Six Degrees of Cameron Crowe

almost famous
Well, it’s that time of year and journalists are writing their reflection pieces, covering the best and worst that 2009 had to offer. (Pitchfork is a good example, with their lists of best songs, albums, and videos, and worst album covers.)

But we’re also, according to the media (post refuting this claim soon to follow), at the end of the first decade of the 21st Century, and yesterday I came across a curious cross-reference: Rolling Stone magazine has published their Best Music of the Decade, Salon is doing a series called Films of the Decade, and R.J. Cutler writes about how one of the Films of the Decade, former Rolling Stone writer Cameron Crowe’s autobiographical Almost Famous from 2000, was not only about Cameron Crowe, it was about R.J. Cutler as well.

Well, what Cameron Crowe and R.J. Cutler both don’t realize is that Almost Famous was actually about me.

I’ll explain.

There’s a scene near the beginning of the film, when young William Miller’s older sister, Anita, leaves home (cue Sgt. Pepper, Track 6), after a quintessential late-1960s culture gap conflict with their overbearing mother. William is Crowe at 11 years of age, and right before Anita gets in the car to leave, she whispers in his ear, “Look under your bed. It’ll set you free.”

That evening, William locks the door of his room, reaches under his bed, and finds a stash of records that Anita had left for him. He flips through them, and we see some of the greatest albums of the era, albums that exemplified a time of revolutionary music, film, art, politics, and culture, and as he’s flipping through he comes to an album by The Who, where he finds a note from Anita that reads, “Listen to Tommy with a candle burning and you will see your entire future.”

William lights a candle, places Tommy on his turntable, and as he drops the needle on the vinyl the spacey glory of the song Sparks fills the room, a song from an album, a rock opera, that was an allegory for the kind of consciousness breakthrough that so many experienced at that time, a consciousness breakthrough that Anita obviously experienced, and one that, as we see in the next scene, a jump forward in time of 4 years, William has experienced, as is evident by his obsessive doodling of rock band logos on his school notebook.

Now, while some of the details were different – my older sister didn’t leave because of a conflict with my parents, she left our home in New Jersey to attend the University of Georgia; she didn’t leave me her albums, I stole some of them from her; I didn’t become a writer for Rolling Stone or Salon, I write a blog – Tommy WAS one of the albums I got from my sister, and it did blow my mind and set me free, and I too would eventually obsessively doodle the logos of my favorite rock bands on the brown shopping bag covers on my text books in school.

Just the other night, I was at Bellingham’s great local bookstore, Village Books, where I invariably end up spending some of my time browsing the titles in the music section. I came across a biography of Led Zeppelin that I’d never seen before, Mick Wall’s When Giants Walked The Earth, and as I thumbed through the pages and looked at the photos, I was instantly taken back to my childhood, feeling that amazing sense of awe and wonder that the music of that time evoked, and an unwelcome voice in my head said, “When the HELL are you going to grow up?!”

Then a competing voice said, “Your 45-years old, happily married, the father of an incredible 12-year old son, you work at a university, play guitar and sing in a band, and you write a blog.”

If that’s not growing up, well then, I hope to God I never do.

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