September 2000. The new millennium hasn’t gone so well. I spent the first half of the year working for Census 2000 in Boston and then there was a period with no job and rapidly dwindling savings. I’d just started a position as an accounting assistant, but money was still tight. It was the first time I learned that when your money gets to a very low level, it takes time to pull yourself back into financial stability, even if there are paychecks coming in.
Cameron Crowe’s new movie was coming out soon. There was a time when a new Cameron Crowe movie was a big deal, and this movie, Almost Famous, promised to be a really great movie.
Its release date coincided with a trip home for a friend-of-family wedding. I didn’t really have the money for a weekend trip home, but had already bought my ticket, so I skipped paying for some other things and headed off to Boise.
I would have been better off staying home. The wedding was nice, but my divorced parents freezing each other out at the reception was not enjoyable. There was drama around meeting up with an ex-boyfriend, I completely dissed another friend, and then suffered through a night of not-dancing at a dance club with yet another friend who, I realized around hour two of watching her have fun with other people, had grown very distant.
Almost Famous was my vacation reward. I was going to see that movie on opening weekend, because I suspected I was going to love it. It was about the life I thought I wanted when I was in high school. I was going to be a roadie, touring with the band, music surrounding me.
Almost Famous wasn’t playing in Boise that weekend. It opened three weeks later.
I returned to Boston, beat up from the changing friendships, and with no extra money for movies. I headed off to work as usual, girding myself for the day. This job didn’t have enough for me to do and pretending to be busy for hours on end gave me a lot of time to mull over the sorry state of my life.
I can’t remember exactly when I finally watched Almost Famous, but I know it was a “screw it, I’m gonna see this damn film” moment. I’m pretty sure it was after work on a weeknight. I worked in Harvard Square in Cambridge and one night, instead of going home, I went to the theater after work.
I did love that movie. I loved it from the first frame to the last one. I watched the story of a time when music was changing at the same time my life had shifted so abruptly and that film imprinted itself on me. I hoped for a transformative cinema experience and I got one. And I didn’t anticipate how funny it was going to be.
There are quotes from that movie that run through my head.* Aside from being transformative, and having a really great soundtrack, this movie also rehabilitated my opinion of Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” with one scene.
After a fight between band members, William Miller has just spent the night at a party in Topeka, Kansas with Russell Hammond. The bus comes to collect them, and everyone’s mad. Russell sits alone in the front seat and as they leave Topeka, “Tiny Dancer” plays. Tension dissipates as people start to sing along, until the whole bus joins in for the chorus.
It’s shoddy storytelling, fixing an argument through a sing-along. But it totally works. Before this movie I thought Elton John’s song was kind of silly, seeing members of a touring band love the song so much made me love it too.
*The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when your uncool.