On Music – Pro Fun Magazine

Cameron Crowe Interview: Pro Fun Magazine

“I didn’t burn out on rock, I burned out on deadline journalism,” says Cameron Crowe of his year long hiatus from writing about rock music. Although Crowe perhaps defies the label “critic”, he has been covering musicians and doing interviews for Rolling Stone magazine for the past eight years. (Recent interviews include Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and Sissy Spacek. His work also appears in Penthouse and Playboy.) Now at age 22, he feels it’s time to try writing about other things, although he has no intention of giving up rock journalism. In fact, several major artists have requested that if Rolling Stone wants a story, Cameron Crowe be the one to write it. He recently returned from a trip to Hawaii with photographer Joel Bernstein, where the two discussed plans for their future collaborative effort, a book on Neil Young.

Cameron Crowe is a native Californian; he grew up in San Diego. At the age of 14 he had his first article published in the San Diego Door, an album review of Carole King. He admits to being musically influenced by Creedence Clearwater: “I really got into music because of them. John Berdino and John Fogerty were an inspiration to me.” Around this time he met up with Ben Fong-Torres, a senior editor at Rolling Stone, then a San Francisco-based publication, and thus began his association with the magazine.

Taken under the wing of Editor-Publisher Jann Wenner and with the support of encouraging parents, Cameron had his first of 21 cover stories at the age of 15. At Rolling Stone they affectionately called him The Kid.

Due to some differences at Rolling Stone, Crowe decided to take the year off to do research on his forthcoming book entitled High School (Published by Simon & Schuster, due out by Christmas). By literally going back to high school, posing as a student, he set out to learn what was happening with that mass entity The Kids.

“I kept hearing about this unknown quantity, the KIDS. The kids liked the music, the kids liked the concert, the kids buy albums, etc.”

“It was definitely rock-related,” he recalls. “I got to a point where I felt there was more rock and roll in some kid fixing his car in the garage with the radio blasting than there is sitting down to talk for two hours with Rod Stewart…”

“I thought I wrote best about kids and situations, about growing up. I felt I’d reached a point with features where I’d done it. I still feel I have to prove myself, try another challenge, and become a better writer.”

Since you’ve literally gone back to school for a year, have you found that rock still has the impact on the lives of ‘the kids’ as it did when you were in school?

Yes, definitely. When you’re in high school, the world is more limited; these kids live in their cars and their classrooms when they’re not working their fast food jobs; whatever is on the radio has real significance in their lives. Music is the soundtrack to their world.

For a while you were in every issue of Rolling Stone. What changed?

There is a definite burn out factor. You get on this treadmill of doing profile after profile. You gotta stay a fan, and I’ll always be a fan; rock journalism is a labor of love. Rolling Stone is a good magazine to stretch out and write for, but I want to write about other things. I still love music and listen to records all day long like I used to…

What is your secret to doing a good interview or profile?

Well, I think you’ve got to get the person to go beyond their ‘stock rap’. Artists do a lot of interviews, they develop this stock rap, you can see them go into automatic pilot. You have to be persistent. I think that the people grateful to be able to have a real conversation. I think that anyone who has any kind of sensitivity can do it.

How did you get Joni Mitchell to sit down to do an interview?

I kept bugging her about it for years; she finally said ok.

What is good rock criticism? Who are some critics you read?

It’s so subjective. So much is up to the whim of the writer. The best critics are those who are knowledgeable and objective, who concentrate on the music. Personally, I don’t think someone should get in the way of his subject…Hilburn keeps his distance, he’s great. Here’s a guy that not only does reviews, he does interviews! He’s cool because he interviews the kids; he has a whole frontier of kids out there, he’ll take the time and talk to them, he finds out what’s happening. He asks the important questions, that’s why I like him. He asked Johnny Rotten what he thought of Neil Young’s latest album, he’s great.

Jon Landau is a great essayist. I really like Mikal Gilmore; he can take an entire body of work – an artist’s entire catalog and analyze the work in relation to it. Lester Bangs really brings things out. It’s important to judge by the music. So often the music gets tried against current trends or by the personality of the artist.

What about the impact rock has had on the mainstream media?

As rock got bigger, all these magazines rushed in to capitalize on it. I mean Blondie on the cover of Time? It’s only a matter of time before they’re shot down with slings and arrows. The media has a very short attention span. A lot of the new wave stuff was a direct reaction to the over commercialization of rock. You’ve got to respect the people who don’t pander to it.

What do you think of the new wave?

I think that the music is a lot more exciting because it’s coming live out of clubs. There is more contact with the music; it is better for the fans. The new wave’s great…I think that the down shift in the economy is a healthy thing for rock, a lot of fat cats got knocked out of the box. Kids weren’t going to concerts or buying albums. The music industry in a lot of ways is worse than the most corrupt business…

What about women writing about rock?

Most hedonistic rock stars look down on women journalists (laughs). I think 1976 was rock at its worst…pure decadence… If you’re a woman, you have to be tough and know what you’re doing. Harriet Fier worked her way up from a secretary at Rolling Stone, now she practically runs it. There is Sally Rayl, Daisann McLean and Kirstene McKenna; it’s changing for women.

What do you like best about rock journalism?

I still listen to music all day long like I used to; ask my roommate, he’ll tell you, there is always music coming from under my door. It’s such a challenge to try and capture people who affect me… sometimes it’s enlightening, sometimes it’s disappointing.

I love writing about rock and roll. I always want that to be part of my writing. It is so satisfying to spend time with people who affect you. There are real people buying these records, real kids reading these articles, you see the effect it has on their lives. Rock music touches your life, you want to be part of it…

Courtesy of Pro Fun – Valerie Geller – April, 1980