The Led Zeppelin Connection

Almost Famous details Cameron Crowe's early experiences in rock and roll journalism with Stillwater. That hand in the opening credits is his. As for Stillwater, they are a hybrid band, made up of his memories of the Allman Brothers Band and Led Zeppelin, and some healthy fiction. For example, the turbulent airplane ride near the end of the movie is from the ABB experience, but "I am a Golden God" is a direct quotation from Jimmy Page, the guitar god who upstaged his pretty boy front man. If you've already seen the film, that setup may sound familiar. Stillwater's drummer resembles John Bonham physically, but Bonzo was married with kids. I'm guessing that the drummer's one line in the movie is either fictional, or an obscure reference to another band entirely.

In any case, there are some other parallels between Stillwater and Led Zeppelin that aren't right on the surface for all to see (or hear). The first Stillwater show that William sees, he hears them play Fever Dog. Nancy Wilson, Crowe's wife and former member of Heart penned the tune, but long before she ever set it on paper, Led Zeppelin were playing When the Levee Breaks. Listen to the two tunes side by side, and smile if you like tributes.

Jason Lee plays the front man, but when he's onstage with Stillwater, his choreograpy is pure vintage Robert Plant. His squealing wail on Fever Dog is an attempt to sing in the same register as Nancy Wilson did on the demo tape of the song... ironically, it comes out as a pretty good impersonation. Billy Crudup is the guitarist whose skill and passion for music overtake the raucous cock rock antics of the front man, and he suddenly finds himself in the spotlight. He's Jimmy Page. He may also be an Allman Brother--see my disclaimer below.

Crowe must have done a phenomenal job portraying Zeppelin, both in the articles he wrote for Rolling Stone and in the film, because Almost Famous is the first film besides The Song Remains the Same to be permitted to use Led Zeppelin's music. Not even Dazed and Confused, whose title is taken from a Zep tune, had that privilege. All in all, Crowe uses four of their songs -- more songs than from any other artist in the film. Only one made the soundtrack: That's the Way, off Led Zeppelin III. The others are Bron-Yr-Aur, Tangerine,(both from III), Misty Mountain Hop (from Runes), and The Rain Song, from Houses of the Holy. Fever D--I mean, When the Levee Breaks is from IV, also. I don't think it's a coincidence that these albums are from the height of Zeppelin's career (1970-71), right when a magazine like Rolling Stone would be interested enough in them to send a little kid to interview them. Crowe covers his tracks a little when one of the band members says "this is the magazine that trashed every Led Zeppelin album," but I think that's meant as a wink and a smile to the past.

Anyhow, you don't have to be a Led Zeppelin fan to like Almost Famous; it's a fantastic movie in its own right, and the great acting stands alone. But, like any other Crowe film, you can't ignore the soundtrack. And when it's a Crowe film about Crowe, and about music, you have to at least pay a little attention to the references. So, you don't have to be a fan to dig Kate Hudson tipping down her shades and giving Patrick Fugit every watt of sparkle in her eyes, and you don't have to love Rock and Roll to enjoy Jason Lee ranting about the "fucking T-shirt!", and you don't have to be a fan to recognize the brilliance of the movie... but if you want to fully appreciate it, listening to a little Zep might help.

"Does anyone remember laughter?"

Disclaimer: I'm a raging Zeppelin fan, much like the bit part character in the movie who has the lyrics to the Rain Song on his shirt, and another shirt that has the phrase Have you seen the bridge? on it... so I tend to see this movie from a Zep-only perspective. I would love to see someone pull the Allman Brothers references out of Almost Famous as well, because I don't know enough to do them this much justice. And of course, I don't mean to downplay the importance of the other artists in the early seventies... it's just, well... they're not Zep. :-)