Media Representations of Fandom: Almost Famous

I’m continuing the series about media representations of fandom with the movie, Almost Famous.  This movie came out in 2000 and the story is about a young boy who has a chance to write an article for Rolling Stone magazine about a rock band on tour.  Of course, on tour, he not only gets a chance to get to know the band but he gets to know some of the “groupies” or “band-aids” on tour.  Here’s the trailer, for your viewing pleasure:

This movie provides a great deal to write and think about.  On one hand, there is the boy who wants to be cool and wants to write about music.  It seems to me that there are parallels between his story and the story about becoming a fan.  What does Will’s story tell us about what people think of fans?  Then, there is the story of the girls, especially the main female character, Penny Lane.  Obviously, the question with Penny is the question of that pesky groupie label.

When we first meet the main character, Will, he is a young boy who is definitely NOT cool.  Yet, he spent his childhood reading rock magazines and listening to rock albums.  (Does this sound like anyone familiar?)  He is so into this that he sends articles to editors until he gets assigned an article to write.  His mother is less than thrilled about him going to concerts or going on tour to write this article.  Yet, she allows it simply because it is a “hobby”.  During his quest at getting in with the band, he meets the “band-aids”.  From them, he learns to just enjoy the show rather than spending the time at a concert taking notes.  Eventually, of course, he gets to know the band where he learns that there are all sorts of rules regarding what he can and cannot write about.  He also gets to witness fans reacting both to the band he is covering and other artists like David Bowie who they see on the road.  That Bowie scene shows fans who are chasing Bowie to the elevator and are dressed just like him.  At the end of the story, when he returns home, he discovers that it is really hard to write about his experience.

What does Will’s story tell us about how fans are viewed?  Obviously, those David Bowie fans were shown to be pretty extreme.  After all, not every fan would chase his/her idol to the elevator or would dress like the object of his/her fandom.  Then, of course, there is Will’s mother.  She dismisses what he is doing with writing the article.  On one hand, this seems logical since he is so young!  On the other hand, does she dismiss it because writing about a rock band shouldn’t be taken seriously?  I mean…come on…who would want to write about a silly, little band?  Oh wait…does a blog count????  Then, of course, Will learns to just enjoy the band and the music from the “band-aids”.  After all that he saw, heard, and felt, he struggled to put it all into words.  I understand that feeling completely.  I try to write about each show and each tour and yet, I often feel like what I say barely scratches the surface as to what happened during a show or a tour.  I know that there was a lot more I wanted to say about that Biloxi show last August, for instance.  Yet, I lacked the words.  On a larger scale, I think it is hard to explain what it is like to be a fan and hard to explain about fan experiences, no matter if those experiences are listening to a particular song alone in one’s room or rocking out in the front row.  Those experiences, when you are a fan, take on a larger than life significance.  Thus, I thought Will’s story as a fan was fairly accurate.  Was the scenario of a 15 year old writing for Rolling Stone magazine logical or likely?  No, but, many of his experiences were ones that fans of all ages could relate to.

Is Penny’s story equally as accurate?  Right away, I admit that I’m nervous by her presence.  When we meet Penny, she is with a group of friends who are all “band-aids”.  She explains the difference, groupies have sex with rock stars to be famous.  Band-aids are there for the music.  Does this mean that they don’t have sex with the rock stars?  Nope.  They do.  Yet, are they there for the music as they claim?  On one hand, they do teach Will to just enjoy the show as he watches it.  On the other hand, the rock stars, themselves, use them and throw them away.  During one scene, various rock stars are playing poker.  The girls became part of the ante to play.  Oh boy.  An interesting scene takes place at the end of the movie when new groupies arrive on the scene.  A groupie who has been around dislikes these new girls simply because they don’t care about the music.  They aren’t fans.

How was Penny portrayed?  First and, obviously, she was a groupie.  Maybe, they tried to give her and her friends more complexity by making them actual fans who care about the music.  Heck, maybe, people who do define themselves as groupies, do love the music.  I know that Pamela Des Barres, famous groupie, stated that in her books.  Should they have included groupies?  I think that they should have since there is lots of documentation that there were groupies in the rock scene in the 1970s when this movie took place.  Did they feed stereotypes about them?  Not really.  Yes, they showed them as young.  Yes, they showed their focus was on getting close to the male rock stars.  There wasn’t much judgement with those images, which I appreciated it.  That said, do the characters of Will and/or Penny show what it really means to be a fan?  I think it must be very difficult to show all types of fans.  In this story, they had to choose fans who lived, ate and breathed fandom.  Fans like myself who dedicate a ton of hours but not every hour wouldn’t have been as interesting.  Thus, they had to include the extremes.  I appreciate that the characters, the fans, generally, seemed intelligent and complex.  I think that is all we can ever hope for.

Next Sunday, I will continue the series with the indy movie, Trekkies.  I believe that this movie was made in the same vein as the Duran fan documentary, Something I Should Know.

-A

4 thoughts on “Media Representations of Fandom: Almost Famous”

  1. this is my favorite movie of all times. that scene above with Sapphire (played by the outstanding Fairuza Balk) is beautiful, i think. and much of this was based on Cameron Crowe's own experiences with Led Zeppelin.

  2. I am so the female version of Will….and about as far from Penny Lane as possible. It's just my reality, and while I suppose I am comfortable in my own skin, I have to admit I'm curious about what it is like to be Penny until I remember just how used she really was. Then I KNOW I'm happier being e nerd. At least I know who and what I am. -R

  3. Yes, this movie was written and directed by Cameron Crowe (love him!) and it is based on his actual experiences when he was a teen and was writing for Rolling Stone. Note- they didn't KNOW he was in high school, he would submit articles and they liked what he wrote. He didn't actually meet anyone from the magazine until after they sent him on the road. Penny Lane is based on a real person and the band-aids are loosely based on the L.A. groupies that Pamela Des Barres was with. After writing for Rolling Stone, Cameron Crowe posed as a h.s. student at his old school and went on to write a book about it called Fast Times At Ridgemont High. He also wrote the screenplay for the Fast Times At Ridgemont High movie, then wrote and directed Say Anything (one of my favorites movies EVER) and Singles before becoming a household name with Jerry Maguire. He was married to Nancy Wilson of Heart for years. – Michduran

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