“Almost”: A Rock ‘N’ Roll Fable To Celebrate The 20th Anniversary Of “Almost Famous”

“Almost” originally appeared in The Boy Who Cried Freebird: Rock & Roll Fables And Sonic Storytelling (HarperCollins, 2007) by MAGNET’s Mitch Myers. Cameron Crowe’s rock ‘n’ roll fable Almost Famous was released Sept. 15, 2000.

Did I ever tell you about my young friend Danny Whitehouse? Danny was a teen-aged rock obsessive who listened to all the current music until he saw that movie Almost Famous, and it changed his life. Danny really loved Almost Famous, and after watching it about a dozen times, he began buying old vinyl albums from the ’70s, specifically records by the artists he found on the Almost Famous soundtrack.  

Danny was a methodical music fanatic, and he started out by getting every old album he could find by the Allman Brothers Band. He loved Greg Allman’s voice and the way Duane Allman’s slide guitar burned its way around Dickey Bett’s stinging leads. From there, Danny moved directly into the Southern-rock stylings of Lynyrd Skynyrd and their infamous three-guitar attack. Skynyrd weren’t quite the improvisers that the Allmans were, but Danny thought they rocked a lot harder and wrote some truly meaningful tunes. 

It wasn’t long before Danny was scouring the used record bins for albums by Led Zeppelin and the Who. Almost Famous used an instrumental from the Who’s rock opera, Tommy, and while the tune featured familiar riffs from Pete Townsend’s amplified acoustic guitar, it was John Entwhistle’s thundering bass that captured Danny’s imagination. And although Zeppelin’s dynamic, blues-based music was completely exhilarating, Danny actually preferred the softer, romantic side of Jimmy Page and Robert Plant.

Danny really began picking up speed in his collecting as he found countless albums by Simon & Garfunkel and Cat Stevens. While he treasured Tea For The Tillerman, Danny found Cat’s later recordings far less interesting. The same went for his short-lived passion for Elton John and Rod Stewart. He cherished the early stuff but decided that they had become caricatures of themselves and lost the artistic significance they once commanded.

Then Danny became immersed in the arty eclecticism of Todd Rundgren and the lighter-than-air-psychedelia of mid-period Beach Boys. He loved the fact that Rundgren played all the instruments on his own in the studio. He was equally fascinated with landmark Beach Boys albums like Holland and Surf’s Up. Danny was convinced that Brian Wilson’s orchestral-pop harmonies and acid-tinged sound production were the work of absolute genius.  

From there Danny went on to the prog rock of Yes and the punk-glam-androgyny of David Bowie. Danny imagined that the Yes-men had studied classical music before forming their rock band and that Bowie had gotten a lot of mileage out of imitating Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground. Danny also got deeply into psychedelic garage rock and eventually spent a big chunk of change on a pristine copy of the original Nuggets collection.

I was impressed when Danny pursued the seductive R&B of great blind soul singer Clarence Carter. Carter’s yearning version of “Slip Away” was also used in the film Wonder Boys, and I thought for sure that Danny would begin another acquisition process based on that film’s retro soundtrack. Ironically, Danny never even bothered to see that movie. He did, however, go to extreme lengths to purchase a copy of a Thunderclap Newman album and paid a real premium because the record had original cover art and was produced by Pete Townsend.  

But there was one tune on Almost Famous that turned Danny’s world upside down. Stillwater’s “Fever Dog” begins with a bone-crushing rock riff and a hearty wail from the group’s lead singer. With the song’s sinuous bass line, stratospheric guitar and Cro-Magnon drum beats echoing in his ears, Danny was eager to purchase any and all full-length albums by Stillwater, but it was not to be.

You can imagine his disappointment (and humiliation) when a clerk at the used record store told Danny that Stillwater was just an imaginary band made up expressly for the purposes of Almost Famous. At first, Danny couldn’t believe it. “But ‘Fever Dog’ sounds so great,” he cried. “If their music is totally contrived, what does that say about all of these other records that I’ve been buying? They don’t sound all that much better than Stillwater!” 

So that was it for Danny and his record-buying obsession. As a matter of fact, he immediately sold off all of the old albums he’d been collecting. The funny thing is, Danny took the money and bought himself an electric guitar. Nowadays, he leads a ’70s cover band and plays gigs every once in a while at a club downtown. 

Perhaps you’ve heard of Danny’s band—they’re called the Cameron Crowes.

[Hey, what about the Oliver Stones? —ed.]

MAGNET Exclusive: Premiere Of Fast Romantics’ “Top Of The Mountain” Video

Fast Romantics named their 2017 album American Love. Three years later, they’re still waiting for us to return the favor. “It’s like Fast Romantics and America both swiped right on Tinder, but no one’s made the first move yet,” says Matthew Angus, the group’s singer and primary songwriter. “Whenever we’re put in front of a crowd in the States, we make fans for life.”

But that hasn’t been often enough—and it’s not likely to get any easier, with touring on indefinite hiatus due to COVID-19. Meanwhile, the accolades keep piling up for the for Toronto sextet in Canada, where the group has enjoyed consistent success on commercial radio and nearly nabbed the coveted Prism Prize. 

