If an artist has a muse, it’s generally someone they love or are obsessed with or attracted to, someone of great beauty or perceived power, someone who inspires them to write song lyrics or craft poems or paint masterpieces or build temples or do a number of phenomenal things that are completely outside of the general scope of the their average day-to-day creativity.
Cameron Crowe is my muse.
Maybe that seems like an odd choice, but to a movie lover like myself, a movie lover that loves movies with rich characters and unforgettable soundtracks, or rather kickass-watch-over-and-over-again movies with kickass-make-you-never-hear-a-song-in-the-same-way-ever-again soundtracks; that would be Cameron Crowe movies (with the music direction of his rockstar wife , Nancy Wilson – probably his muse), then maybe it makes sense to you.
But if it doesn’t, let me explain it a bit further.
Cameron Crowe is a genius story-teller. He is infallible when it comes to creating complex characters that we quickly understand and relate to without the need of lengthy backstories; you know exactly who they are, you see them for all of their faults and failures and ugly parts and yet you fall in love with each and every single one because of their complexities and you’re rooting for them no matter how fucked up they might be, because who isn’t fucked up, and suddenly you’re sucked in. This could be you. And THEN without realization, we fall right into the uncomfortable arms of every complicated relationship he introduces because it’s done in such a raw and human way that you want to crawl into bed with each one, just to have them lay their troubled head on your chest and listen to your slow, rhythmic breathing while stroking their hair and assuring them that everything will be alright. Relationships are rarely perfect and generally messy and he gets right to the core of the grittiness in a very real way with humor and heart and discomfort and all of the awkwardness that makes it all too familiar. And then you remember you’re at a movie.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High. My early introduction to Cameron Crowe movies. This was WAY before I knew or even cared who Cameron Crowe was or paid attention to or had an appreciation for the directors or screenwriters or anyone else that wasn’t the actors. I was a silly schoolgirl of an impressionable age and I will never forget how it made me feel as I sat with my eyes wide and my mouth shut absorbing all of the awkward awesomeness that is this quintessential high school movie. It still has the same impact on me today as it did back then.
Seen. Validated. Normal. Like my all too real teenager issues and concerns and day-to-day existence were not unique and relationships really are that complicated and some kids smoke pot and care about graduation and worry about good grades and have to work lame ass jobs while wearing goofy hats and masturbation is normal and other people learn about blow jobs in the mall food court with random vegetables and just because you sneak out of your house at night to meet a boy doesn’t mean you’re bad and teen pregnancy happens and abortions are a reality and people survive High School and life goes on.
I shouldn’t fail to mention that one of the main characters, Stacy (Jennifer Jason Leigh), had the same name as I do, so in a way I felt cooler by association even though no one else associated that but me and my sad little nerd brain.
And oof! That soundtrack.
The song that cues just as Linda (Phoebe Cates) emerges soaking wet with her long dark hair slicked back wearing a tiny red-hot string bikini in her best friend’s backyard pool while said best friend’s older brother, Brad, is watching from the bathroom window. What boy, man or woman, does not see that scene over and over in their head every time they hear “Moving in Stereo” by The Cars. Or when you hear Steve Nicks singing “Sleeping Angel” you feel regret and sadness in your gut as you remember Stacy waiting on the street curb for that fucking loser, Mike Damone, to give her a ride to the abortion clinic and he never shows.
