Famous, Almost

Before I even hit record, the famous rock photographer Neal Preston turned the tables on me.

What’s your favorite band?

I hate that question. Though I love music—indeed, knowing music is part of my job—that question makes me stammer and stutter until I mumble a meek “I like everybody.” But since I was interviewing a famous rock photographer, I had to answer.

“Cat Stevens.”

It’s gauche to like Stevens—a.k.a. Yusuf Islam—if you’re young. But I’ve listened to him on vinyl with my mom since the womb. Without fail, the first “la la la las” of “Wild World” soothe me. And I even learned “Morning Has Broken” on the piano.

“My friend Cameron Crowe loves Cat Stevens,” Preston said. “And he’s remaking Harold and Maude.” At least that’s how I heard him. I hadn’t seen Harold and Maude, so the details washed over me. But my ears perked up when Preston said that Crowe might be coming to his photography party.

Almost Famous is my favorite movie of all time,” I said.

“Then I hope you get a chance to tell him so.”

That was May. By the time of Preston’s June party at the Hard Rock’s Sky Bar, I’d watched Harold and Maude, Tweeted about it, Facebooked it and told all my friends they had to see it. As for its beautiful Cat Stevens soundtrack, I listened to YouTube bootlegs of “Don’t Be Shy” and “If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out,” over and over again. It was my only choice; the soundtrack was mysteriously unavailable.

The poolside party drew the usual Vegas VIP/media crowd, except with a distinct artsy, rock ’n’ roll, L.A. slant. Everyone was dressed to the nines for an alfresco cocktail-hour soirée. I’d made elaborate plans for my hair, my clothes, my shoes, but was thwarted by working late. So, I wore what I was already wearing: a plain gray jumper and headband.

The moment I arrived, I saw both Preston and Crowe. He had come!

I didn’t want to be overeager. So I held back, took my time, chatted with friends and made new ones. I even picked up a guy with the line, “I saw you at Whole Foods.” Soon I was leaning on the bar, circled by new friends and telling them the funny history of quinine, the ingredient in tonic water. Just as I was explaining how gin and tonics cure malaria, somebody introduced me to Crowe.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” I shook my idol’s hand.

“The pleasure’s all mine,” he smiled.

The moment was perfect. Unfortunately, it was also the last moments of the NBA Finals, and the party froze. By the time the game ended, Crowe was on to other circles.

Wandering around the displays of Preston’s rock photography, I thought about how Almost Famous had led me to this spot, where I would meet its maker. I’d first watched (and loved) the movie at its preview screening in my university auditorium. Then an undeclared freshman, I didn’t yet relate to Crowe’s autobiographical tale of an emerging rock journalist. But with each subsequent viewing, my life inched closer to the plot line. Eventually, I’d seen the movie so many times that the cinematic illusion of continuity broke down into individual scenes that I had memorized. Ten years after that first screening, I was a journalist who had interviewed countless entertainers. Looking at Preston’s photos of rock legends, it seemed that the film and my life merged at the point of that evening. It was kind of like that scene in Almost Famous when band-aid Penny Lane told journalist William Miller, “You are home.”

Only I hadn’t told Crowe how much I loved Almost Famous. I had to thank him, even if it made me look like a simpering idiot. The movie, that piece of artistic greatness, merited it. I searched the thinning crowd and spotted Crowe by the pool. He was orbited by rings of intimidating, glamorous women. In contrast, the 52-year-old looked sheepish and youthful, with his hands squashed in his jean pockets and his sneakers tilted, balancing on their outer edges.

Like a comet dipping near the sun and out again,

I said my piece and stepped back: “I just wanted you to know that Almost Famous is my favorite movie. Thank you for making it.” “You didn’t tell me that earlier.”

“Well, I got distracted because I had to go to the bathroom.”

Emboldened by the fact that I couldn’t say anything more embarrassing, I asked him about his Harold and Maude remake.

“Why would I ever remake Harold and Maude? It’s perfect.”

I wanted to give him a hug. Of course, Harold and Maude was perfect. It was wonderful to know that my favorite filmmaker didn’t bow to the lure of lesser remakes.

“What would I do, get Justin Bieber to play Harold?”

“And Kim Kardashian to play Maude,” I added, “because nowadays you can’t have old actresses.”

“Brilliant.” He told me that my confusion was due to the fact that he’d worked with Cat Stevens to finally release an exclusively vinyl limited-edition Harold and Maude soundtrack. Only 2,500 were made.

I asked how I could get a copy, expecting the answer to be “eBay.” Instead, he asked for my business card and promised to burn me the soundtrack from vinyl. He borrowed a pen—my MGM Mirage freebie—and wrote on my card. I told him to keep the pen as a Vegas souvenir. Perhaps overzealously, I offered him an additional pen from the TI. He said that one pen would be good luck and patted his suit jacket pocket, where both pen and business card were stored.

A month later, I received a FedEx package with a Sony Pictures return address. Could it be? Inside was a postcard from Crowe and a technically nonexistent CD soundtrack to Harold and Maude.

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