David Bowie “was the most generous and exciting interview subject I was ever allowed a lot of time with,” Cameron Crowe enthused today at TCA, where he’d come to talk about his new Showtime series Roadies. Crowe, who wrote extensively about Bowie for Rolling Stone and Playboy, said Bowie had an enormous impact on his career.
“I had been profiling friends of his at time – he was doing no interviews,” Crowe began. “I was 16 and desperate to interview him.” One day sitting in his bedroom in San Diego he gets a call and it’s Bowie on a train from New York, who’d said he’d call when when he got to Los Angeles. Which he did, inviting Crowe to spend time at the house where he would be staying. “I spent six months straight,” said Crowe, who chronicled his early years as a rock-and-roll reporter in Almost Famous. “It was between [the albums] Young Americans and Station to Station,” Crowe reminisced.
“I kept notes on every aspect,” he recalled. “There were no limits: ‘Watch me create, watch me produce, watch me sad, watch me happy.’ He said, ‘You can do this story for whoever you want.’ Everybody wanted it. It was great for my career.
“Even then, which was a wild period of his life, [Bowie] was always obsessed with music and art and never with the business,” Crowe continued. “Over the last couple of days I’ve had the chance to think about David Bowie. His impact so huge, in that he presents a self now to artists that maybe they need to remember. It’s not about branding, it’s about a restless need to be creative. He was the anti-branding artist.” Crowe suggested musicians today “look at Bowie and that seismic effect” he had – “not because he did same thing again and again, but because he shook it up.”
Roadies is Crowe’s first original scripted TV series. Showtime’s music-infused one-hour ensemble comedy, from Crowe and J.J. Abrams, is a backstage look into the lives of a tight-knit group of rock band “roadies” who travel from venue to venue, setting up the instruments, sound and gear for the groups that will be in the spotlight that evening. Winnie Holzman and Bryan Burke also executive produce.
Asked if the stories he wants to tell these days are far better suited to TV than the current film industry, Crowe agreed emphatically from the TCA stage, seated with cast and EPs. “It feels that way now. When we started filming the show I had such a wonderful experience with every one here. It made me love directing more than ever, and writing for these people. I’d grab them by the collar and say ‘Do you realize how many stories we can tell?!’ It feels really comfortable.
“And there is no fear in the people who are making the show, or paying for the show. There’s nobody clutching the table and saying ‘Oh My God! It’s a story about people and relationships!’ That’s a wonderful thing. It’s brought a real freshness to the process for me of telling stories. It feels quicker, and more passionate. And I feel protected.”
Roadies switched to an hour-long format after originally being set up as half-hour. It’s produced by Bad Robot Productions, Vinyl Films and Dooley & Company Productions, in association with Warner Bros. Television.