This is the case for my supreme love of the film Almost Famous.
I know that this might make me seem a bit sad, but this desire to learn from the people I admire is a major motivator behind why I started this blog in the first place. I guess I'm hoping for a 'fake it 'till you make it' sort of situation, where if I learn as much about my heroes as possible and implement some of their philosophies, that I will become more like them, and as a result more of the person that I want to be. It's far less creepy, desperate Single White Female than it sounds, but that's what it is.
In the spirit of this educative practice, I am sharing the top lessons that I have learned from Almost Famous:
1. Journalists are the enemy
This made me think a lot when I first saw the film, because up until that point in my life (i.e. when I was ten) I just assumed that I would become a journalist and, through that, become an artist as well. But it made me think a lot about the connotations that journalism had, especially among those who are being written about, that the writer is "the one guy you don't tell your secrets to" and is aware of their power to make or break an artist. Of course, being a journalist and being an artist are not mutually exclusive professions -- some of the greatest writers were journalists (Hemingway, for instance, started out as a news correspondent) but Almost Famous definitely explores the sense of politics that exists in the journalism world.
2. The difference between groupies and band-aids
In the words of Miss Penny Lane, "Groupies sleep with rock stars 'cause they want to be near someone famous. We're here because of the music. We are band-aids. We don't have intercourse with these guys, we inspire the music. We're here because of the music." Sapphire mentions the divide between groupies and band-aids again later in the film: "They don't even know what it is to be a fan, to truly love some silly little piece of music, or some band, so much that it hurts." The generalized labeling of any and every woman who's involved in the music scene as a 'groupie' was so common in the 1970s, and sadly still happens a lot today. While I think that 'groupie' as a term isn't as wholly negative as it is defined here, there are many gradations on what it means to be in this kind of role.
3. The music of Simon & Garfunkel is the poetry of drugs and promiscuous sex
Elaine called it: they were (are?) TOTALLY on pot. But it's still pretty hilarious that Simon & Garfunkel -- perhaps one of the gentlest and most contemplative folk groups of the sixties -- would be associated with "drugs and promiscuous sex," as Elaine alleges.
4. If you never take it seriously, you'll always have fun
Penny repeats to William the advice that she gives the band-aids: "Never take it seriously. If you never take it seriously, you never get hurt. You never get hurt, you always have fun." This is pretty solid advice for anyone to follow regardless of if you're partying at the Riot House, flying off to Morocco, or doing something considerably less cool.
5. Famous people are just more interesting
6. The truth about Jim Morrison
7. Adolescence is a marketing tool
8. The power of Tommy
Anita is William's cool older sister, and is another person in his life besides Elaine and Lester to dispense really amazing advice. Who can forget the image of Zooey, with her hair wrapped is curlers, looking directly into the camera (and as a result, directly into the eyes of the viewer) and saying, "One day, you'll be cool" with that sympathetic comfort that only someone already there can give? That line resonated with all the Williams of the world (myself included), who felt misunderstood and freakish growing up and needed to know life wouldn't always be defined in terms of high school criteria for coolness. As one of her last acts to save her younger brother before she flees to become a flight attendant, Anita gives William her collection of albums that her mother banned. Her note to "Listen to Tommy with a candle burning and you'll see your entire future" is rock 'n' roll perfection.
9. The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you're uncool
10. Pete Townshend might be the only person out there who can really explain rock 'n' roll
At least, according to Jeff Bebe. But Jeff certainly does try: "Rock 'n' roll is a lifestyle and a way of thinking. And it's not about money and popularity, although some money would be nice. But it's a voice that says, 'Here I am, and fuck you if you can't understand me.'" Yeah Jeff, I think you pretty much nailed it.
11. Russell is a golden god
12. If we thought Mick Jagger would still be out there trying to be a rock star at age fifty, we would be sadly, sadly mistaken
13. Using big words can get you backstage
14. You can get out of any awkward phone conversation by saying "This is the maid speaking, by the way"
Though I obviously worship at the altar of Penny, I think Sapphire is my favorite of the band-aids. She's ridiculously funny, bluntly honest and at times a bit too intense but in the best possible way (i.e. "DOES ANYBODY REMEMBER LAUGHTER?!") -- more party-oriented and reckless than Penny, but Sapph is very thoughtful and aware of what's going on. Her telephone call with Elaine, where she tries to ease her worries about William, shows a softer side of Sapphire. Of course, that's instantly subverted when she claims that she's actually the maid and quickly hangs up.
15. The healing powers of "Tiny Dancer"
I'm not being hyperbolic when I say that I think this is one of the most wonderful moments in film history. Watching a fractured band slowly come back together by joining in one by one to sing along to Elton John's "Tiny Dancer" distills what in essence this film is trying to communicate: the power of music to bring people together. This scene has stayed with me and the countless others who love Almost Famous, who want Penny to be talking to us when she says "you are home."