{Vintage} A Thinkpiece About a Midlevel Band

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  {I wrote “Culture of Cool: A Thinkpiece About a Midlevel Band” back in 2015 when I first started blogging. I recently found it on my computer and decided to bring it back because I’m too sweet for rock ‘n roll and whatever. No editing – this is purely vintage. Enjoy!}

A few questions came to me as I re-watched one of my favorite films last week. What does it mean to be cool? What does it mean to be uncool? Is the theme of the movie really all about the music or is it about getting approval from others? I think it’s a little bit of both. Almost Famous is a classic film about a 15-year-old child prodigy named William who becomes a journalist for Rolling Stone magazine. William is uncool. He’s two full years younger than his classmates, who have dubbed him the “narc.”  So, when his sister, Anita, leaves the nest to become a stewardess, she leans down to talk to her younger brother.

            “One day, you’ll be cool. Look under your bed. It’ll set you free.” (IMBD)

When Anita leaves him alone with their mother, William rushes to look under his bed. He finds a collection of records. Thus, began his love for rock music. While music is very important in this film, it still doesn’t make William cool. In fact, any character who genuinely loves the music is treated poorly one way or another. When William meets with his hero, rock journalist Lester Bangs, the subject of cool is addressed again. Lester Bangs is “cool” with being uncool. He embraces the uncool. Most importantly, when William joins the band on tour to document their journey, Lester warns William to be aware of the band.

LESTER: “Friendship is the booze they feed you. They want you to get drunk on feeling like you belong.

WILLIAM: “Well, it was fun.”

LESTER: “They make you feel cool. And hey, I met you. You are not cool.”

WILLIAM: “I know. Even when I thought I was, I knew I wasn’t.”

LESTER: “That’s because we’re uncool. And while women will always be a problem for us, most of the great art in the world is about that very same problem. Good-looking people don’t have any spine. Their art never lasts. They get the girls, but we’re smarter.”

WILLIAM: “I can really see that now.”

LESTER: “Yeah, great art is about conflict and pain and guilt and longing and love disguised as sex, and sex disguised as love… and let’s face it, you got a big head start.”

WILLIAM: “I’m glad you were home.”

LESTER: “I’m always home. I’m uncool.”

WILLIAM: “Me too!”

LESTER: “The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.

WILLIAM: “I feel better.”

LESTER: “My advice to you. I know you think those guys are your friends. You wanna be a true friend to them? Be honest, and unmerciful.” (IMBD)

This exchange, to me, holds the most important quotes in the entire movie. Lester isn’t just saying that “cool” doesn’t last, that being “uncool” eventually finishes the race. He is also saying that being “cool” doesn’t matter as much as being honest because it’s all about the music. The band constantly is begging William to make them “look cool.” But if William refuses to be honest with the band and focuses on making them look cool, everything people love about music will mean nothing. There is a constant push-and-pull in this film. The reality of William being uncool versus the fantasy of William feeling cool in the presence of rock stars. Will he risk everything to feel cool, or will the constant calls from his mother and Lester pull him back to the real world? Is the band manipulating William or are they being honest with him? Is being cool the same as feeling cool?

Russell is another interesting character to explore because no matter how cool or mysterious he acts, he is also desperate for the approval of others. The teenage house party scenes are very evident of this. These teenagers worship him. As they gather around and listen to him, he enjoys the fact that they hang onto his every word. He takes drugs with them and shows his vulnerability, which he never does with people who really know him. When he’s standing on the roof, being applauded by the whole party, William is the only one who sees this. But William is “uncool,” so what does he know? It’s okay for Russell’s last words to be “I’m on drugs” because the whole crowd of teenagers was cheering for him. We can deduce that Russell is aware that people idolize him from the quote “I am a golden god!” The truth is, Russell is afraid of being uncool. That’s why he welcomes the people who think he’s cool and shuns the people who really know him.

William’s desperation to be cool nearly sabotages his future. While he was originally there for the music, he got attached to the band and he fell in love with Penny Lane. We can only expect this kind of professionalism from an adolescent boy who has always been “uncool.” The band brings him back to reality when they deny almost everything he wrote about them because they didn’t like how they were portrayed. Even though it was all true. He was truly the heart of gold on that tour bus and they threw him out for doing his job, which was being “honest and unmerciful.” Only the kind of tantrum a “cool” rock star could pull off, ruining the future of a 15-year-old boy who had been masquerading as a rock critic.

Even worse, the band wasn’t even going to admit they had lied about the article until they realized the people around them saw their actions as “uncool.” In the end of the film, William asks the question in his final interview with Russell:

“What do you love about music?”

And Russell replies, “to begin with… everything.” (IMBD)

While it’s a relatable quote, the band’s trustworthiness remains debatable. Even if that scene had seemed “cool” of Russell, I don’t find the circumstance of the situation particularly redeeming. Especially since he has no intention of visiting William at all. While not a lot can be said for the rock stars of Stillwater, we can at least take what William learned from his journey: “coolness”  doesn’t matter, as even the coolest people can be uncool. Sure, he cared about the approval of others for a while… but when the rock stars can’t handle the truth, we turn to the music. After all, it was the music that took him where he went, and it was the music that set him free.

{I was really proud of this essay – which I wrote for fun because I’m a huge nerd – when I wrote it. Almost Famous remains one of my favorite movies. You should watch it. Or you’re uncool.

XX Jules}

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