#50-#26 can be read HERE
#25-#11 can be read HERE
#10-#1 can be read HERE
I started writing this piece the day my daughter was born in 2009 and just finished it today. I never intended to take so long with it or to devote so many words to a subject that I am guessing few will have interest in reading. However, Crowe's use of music is so magical and eye-opening that I felt it was important to document. As the reader, I hope you revisit his filmography and seek out the soundtracks to the films.
Please feel free to write, comment and disagree. :-)
For those of you who have not read the previous entries, I will post my introduction below:
I had not even reached my teen years when my Mom took me to see Cameron Crowe’s debut film as a director, Say Anything…. I sat there and was in awestruck by the absolute sincerity of the characters. Even at the youthful preteen age I was at, I knew there was something about this film that separated it from all of the other so called romantic and teen comedies of that time because these were living breathing beings who loved being in love and who dreaded a life without it. When the film was over at the Norridge Theatre just outside of Chicago, my mother suggested we buy the soundtrack at the Sound Warehouse next door. As I unwrapped the shrink wrap on the cassette on the way home, my mother went into lecture mode as I was discovering my first recordings by the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Replacements. These are the moments teens roll their eyes at because their parents are telling them something important, we know it’s significant, yet we don’t want to hear about it. My Mom looked at me, made sure I was paying attention and told me in a soft voice, “I want you to remember this film because it just goes to show that girls do like nice guys”. I waved her off, but her words stuck with me. For an adolescent entering his teens, I thought this was a revelation. I bought what she told me hook, line and sinker. Needless to say, it was the best and the worse advice my mother ever gave me. I personally blamed both my mother and Cameron Crowe for the years of misery I experienced during my teens and early twenties. As I write this more than two decades later, I am wonder why I let John Cusack and Peter Gabriel off so easily but I should have held these two responsible as well. Despite all of this, I found shades of myself in his characters from Singles, Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous, Vanilla Sky and Elizabethtown and this is probably why I never tried to be anyone other than myself. When I was lonely his films gave me comfort. When I was enraged, his films brought me consolation and when I was ecstatic, his films helped intensify that joy ten fold. Cameron Crowe’s films are excerpts from my soul. No other filmmaker has had their art make a more profound impact on my life other than Crowe (with Martin Scorsese being a close second). When I look at the musical artists who have paved the path for me (Bruce Springsteen, U2, Peter Gabriel) I am not even sure if any of them can match what Crowe and his films did for me. He’s the single greatest influence in my life whom I’ve never met.
One of the reasons for this admiration is because his films are drenched in music. Few directors can paint pictures and weave it with music as elegantly as Crowe. He has a way of twisting the emotional tone of a single scene with a song or emphasizing a characters heightened emotions through song. At times, words are not even needed as the music says it all just like it did in Crowe’s most famous music moments; the band sing-a-long of “Tiny Dancer” from Almost Famous, the elegant touch of “Secret Garden” in Jerry Maguire and the infamous Lloyd Dobler scene of the stereo above his head as the boom box blasts “In Your Eyes”. However, as I went back and re-watched his six films, I found some truly luminous moments that are veiled, understated and often not always instantly recognizable. In many ways, without even being aware of it, the music leads the viewer down the road less traveled. These more nuanced musical memories are the ones that truly capture the soul of his films. A characters sly eye movement, an illuminating smile and the sensation of one’s struggle is made all that more genuine because the character’s journey is punctuated by song. Cameron Crowe (along with Martin Scorsese and Wes Anderson) utilizes music not as mere background noise but to give a specific scene a greater depth. All three directors have turned certain songs and artists on their heads and I walked away from their pictures with a better admiration of the music than I ever could have imagined. They find ways to open up worlds to these songs I never could have foreseen.
A few years back Cameron Crowe compiled a list of his favorite movie-music moments for Empire magazine (from the UK). Being the humble person he is, Crowe wouldn’t dare put one of his own scenes on the list even though he has some truly defining musical moments. I decided to resolve this. I figured I’d whip together a quick list of the top-ten moments from Cameron Crowe’s films. Off the top of my head, I scribbled down over thirty. That was too many, so I vowed to go back and re-watch his films and the list swelled to over one-hundred songs. I was shocked at how visceral, authentic and crucial each and every one of these songs was to their respective films. Re-watching his films made me realize the brilliant nature of his quieter moments. As a result, I began to compile these understated moments and the list swelled to fifty songs of which the first twenty-five (50-26) are below.
In compiling the list I kept the list limited to films that Crowe directed, which eliminates some memorable scenes and songs from Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Also, since I started compiling this list nearly three years ago, I’m focusing exclusively on his directorial efforts between 1989 and 2005 with one exception from We Bought a Zoo that proved to be far too beautiful to be left off. The emotional core of Crowe’s films comes from the music. As dynamic as his writing is, his meticulous timing of the music takes the scene and the film to new levels. Some are key music moments in modern cinema and others are hidden treasures that you’ll have to go back and watch closely. Some songs make magnificent declarations and others are hushed whispers in the night. Looking over the list now that it’s final, it pains me to leave so many songs off the list; Pearl Jam’s “Breath”, Fishbone’s “Shakin’ to the Beat”, Aimee Mann’s “Wise Up” (later used definitively by Paul Thomas Anderson in Magnolia, the Allman Brothers Band’s “One Way Out”, The Beach Boys’ “Feel Flows”, Joan Osborne’s “One of Us”, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ “Don’t Come Around Here No More”, Freheit’s “Keeping the Dream Alive”, the Smashing Pumpkins “Drown” and then there’s “Long Ride Home” by Patty Griffin. This track wasn’t in Elizabethtown but played a prominent part in the trailer, is on the official soundtrack and encapsulates most of the themes in the film. Griffin’s tender acoustic plucking paired with some of the most emotionally gutting lyrics ever committed to paper is among my favorite songs ever and I owe my awareness of the track to Crowe. Alas, it’s not in the film and is regulated to a special mention here.
This list is by no means final or definitive and I encourage you to challenge me. If I were to do it a week from now, I’d probably change up a dozen songs. But it allowed me an occasion to write about Cameron Crowe and more significantly, possibly…just maybe…through reading this list you’ll be impelled to seek out one of these artists, re-examine one of Crowe’s films and in the case of Elizabethtown hopefully it will permit you to look upon it with new eyes. So without further adieu, here are Cameron Crowe’s Fifty Greatest Hits.
antiMusic Network. His daily writings can be read at The Screen Door. He can be contacted at thescreendoor AT gmail DOT com and can be followed on Twitter