How ‘Almost Famous’ Inspired My Career

     October 28, 2019

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I love Almost Famous. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a perfect film. It’s sweet, it’s romantic, it’s a love story, and at its heart, it’s about family, both by blood and family we choose for ourselves. And when you add in the fact that it’s a story about a teenager who’s given the chance to write a story for Rolling Stone magazine about an up-and-coming rock band, who then writes that story while on the road with them for their concert tour, Almost Famous then becomes a film that speaks to me on a level so deep that it’s hard to even express in words.

To say that I’m a music fan would be grossly downplaying just how much a band or a song can mean to someone. Specific songs can bring you to tears, nurse a broken heart, remind you of a great moment, or make you want to sing as loud as you can, typically in the car or the shower. I can’t really remember a time in my life that didn’t involve music. I’m a journalist by profession, which is in large part a result of an early desire to write for Rolling Stone magazine and craft cover story interviews, digging deep into the rock bands and music that I so deeply and truly loved. Initially, that seemed like a total pipe dream that could and would never happen. And then, I read about Cameron Crowe.

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Image via PBS

I was familiar with Crowe’s story and background before seeing Almost Famous, and it wasn’t surprising that his life was turned into a movie that he, himself, wrote and directed. I was in awe of his journey from misfit teenager who didn’t really fit in anywhere to music journalist that profiled and spent months gathering interviews with some truly incredible rock ‘n’ roll talents. As someone like myself, who loves music with an intense passion and spends hours scouring album liner notes, reading every interview, and learning about the inspirations behind said music, Cameron Crowe became something of an idol to me. A person whose career trajectory I aspired to have.

My absolute favorite Rolling Stone cover story ever written for the publication was one on my favorite band. In 1991, I discovered the music of Pearl Jam, and at that moment, everything in my life was split into the time before Pearl Jam and the time after Pearl Jam. Their music made such an indelible impression on me, and the instant that I first listened to their debut album Ten, it turned my world on its axis. I became a lifelong fan with a desire to know about the inspiration for the songs, the inner workings of the band, and the music that inspired them, but at the same time, I wasn’t interested in sensationalist stories or gossip about the band members’ personal lives. And in 1993, I read the Pearl Jam cover story on Issue 668 in October 1993. Entitled “Five Against the World,” the feature painted a picture of the band and their personalities, their songwriting process, their view on fame and the attention that comes with it, and so much more. It was long, it was detailed, it was thorough and it was fascinating. And it was written by Cameron Crowe. And when I later got a poster of that magazine cover and hung it on my wall, yes, I loved the band that was pictured on it, but it was more a reminder of what I wanted to live up to someday, once I got my chance at writing a cover story for Rolling Stone.

Once I had set my sights on writing for Rolling Stone, I began to focus on taking writing seriously. Throughout junior high and high school, there weren’t any classes that I could take that focused on becoming a journalist, let alone a rock reporter, so I set my sights on creative writing. And then, at home, I kept journals full of possible interview questions, categorized by which musicians I’d love to have answer them. At that time, I also was able to chalk just about everything up to “research.” When I was playing music too loud, I had to for “research.” When I wanted to go to a concert on a school night, I had to for “research.” When I wanted to hang around a venue to meet the band, I had to for “research.” I’m just glad that, through my teenage years, my mother was a patient participant. Being underage and all, I never could have done any of it if it wasn’t for her, and it was because of her that I was able to meet some truly incredible artists. After all, what’s more non-threatening to a rock star and their road crew than a teenage girl hanging out with her mother?

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Image via Columbia Pictures

As I started to meet musicians and bands, I also started to meet the tour managers, road crews, security, and record executives that surrounded them. Some just brushed me aside as a bothersome teenager who had no business being around, but others were big music fans themselves and could talk for hours about their favorite bands, how they ended up in their jobs, and tell stories about being on the road—of which I hung on every word. They started to introduce me to the musicians and bands that they worked for, sometimes giving me backstage passes (along with my mother, of course!), and would tip me off to cool shows around town, or up-and-coming artists that were worth checking out. A few of those individuals are still close friends today, and one, in particular, became something of a mentor to me.

