Almost Famous – Detroit News #2

Crowe’s music past helped fill film with Led Zeppelin songs

Writer/director Cameron Crowe is a music-obsessive, and it shows. In his film Say Anything, actor John Cusack plays a guy who believes that playing just the right song on a boombox outside his dream girl’s house will win her over.

When Crowe was talking to Tom Cruise about his plans for the movie Jerry Maguire, Crowe played the actor the Who song “Magic Bus,” explaining that he wanted the film to have the same feel.

Selecting the music for his latest movie, Almost Famous, was great fun for Crowe, who even wrote some of the soundtrack music with his musician wife, Nancy Wilson, of Heart, and guitarist Peter Frampton.

He also managed the impossible, persuading Jimmy Page and Robert Plant to let him use five Led Zeppelin songs on the movie soundtrack, a first.

“Led Zeppelin has always been the holy grail of film music,” says Almost Famous music supervisor Danny Bramson. “It’s like when Mike Myers in Wayne’s World goes into a guitar shop and starts to play the first two notes of ‘Stairway to Heaven,’ then he stops, looks into the camera and says, ‘We are not worthy!!’ ”

But Crowe was worthy, and the reasons why are tied up in much of the personal history he explores in his movie about a teen-aged rock writer in the ’70s.

The director has known the group since he was a 16-year-old sent to interview them, which earned him a private audience with Page and Plant.

Crowe and Bramson flew to London to show the rock stars a rough cut of Almost Famous, with Crowe so afraid of their reaction he covered his eyes during the screening. “I couldn’t watch,” he says with a laugh. “But they dug it, surprisingly so.”

“Robert also asked what my mother thought of the movie,” Crowe says, laughing. Alice Crowe liked it — but who wouldn’t mind being played by Frances McDormand?

Page even suggested that they use another piece of Zeppelin music, “Bron Y Aur,” during one of the movie’s moody sequences.

Crowe’s music mania hasn’t subsided now that he’s 43, he still compiles what he calls “road tapes” of his current favorite songs, and has them marked with the month and year.

“On every one of those tapes there was a reminder that there was a movie waiting to be made,” Crowe says. “On some tapes, there’d be ‘That’s The Way’ by Led Zeppelin, or ‘Mr. Farmer’ by the Seeds, or ‘Tiny Dancer,’ even,” he says, which happen to be songs he used in the film.

Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” plays a pivotal role, serving as a healing device as everyone on the tour bus sings it, but also evoking innocence for those who heard the song at the time, and probably surprising young people who didn’t realize John ever sounded that fresh.

“Tiny Dancer had a lot of memories for me,” says Crowe. “I had a bad date at the Civic Theatre in San Diego once when Elton John was there, and he played that song. There’s something about the piano intro that always took me back, and I wanted that to be in there.”

Bramson and Crowe went back to the original recordings for most of the songs they used, and they found a bit of a surprise in the original track for “Tiny Dancer.”

“Elton gave us the separated tracks for that and it’s pretty great. It’s really well-recorded, but right before he starts playing he says into the microphone “Adam Dick. What a name!’ Then he starts playing “Tiny Dancer.’ Who’s Adam Dick?” Crowe wonders, laughing. “An English rock star? I wonder if you went up to Elton John today and said “Adam Dick says hello!’ what he’d do!”

Ever the journalist, Crowe seeded the movie with many musical cues, both aural and visual. Thus in the scenes with Creem writer Lester Bangs, there are MC5, Stooges and Lou Reed albums, true to Bangs’ taste.

During a dramatic scene between Patrick Fugit as the young rock writer and Kate Hudson as the quasi-groupie, sharp-eyed music fans will recognize that Steely Dan is performing on the Midnight Special, on the hotel room’s TV set.

The rest of the movie’s soundtrack is made up of 1973 (or previous) gems that Crowe felt hadn’t yet been corrupted by TV advertisers, among them Cat Stevens’ “The Wind”; “Feel Flows” by the Beach Boys; “It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference” by Todd Rundgren; “Ortiz the Killer” from a Neil Young live bootleg; Thunderclap Newman’s “Something in the Air,” and others.

Oh, but wait — “The Wind” is now a goner.

“I was half asleep the other night and my wife was still watching TV,” says Crowe. “Suddenly she said “Wake up, wake up, another one of your songs has bit the dust!’ They were using “The Wind’ on a Timberland commercial. I woke up, heard it and said, ‘Oh, damn!’ ”

Courtesy of The Detroit News – Susan Whitall – October 4, 2000