The Drama You've Been Craving
Monday Oct. 2, 2000
'Almost Famous,' Or How I Found Myself At The Movies
Former Rolling Stone reporter sees himself on the Big Screen.
By Michael Goldberg
I saw a movie the other day that was all about me - "Almost Famous," the story of a Rolling Stone reporter's coming of age.
I was once a Rolling Stone reporter. For about 11 years - 1982 to 1993 - I was one of a handful of guys (and it was, essentially, guys) who spent their time reporting on the comings and goings of rock and pop musicians.
Now there's a movie about us.
As you surely know by now, "Almost Famous" is actually writer/director Cameron Crowe's fictionalized version of his years as a teenage rock writer. But his story is my story, at least in some aspects.
I mean at one point we see Crowe's character ("William Miller," played by Patrick Fugit) in his suburban bedroom, where there's a black-and-white poster of The Who on his bedroom wall.
I ACTUALLY HAD that poster on my own suburban bedroom wall.
Lester Bangs Wrote Me!
Early on in the film (and in Crowe/Miller's writing career) the late, great Creem magazine editor/rock critic Lester Bangs comes to San Diego, where Miller lives with his mother and sister. Miller makes contact; Bangs, acting as a kind of mentor, gives him writing advice (be honest and unmerciful) and an assignment.
When I was about 16, I wrote a letter to Lester Bangs at Creem. Imagine how my mind was blown when LESTER WROTE ME BACK!
Lester Bangs encouraged me, teenage Michael Goldberg, to send in some reviews. I did. He didn't print them. (It took me 10 more years to get published in Creem.)
A few miles from my parents' home in Mill Valley, Calif., lived one of Lester's friends, Ed Ward, who at one point was the record reviews editor at Rolling Stone, and who regularly wrote for Creem Ward shared his pad with another music writer, John Morthland.
Somehow I became friends with Ward. Periodically I'd drop by his place, where he and Morthland would play me cool records, rip apart my musical opinions, and occasionally pass on journalistic advice. On one occasion, Dave Marsh himself was there, visiting from Creem headquarters in Michigan.
Ward's place was jammed with more records than I had ever seen outside a record store, shelves full of the coolest books, and piles of promo rock paraphernalia (the stuff the PR departments used to send rock writers, like t-shirts, coffee mugs that kind of thing).
If at one point Cameron wanted to be Lester, I wanted to be Ed, who wrote one of the greatest-ever pieces of writing about music, the essay "Dedicated To You," found in the Greil Marcus book "Stranded: Rock and Roll for a Desert Island."
It was at Ed Ward's place where I first saw (and heard) the New York Dolls' debut album. Ed had very good taste!
Sex And The Single Rolling Stone Reporter
Now I don't know what really happened when young Cameron went out on the road for the first time. In the movie, he is befriended by some groupies and loses his virginity to at least one of them.
That was not my experience.
First of all, by age 15 I had already lost my virginity (but that's another story, one that I'd rather not share with you). This is my groupie story.
One night I brought my electric guitar along with me to the Fillmore West in San Francisco. I wasn't really a rock writer yet, but I had started to act like one (I'd convinced Island Records and Elektra Records to send me review copies of their releases so I could write about them in the high school paper). Part of acting like a rock writer was figuring out how to get into shows for free, and, better yet, backstage.
On this occasion, I simply walked right into the Fillmore West carrying my electric guitar case, telling the guy at the door that I was "with the band." This got me not only into the concert hall, but back to the large lounge area where the musicians hung out. I got to talking with one woman there (I'll call her Meri), a woman who at the time seemed a lot older than me. Meri must have been 19 or 20.
Meri was friends with some of the guys in the country-rock band Clover, who would later be joined by singer Huey Lewis on his way to international success leading Huey Lewis and the News. (Later, sans Lewis, Clover backed Elvis Costello on his debut album, My Aim Is True.) In their pre-Huey version, Clover were my favorite local band. I had seen dozens of their shows; I'd also written about them in the rock magazine Hard Road (you know, after the John Mayall album), which I'd created and published while still in high school.
Meri seemed to really like me, and I was doing my best to act cool (which, as Lester Bangs lectured Crowe/Miller on in the movie, is almost impossible for a rock critic to do). When the show was over, I found out that Meri didn't have a place to stay, and so I, ever gallant, offered to bring her to my parents' house where she could stay the night. I really thought I had it made.
Meri did stay at my parents' house. In the guest bedroom, by herself. The next morning she got me to drive her to the house the Clover guys shared. NOTHING HAPPENED.
In The Game
The Go-Betweens, The Friends of Rachel Worth (Jetset): Never listened much to the Go-Betweens the first time around. My mistake. Their first album in years - which features the group's key members, writers/singers/guitarists Grant McLennan and Robert Foster, assisted by Sleater-Kinney/ Quasi drummer Janet Weiss and Quasi keyboardist/singer Sam Coomes, with guest appearances by Sleater-Kinney's Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein - is a slow-burn knockout. It's folky pub rock (think early Nick Lowe) crossed at times with a '70s punk/ new wave sensibility. Of course I love the final song, "When She Sang About Angels," an intense low-key ballad; "she" being Patti Smith.
The Insomniacs, Get Something Going! (Estrus): Together for over a decade, with a sound dominated by guitar and Hammond organ, this garage-pop combo has delivered an album sure to be loved by fans of artists ranging from Big Star, the Bangles and the early Stooges to the Make-Up and The International Noise Conspiracy. "Tear It Up," with a jangly guitar intro and insistent, snotty vocal by singer/writer David Wojciechowski, is sublimely addictive. Put it on, turn it up, tear it up. I'm there.
Almost Famous (DreamWorks): I hate oldies tours by the likes of the Rolling Stones and the Who (come on guys, either make some new music that matters, or forget about it). I'm adamantly anti-nostalgia. I should be making fun of this album of music heard in Cameron Crowe's excellent film "Almost Famous," not praising it. But I can't help myself. The songs collected here - Thunderclap Newman's "Something In the Air," Todd Rundgren's "It Wouldn't Have Made Any Difference," The Beach Boys' "Feel Flows," The Seeds' "Mr. Farmer," even Elton John's "Tiny Dancer" - are true classics. The proof is that over a quarter-century after they were recorded, they stand up. If Crowe's movie-making career ever heads south (not likely), he can always get into the compilation biz.
Michael Goldberg is the Editor in Chief of ARTISTdirect.
(c) 2000 Michael Goldberg. All rights reserved.