steve Stills and Neil Young. (Crosby’s reaction: “Aww, I don’t like ’em.”) Years later, he stumbled onto Emmylou Harris – then a shy Joni Mitchell-esque folk singer – in a Washington D.C. nightclub. “I wanted to sing with her, but I was too wrapped up in Manassas.” Instead, he convinced Gram Parsons to give her a call. More recently, he helped his former backing band – now called Firewall – record the demos that led to their contract. “Look at me,” Hillman likes to joke, “look at what I get for helping everybody out. A cult. I should recut ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ disco.”

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Dec 21, 2015

Pearl Jam – 5 X 1 Through the Eye of Lance Mercer

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Cameron provided one of the introductions to Lance Mercer’s 2006 photo book of Pearl Jam. Enjoy!

first song, first show.”Release.” moore theater. seattle. even then, pearl jam was something a little more personal, a little more passionate than you were prepared for, already with a history steeped in pain and rebirth and a deep-running love of music. it felt like a club, in the best way. still does. every album, every show still resonates like a bootleg, smuggled directly from the band to you. and every one of lance’s great photos pulses with that spirit. this is the backstage, onstage, every stage journey of pearl jam, forever strapped to the muse. so pick your disc, or spin your vinyl and turn it way up. these images are meant to be listened to, loud.

Cameron Crowe

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Dec 12, 2015

Led Zeppelin – Slowly Rising

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Cameron gets the scoop on Led Zeppelin’s latest album, Presence. This August, 1976 story is brand new to the site and marks our 251st article/interview in the Journalism section. Happy Monday!

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Zeppelin Rising . . . Slowly

Jimmy Page tells how Led Zep turned an accident into an album: ‘We started screaming and never stopped’

Los Angeles – Had singer Robert Plant’s sedan not slammed into a tree on the Greek island of Rhodes, shattering his ankle and all the bone supporting his left leg, Led Zeppelin would surely have dwarfed all touring competition is golden rock & roll summer. But Plant, who is not one to perform from a chair, is still months away from complete recovery. Until that day, the band even Elton John calls “the world’s biggest act in music” is stilled.

Presence, Zeppelin’s seventh and latest album, remains one of the best-selling albums of the year, even without benefit of a tour, a single or even a photo of the band. A film of the band in concert, The Song Remains the Same, is set for release this fall. All this at a time when most heavy-metal heroes have either tempered their approach or died an unsuspecting death. Such is the enigma of Led Zeppelin.

Jimmy Page, the band’s guitarist and mentor, was on a working vacation in Los Angeles with Plant, drummer John “Bonzo” Bonham, manager Peter Grant and various members of Bad Company. Page was keeping a low profile. His easy pace of writing, relaxing and supervising a band called Detective, the newest act on Led Zep’s Swan Song label, was interrupted by only one nightclub visit – to the Roxy for Doctor Feelgood – and one interview.

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Sep 22, 2015

Doobie Brothers – Rock Magazine 1973

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The Doobie Brothers, July 15, 1973 Balboa Stadium, San Diego California. Photo by Julian Baum.

Cameron has a quick chat with The Doobie Brothers for this 1973 interview with Rock Magazine.

Nice Guys Don’t Win, But Doobies Do

Nine months ago, in a Warner/Reprise mail-out by the name of The Circular, a contest was declared. The Doobie Brothers, owners of an obscure first album, were about to finish a second and needed title for the LP. Readers were encouraged to send in their suggestions, and the winner, besides receiving credit for the verbal creation, would have his picture plastered on the album’s cover.

“We had a tough time deciding what the name of the album should be,” Tiran Porter, Doobie’s bassist reminisces. “That particular contest for the name never worked out. We had a lot of “Doobie Doo” and some clown even thought up “Dickey Doo and the Don’ts.” Needless to say, there was no winner. The album was simply called Toulouse Street after one of the album’s cuts.

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Aug 31, 2015

Mike Finger’s The Blue and the Black