Jerry Maguire. I pinpoint this movie as the exact moment in time that I fell madly in love with Cameron Crowe’s brilliant brain and skill and craftsmanship for movies. Jerry, Dorothy & Ray, Rod & Marcy Tidwell, the Cush, even Rod’s freeloading brother, T.C. All complex, yet real and relatable characters that you’re non-stop rooting for as you ride the messy roller-coaster of their complicated lives as if you’re right there in the same bumpy coaster car with them hoping everyone gets off the ride safe and happy and not covered in puke. And THEN, all of this is packaged up perfectly in the shape of another memorable soundtrack bow. The right song at the right moments to convey the right emotions. When Jerry gets in his car after the infamous “my handshake is gold” with the Cushman’s dad and he’s turning the radio dial searching for the perfect song and he lands on Tom Petty’s “Free Falling” and he sings at the top of his lungs along with the radio and you FEEL his victory, his relief and joy and confidence that everything will be ok now. He did it. He’s not a failure. Who hasn’t done this? Talk about relatable. And the Bruce Springsteen song, “Secret Garden”, that cues when Jerry is moving in for that unforgettable, everyone-has-had-this-butterflies-in-the-stomach-should-I-shouldn’t-I-moment good night kiss with Dorothy on the front step at the end of their first date. *sigh*
And then there’s the fact that I named my only daughter after Jerry’s white-hot, feisty, confident, strong and successful redheaded girlfriend, Avery (Kelly Preston). The name fits.
Almost Famous. Cameron Crowe’s “fictional” based on a true story bio pic. More messy relationships and complex characters that you’re rooting for from the second you meet them on the screen. Penny, Russell, William (Cameron), William’s mom Elaine, even the guitarist Jeff (played by Jason Lee). AND THAT SOUNDTRACK! EVERY. SINGLE. SONG. in this movie is triumphant, BUT that bus scene after they collectively experienced a drunken night of celebration and fun turned to mayhem and painful things that were said that you can’t take back and then quietly … one by one, they all start singing “Tiny Dancer” by Elton John. OMG. I literally died, and then I full-on cried because you were in that bus experiencing the exhaustion and the pain and the tension and the anger and all the awful sadness they were collectively feeling and this song, this one tiny song, lifted their hearts and brought them together and made everything right in the world again. Powerful scene. Powerful. I am still awe-struck by this scene. Just writing about it made me take pause.
So this. All of the above. All of the stories, and the characters and the music and everything that is Cameron Crowe (and Nancy Wilson) in these movies is my muse. My motivation.
For years, I’ve been writing a book of fiction that’s inspired by my own awkward comedy drama-filled messy relationships with songs that book-end each story of the guys my character is involved with.
One day while I was still working my corporate job inside my little gray cubicle, a song came on the overhead radio that made me pause and giggle to myself. Within seconds, Foreigner’s “Waiting for a Girl Like You” literally transported me nearly 30 years back in time to the sweaty-smells-like-teen-spirit-and-nachos roller skating rink with gum stuck to the red carpet and the disco ball spinning and the blue lights shining on my new white roller skates with the blue pom-poms on the toes, at the ripe pubescent age of 13 to that exact moment when my long time grade school crush had the actual nards to choose another girl for the couple skate. While skating to OUR song. All of drama and pain and horror and humility (and humor) of my first heartbreak came flooding back with a fond remembrance of a more simple time when this was my biggest challenge. (I still don’t like that kid, sorry Jason)
That’s when I realized that due to my over-dramatic-wish-my-life-was-a-high-school-musical, I could place a song at the beginning and end of nearly every relationship I’ve ever been in. My first kiss song, make out song, first dance song, riding in the car song, break up song… BAM!! Built-in soundtrack. Complex characters with messy relationships, tender moments and raw emotions through nearly every stage of my life.
This sounds like the perfect recipe for a Cameron Crowe movie to me!
So this begs me to ask the question once again, my dear muse, Cameron Crowe, where did you go? Where are you in my time of need? I need your counsel and your brilliance … only you (and Nancy) can make my movie as it should be.
You can find me here. Waiting for your call.
(but if you’re busy, maybe you could put in a good word with Drew Barrymore or Lena Dunham)
MUST BE MENTIONED …
I once read an interview with Quentin Tarantino (also brilliant at character creation and using music in his movies) where he talks about the impact of music & cinema: “That’s one of the things about using music in movies that’s so cool, is the fact that if you do it right, if you use the right song, in the right scene; really when you take songs and put them in a sequence in a movie right, it’s about as cinematic a thing as you can do. You are really doing what movies do better than any other art form; it really works in this visceral, emotional, cinematic way that’s just really special. And when you do it right and you hit it right then the effect is you can never really hear this song again without thinking about that image from the movie.”
^^^ RIGHT?!?! ^^^