Cameron Crowe recalled David Bowie's creative brilliance and profound wisdom, which he witnessed up close while profiling the musician during the mid-Seventies, in a touching remembrance for The Hollywood Reporter.
Prior to his film career, Crowe worked as a music journalist (often for Rolling Stone), amassing an impressive portfolio that included interviews with the Eagles, Yes, Linda Ronstadt and Led Zeppelin. But Bowie, as Crowe wrote, "was the ungettable interview" — at least until the Rolling Stones' Ronnie Wood and Deep Purple's Glenn Hughes convinced the press-shy rocker to give the young journalist a chance.
After his 1975 album Young Americans, Bowie relocated to Los Angeles and offered Crowe unfettered access as he transitioned into his Thin White Duke/Station to Station period. "It was somewhat of a primal scream phase for him," Crowe wrote.
During that time, Bowie penned lyrics with a "cut-out method," which he demonstrated to Crowe during one visit. "He was on his knees on his floor, moving clipped single pieces of papers containing lines he'd just written. Like a three card-monty street-corner magician, he shuffled together the words of a new song until it made just enough sense… and no more. The rest would be left to the listener."
As an interview subject, Crowe said Bowie was open and generous, and displayed a sense of humor about his own image. Crowe said he would walk into a meeting with Bowie and find the rocker perfectly positioned in the light: "It was not an affectation. He naturally staged himself, only to break out of such an iconic pose with a crackling smile and jaunty warmth."
Crowe and Bowie kept in contact over the years, and the filmmaker noted he'd been working on a movie role for Bowie as recently as this weekend. During their last conversation, Crowe read Bowie some of his quotes from their "wild years in L.A.," to which the musician — always looking forward, never back — replied: "It really represents the morbid and misdirected enthusiasm of a young man with too much time on his hands and too many grams of PCP, amphetamine or cocaine or maybe all three in my system, really."
Crowe also shared a doodle Bowie drew during one of their interviews, a sketch of a hand, which he called a self-portrait. "Over the years I've come to interpret the drawing as a tiny cry for help," Crowe wrote. "A cry he answered himself with the subsequent trip to Berlin and an entire lifestyle change. Bowie turned that dark period on its head, and went on to supply many more generations of fans with music and art and soul and inspiration. He careened beautifully into the future… where he will always be."
Bowie died Sunday after an 18 month battle with cancer, which he largely kept under wraps as he worked on a musical stage production, Lazarus, and his final album, ★ (pronounced "Blackstar"). The musician's death has elicited countless tributes, and a memorial concert has been scheduled for March 31st at New York's Carnegie Hall, featuring the Roots, Cyndi Lauper, the Mountain Goats, Heart's Ann Wilson, Perry Farrell and Jakob Dylan.