Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Meeting Cameron Crowe

I have had several requests to hear the story of me meeting Cameron Crowe on Tuesday, July 25, 2017. I decided to put this into a longer post because it is too lengthy for a simple comment on Facebook.

First, let me get this out of the way now. I met Cameron Crowe once before! Yes, I know, weird, why “need” to meet him again then? I’ll get to that in a moment. Quite some time ago, 18 years ago actually, in 1999, my friend, James, had the opportunity to be on location for the filming of Cameron Crowe’s film, Almost Famous. He worked for a company that was involved in lighting, and he was inside the Hollywood Palladium when Crowe was filming a Stillwater show for the film. If you’re interested, in the movie, the show that takes place in Cleveland is actually shot at the Palladium. At that time (and, I still am) the biggest Jerry Maguire fan. It was my favorite film of 1996.

Side note, despite being a huge lover of Say Anything and Singles (and, of course Fast Times at Ridgemont High, but Cameron wrote, not directed that one), I stupidly wasn’t initially into seeing Jerry Maguire at all. In one of my more embarrassing stubborn moments, when my wife, Chrisy, picked Jerry Maguire on a date, I whined and said, “I don’t want to see a sports movie. I don’t like football.” She pushed hard, and we saw it. I ate my foolish words and pride. Take note: This wasn’t the first or last time she was right about a movie or television show. In the case of Jerry Maguire, as I sat there and Bob Dylan’s “Shelter From The Storm” played at the end of the movie, I was a sitting there in a euphoric state of emotional bliss. I am going to pinpoint this as the very moment in which I truly became a serious, enduring Cameron Crowe fan.

Back to 1999, at that point, I would have told you that Jerry Maguire was my favorite Cameron Crowe film. Since then, however, I have a new theory, and one that I was able to share with Mr. Crowe himself when I met him for the second time a couple days ago. This is a well-honed maxim that I refined with my son. As I stated it to Cameron himself: “Our favorite movie of yours is the one we most recently watched.” Knowing how much I loved Jerry Maguire, James was kind enough to give me a heads-up. He even voluntarily offered to take my original Jerry Maguire poster and attempt to get it signed. Being a fellow child of the 80s, James, as much as me appreciated Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Say Anything, and Singles. In fact, we’d both go so far as to consider them “classics” and we had been known to quote from them, especially, Fast Times, especially anything from Damone’s advice to Rat, like “….whenever possible, put on side one of Led Zeppelin IV.” In fact, James has an incredible, signed Fast Times poster, with autographs from both Cameron and Robert Romanos who played Mike Damone.
I digressed. So James took my Jerry Maguire poster to the set, and, in fact, he did meet Cameron Crowe! James used his brief encounter to tell Cameron about his friend, me! He told him how much I love Jerry Maguire, that I love everything about it, and that I was 100% all-in on KWAN, Rod’s word, “….it means love, respect, community…and the dollars too. The package.” Cameron loved that I loved it, and James brought me back one of the best autographs of all time! The writer/director himself drew a dialogue bubble to show Jerry saying, “Doah! I hereby declare you The King of KWAN…Very Best, Cameron Crowe 99” It was epic! It remains one of my favorite artifacts. Yet, there is something about not having obtained an autograph yourself that is unsatisfying, especially if you truly adore the person, and, in the years since then, I have, in fact, come to adore him even more. With Cameron Crowe, especially from the years 2001-on, my admiration has grown into something that even the word “adore” doesn’t capture. It’s more like he’s become a reliable fount of joy, in the spirit of Old Faithful, a dependable life companion. I don’t want to get into it in too much detail here, but since my wife’s diagnosis of multiple sclerosis in 2013, his movies, especially Elizabethtown, have become something much more important to me, a source of strength, hope, an anesthetic from life’s hardships.

Almost Famous came out in 2000. This movie cranked-up my love of Cameron Crowe to a whole new level. Jerry Maguire was a masterpiece, and, well, Almost Famous was too. At this point, it would be like trying to rank early Elton John albums, I mean, which is better, Madman Across The Water, Tumbleweed Connection, or Honky Chateau? It depends on the day or at least season, right? As much as I loved Almost Famous, it hit my buddy James on an even deeper level. Actually, I’m not sure how one quantifies the extent in which a film impacts someone’s inside. I mean, in all fairness, I cried when they all sang Tiny Dancer in the bus. Who am I kidding? I still cry when they sing Tiny Dancer in the bus. Okay, fine, when my family plays Tiny Dancer in the car, and we sing it, and I start thinking about the Tiny Dancer scene in Almost Famous, I cry. That said, I will still give the edge to James on this one. He was obsessed. I had purchased an official Jerry Maguire poster, and James purchased an Almost Famous poster.
I feel like this is somewhat poetic, honestly very Cameron-Crowe-ish in terms of heart, and putting good juju into the atmosphere, I offered to get James’ Almost Famous poster signed for him in the same way he got my Jerry Maguire signed. So, I went down to the Century Plaza Hotel on the Avenue of the Stars in Century City to the 53rd annual Director’s Guild of America (DGA) Awards ceremony. Let’s stop right there.  For the film calendar year of 2000, Mr. Cameron Crowe was nominated for a DGA Award for Outstanding Directing of a Feature Film. The nominees that year were as follows: Cameron Crowe – Almost Famous; Ridley Scott – Gladiator; Ang Lee – Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; and, get this, Steven Soderbergh – both Traffic and Erin Brokovich, what the heck!? And, in a moment, that, had this awards show been televised, would have caused me to throw my shoe at the television, Ang Lee won the top prize that year! Just to be clear, I have nothing against Ang Lee, in fact, The Ice Storm, Sense and Sensibility, & Brokeback Mountain would be my top three Ang Lee films, in that order. I wanted Cameron Crowe to win so badly. Cameron has only been nominated for a DGA twice. He was up for Jerry Maguire and lost to Anthony Minghella for The English Patient! What crap! Double Crap now. Let’s take a moment to rejoice in the fact that Cameron did win the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for Almost Famous though! Also, he directed Cuba Gooding, Jr. to the Oscar in Jerry Maguire!