“Top Of The Mountain” offers yet another compelling reason to lament Fast Romantics’ lack of an audience south of the border. Simmering and vaguely psychedelic, with slow-build pacing that insinuates a persistent uphill momentum, it’s one of eight thoughtful, impeccably crafted tracks on the band’s new album, Pick It Up (Postwar/Fontana North).

“The songs are on the spectrum of complete disillusionment with one’s self to the process of becoming re-illusioned with one’s self,” says Angus, who’s currently engaged to his Fast Romantics bandmate, multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Kirty. “Things were going well on paper, but that’s where things can get weird for me. I’ve bounced back and forth in the land of depression and anxiety my whole life, and it can affect my ability to complete music. Finishing this record came over the span of three sudden weeks when I’d broken free of that and gotten out of the funk. I can hear my best self on this record.”

Premiering today on magnetmagazine.com, the video for “Top Of The Mountain” is a bit of a change of pace for the group. “Up here, you can get funding for videos,” says Angus. “But that eventually dries out, and we were working with a much smaller budget for this one. We made it about a single experience and tried to tell one story within that simple feeling.”

Clocking in at a lean 30 minutes, Pick It Up stands as an efficient document of a band at the top of its game. “That’s all there is, baby—and we’re really proud of it,” says Angus. 

And there’s more where that came from. “This is only a fraction of the music we’ve made over the last two or three years,” says Angus.  “Something about the pandemic made it pretty clear that we had to start spitting out songs into the world.”

—Hobart Rowland 

Isolation Drills: Jesse Lundy (Hannah Taylor & The Rekardo Lee Trio, Point Entertainment)

Like the majority of you, all of us in the Philadelphia area are staying at home, learning to adapt to our “new normal.” MAGNET is checking in with local musicians to see how and what they’re doing during this unprecedented time. Photos by Chris Sikich.

Lundy: Phew. Couldn’t have seen this one coming, certainly

My wife Tara and I returned from vacation on March 1, knowing we were returning to a new frontier. The guy who sat behind us on the plane coughed, shivered and sneezed the entire way back, so we figured we were goners before we even got home. Luckily, that was not the case. 

That first week back was kinda/sorta normal, but by Sunday, March 8, I was in panic mode. I played “my last gig” that night at 118 North with Hannah Taylor & The Rekardo Lee Trio, and already you could see people were scared to go out. Then Bryan Dilworth passed away, which was such a colossal loss; there’s just no way to overstate it. But there was no time to properly mourn his passing or have a memorial or funeral because by Thursday, March 12, it was clear that it was time to stock up and prepare to hunker down, which we did. I had “the last supper and draft beer” with Chris Perella from Ardmore Music Hall that night. Sadly, HT&RLK were supposed to play the final show at Thirsty Soul on Friday, March 13, but at that point, it would have been irresponsible

Since then? We haven’t been in more than three stores since March 15. All these UPS, USPS, Amazon, Instacart deliver people should be getting hazard pay. They’ve made it so we don’t have to go into stores, and I have to say that that may be part of saving any remaining mental health. All you have to do is take a ride down Kelly or MLK Drive to see that it’s not just Constitutional scholars in Texas and Florida who refuse to do their part. Very grim. 

I’m super proud of the protestors who have remained peaceful in the face of a government that teargasses them, arrests journalists and protects white supremacists. George Floyd’s life was not in vain as long as the change happens, and there are a lot of brave people out there fighting the good fight. I’ve never been so ashamed to be a Philadelphian or an American as I was on June 1 when they went after the protestors on 676. There’s no way the current administration should be allowed to recover from that, only to turn around and take 100 percent of arts funding and give it to the police. The mayor seems to have lost sight of reality and forgotten that it was Democrats who elected him. It’s really too bad that he failed that badly, that quickly.

Job? Well, Tara works at the Women’s Law Project, a public-interest law firm. Luckily, she is working remotely, both because of the paycheck and because their work is even more urgent now. The concert industry is in real bad shape. We’ve spent all this time scheduling, rescheduling, re-rescheduling and re-re-rescheduling shows. An utter waste of time. I heard that NIVA, the new association for independent venues, says that nine out of 10 indie venues don’t have the cash reserve to survive the next six months.

Try to imagine nine out of 10 small clubs/venues in Philly disappearing; Bourbon & Branch is already gone. Now, we are investigating all the safe options to try and see what works. Summer 2020 is lost, so maybe later this year? The upside is that I’ve spent more time on the phone having meaningful conversations with my friends and people in the industry than I have in years. 

I’d like to spend my summer off doing exactly what we’ve illustrated here: enjoying the back yard, having some cocktails, spending time with my wife and walking the trails in Fairmount Park (early enough each day that no one else is there yet). I miss playing music with my band, I miss a lot of my friends, I have no idea when I’ll ever see my parents (Maine and Florida) again, but we all have a responsibility to every other person in the world to stop being selfish for a minute and do the right thing. If you think about the sacrifices that people made in WWII, then staying home in the hammock with a Negroni isn’t that bad. Think about that the next time you whine about needing a haircut or missing bowling practice.