Old Lady Movie Night Old Lady Movie Night: "Almost Famous" Anne T. Donahue

So here’s something honest: Almost Famous is one of the biggest reasons I went into music journalism. Yep, seriously. I wish I could say I went into it to discover new music, or to meet cool bands, or even to get inspired to create my own “art” (things I will never say again), but I can’t. It wouldn’t be honest. The truth is, I watched Almost Famous too many times between the ages of 15 and 22, and I thought I found my calling.

It turns out I did, but it wasn’t music journalism. (Hi-oh!) Which is fine! I wouldn’t be doing what I do now if I hadn’t spent time writing about music, so a big thank you goes out to Cameron Crowe and this movie for completely shaping my industry thoughts.

So together, today, we embark on a journey. A journey defined by Stillwater, William Miller, and the coolest big sister in the game, A journey where I forced every guy I liked to watch this movie, and then be completely disappointed if they didn’t “get it.” (Idiots.) (No, but they were. We’ve touched on the guys I liked in high school, and I think we’re all quite confident that there’s really no other word.) But enough about that! THE SHOW IS BEGINNING. Lights! Camera! YOU ARE HOME.

Oh, but first, please read the wonderful Erin Mallory Long’s piece about Almost Famous that is extraordinary.

1. Honestly, Mrs. Miller is an excellent mom

I remember growing up and thinking, “GET OVER IT, LADY” and now watching at the ripe old age of late 20s, I believe we all need to recognize. She’s a single mother raising two children alone, and she’s teaching her son the importance of literature and feminism. Her daughter, she’s trying to raise free of potentially damaging social constraints (minus records and TV), and her main goal is for them to be happy and successful. WHAT A MOM. Seriously!

Minus not telling William his real age, though, because seriously, that’s got to mess a kid up.

2. ANITA

Two things: what up, Zooey Deschanel! And Also, I wanted to be Anita. I mean, all of YOU wanted to be Anita. WE ALL WANTED TO BE ANITA! Simon and Garfunkel IS poetry! Can I tell you how legitimately bummed out I was when she didn’t appear again after running away until the last scene of the movie? And how great I think it would’ve been had she had William’s back the entire time? Am I now writing a completely different movie, alone, in my head? No, because I’m typing it all out here. JOIN ME, EVERYONE. WHO WANTS A ROLE. ANYONE? HELLO? BUELLER?

Almost Famous

3. I would like to make a dramatic exit to Simon and Garfunkel for once.

Wouldn’t that just be so satisfying? Instead of saying why I was making a choice, I put on a Simon and Garfunkel song and drive away into the abyss. I can see it now:

“I THINK she said she was heading to McDonalds?”

“I’m not sure. She just put on ‘I Am A Rock’ and got in the car.”

“I hope she brings fries.”

AND SCENE.

4. AHH THE MAGIC OF RECORDS FOR THE FIRST TIME

The thing about getting older, as we all know, is that certain things lose their charm, even when they’re really awesome. I remember going through my dad’s record collection when I was about eight or nine and being totally taken with how everything looked and sounded and all of it — JUST LIKE WILLIAM, OBVIOUSLY. The difference here is: then the record player broke, so I only listened to CDs until I was about 23, and b) “Tommy” was not the song that played as it happened. #tragedy

Almost Famous

Some people still get this feeling, though! And if that’s you, congratulations! Me, I think I get super stoked about new books every time I get one. But not records, though, despite wishing I did every time I watch this scene.

5. Remember when Philip Seymour-Hoffman played Dusty in Twister?

Because I do. And I don’t even really have a relevant point to make here, I just really needed to bring it up.

6. “Yeah, you’ll meet them all again on their long journey to the middle.”

SUCH bitter sentiment, but also kind of true . . . ? NOT ALL. Some. But I can’t even begin to tell you how I embraced that phrase when I was younger when the worst people were being, well, the worst. AND WOULDN’T YOU KNOW IT: I don’t talk to any of them anymore and make it a point not to have them on Facebook. So who knows what they’re up to? BUT let’s assume they’re doing something middle-y. ALL OF THEM. Especially anybody that made you cry. All the people you don’t like are en route to Middletown, USA, where they’re going to stay forever. And that — as Jon Hamm says in The Town — “is what they say, IS THAT.”

