“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.]