Music is one of those rare things that has the ability to take you places. It can propel you into the future as Ziggy Stardust showed us in the ‘70’s, it can help put your current life in perspective as the Counting Crows did for the class of 1994, but mostly we use music to take us back in time. Last night I allowed music to take me on a journey, I spent time with Russell Hammond, William Miller, Penny Lane, and the incomparable Lester Bangs. I am of course referring to the Cameron Crowe biopic, Almost Famous.
There are few movies out there, none coming to mind right now, that showcase such a beautiful blend of music and story. It could just be the time period that the story is set in, as it follows a young journalist and his feeble attempts to interview a mid-level rock band on their 1973 cross-country tour, or it could be the characters that we fall in love with during that journey. Really though, it’s a combination of both along with the soundtrack that walks with the characters on their cross-country tour.
Who among us isn’t just a little bit jealous of those rebellious, care free kids who are fortunate enough to be able to follow around rock bands such as Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, Black Sabbath, and Stillwater? The shot of that kid in the hotel who is beside himself holding the marker that Jimmy Page used to sign his t-shirt, or the Bowie fan who attempts to shower his idol with stardust as he is whisked into the elevator. It’s easy to look at them and laugh, but each of us was at that point, or at a point near to that, at some time during our lives. That’s the power that music has. Would there have been a better song to play than Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘America’ as the 18 year old Anita realizes freedom, as she gets into her boyfriend’s Camaro and speeds off for a life on her own? Shortly after Russell is “rescued” from the real people’s house in Topeka, the tour bus heads on its way while we are treated to Tiny Dancer from Elton John…I dare you not to sing along.
As their journey begins to wind down, they find themselves in a New York City restaurant hearing that the enemy, who was with them for their journey, has just secured them the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. What follows is another classic from Elton John, ‘Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters’. That song was so poignant in that moment, that I can no longer think of New York City without thinking of that song, and vice versa.
Music has a way of touching us, a way of associating itself with events that happen in our lives so much so, that simply hearing a tune later in life has the ability to take you back to your youth. There are few things that have that gift, and that is we view musicians in the way we do. We view them as poets, as storytellers, as Gods. We do so because we know that the people who pen those tunes and who belt those ballads will be with us for years, they will be in our hearts, they will be in our minds, and most importantly, they will be in our memories.
In a way, I feel bad for today’s youth, their music sucks. Sure there are one or two decent bands and performers, but there will never be a collection of greats the way there was years ago. You’ll find plenty of kids who will argue that point, but until time passes, they will never be able to win that argument. In a way though, it doesn’t matter. These kids will still be able to attach memories to the music of their youth, just the way that older people were able to, and that’s the beauty of music.