7. But how cool is William’s first concert experience?

He shows up — yes, family whistle and all — and heads backstage, while SOME OF US maybe had to drive with a guy they didn’t know to a Silverchair concert that was, yes, amazing, but also consisted of standing very, very far in the back. Not to say it wasn’t good/great/life-changing, but imagine your first real concert experience consisted of befriending members of two famous bands in 1972? FOR CREAM MAGAZINE? Let’s build a time machine, everyone. We’ll all fit, I swear.

8. ENTER: PENNY LANE

Who we also wanted to be. We really all wanted to be her. Well maybe you didn’t. But I did, sort of, even though I, like her, had mastered the art of chasing gentlemen who were either attached or unavailable or straight-up wrong, so watching her sometimes consisted of a lot of, “UGHHHH” and naval-gazing. But now it’s fine! Now, older, we can all appreciate the character of Penny Lane for the person she is! A person still figuring things out.

Almost Famous

Come to think of it, everyone in this movie is figuring things out. Cameron Crowe, not to be bold, but if you ever re-release it, you are free to title this movie: “Almost Famous For Figuring Things Out.” Or something. We’ll talk.

9. “Does anybody remember laughter?”

I seriously thought it was “last night” up until last year when my friend corrected me after she thought I was joking and laughed really hard. BUT I MEAN COME ON. DID anyone remember last night? Also, yes, I know it’s a famous song, but she DOESN’T SAY IT CLEARLY. IT SOUNDS LIKE “LAST NIGHT.” My god, I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I said “last night” thinking that was the proper quote. I can only hope those people thought I was doing a very (not even-close-to) clever play on words.

10. I would absolutely become overwhelmed if I were William and then probably leave.

So not only does he get the door slammed in his face, and then abandoned by the Band-Aids (where he gets the door slammed in his face again), he THEN almost gets completely shunned by Stillwater. Can you imagine the magnitude of the breakdown I’d have? I can 110% tell you I would probably leave, tell Lester Bangs the interview wasn’t going to happen, and start writing about pop culture on the internet instead.

11. “We play for the fans, not the critics”

UGHHHHH NOPE. See? This is why I stopped being a music writer. For every 25925825285 awesome interviews/bands, there’d be one who was like this, and it would absolutely ruin everything for me. HOWEVER, not all bands are even close to Stillwater — I just didn’t love writing about music enough to make up for those instances. Which is good to know! It’s the type of industry where you must love your job, and interviewing bands like Stillwater is something that doesn’t phase you. Instead, I listen to Jeff Bebe’s speech about the beauty of music and the buzz, and literally want to interrupt him with, “I’m sorry, I cut my foot earlier and now my shoe is filling up with blood.”

Almost Famous

12. But the Penny Lane/Russell introduction is everything

I am a grown-ass woman, who knows this movie by heart, and who knows these are ACTORS, and I still get butterflies during this scene because JONI MITCHELL IS PLAYING (!!!) and Penny’s crying, and Russell’s fixing her hair, and HELP. See? Do you know the damage this movie can do to 15-22-year-old girl? Things go on. Hearts get a-flutter. And you begin to idolize musicians and aspire for them to be your boyfriend when that is usually a terrible idea 99.9% of the time. (CORRECTION: it is only a terrible idea if they even slightly seem to be like Russell. There are plenty of very great, kind, lovely musician men.)

13. Also, not to fan out, but we can also all agree how wonderfully cool Penny Lane is, right?

“It’s all happening.” And oh my goodness, the “Ask me again” – “Do you wanna come?” exchange. Truth be told, I have accepted that I will never be as cool as Penny Lane (who I believe was slightly inspired by Pamela Des Barres, whose books I adore), and that’s okay because I don’t belong in the world to which she belongs. Though for the record, how amazing would it be enter a room by getting applauded after a “LADIES AND GENTLEMAN!” introduction? About as cool as playing Simon and Garfunkel when you’re about to leave, I’ll tell you that much for free.

