Miscellaneous Playlists

Reel-to-Reel Presents: “Almost Famous”

“Experience it. Enjoy it. Just don’t fall for it.”

– Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Lester Bangs in “Almost Famous” (Crowe, 2000)

There are very few words in the English language to express just how important “Almost Famous” is to me; in the immortal words of Bad Company, “it’s all part of my rock and roll fantasy.” 

To a little girl who grew up on her dad’s rock albums, there was nothing more whimsical than the idea of being whisked away by a band. But I never wanted to be Penny Lane; I always wanted to be William Miller or, even better, Lester Bangs. 

On the cover of the Rolling Stone

Written and directed by Cameron Crowe, “Almost Famous” brought his somewhat true-to-life rock ‘n’ roll “Wizard of Oz” coming-of-age story to the big screen in 2000. The film follows aspiring rock writer William Miller, played by Patrick Fugit, as he leaves home to provide Rolling Stone coverage for the band Still Water. 

Similarly, Crowe spent his teenage years on the road with 70s rock giants like the Allman Brothers Band, the Eagles, and Lynyrd Skynyrd for Rolling Stone. These formative years would form the core of “Almost Famous,” with most of the production design directly pulled from his stories and the polaroids he had kept from life on the road. 

Big Rock Singers & Golden Fingers…

Now, officially, Still Water is a composite of the above bands. However, they’re more closely mimic everyone’s favorite underdog; the opening bands. 

Groups like Grand Funk Railroad, Uriah Heap, and Black Oak Arkansas were big enough to draw a stadium crowd. Still, most of their time in those venues was as openers, like Still Water begins the film opening for Black Sabbath. 

That being said, I would be doing the film a great disservice by acting like hard rock acts were the only musical accompaniment. 

In the same way I grew up watching the movie, I grew up hearing the music too. From Simon and Garfunkel to Steely Dan, the soundtrack fully embraces the sounds of the 70s with fervor. 

Each subgenre, so to speak, aligns with a character grouping; the “band-aid” groupies are the softer sounds, the band a little harder, William’s mother with the schmaltz, and the writers fall everywhere in between; I implore you, go watch Hoffman’s introduction as Bangs, then go read the real man’s writing.

Philip Seymour Hoffman as Lester Bangs in “Almost Famous,” dir. Cameron Crowe, Columbia Pictures, 2000 from YouTube

“Music, you know, true music, not just rock ‘n’ roll, it chooses you. It lives in your car, or alone, listening to your headphones — you know, with the vast, scenic bridges and angelic choirs in your brain. It is a place apart from the vast, benign lap of America.”

Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Lester Bangs, “Almost Famous”

Good music matters, damn it…but it’s only good because it matters to you.

In the same way I grew up watching the movie, I grew up hearing the music too. From Simon and Garfunkel to Steely Dan, the soundtrack fully embraces the sounds of the 70s with fervor.

To keep it short and sweet, I’ve pulled three tracks I love that capture the film for your listening pleasure. 

Bodhi’s Best

“Fever Dog” by Still Water

The song itself is fun, but what makes Still Water so great is the work that went into making Still Water look, sound and feel like a real band.

With songs written by Peter Frampton and Nancy Wilson, Crowe put the actors through the wringer to make them function like a band, rehearsing four hours a night, five nights a week for six weeks. 

“Fever Dog” was written and produced by Wilson and inspired Humble Pie’s “Four Day Creep.”

She would also pen “Lucky Trumble” for the film, an ethereal, bouncing acoustic track that served as an instrumental motif throughout the film.

Frontman Jeff Bebe, played by Lee, pulled tapes of Paul Rodgers, the lead singer of Free and Bad Company, to learn the movements and eccentricities of a rock star.

Billy Crudup, as the Glen Frey-meets-Duane Allman Russell Hammond, underwent guitar lessons from Frampton. However, Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready played the actual guitar on the track and in the film.

In a media cycle where reanimating the 1970s is en vogue, no one has captured the period quite like Crowe.

His world was messy, imperfect, innocent, and naive but still a little dirty.

There are moments in the film that are achingly real and tender, as well as moments that are squirmy and uncomfortable.

For lack of a better term, it still feels raw despite the bittersweet nostalgia we see it through.

Still Water sounds real because it was real for a brief glimmer in time.

“Fever Dog” by Still Water, official music video from YouTube

“Groupie (Superstar)” by Delaney and Bonnie

What would “Almost Famous” be without Penny Lane? Played by the endearingly earnest Kate Hudson, she and her “band-aids” are the film’s beating heart. 

She is the first glimpse into the seedier aspects of the band’s sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll lifestyle. She’s underage, incredibly alone and in love with an older guitarist.

One quote of hers gets circulated relatively frequently as a cornerstone of whimsical hippie girlhood online: 

“I always tell the girls, never take it seriously, if you never take it seriously, you never get hurt, you never get hurt, you always have fun, and if you ever get lonely, just go to the record store and visit your friends.” 

Kate Hudson as Penny Lane in “Almost Famous” (Crowe, 2000)

Now, I don’t know about you, but that line always seemed so sad to me. 

From being traded to Humble Pie for a case of beer to overdosing on quaaludes after her affections toward Crudup’s Russel Hammond are spurned, the men around her treat her as entirely disposable for most of the film. 

Crowe was inspired by women and girls such as Sable Starr, Pamela Des Barres, and, according to Crowe, female promoter and leader of the “Flying Garter Girls Group” Pennie Lane Trumbull. 

Written and recorded by Delaney & Bonnie in 1969, “Groupie (Superstar)” is a love letter or at least an acknowledgment of the groupies and girls who flocked to rock stars, pining after the men on record jackets and up on stage. 

Cheers to the girls with the band. 

“Groupie (Superstar)” by Delaney & Bonnie from YouTube

“Tiny Dancer – Live at Newport Music Festival, Newport, RI – July 2002” by Ben Folds

Released in 2000 and set in 1973, “Almost Famous” is a part of two distinct worlds.

Beyond Crowe’s recollection of his youth and Y2K nostalgia, it’s about lightning in a bottle; those little moments you wish would last forever but never do. It’s a push to go out and experience things, to live and appreciate the moment before it’s gone.

In case you haven’t picked up on it yet, this whole thing is very near and dear to my heart; the music, the movie, and the story behind it all put me on this path. So, I pulled from my musical roots (Hi, Mom and Dad) to find this little nugget of Ben Folds gold.

In the film, “Tiny Dancer” comes precisely when William finally joins the band and their clique, sitting on the tour bus belting out the words to the Elton John song.

On-screen, the moment is as magical to see as it is for the characters to experience; it’s the communal spirit of a good song put into a visual language.

In the words of Penny Lane, “Poof! You are home.”

Musically, Folds sounds like home.

“Tiny Dancer (Live at Newport Music Festival, Newport, RI – July 2002)” by Ben Folds from YouTube

Reel-to-Reel airs live on WKNC HD-1 Friday Mornings from 8 – 10 a.m.

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Eternally Uncool – Bodhi

By Bodhi

Human Dewey Decimal System for all things music and movies, purveyor of useless knowledge.