You don’t need to be a fan of rock and roll to have heard of Cameron Crowe’s critically acclaimed 2000 comedy-drama Almost Famous.
The film premiered 15 years ago this month at the Toronto International Film Festival. Rock My World is taking a brief look back in celebration of its worldwide beloved standing in the music world, with a few questions in mind.
The popular film tells the story of talented want-to-be rock journalist William Miller, a high school outcast with a big dream, who lies about his age to Rolling Stone Magazine for a chance to head out on the road with fictitious rock band
Stillwater in the hopes of catching a compelling story to feature in the publication. Starring Billy Crudup, Kate Hudson, Patrick Fugit, and Philip Seymour Hoffman, Almost Famous also serves as a semi-autobiographical work of art, as Crowe himself had once worked for Rolling Stone.
“No one is gambling on groupies, and journalists don’t get flown out to spend a week on the road with the band.” “Chip Z'nuff
But, is it an accurate depiction of the rock industry and life on the road? How have fervent music fans and working musicians been able to relate to the subject matter after all of these years, allowing it to be considered a much celebrated classic?
To begin with, the industry has changed since then.
Taking place in 1973, we fast forward 42 years to present day with the business and work ethic of both successful and struggling musicians being considerably different.
Instead of the modern likes of social media at hand to conveniently promote upcoming shows, appearances, and exclusive musical releases, bands before the time of Twitter, Facebook, and promotional outlets such as BandCamp.com and ReverbNation.com had to come to together with a determined approach at making a name for themselves at whatever likely personal expense. Money was a necessity in making proper advertisement opportunities a reality. Musicians stomping through every
city on tour were a must, thus highlighting how important strong relationships and a positive reputation in the industry were.
Throughout the film we follow up-and-coming rock group Stillwater (Crowe’s personal representation of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Led Zeppelin, and The Allman Brothers) on a tumultuous journey to stardom as they compete against one another for the spotlight while trying to remain a band as they face changes in management, deal with unreasonable promoters, fall in love on the road, confront their inner demons, and get to their gigs on time.
Chip Z’nuff, songwriter and bass player for rock band Enuff Z’nuff tells it like this, “although it tells a great story, It’s not an accurate example anymore. It shows a time when the industry was a little more rough in its approach because rock was brand new. Besides, no one is gambling on groupies, and journalists don’t get flown out to spend a week on the road with the band.”
Marty Casey, frontman, songwriter, and guitarist for Chicago-based rock group Marty Casey and the Lovehammers told us what he thinks. “Like the real music world, Stillwater rides on the heights of glory for a few deep breaths before the house of cards starts to shake and shutter and threatens to fall apart in a straight flush all around them. And just like Andy Warhol predicted, it’s 15 minutes before the crazy train falls off the rails.”
Gaining international fame as a contestant on the first season of the 2005 CBS reality series Rockstar: INXS, Casey goes on to say, “The movie is far from the reality of the feeling and flow of how events actually transpire. A documentary is one step closer to reality, and reality television is the furthest thing from reality… The way that the movie succeeds is making every high super high, and every low a lower-than-low.”
Glam-rock frontman Jacob Bunton (Mars Electric, Lynam, Adler) relays a similar point of view, stating, “Yes, it’s a pretty accurate depiction of life on the road and being in a band – the industry, though, no. It’s not an accurate depiction anymore, not even close. Rock and roll is a different planet these days.”
When Rock My World asked Bunton which scene in the film he relates to best and why, his response offered us some more insight with our questions.
“That scene when Jeff (Jason Lee) goes up on stage to sing and he gets electrocuted, and the promoter kicks the band out… Stuff like that is so real. By rule of thumb, in this industry you have to expect the unexpected. Anything that goes wrong will go wrong.”
And he’s right. Almost Famous paints a landscape of an imperfect world passionately embraced by the people in it, like the wild, wild west, with no rules or regulations, where cowboys and country folk find beauty in what can go wrong because it’s a part of the life they choose to lead.
Perhaps the most tell-tale example of this can be understood in the iconic scene when Stillwater guitarist Russell (Billy Crudup) rejoins the band on the tour bus after a long night of dropping acid in Topeka, Kanas in an attempt to escape reality for “something real.” Elton John’s classic pop lullaby “Tiny Dancer” begins to play, and the band reunites in a bittersweet moment where all troubles and differences are put aside. After all, the show must go on. The fashionable, wild-hearted groupie Penny Lane then whispers to William, “You are home.”
Says Casey, “The true reality is everyone is a Rockstar in their own mind, and I wouldn’t wanna see it any other way.”
The 4-time Oscar nominated film will remain a favorite among its rock and roll audience because we as a community of rock fanatics will forever celebrate the genres roller coaster appeal.
Regardless of the industry’s ups and downs and constant changes, we remain a family. Rock and roll is our home, and in its wake we are all passionately riding on the brink of becoming almost famous.
Story: Kate Catalina
Photos: DreamWorks Pictures