14. UGH RUSSELL STOP IT

Every time William is trying to interview Russell, Russell basically manipulates him so he’ll fail at his job. YOU’RE ASKING HIM TO COMPROMISE HIS INTEGRITY, RUSSELL. If I were William, I’d just keep the recorder on all the time so I could publish everything. But I am not William, and I would probably feel awkward around Russell for trying to manipulate me, and likely then set out to paint him in a harsh, honest light. And THAT, my friends, is why I am not an investigative journalist.

15. I am 100% confident that life on the road in 1973 > life on the road in 2013

First, there was no technology, so you automatically had to make your own fun. And from what I’m seeing, the aforementioned “fun” was taking Polaroids and sleeping and getting snacks and leaving Jeff Bebe in a gas station bathroom. SOUNDS LIKE A BLAST. Whereas today, you get what . . . Twitter? NOT THE SAME. Obviously, I am preferring the nostalgic, 1972 adventure in this scenario because I love Twitter, but I bet approximately zero bands today would buy a gate.

Almost Famous

16. “In 11 years, it’s going to be 1984, think about THAT.”

This whole scene. THIS WHOLE SCENE. “I am a golden god!” – “Want to see me feed a mouse to my snake?” – “And you’ll come back here, where you’ll live!” All of it. For the record, this party seems way too intense for me, and I’d rather go to a social function that’s a little more refined, but my golden god, WHAT A GOOD TIME. And I say this because you guys, we’ve all been to parties like these. For me, that time was high school, and the two parties I have in mind took place at 1) a house very much like the one we’re seeing this party take place at (and it ended when the girl’s dad’s crossbow was stolen) and 2) a farm, where I slept in a Jeep between the hours of 4 and 7.

Almost Famous

And that’s enough partying for me. I AM HOME.

17. But seriously, is this really how interviews were arranged and conducted in the ’70s?

Because today, you have to email the publicist, arrange with the publicist, meet the band at a place where the publicist often is, then get a solid 15 – 30 minutes of talk time. Sometimes you talk to a band on the phone as well, and if you go with a band “on tour” (I’ve never done that, BUT my friend Laura has, whose stuff you should read because she’s awesome), you’re still given only a certain amount of time, and have to file by a certain day. So basically what I’m saying is that Almost Famous couldn’t happen today, and that’s tragic and unfair. Yet also valid and pretty fair, since 15-year-olds won’t be fed to the lions on their first major assignment.

18. Because I mean 3693638636836 words for Rolling Stone for your first gig is INSANE

RIGHT?! That is a huge massive deal! I would combust. There’d be combustion. There would be tears, and probably countless pounds of stress eating. (Like, pounds of food. Probably several packs of licorice A NIGHT, easily.) William Miller is a force of nature, people. He may not be a woman, but YGG. (You go, guy.)

19. And then I feel so bad for him after he literally DOES have a meltdown

AND WHO CAN BLAME HIM. He sleeps with three girls for his first time — none of which being Penny Lane, who he actually loves — then goes by her room, hears HER having sex with Russell, then realizes he’s basically the laundry boy for the girls he DID sleep with. I WANT TO HUG HIM AND TELL HIM IT’S GOING TO BE ALRIGHT. That is literally my instinct. It’s going to be fine, William! You’re going to be successful! And you will get through the insanity that is this madness, because you have no other choice.

20. But actually this movie is flawless

And I’m not just saying that for the sake of saying it, but the switch from Penny Lane dancing to Cat Stevens to the band walking to the plane to the tour managers game where William watches Penny Lane get sold to the highest bidder is INCENDIARY. (Eh? Eh?) And then imagine being Penny? Being 16 years old, and involved with an older guy who has a girlfriend, and who then literally turns around sells you to somebody else? Imagine how that would totally shape your view of men? Here is another instance in which I’d like to hug someone and make Russell attend counselling twice a week for about 16 years. WHY ARE YOU THE WAY THAT YOU ARE, RUSSELL? WHY DO YOU DEVALUE PEOPLE? HOW CAN YOU BE THIS WAY?

