As I finished typing out my review of Neil Young and Promise of the Real’s new album The Visitor, I was overcome with the oddest sensation. My eyes filmed over with warm tears, and a smile stretched thin and tired across my face, the late hours of the night chapping my lips. My stomach was full, though I hadn’t eaten in hours, and my body was hot, though the sun just eclipsed into the pocket of the horizon and the heater in my room was broken.
It was a sensation I only felt in passing before. It gave me an estranged-uncle handshake when I got into the creative writing conservatory at my school. It hugged me lightly as I set foot on the UC Berkeley campus for the first time. We had met, kissed cheek to cheek in a haze. But that night, in that moment, with the last period of that review, it placed a hand on each side of my face and pressed its lips on mine like a cool, comforting avalanche.
The sensation was accomplishment — accomplishment of a goal born nearly five years ago, after sitting on the couch with my mom, “Almost Famous” flashing on the screen.
The first time I saw this movie, I was 13. I watched, jaw hanging to the floor, as a 15-year-old William trekked across the country with the band Stillwater. I rolled my eyes at Kate Hudson, yet I consumed Penny Lane’s lines as they spilled into my ears. I was mesmerized by Russell strumming his guitar into a packed stadium.
That movie met all my criteria for obsession. Based in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, it fed my love of that era, its music and its style. A coming-of-age story, William deals with parental expectations versus his own, discovering his sexuality, falling in love and being heartbroken — it all paralleled my life in some way. Most of all, I envied the parts about writing.
I said to my mom, “I want to be William. I want to write like that.”
In response, she said, “You know, this is based off Cameron Crowe’s real life.”
I didn’t waste any time hopping off the couch and searching his Rolling Stone career on Google, spending hours reading his articles. I swallowed his writing career whole and closed my phone feeling like I was ending a conversation with a friend for the night. Before I went to bed, I ordered an old, tattered copy of Rolling Stone magazine, in which Cameron Crowe wrote the cover story. That cover story was an interview with Neil Young.
Reading that interview, I realized Cameron Crowe was my soul mate. He said everything I wanted to but couldn’t about Neil Young — the way he described his high-pitched wail, his acoustic medleys and his unpredictableness. On those pages, he captured every twinge of emotion that I felt listening to his music. It was all the things I couldn’t say about his revitalizing blues sound and campfire-like rhythm. It was like Cameron Crowe read the inside of my heart and jotted it down on a piece of brown-tinted, moth-bitten newspaper that I now kept in a frame on my wall.
That interview changed me. Perhaps the first article I ever really read, it made me realize that it’s not impossible to articulate what music and art did to me. There are more things to say about music than just “I like the way the things you hit with the sticks sound” — writing doesn’t always have to be fictitious stories I made up on the train ride to school, but could be symphonic, honest realities that emulate the feelings of many, not just my own. Cameron Crowe unknowingly taught me that the best writing is, in one way or another, about you.
As I penned my own article about Neil Young, The Visitor plugged into my ears, I realized that I was doing what I said I wanted to do five years ago. Becoming an arts reporter, I was doing what I had been in awe of. I was articulating those sensations, those warm, throbbing ear feelings you get when you listen to something you love. I followed in the footsteps of my biggest hero. Finishing that review, I traced a full circle with my fingertips, and for the first time, I saw the final piece of a very small puzzle fall into place.
What I had never realized was that Cameron Crowe, Neil Young and “Almost Famous” had saved my life. What’s more, they did it without knowing my name, reaching out and pulling me off the train tracks, throwing me onto the right train without even seeing my face. So, from the unnamed face that you saved with your own thoughts, I hope I didn’t let you down.
“Cutting Room Floor” columns are one-off, arts-oriented pieces written by Daily Cal staff members.
Contact Maisy Menzies at [email protected].