Thus, it was outside of the Century Plaza Hotel on March 10, 2001, when I met Cameron Crowe the first time. The only thing I had for him to sign was James’ Almost Famous poster. I had my Jerry Maguire signed, so I didn’t need to be greedy. In the same way James had spoken to him mostly about me, I spoke to Cameron mostly about James. I said something along the lines of, “Mr. Crowe, if James were here, he’d explain that this movie isn’t a favorite, it’s more like a piece of his body, an appendage. While other guys had dates, James just sat on his bed listening to Quadrophenia over and over.” I also explained that it was for this reason the concept of the “uncool” that Lester Bangs bestows upon William resonated so strongly with James: “….they make you feel cool, and, hey, I met you. You are not cool….the only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.” Mr. Crowe was so gracious. We pulled away from the crowd by a planter, and he gave me his attention. The autograph was flawless: “To James, We are the Uncool—Here’s to you, Cameron Crowe.” As a bonus, to support Cameron, Penny Lane herself, Kate Hudson, was there, and I got her to sign the poster as well for my friend. She was hilarious, saying to me, something like, “Hey, it’s my ass. If I wanna sign it, I will.” This encounter with Cameron ends up being the genesis of my wanting to meet Cameron again. I walked away from the Century Plaza Hotel quite giddy, super excited to give James his poster, but, almost immediately I had the thought, “I love this guy. Why didn’t I ask to get a photo with him?” I had a regret.
The years between my first interaction with Cameron Crowe in 2001 and the second meeting in 2017, would change a lot. Not only would my love of Say Anything, Singles, Jerry Maguire, and Almost Famous grow stronger, but he would make four films that mean the world to me. They are: Vanilla Sky (2001), Elizabethtown (2005), We Bought a Zoo (2011), and Aloha (2015). To a film, I love these movies, no exceptions. Of note, Vanilla Sky is a remake of Alejandro Amenábar’s film, Abre los ojos (Open Your Eyes), which is a great movie in its own right. Cameron did write the screenplay for Vanilla Sky, but it is a rare one that isn’t “from scratch” for him. Honestly, one day I need to just write a long blog post about how important Vanilla Sky is.

When I said earlier that my favorite Cameron Crowe film is the one I most recently watched, that is pretty much true. Despite the so-called public perception that Elizabethtown, We Bought a Zoo, and Aloha are somehow not as good, I do not agree with “the inimitable, collective them,” to borrow from Claire Colburn. In fact, although my dictum holds true, and I indeed do tend to love whichever Crowe film I just rewatched, if I had to rank them, I would rank even Aloha and We Bought a Zoo higher than Singles or Say Anything. A new Cameron Crowe film is an event for me now. When We Bought a Zoo was released, the youngest of my four children was now 7 years old, so we began making it a family affair. On opening night, we had the entire family sitting in a row of the theater watching the movie together. We did the same thing for Aloha. None of us were even slightly disappointed. Quite the opposite, we love those films!

As I said, although I am also a huge fan of Vanilla Sky, it was Elizabethtown that rocked my world the most. Now, I have already previously done an entire blog post about Elizabethtown when I named it The Best Movie of 2005. I’m not going to add anything else to those praises right now. However, suffice it to say that, this film, and that year is what crystallized my appreciation and brought my admiration of Cameron Crowe to a whole other level. I think what makes Cameron my favorite director is that his films are so personal. Although that was obviously true of Almost Famous, I feel like it was Elizabethtown that he really showed us his heart. I loved the film so much that I bought an original Elizabethtown poster. I mean what 36-year-old buys an Elizabethtown poster? I’m him. The fact is, I knew the minute I bought that poster, I knew I wanted to meet Cameron Crowe again, but, more than that, I wanted a photo with my favorite writer/director. I wanted him to sign the poster. I wanted the best encounter. I wanted to tell him everything his movies made me feel!