Almost Famous

21. And then we all cry during Penny Lane’s near-overdose

MY HEART. So Elton John plays. Then Penny’s face goes from overjoyed to straight-up devastated, then she is ASKED TO LEAVE, and only William goes after her and IT IS ALL YOUR FAULT, RUSSELL, SHE IS 16. All of it.

Also, the first time I saw this movie, I totally painted Leslie as a villain, BUT I think we can agree that’s incredibly incorrect. The woman marries this guy she’s probably been with forever, and yeah, their relationship is unconventional, but she obviously doesn’t know how much Russell disrespects her while on the road. Do you know how many people Russell deserves? Zero. Zero people. Despite him thinking he deserves at least two, he deserves nothing but a major lesson about valuing women. I mean, my god, man. Get it together.

22. I wish we could see Penny Lane’s adventures in Morocco and beyond

And I also wish that for so long I didn’t “ship” (is that what the kids are saying these days?) Penny and Russell so hard at the end when he says he’s coming to her. RIGHT? Am I alone there? I was 100% aboard the “he’ll totally change!” train for many moons, which I know is the wrong train, and even Penny Lane could understand that. Hence, why — SPOILER ALERT — he shows up at William’s house instead of at her house. Because even she’s like, “Anne?! Are you serious?! Come on. No.”

23. Also, I get legitimately sad when the plane ride’s over because SO IS THE ADVENTURE

You know, the adventure where everybody almost died because they’re tiny plane caught the edge of an electrical storm, but whatever! YOLO! ROCK AND/OR ROLL. This is just like after the world series in A League Of Their Own when I realize we’re not going to see anymore montages, and Dottie’s going away to have kids. That crushing feeling of, “No….”

24. But then the actual catastrophe

Called poor William’s story. Also, how did he not get anything on tape? Is that what happens sometimes? Are we just spoiled in the 2010s with our technology?  I’m assuming yes, because I’m watching this in horror thinking, “BUT HOW DID YOU REMEMBER WHAT THEY SAID?” Full disclosure: I once did a Q & A entirely from memory when my recorder didn’t work, BUT that was in 2009, so I’m blaming it on “the wild and crazy 2000s” which also means “I pressed the wrong button.”

ANYWAY. Thanks a lot again, Russell Hammond. Fine, you made it back up to William, but you almost totally burned him as a journalist.

25. SO I GUESS EVERYTHING IS TIED UP IN A NEAT LITTLE PACKAGE!

And by “I guess” I mean “confirmed” by William’s re-do of the story, Penny’s trip to Morocco, Anita’s return home, and Russell realizing that he is a guy in need of a major life re-adjustment.  However, I think it’s important that we end on this: Sapphire saves the day. (And also says the best lines.)

Almost Famous

So with that I tell you: this is the maid speaking, by the way.

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  1. i love reading your articles they always make me rethink some of my favorite movies and notice things i haven’t picked up on the other 20+ times ive watched them. i would love to hear your insight on “election”, “pleasantville” or “the hot chick”

  2. I’m not sure whether you’ll read this comment or not (I couldn’t find when the post had been posted), but okay: You mentioned earlier that this movie shaped your opinions on music industry, and taking from someone who wrote about music and got out of it as well (as you said, I’m not familiar with any of your pieces), I felt that you were perfect to answer me this: I’m 18 years old and on my second year of journalism school in Brazil. Music is the thing that moves my life more than anything and weirdly, it wasn’t what drove me into journalism at all. I often wonder if “I have what it takes” to write about music. I feel that I don’t know enough bands, that it’d come off as pretentious to judge someone else’s music, and even, after starting college, that music journalism wasn’t relevant enough for society and that there were other areas into “serious” journalism I could explore that would make me a more useful human being. I’d like to know from you how you got into music journalism (and whatever happened for you to stop writing about music, whether you’re still related to “cultural journalism”) and if you think the field should be taken as seriously as any other form of journalism. In case you ever read this, thank you! :)

    • FYI: I only watched Almost Famous three times and I feel different about it every time, so… I’m still forming thoughts on this one. Still, all I know is that I love it.

