A Love Letter to ‘Almost Famous’ and Cameron Crowe
My name is Erica, and if you’re reading this right now, there’s a good chance you’ve read other articles I’ve written for this website. Perhaps you’ve enjoyed a news story or listicle I’ve written. Perhaps you’ve taken issue with a news story or listicle I’ve written. Wherever you may stand in this situation, you can thank/blame Cameron Crowe for me being here.
It was late 2001, I was a freshman in high school and I just got a TV with cable hooked up in my bedroom. The cable company was running a deal at that time. For a stretch of months, I had all of the major movie channels. I was bored one afternoon, but I noticed Almost Famous — which was released on September 13, 2000 — was coming on in about 15 minutes. The movie had been on my “to watch” list for a while. I made the decision at that moment to hunker down and finally take in the acclaimed film. The film, of course, was based on Crowe’s own wild career as a music journalist. The film would also earn him an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.
It was a life-changing afternoon.
For some context: At this point, I was coming off a weird summer where I fell into a deep depression; that backstory is another article for another day. What you need to know is I didn’t physically leave my home more than four times over the course of about three months. (I have the pale-as-a-ghost freshman year school photo to prove it.) However, during this time, I started to really get into music. I mean, really get into music. Gone from my bedroom walls were images of boy bands, and in their place were posters and collages of magazine photos and computer printouts of U2, AC/DC, Guns N’ Roses, Joan Jett, Janis Joplin, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and the list goes on. Oh, the printer ink I went through to make those collages!
Also, during this time, I started to write. Oddly enough, I spent a lot of time putting together random top-five/ten pop-culture lists. Best movies from various years, best songs by various bands, etc. Not that long ago, I was talking with my mother and she mentioned, “Remember how you used to write all of those lists as a kid? Isn’t it weird you get paid to do that now?”
So, with all of that in mind, imagine what it was like for my awkward 15-year-old ass to watch the also awkward 15-year-old William Miller (played by Patrick Fugit) hit the road with the up-and-coming band Stillwater trying to get that big story for Rolling Stone and befriending mysterious “Band-Aids” like Penny Lane in the process.
As a teen, when I first saw the film, there were a number of things that appealed to my still-developing senses. The rock and roll lifestyle was certainly one of them. Going from town-to-town, staying in a bunch of different hotels, partying like there was no tomorrow, getting laid on the reg. All of these were heavily romanticized in my mind then and for a number of years thereafter. The “lifestyle” as depicted in the film has since lost a lot of its luster due in part to growing up and going through my own version of John Lennon’s “Lost Weekend,” which — like my teenage depression– is another article for another day and one where I’d need to consult my friends on some of the details because I still don’t remember everything that happened back then. (Thanks a lot, booze!)
The main takeaway from Almost Famous that still holds up and somehow matters more to me now than it even did back then was simply being a fan, loving music and wanting nothing more than to tell people about different artists because you just loved them so much. Sure, Almost Famous is and will always be “a love letter to rock journalism and the music of the ‘70s” as Crowe told Vanity Fair in 2000. However, it’s also a love letter to the fandom of rock and roll and its all-encompassing greatness.
There are many quotable lines and incredible scenes in the film. While the “Tiny Dancer” moment and the “I am a golden god!” monologue often get a lot of attention, the scene that summarizes the film the best comes from Fairuza Balk’s Sapphire, who’s talking to Billy Crudup’s Russell Hammond about the new batch of groupies joining Stillwater’s tour:
“Can you believe these new girls? None of them use birth control and they eat all the steak! They don’t even know what it is to be a fan. Y’know? To truly love some silly little piece of music, or some band, so much that it hurts.”
While it’s never explicitly explained why William decided to become a music journalist (a massive change from that law career his mother, Elaine, wanted for him at the beginning of the film), it’s safe to assume a big reason for the change came via the killer record collection left to him by his big sister, Anita. He was so moved by that music, and the music that he subsequently discovered from that starting point, that he just had to write about it.
William Miller had no choice but to write about music. Frankly, neither did I. After seeing Almost Famous that fateful afternoon, the desire to write about music that had already been subconsciously brewing inside took over.
I couldn’t stop it. It chose me.
In February 2014, a little over 12 years after that first viewing, I landed this gig after a lot of hard work, some crazy professional plot twists (yet another potential subject for an article) and a fateful right-place-right-time job hunt. Full-time writing gigs are extremely difficult to come by, and keeping such a job for nearly ten years is a gift. Being able to write about music and occasionally tell people why I love some silly little piece of music or some band so much it hurts is something I cherish and don’t take for granted.
So, consider this my “love letter” to Cameron Crowe, one incredible film and even everyone who has ever enjoyed or taken issue with what I’ve written. It’s why I’ve been able to do this for the decade.
However that makes you feel, once again, you know who to thank/blame.