I guess the fact that I held on to that poster for 12 years without getting it signed is a bigger surprise than is the fact that, at age 48, I trekked out to Los Angeles to get it autographed. All that time, I was just waiting for the right opportunity, something that seemed as close to “guaranteed” as possible. The opportunity presented itself when, earlier this summer I saw that Pearl Jam lead guitarist, Mike McCready would be doing a promotional tour in support of his new book, Of Potato Heads and Polaroids: My Life Inside and Out of Pearl Jam. I saw that McCready would be “In Conversation” with none other than Cameron Crowe! This would be taking place at the concert hall/theater, The Regent, in downtown Los Angeles. This made sense. Crowe and McCready are friends. They go way back to at least Singles, and, of note, McCready (not Billy Crudup) was the actual guitar player for Stillwater’s Russell Hammond in Almost Famous. Even though I like Pearl Jam, they don’t mean to me what Cameron Crowe means to me. The event quickly sold out. I had no intention of going in anyway. I also figured that anyone who was looking to get an autograph that night would likely be there for McCready. For instance, I wasn’t going to go to the red-carpet premier of Aloha to meet Cameron because everyone would probably want to get him to sign there. I figured this was my moment to get that photo I wanted. Months ago I put it on the calendar: Tuesday, July 25, doors at 6:00, show at 7:00, meet Cameron Crowe.

What sealed the deal that I would actually be making the 50-mile trek to Los Angeles was that my son, Wes, said he would like to join me! He likes to check-in with me, and I suggested we use this as a hang-out night. I said, “We’d have tons of time in the car to talk, we will stand around waiting for Cameron to come in the venue, and then, perhaps after we could go to Carneys on Sunset for dinner, make a night of it?” Wes was in! At least now, if I somehow failed to see Cameron going in, or, if he didn’t stop to sign, I wouldn’t have to feel like such a loser because, at the very least, I had time with my son.

This now became an event. I loathe driving to Los Angeles. To help with this, I arranged a ride to work that morning so that I wouldn’t have a car at work. My work site is in-between home and L.A., so Wes came to pick me up right when I got off at 3:00. I hopped in the car and we got on the road immediately. We got to the parking lot near the Regent by 4:15, and we walked over to the Regent to scope it out. Usually the back, artist’s entrance is pretty easy to find and not that hard to access. Not so at the Regent. The Regent sits on Main Street. Main Street runs south/north. Directly behind the regent is an alley. It’s technically Werdin Place, but it’s known as Indian Alley, and it is not accessible to the public. Indian Alley, runs parallel to Main. Blocking it off to any public access are thick, tall, black iron gates. We couldn’t get back there. We walked to the front of the Regent and saw a small line already, since we couldn’t get directly behind the Regent, we began wondering if Cameron might just walk in the front. Seemed unlikely. We closely investigated the back alley. The west end of the alley ended at Winston Street, this would have been the closest to what looked like the back entrance to the Regent. This gate/fence had both a pedestrian door and a swinging double gate to open for automobile access; however, it looked like it was completely bolted shut and not easily opened. Thus, we went to the other side of the alley, which ended at E. 5th Street. Turns out that this gate was on an automatic system, and was periodically being remotely opened so that cars coming out of an apartment complex right next to the Regent could pull out of their garage and onto 5th St. Given that this side looked nicer and was more easily opened, not to mention, it didn’t require manual assistance as the other gate did, we decided to camp out there on the corner of Indian Alley/5th.

I told Wes that it was my best guess that Cameron Crowe would be arriving between 5:00 and 6:00. This was based on the fact that it said the show was at 7:00, and doors were at 6:00. As the minutes ticked by, I was thinking our only hope was going to be that he was driving in at this gate and we’d have to spot him. Yet, as the time ticked by, no Cameron Crowe. No Mike McCready either. At 5:10 Wes said he wanted to go around front to check the scene to see if there was any indication that he went in the main entrance. A few minutes later, having seen nothing out front, he decided to go to the other end of the alley again, and right then, Mike McCready pulled up and a single fan was having him sign a bunch of Pearl Jam stuff. Wes called me and told me that McCready was there, and I was most definitely on the wrong side. Just in case Cameron showed up right then, I sprinted around the theater, and McCready was still signing from his car. During this time, the security from the Regent were working on opening the gate that I thought was immobile so that Mike’s car could get through. At this point, I told Mike, “Congrats on the book Mike.” He said thanks. He drove into the alley. Just then, a professional photographer pulled up. His name was Joe, and he called Mike back over to the fence because he had a gift for him. Mike was happy to come over. Joe gave Mike an envelope of a bunch of Temple of the Dog photos he had personally taken himself. Mike loved them. I asked Mike if Cameron was in yet, and, of course, he had no idea because he hadn’t gone inside yet. At no point did I ask McCready for an autograph. I did mention the Pearl Jam/Neil Young San Francisco show I saw. The reason I didn’t ask him is that, although I totally respect him, I don’t want autographs for autographs’ sake. Rather, I wanted a photo with Cameron and his autograph on Elizabethtown because his work had touched my soul. Mike went in at 5:15.