Because I hadn’t yet figured out how to get that dream gig at Rolling Stone, the friendlier I got with musicians and bands, and the more I got backstage access to shows, I started to take a camera with me. I took photos whenever I could, always without being too intrusive, all in the hopes that, when I got my chance to do the music profiles that I’d been dreaming about, I’d even have photos to go along with them. But I learned, all too quickly, that I didn’t really know much about photography, and performance photography was another beast altogether. That’s when a music executive who was also a band and concert photographer became one of the most important people in my life. He was generous enough to give me some invaluable tips, always encouraged me to keep trying, and never made me feel like it was an impossible dream. As each step led to the next, and I went from creative writing classes in junior high and high school to my college newspaper to a college syndicate publication, I was able to start getting clearance to officially shoot concerts, and found myself shooting many of my favorite artists. And when you’re up at the stage, shooting a band whose music you love, from in front of the venue barricade, it’s truly a feeling like no other. Now, nearly 30 years after taking my first photo at a concert, I’ve photographed almost everyone that I’d ever want to, including Pearl Jam. And while I never did get that job writing for Rolling Stone, I will never forget the feeling of overwhelming joy and pride that I had when I opened the magazine and saw my first published photo in its pages, with my photo credit next to it.

Over the years, I’ve had many photos published in many magazines, all over the world, and each time never became any less of a thrill than the last. That staff job at Rolling Stone never happened, but I do work for an outlet that has given me opportunities that I never could have imagined, allowed me to interview countless actors, filmmakers, musicians and artists (including Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam and Cameron Crowe), and supported and trusted me as I’ve tried new things, in order to grow as a writer.

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(from left) Colin Donnell as Russell Hammond and Casey Likes as William Miller. Almost Famous, a world-premiere musical with book and lyrics by Cameron Crowe, based on the Paramount Pictures and Columbia Pictures motion picture written by Cameron Crowe, directed by Jeremy Herrin, with original music and lyrics by Tom Kitt, runs September 13 – October 27, 2019 at The Old Globe. Photo by Neal Preston.

And all of this comes back to Almost Famous, and how sacred that movie is to me. When I learned, earlier this year, that the film was being turned into a stage musical, written by Cameron Crowe, my first reaction was, “Oh, my God, that’s amazing! I have to go!” And then, my second reaction was, “Oh, my God, what if it’s terrible and ruins how I feel about the movie, knocking it from the pedestal it’s been on, in my eyes, for nearly 20 years now?!” Thankfully, I decided to give it a shot and judge it on its own merits (being the unbiased journalist that I strive to be), made the trip from the San Fernando Valley to San Diego, and sat in The Old Globe Theater, waiting for the show to begin. And while I had been rooting for the stage musical as much as I’d been rooting for William Miller to get published in Rolling Stone when I first saw the film, I was not prepared for how deeply it all struck me again. As much as I love the film, it’s another experience entirely to see a story about music and the affect that it can have while witnessing it in front of you. From the incredible cast performances (led by Casey Likes as William Miller, Solea Pfeiffer as Penny Lane, and Colin Donnell as Russell Hammond) to the incredible original songs to the full company rendition of “Tiny Dancer,” the show (directed by Jeremy Herrin and with original music and lyrics by Tom Kitt) came alive in a way that made me fall in love with it, and the movie, all over again.

So, while the show ends it trial run in San Diego and looks toward opening on Broadway in the future, I hope that the story of Almost Famous will continue to encourage people like me, who didn’t really know what to do with a crazy love for music that ultimately evolved into a pretty cool career. And to Cameron Crowe, thank you for unknowingly encouraging me to follow a dream that led to a wild life with memories that I will always hold dear.

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Image via Columbia Pictures

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