  3. Almost Famous is my favorite movie ever. Ever. So, I am thrilled that you also share my love because usually when I tell people Almost Famous is my favorite movie I’m met with blank stares, which makes my soul die a little. The bus scene where they all sing Tiny Dancer is my favorite scene of all time because it’s a magical movie scene where everything is forgiven by singing the sweet tunes of Elton John. Amazing.

  4. You’d think that this post would be enough to satisfy an Almost Famous craving, as you highlighted all of the best parts, but all it has actually accomplished is making me want to watch it more than ever.

    I have been in love with this movie since I first watched it. And I can’t express to you how much I enjoyed this post. Finding people who love something as much as you love it is possibly the greatest joy in life. So thank you for posting this!

    It’s all happening! (I am totally not cool enough to pull that off in every day life – but I couldn’t resist the opportunity!)

    • Thank you so much! I’m so glad you like/liked it. Watch Almost Famous a million more times!

      And damn it, we are ALL cool enough to say “it’s all happening”!

      Anne T. Donahue | 1/25/2013 12:01 pm
  5. Funny because I saw this movie a hundred time in my 20s, and I just watched it with my bf 2 weeks ago (he loved it btw). And I used to have this big crush on Russell. Still knowing he was a jerk and all but hey, he had long hair, a beard and played the guitare (which have been my 3 weaknesses in guys for a while and yes I blame Russell). But now 10 years after, not having watched the movie in a while I was so mad at myself the whole time thinking “wtf he’s an awful guy, why did I had such a crush on him??”. I guess it was my inner Penny Lane.

    • We have ALL liked Russells. Some of us, lots of Russells. We’re all in this together.

      Anne T. Donahue | 1/25/2013 12:01 pm
  6. I discovered this movie 3 years ago and fell in love! My two favorite scenes are without a doubt Tiny Dancer & the plane ride and of course the awesomeness and is Zooey Deschanel!

    • The plane ride has so many great quotes! “I don’t want to hear anymore, shut up, JEFFERY!” – “JEFFERY!?”

      Anne T. Donahue | 1/25/2013 07:01 am
  7. I’m glad someone out their loves this movie as much as i do! I first watched Almost Famous in my late teen’s now almost 30 and i have to say it changed my life but it did, I’ve always loved classic rock and music even now controls my life. I totally related to this article and laughed and went OMG me too while reading.

    P.S.: would love to see Penny in Morocco.

    • Right?! You should read Pamela Des Barres memoirs — they’re so awesome (and probably just as great as a Morocco adventure would be).

      Anne T. Donahue | 1/25/2013 07:01 am
  8. …and the chicks are great.
    This movie made me fall in love with Zooey and want to be Penny.
    It definitely helped shape me when I was young. Glad to hear I’m not the only one.
    p.s. Penny Lane is actually based off bad-ass band-aid Pennie Trumbull.

    • Oh cool! I think Pamela Des Barres makes mention of it at the end of her book too, but I might be wrong. Either way, now I want to read about Pennie — so thank you!

      Anne T. Donahue | 1/25/2013 07:01 am
  9. Remember when people were saying that Zooey Deschanel was going to star as Pamela Des Barres in an HBO adaptation of I’m With the Band? And we got really excited about it because that would be like, the best thing ever (and Zooey would look so crazy cool with those drawn on bottom lashes that I wish people still did). But then that never happened…. WHY DIDN”T THAT EVER HAPPEN?

    • I DO REMEMBER. AND WHY *DIDN’T* IT HAPPEN. These are terrific questions, HBO, if you’re reading (WHICH YOU SHOULD BE).

      Anne T. Donahue | 1/25/2013 07:01 am
  10. I absolutely love this article and relate and agree with everything posted.

    Also nice Romey and Michelle reference. I say that all the time and no one ever gets it.

    • Yay! I’m so glad you got it. I just re-read it and thought, “Oh my god, I hope nobody gets totally weirded out…” So thank you!

      Anne T. Donahue | 1/24/2013 06:01 am
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