Long story short from 5:15 to 6:45 was a dead zone. Mind you, I had told Wes we were going to meet Cameron Crowe between 5:00 and 6:00 with doors at six, it was looking grim. Joe the photographer hung out a long time because he was also hoping to meet Cameron, but he also had a ticket to the show, so he needed to go in. Joe, Wes, and I spoke a lot about Bruce Springsteen. Joe had shot several of Bruce’s tours, even getting some photos in official tour programs! Joe had two tickets to the event and offered Wes and I one of them for free, but there were two of us, so we declined. Joe gave up on meeting Cameron and went in around the time that doors were opening. During this time, more and more people with Pearl Jam albums showed up trying to get Mike McCready, but Wes and I kept telling them he went in and they missed him. They decided to hang out anyway. One of the guys who showed up was an aspiring director, Gary. Well, he is a director, but he is also aspiring to be a famous, money-making director. Gary was devastated that Mike was already in and that he couldn’t get his stuff signed. He decided to stick around and see if Cameron Crowe would sign his Pearl Jam CD for the heck of it. We talked to Gary for a long time. We spoke about Cameron Crowe films. He wasn’t a lover of Elizabethtown by any stretch, but, once I started quoting Jessie Baylor, “Ruckus. Keep going. Keep going. Right below the reggae tribute,” and he started thinking about Ruckus playing Freebird, it seemed he liked it more than he remembered. More autograph hounds arrived, many with a large stack of stuff for McCready, they looked like “sellers” to me. Despite that, the overall vibe was friendly. Well, more than friendly as our conversations with Joe and Gary were the kind of conversations that make moments like this all worth it.

By 6:30 Wes and I really started to tell ourselves that Cameron must have went in the front door. We missed him. I told Wes, “Once it hits 7:00pm, we’re done. No way we’re hanging out until this thing is over.” At some point around this time, a guy pulls up on a motorcycle and his face was covered, I was half thinking it was Mr. Crowe himself, but it wasn’t. Turns out it was Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols though. They let him in the gate. Gary the director yells, “Jonesy!” No Cameron through. Around this same time, McCready reappeared outside, but he didn’t respond to people’s calls to come back to the gate.

Around 6:45 a guy walks through the single, pedestrian gate and out to where we were. He walked over to me and said, “Where did you get that shirt?” This is a good time to explain that I was wearing my “Did I miss 60B?” shirt. This is, of course, a quote from Elizabethtown. When I was deciding what shirt to wear for this adventure, I first thought of this shirt, but promptly thought, “Naw, that’s a bit ‘too much’ probably” and I thought about wearing my Wilco shirt. I ended-up thinking, “Heck with it, I’ll wear my heart on my sleeve tonight.” So, this guy asks where I got it, and I said, “I had to find it on-line. I really sought it out. Pretty cool, huh?” He said, “Yea.” I told him, “Look at this…” But, before I could even hold up, let alone unroll my poster, he quickly said, “I already saw your E-town poster.” Wow! He recognized it when it was rolled-up! I started talking to him, “Yea, this is my favorite film. I’m the ultimate Elizabethtown apologist.” He shot back, “You don’t need to apologize for it man. It’s actually making a resurgence, and gaining more love over the years.” I said, “True. I shouldn’t have said it that way, I named it my favorite film the year it was released, and I stand by that.” 

I decided to declare that, “I love all Cameron Crowe’s films, even Aloha, man people really misunderstood that film!” He said, “You got that right.” I explained, “I mostly like to feel in a movie, and that movie made me feel, like when Ng and Gilcrest are walking in through wilderness to see the King, that entire sequence was pure joy, I was just sitting there grinning, happy.” I started bringing up We Bought a Zoo, and quoting from all the movies. He was shooting back with his own insights. Finally, I smiled and extended my hand and asked, “What is your name?” He told me it was “Greg.” I asked, “What do you do? What’s your thing?” He said, “I’m Cameron Crowe’s assistant.” What!? Of course, I formally introduced myself and my son Wes. I told Greg that I was a teacher, married, four kids, and drove all the way from Orange County just to meet Cameron. I confessed that I wasn’t even going to see the show, just wanted a photo and my poster signed.

After the personal introductions, I started to ask, “When are we gonna get…” and he cut me off with an answer. He knew what I was going to ask. “Soon,” he said, “I’m working on the Elizabethtown Blu-ray now.” He also told me some of the things that they are considering putting on as bonuses. For example, I didn’t know that Heath Ledger actually went for the part of Drew Baylor. Well, they have some footage of him reading for the part! I made my suggestions too. “Cameron should do a commentary. His commentary for Vanilla Sky is amazing.” Greg, “Maybe.” “You ought to get Alec Baldwin talking about Phil at the beginning of the film. How classic is Alec Baldwin in that opening?” I said we needed more Jessie Baylor stuff because Paul Schneider was incredible. Even Gary the director jumped in at this point, and was raving about how he’ll never forget when Ruckus played Freebird in Elizabethtown, and the bird catches on fire, and they are still playing! Greg told us that he literally got cut on his leg from having that bird in their office! I mentioned, “How weird is it that Paula Deen is in this movie?” Greg said, “And, Loudon Wainwright III too.” I wanted more stuff on the Blu-ray from that skewed guy Rusty (“Learning to Listen”) blowing up the house too! We had such a wonderful conversation about all things Cameron Crowe. Then, out of the blue, Greg the assistant turns to me and asks, “You have your Sharpie ready?” I pulled it out. Greg says, “He’s coming.”

Greg goes to the side of the street, and turning right off Main comes a car. Cameron was driving himself. The Regent guys opened the huge swinging gates so that he could drive into the alley. They shut them quickly. Despite the fact that it appeared I was the only one really there to just see Cameron, the 20 or so people started saying, “Cameron! Cameron! Cameron!” I did note that one guy which a bunch of Pearl Jam stuff also had a Fast Times album. Greg walks over to Cameron’s car, and as soon as the door opens, he leans into the car and Wes and I can hear him telling Cameron: “There’s this guy over here with his son. He’s got a 60B shirt on, and a poster, drove all the way from Orange County to get it signed, not even going into the show…” Cameron pops up and, literally with open arms, loudly asks, “Where is he? Let’s do this!”

