Almost Famous – Toronto Sun

Cameron Crowe’s Humble Start

A blast to Cameron’s Almost Famous rock ‘n’ roll past as a Rolling Stone scribe

SAN DIEGO — And he’s proud of it. When Cameron Crowe says he’s a child of rock ‘n’ roll, he’s not just whistling Dazed And Confused. He means it, man.

The 43-year-old Crowe is currently a big-shot writer and director with a movie coming out on Friday called Almost Famous, and that’s mostly thanks to the pull Crowe got from the show-me-the-Tom-Cruise in Crowe’s popular hit Jerry Maguire.

Almost Famous is a rock ‘n’ roll biography of Crowe as a teenaged Rolling Stone writer on the road with a rock band in the early 1970s. Newcomer Patrick Fugit plays Crowe. Billy Crudup portrays a rock star, Kate Hudson is a groupie and Frances McDormand is Crowe’s mom, Elaine.

Crowe? Rolling Stone writer? Mom?

Back in the days before sponsor rock and perfect haircuts, Crowe was a smart, attentive and an incredibly well-mannered, 15-year-old, grade-skipping San Diego high school kid who liked rock ‘n’ roll so much he thought he would write about it.

He thought about it so much, he decided to write a letter and tell Creem’s Lester Bangs about his urges. Bangs, a rock writer of some fame then, replied by assigning him to do something on Humble Pie. That’s right, “DO SOMETHING,” whatever that meant. Crowe wasn’t sure and probably Lester Bangs wasn’t sure either. Those were the days, my friend.

As any 15-year-old might do back in 1972, Crowe bummed a ride from his parents to a Humble Pie show here, hustled his way backstage — typically, he wasn’t expected — and ended up getting some slurred words and visions from a hashed-up and beered-out Steve Marriott.

Bangs bought Crowe’s Humble Pie impressions, and then Rolling Stone decided to buy into Crowe after reading his prose. A year later, at 16 with the peach fuzz barely blooming, Crowe hit the road with the Allman Brothers and Led Zeppelin and a whole bunch of wild ’70s rock trippers with attitudes and no rules.

Six or so years later, these things happened to Cameron Crowe. Rolling Stone soon found out he was underage for a lot of things, but hired him full-time anyway. He shared rock road burn with the biggest names of the ’70s. And he also went back to high school, undercover, and eventually wrote a book called Fast Times At Ridgemount High, which became his script, and became a successful movie and gave him reason to make a career change.

In 1989, he confirmed that career change with his movie Say Anything, starring John Cusack. His wife, Nancy Wilson of Heart, wrote some music for her husband’s movie.

I met with Crowe and Wilson way back then in Toronto. I was a rock writer who was never on the backstage lists either. We had a lot in common and mostly yukked it up about the egomaniacs in the music industry.

I confessed this to Crowe, though. Most of the rock stars I had talked to in the ’80s were clean and sober, or at least they pretended to be. And my parents never had to drive me to my assignments.

Near the end of our Say Anything gabfest — I really was astounded by this — I asked Crowe, in my best diplomatic, don’t-be-offended-by-my-insinuation voice: “How come you turned out to be so normal?” He shrugged, innocently, like his parents were about to call him to the supper table.

Eleven years and lots of Crowe fame and fortune later, I bumped into him here, the day before some extremely organized Almost Famous interviews at a downtown hotel.

He said, “Hi,” and then he said politely — after some squinting in my direction — that, yes, he remembered our Say Anything session and tapped me gently on the back with a “How ya been?” I told him I was fine, even if he didn’t remember me, and wondered to myself, then out loud, on how he had turned out so normal after more than a decade of doing the Hollywood shuffle.

He shrugged again, Cameron Crowe style.

The next day, Crowe came into his interview room in an ensemble of almost-pressed T-shirt and shorts. The movie industry had changed him, after all.

So what did he have to say for himself? He said that the Almost Famous movie idea “had been kicking around for so long” that he was just happy it was finished, thrilled that he could use all of his pack-rat souvenirs he collected.

“I am glad that I waited. I think that Jerry Maguire helped me, at least, get the opportunity to get this one done right,” Crowe said.

And, apparently, it was done with lots of realistic and loving attention to Crowe film detail. Like Crowe actually lost his virginity to a gaggle of groupies one night. Like he was innocent but not naive.

But did his professor mother really keep saying to him, at every opportunity, “Don’t do drugs”?

Crowe chuckles a little bit, like it’s just sort of funny, but not really knee-slapping.

“She was here yesterday, she lives in San Diego,” he says by way of answering ‘yes’ to the ‘Don’t do drugs’ question. “So, she was here. And the doorbell rang at my room, and I thought that it was somebody else, and as I opened the door to the room, there was my mom with her sister-in-law, and she says, ‘You’re not drinking coffee are you? Coffee is bad for your kidneys.’ I went back in, hid the coffee, and said, ‘Come on in, mom.’ So, we haven’t changed that much.”

And as Crowe points out, his “cool mom” also made him take courses at summer school, “plus she made me skip all those grades” when he was a rockin’ Rolling Stone teenager.

Crowe recalls it this way. He was always with people who seemed older, even at school. And especially with the Allman Brothers, the first group he went on the road with at 16 — “that was the Brother’s and Sister’s tour which was right after Ramblin’ Man broke.” And it was just after he couldn’t get backstage at that immortal Humble Pie concert.

“Hey, I still can’t get backstage,” Crowe said. “When we came to the San Diego Sports Arena to film this, I went to the door, and the guy behind the door said, ‘You can’t come in.’ I couldn’t come in to film the scene about not being able to come in to a rock show.”

Crowe seems befuddled: “It’s bizarre. There is something about me that says, ‘I don’t belong.’ ”

Still not cool after all these years.

“I don’t know if it’s cool, just something that exudes.”

And he’s proud of it.


BEST: “Led Zeppelin doing Dazed And Confused at Madison Square Garden.”

WORST: “Getting crushed at the front of the stage at the San Diego Sports Arena for The Who.”

Courtesy of Toronto Sun – Bob Thompson – September 10, 2000