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Cameron Crowe: ‘Be a Warrior for Your Greatest Dreams’

The ‘Almost Famous’ and ‘Jerry Maguire’ director, 65, talks with former ‘Rolling Stone’ music editor Ben Fong-Torres, who discovered Crowe’s writing talent

spinner image cameron crowe at the bernard b jacobs theatre in new york city
Cameron Crowe at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre in New York City, where ‘Almost Famous The Musical’ is being performed on Broadway.
Dolly Faibyshev

How did you fall in love with music writing?

I fell in love with music in San Diego, living in a little basement apartment. I would go get records from this record store in Pacific Beach. I would listen and get lost in the music, but I knew that I was not a guitarist or a musician. The bar was so high. I felt like [writing] was an avenue that made sense to me.

We first published you in Rolling Stone five decades ago. Now you’re 65. Looking back, what are the main lessons you’ve learned?

I’ve learned to listen to the little voice inside that says, You can do it! You can send your stories to this guy who is just a glowing byline, and he’ll read your stories! It is still the lesson of “follow your instincts, follow your heart.” I think everything I’ve done has been some version of that story. Be a warrior for your greatest dreams and intentions.

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You seem to have mastered the art of being forever young. What’s the role of rock ’n’ roll in staying young?

Well, youth is spirit and it’s also curiosity. Great music to me takes you to that place where you can appreciate something that feels timeless. I think this is one of the gifts of music; it lasts beyond your own lifetime, it inspires new generations, and it takes you to a place where you can just feel the potential of being alive.

How else are you staying not only young at heart but also of body?

I walk a lot. And directing, I just run to the next setup and to the next opportunity to create something. When you have the most spirit in a room, you transcend age and you actually bring a kind of sparkle.

Tell me about rock star Gregg Allman taking your interview tapes and almost ending your career before it started.

Yes, Gregg Allman took my tapes, and I was completely worried that I had blown my first big, big assignment. This was in Almost Famous. I just collapsed in the airport thinking everything was lost and you were going to fire me from ever being in Rolling Stone again. Then I ran into my sister, and she rescued me. It totally happened. Gregg Allman did return the tapes, and I wrote the story.

How did the idea of Almost Famous The Musical come about?

Almost Famous wasn’t a commercial juggernaut. People took it to heart over time. If we could create the feeling in a theater, where people can feel immersed in 1973 and what it was like then to see a concert and to meet these indelible characters, well, that’s worth taking the next step to try it.

In Almost Famous, your mentor, the Lester Bangs character, said, “Don’t make friends with [celebrities].” Did the real Cameron Crowe ignore the advice?

Well, I married Nancy Wilson [of the band Heart]. I feel really good about that. Mostly, I think that I’ve always been interested in the front-row seat of how people that I admire create their stuff and what that process is like. Sometimes by becoming friendly, it’s been helpful. I haven’t felt like it has destroyed my journalistic ability or intention.

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Who are your influences as a director?

I was lucky enough to spend some time with [legendary Hollywood director] Billy Wilder around the time Jerry Maguire came out. I just knocked on his office door and created a relationship with him. He’s my favorite because he was always about the characters. He’d have a wonderful plot that was always lively and exciting, but mostly you came away wishing you didn’t have to say goodbye to those characters.

You’ve won an Academy Award and other major accolades. What about failures?

They always exist. If you ask for the gift of a long career, you’re going to crash into some walls sometimes. The key is to keep going.

In Almost Famous, the Lester Bangs character tells you that rock stars make you feel cool, and you are not cool. After all this time, do you feel cool?

I will never feel cool.

Why is that?

Once you feel cool, you’re not cool.

Ben Fong-Torres, the former music editor at ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine, is the subject of the documentary ‘Like a Rolling Stone: The Life and Times of Ben Fong-Torres,’ streaming on Netflix.

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