As soon as Cameron saw me, he pulled out his phone and said, “I need a picture of that shirt!” He started taking a photo through the iron bars. I had a moment of boldness (“Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery, and, I promise you, something great will come of it.”)! I said, “Mr. Crowe, thank you for doing this. Although I did bring my poster, it’s truly a dream of mine to get a photo with you.” With his phone still pointed at me, he said, “You do look like you’re in jail from this angle.” Let’s do it. Right then, the security for the Regency looked at me, looked at the crowd, and then looked at Crowe’s assistant, Greg, and Greg said, “Just him and his son. That’s it.” So, they unlocked the mini-pedestrian part of the gate, and with the security’s hand kind up like “back off!” style, he was telling the other folks, you’re not coming in. They ushered in me, and then Wes, to the alley where now it was just 5 of us: Cameron Crowe, his assistant, one security guy, Wes, and me!
Wes took two perfect shots of Cameron Crowe and me with my phone! This remedied my short sidedness of not asking for a photo 16 years earlier at the DGA Awards. Honestly, even though Elizabethtown is my favorite film, had I already gotten a photo with Cameron, I likely wouldn’t have schlepped down to Los Angeles in the off-chance of getting my poster signed. But, here we stood, against all odds, with the event starting in just a few minutes, having the golden boy treatment with my favorite writer/director! Golden in the sense of, I was thinking, “Why was it just us who were allowed back here to get a no-bars-in-the-shot-photo with Cameron?” Side note: unbeknownst to me, Gary was taking photos of us in the alley. As you can see from one of the photos here, there is the big black iron gate that everyone else was behind. They were calling, “Cameron, Cameron!” Asking for a signature, but he was lazer-focued on just Wes and me. I took advantage of this. I was talking, and talking, and talking. I would guess we had 5 minutes with him.
During this encounter, I pretty much got out all I wanted to say to Cameron. As I unrolled my poster, I explained to Cameron that this was my favorite movie, which was saying a lot because, in reality, I explained, that my son and I had come up with the aforementioned truism: “Our favorite movie of yours is the one that we just finished watching! If we just finished Jerry Maguire, then Jerry Maguire is the best! If we just finished We Bought a Zoo, then that’s the best one.” That said, I explained to him why Elizabethtown meant so much to me. I asked him if he would be willing to personalize the poster to the Lynds, and if he would be willing to write, “If it wasn’t this, it’d be something else,” on there. This, of course, was a quote from the movie, something Drew, his mom, and his sister mention that Mitch Baylor said all the time, something that was written on a sign across the stage at the memorial service for Mitch. Cameron seemed to light-up when I asked him to write that, he said, “Absolutely,” and then he revealed something I didn’t know: “That is actually a line my dad said a lot. That was his thing.” Wow! I knew this movie was personal, but I didn’t know he was quoting his father. The autograph was perfection, the best autograph I now own. It read: “To The Great Lynds!! If it wasn’t this it would be something else! Your friend, Cameron” He also signed our Blu-ray copy of Vanilla Sky for Wes. It reads: “To Wes from your fan Cameron”! I think it is interesting that, unlike my 1999 autograph or the one I got for James in 2001, the autographs we just got were not signed “Cameron Crowe” and I can only assume that the more familiar, first name only signatures are a reflection of the very sincere encounter we had. It couldn’t have been a time thing, because Cameron gave us tons of time and a lot of attention. In fact, I was able to give him a copy of a CD mix that I made for my friend, Cassidy, a few years ago. It is called “Cassidy’s Save Me Mix” and I made it for her when she went on an extended trip to Africa. I told Cameron this story, and how I wanted him to have a copy because it shows him just how much he is intertwined into our normal, daily lives. What I didn’t tell him was that throughout this CD there are clips of his writing, characters in his films speaking, film clips, and then, following the clips, I play a song that was used in that movie. The fact that Cameron has that CD and will listen to it gives me great pleasure.
Our meeting still wasn’t over. I continued to let on how much Elizabethtown meant to me, saying something like, “The amount of brilliance you put into Claire’s mouth is just unreal. So many nuggets there. So many things to live by.” He thanked me, and seemed genuinely flattered. I honestly meant this too. I think I conveyed it too. However, what I should have told him was about this reoccurring thought I’ve had. I’m not sure how many of you remember this, but in 1989 Robert Fulghum had a very popular book called All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. I honestly want to write a book called All I Really Need to Know I Learned from Claire Colburn. I think I could too. One of the things I am most proud to have told him was, “Your movies are such a source of joy, right now, in this country, we need your movies more than ever.” I told him I loved Aloha and how lovely it was. I told him how we quote his movies, “I’m so jacked for today, sir!” “All you need is twenty seconds of insane courage,” and, so on. I went on about his perfect use of music in his films. I told him that I “got it” and I saw everything he was up to when in his films. I referenced specific examples like the Tiny Dancer bus scene in Almost Famous, but also less obvious ones, like when Dylan is suspended in We Bought a Zoo and Tom Petty’s “Don’t Come Around Here No More” starts playing. It was around this time that Cameron told me, “You are exactly the guy I am making my movies for.” It was just moments before 7:00pm, show time, when Cameron said that to me. He told all the people at the gate, “I’ll have to get you guys after.” His assistant, Greg, said, “He’s really running late.” Greg told me to email him. Security let Wes and I out. It was then Greg the director told me he took photos of the encounter, and he texted them to me.
I was on Cloud 9 when we left. So was Wes. We both agreed that our encounter exceeded even my most optimistic scenarios of meeting him, getting a photo, and saying what needed to be said! We finished off our night by going to Carneys on Sunset for a chili-cheeseburger, fries, root beer, and chocolate covered banana for dessert. Exactly where my uncle John would take me in my youth when we’d go get autographs. 
The next morning, I emailed Greg as he suggested. I emailed him to say a huge thank you for making the encounter happen, for giving us the special treatment that nobody else got. He responded very quickly, saying it was his pleasure and that he has always been able to spot a “true fan” like me over an eBay autograph seller. He also asked me for my home address because he wanted to send me something. Four days later, a big box arrived on my porch from Cameron’s Vinyl Films company. In the box was a mint Elizabethtown hat, a Chuck and Cindy “Lovin’ Each Other 24-7” coffee cup prop from the film, as well as eight different fantastic t-shirts from Elizabethtown, Say Anything, and Cameron’s Showtime TV series, Roadies! Honestly, the best care package ever! I’m still in awe of the generosity. This was an unexpected end to an already dream scenario. The kindness shown from both Cameron Crowe and his personal assistant, Greg, is the kind of grace and serendipity that I find prevalent in Cameron’s movies; it is the kind of loveliness that this world needs now, more than ever. Thank you, Mr. Crowe. Thank you, Greg. For everything. “I say make time to dance alone with one hand waving free.”

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Lennon Slain - 36 Years Ago

On December 8, 1980, I was 11 years old. I also had a paper route with the San Gabriel Valley Tribune. As such, I had to wake up bloody early in the morning. The 9th that year was a Tuesday morning. Thus, the night John Lennon was murdered, I went to bed early (on time), so that I could ride my beach cruiser and deliver papers before I headed off to 6th grade and still be somewhat attentive. My morning ritual as an 11-year-old boy was always the same: go straight out to the very end of the driveway where it met the black asphalt and grab the large bundles of unfolded papers that were bound by a thick plastic band. I would carry those into our garage, the old-school kind that wasn't attached to the house. It was an awesome garage, right next to the washing machine, we had a large basin sink, and next to the sink we had a shelf that housed my radio, something larger than a small transistor radio, but smaller than a stereotypical 80s boombox. I would plop the papers on the floor, and promptly turn the radio on. It was always tuned to 94.7 FM KMET. It was there, in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, December 9, 1980, with my back leaning against the cold metal of the washing machine, and my butt sitting on the even colder hard concrete floor, with my hands just beginning to turn black from the ink, that I first heard the news that John Lennon was dead. He was gunned down the night before. You need to know that this isn't hindsight nostalgia. Quite the contrary, no, this was the end of the world for a kid who, on that morning, had the walls of his room decorated with multiple posters of The Beatles and the four (then cardstock) photos that came from inside The Beatles White Album. I owned Beatles buttons that I would routinely pin to my jacket or backpack. This was a kid that had already bought the cassette version of Double Fantasy prior to its post-death popularity of 1981. Before the horrible shooting, I had been acutely aware that I was blessed to be living in a time where two of The Beatles had songs out. Heck, I was even in the fanboy mindset that Paul McCartney’s “Coming Up” and Lennon’s “(Just Like) Starting Over” were better songs than what were likely much more quality hits from the likes of Queen, Pink Floyd, Michael Jackson, Blondie, and even Bruce Springsteen that year! You must remember that, in December of 1980, Reagan had not yet even taken office, and, especially with the exuberant hope of an idea like starting over, this then-11-year-old, was still operating within the mindset that full-fledged Beatles reunion was still possible. I mean Ringo Starr and George Harrison were still putting out records too, not that year, but they were active, Harrison’s “Blow Away” from the previous year was a fantastic song. Yep, I was certain that the Fab Four would one day make new music together. But, that morning, as KMET informed me, a deranged gunman ended all that. Born in 1969, I had only heard the history of atrocities like the slaying of JFK in ‘63 as well as MLK and RFK in ‘68. However, I had not lived through them. Until now. In 1979 two things happened that profoundly shaped me. First, in July, at a Jimmy Buffett concert, I had my first exposure to drugs. That wouldn’t have been a big deal, except that it was my father smoking marijuana in the seat next to me. I was confused, mom said drugs were bad, my dad used them. Which was it? Second, one night at a drive-in movie theater, during a double feature of The Eyes of Laura Mars and Alien, my dad exposed me to one of his adulterous affairs for the first time. While he was enjoying himself in the backseat, I was left to contend with the betrayal of the woman I had accepted as a second mother, all on my own. Sworn to silence on both incidents, to borrow from a Kink’s song from 1983: I was in a state of confusion. So, as silly as it may sound to some readers, that cold December morning, sitting there all alone, hearing back-to-back Lennon records on The Mighty Met, had a profound impact on me. The manner in which the author of Give Peace a Chance had been taken out, said something about the world I was inhabiting. Heroes, in the case of my father, were incredibly flawed. Heroes, in the case of John Lennon, were vulnerable. The DJ’s announcement that Lennon was dead was the final nail in the coffin that contained my innocence.

"Should feel happy, should feel glad.
I'm alive and it can't be bad,
But back on planet Earth they shatter the illusion,
The world's going 'round in a state of confusion."
--Ray Davies

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Born to Run: Bruce Springsteen Appearance - The full story

Max, Bruce, me, & Wes!

I met Bruce Springsteen Monday, October 3, 2016! Many of my Facebook friends are asking for the whole story about yesterday’s Bruce photo, others asked what I said to him. I thought I would post the story here. Hopefully, those that asked in the comments will read this blog post if I post the link in a status update.

Let’s just get this out of the way, yes, I, a seemingly grown man, actually waited from 11:20pm to 12:20pm, a full 13 hours, just to get a photo with Bruce Springsteen.
Promotion for the event in the window of Barnes & Noble

This encounter was a scheduled event as part of his book tour. Bruce just released his autobiography, Born to Run, and he scheduled 10 different appearances. The Los Angeles event was yesterday, Monday, 10/3, at the Barnes & Noble at The Grove. It was scheduled to start at 12:00 noon on Monday. The original “rules” said no line-ups on the Grove property prior to 4:00am on Monday morning. It was expected that people would line up on city property along 3rd St. before then, just not as early as they ended up doing it! Although I had originally planned to get down there about 4:00am, I later changed it to 3:30am, then 2:00am, and it just kept getting earlier and earlier!

People started lining up way too early. Facebook posts showed people out there as early as Sunday morning. By Sunday evening, with people alerting me, it became clear I would have to get down there sooner than expected. At this particular event it was very clear that there would only be 1,100 autograph books sold, with each of those 1,100 people promised to get a photo with Bruce. As more and more people were telling me the line was growing, I started to panic!

Sunday night Facebook posts started showing the line was growing, photos were popping up, and then doomsayers started saying you weren’t going to make it if you got there after midnight. What really sealed the deal was when some people in a Springsteen group I'm in started encouraging me to get down there much earlier to make this meeting certain! About half of my mind thought that it was absolutely not true that I "needed" to arrive before 4:00am, but the other half of my mind was worried about making the strict cutoff of 1,100 people. One thing I knew, it was bad enough to sacrifice all that time to drive up there, but it would be completely shameful to waste that time and not get the photo. Thus, I ended up leaving my house at 10:00pm Sunday night, I picked-up Wes from Biola, and we arrived to the line at 11:20pm. Max came and joined us in line at about 12:10am. We did not sleep at all. Well, I guess Max did doze off a couple times in a chair. We brought two blankets, and, at various times, we had access to other people’s chairs. For example, once nice woman, Meghan decided to lay down, so she let me use her chair. Also, because any position became uncomfortable after awhile we actually switched positions, standing-up, etc., a lot. It was really fun meeting people in line. People were friendly and kind. A fellow-teacher, Jeff, even bought me a cup of coffee from 7-11 in the wee hours of the morning!

Now, a funny thing about the above-mentioned midnight rumor. People said that the security would be videotaping the line at 12:00am, and that nobody would be allowed in after that. This made no sense to me because the bookstore had made it clear for weeks that the cutoff was about a number (1,100 people) and not a time (like 12:00am or even 4:00am). However, at midnight a security guard did come around and videotaped the line. Max hadn't gotten there yet, and we were panicked, I called Max and told him to park at the 7-11 across the street and get in the video, but he missed the video by just 5 minutes! Turns out, as Wes called, the video was largely a sham, just a deterrent to stop people from allowing anyone that wasn't already in line to take cuts. Their intention was that anyone arriving after the video go to the very end of the line, even if you had friends or family holding your spot. That said, nobody around us decided to be a stickler about Max coming into the line at 12:10am.  
New friends in line - Left to right (top): Alec, Katie, Meghan, Josh, Max, Wes (bottom): Eric, Jeff, me

There were a lot of rumors about what number we might be in line. Regular folks in line kept coming by to count, and they told us we were 600, 700, 888. At one point a lady in line before us said she went from 700 to 1023 because folks in the front were allowing people cut in line. Lots of rumors going around all night, but we really didn’t know. I'm not going to lie, at times we did wonder if we'd make the cut.
Our first wristbands - when we were told we were about 650 in line and we were guaranteed to meet Bruce!

At 4:00am Barnes & Noble and Grove employees came out and started condensing the line by having us remove chairs and line up as far into Grove property as possible. Shortly after that, we were given wristbands, and told that I was 650 in line. They also said we were guaranteed to get our autographed book and photo. Later, starting at 6:00am, but the process took a while, we started getting ushered into the store to buy our books. Turns out one of the reasons the process took so long because someone in the first group inside actually passed out, and needed medical attention. That person had been waiting in line for two days!

A side note: When I went to put our blankets away, I met a woman who spotted my wristband, she had been shut-out and said, "Oh, my, you got in?" I told her, "Yes, I did." She asked what time I got in line. I told her 11:20pm the night before, and she responded, "I'm so dumb. I'm so mad at myself." I asked when she got there and she told me she arrived at 6:30am! I could have told her that! Even when I was planning to come "late" it was not ever going to be that tardy! She was really upset because she lived very close to where the event was, yet she still didn't come in time. At that point she told me that she was about 100 people back behind the last person with a wristband! There was no way she was getting in.

Eventually, we paid for our books, got receipts, and a new, nicer wristband that said, “Born To Run by Bruce Springsteen” on it. I finally purchased my book at 9:50am. At that point we were then taken out again, we walked along the back of the Grove, and were placed back into the same line we had been in, but this time we were all set: we were waiting to meet Bruce!

Now that the line had been free of chairs and blankets and we were all really condensed, our new spot in line seemed really close to the entrance now! At that point, Max and Wes went over to the Farmer's Market and bought all three of us these really killer breakfast burritos. That, along with the new position, and our book receipts, gave us a second wind.
The second wristband - received once I got the receipt from buying the book.

Bruce was scheduled to start at 12:00pm. At 10:20 Wes and I went to the restroom and walked along the front of the store again. At that point, Wes heard a security guy radio someone and say, “20 minutes out.” We assumed he was talking about Bruce, and turns out we were correct. By 10:40 Bruce was in the building, and the event started then.

Someone on Facebook asked me how I got him to stand in the photo, but that’s not how it went down. In fact, he only stood. This was not a book signing event. He never sat at a table. Rather, he had personally autographed all the cover pages, and these pages were actually bound into the book by the publisher. The books were on site, and it was made very clear that he wasn’t going to be actually signing anything at all on this day. Instead, he was standing, and fans were brought in one by one to have their photo taken with him.

The way it worked was, groups of 50 were brought into Barnes & Noble and they zig-zagged through level 1, level 2, and then level 3 of Barnes & Noble. Bruce was up in the back at level 3. Each person was to give their phone or camera to the employee and they would take your photo with Bruce. After your photo you got your phone back, handed someone your receipt, they cut your wristband off, and you got your signed book, and you went home. 
Wes and Bruce

I had a decision to make: Would I take the standard solo photo with Bruce, or would I push my luck and request that I be allowed to have my sons in the photo with me? I could see arguments for both. What I knew was that I didn’t want to be the guy who asked for something extra. I didn’t want to get my solo photo and then ask to have another with my sons. I also knew that they would probably move Max and Wes out of there immediately after they had their photos taken, they might not allow them to stand there and wait for mine, they might tell me that I couldn’t have my photo with them.
Max and Bruce

I watched my sons get their photo taken, and then I approached Bruce. As that was happening I asked the last official person, “Can I have my sons in my picture?” He seemed to not like the idea, but I pointed over to Max and Wes and announced, “I am not asking for anything extra. I am asking that my one photo include my sons.” With that, Bruce himself motioned both of them next to us. He genuinely seemed to like the idea of having my sons in the picture! The boys and I had been observing the others’ photos before us and noted that Bruce really wasn’t smiling, nothing negative, it actually makes sense. When we saw Kid Rock do a similar thing of taking photos with a huge number of fans, he didn’t smile much either. That said, it truly seems like we got a little smile out of Bruce.

People keep asking me many questions about my encounter with Bruce. “Did you talk to Bruce?” and “What did you say to him?” seemed to be the big ones. Yes, I talked to him. However, obviously, this encounter went by very quickly, a matter of seconds. As I walked up, the first thing I said was simply, “Thank you for doing this. It means a lot.” Once I got my sons in the photo I started with what I really wanted to say.

What I told Bruce was this: “Bruce, thank you for the Wrecking Ball album. Sounds silly, but that record saved my life, man. 2013 was a really, really rough year for me, and that record really pulled me through the tough times. It really is as good as anything you’ve ever done.” He said, “Thank you,” back to me, and he extended his hand for a nice handshake. That was it.

It was important to me to say something about one of his later albums. Everyone focuses on his classics like Born to Run, Darkness on the Edge of Town, or The River, maybe Nebraska. But, I personally think some of his “later” works like Tunnel of Love, The Rising, and, most recently, Wrecking Ball, are truly as good as anything he has ever done. Not like he needs props or praise, but I thought it would be nice for him to know that an album he put out in 2012, some 40 years after his first release, actually impacted someone, actually was powerful enough to make a difference. So, that’s what I said to Bruce Springsteen!

The post-Bruce glow: Max, Wes, & I with our books and ice cream cones!

As soon as we walked out of the store, the three of us went and got some waffle cones at a homemade ice cream shop we had spotted earlier. That was the perfect ending to this event. The place was called Bennett's Ice Cream. I tried this excellent flavor called Fancy Nancy. It was banana, coffee, and caramel. As we were walking to the parking garage with our books and ice cream, Wes says, "Wow, I'm kinda on a real high right now." That captured it perfectly. In fact, I was thinking the same thing, it was just a perfect moment, a beautiful day, and I felt euphoric.

Not counting driving there and back, I spent 13 hours in line on the ground to spend a few seconds with a man, shake his hand, get a photo, and buy an autographed book. Was it worth it? Yes. It was. It was an incredible experience. I loved it.

Would this be a good time to tell you that this was the third time I met Bruce Springsteen?