By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
By Claire Lawton
By Kiernan Maletsky
By Anna Merlan
It is little surprise that Crowe would accurately portray the details of the rock industry: When he was 16, he became a contributing editor for Rolling Stone, and spent his teen years circling the world with the likes of Zeppelin, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, and David Bowie. He has experienced the venality first-hand: the way tour managers use groupies as gelt in poker games, the tenuous relationships that exist in bands formed by best (hahaha) friends, the way rock critics are suckered into "friendships" with manipulative musicians who crave a little good press. Russell and Jeff don't really like each other--"I'm the frontman," Jeff yells at Russell over a T-shirt photo, in which only Russell is visible, "and you're the guitarist with mystique!"--but they will tolerate and use each other to become famous. Not since Songwriter in 1985 has a film so accurately, if not maniacally, portrayed the sordid details of rock biz: Everyone is willing to trade up, even if it costs them everything on the way down.
Crowe is not so judgmental, perhaps because he has coated his movie in that glossy, quaint haze of nostalgia, which forgives even the most unlikable flaw. (In the end, we can't help but adore Russell, despite his cheating and manipulation.) Clearly, this is the movie Crowe has always wanted to make; it's certainly his most personal--this postcard from the past, this love letter to his days on the private-plane circuit. William is the idealized Cameron: the kid who listens to his mother's just-say-no admonitions, the kid who loses his virginity to three nymphets on the road, the kid who rescues Penny Lane from Russell and his willful disregard. He is sweet, naïve, innocent, and perfect--aghast at the reality of rock and roll. William wants to write a mash note about his favorite band, only to discover they're assholes willing to sell him out when he doesn't give them just what they want. "Friendship is the booze they feed you," Lester warns his young protégé, but he doesn't heed the advice. He swallows, until he drowns in it.
Crowe has made an entire movie based on Led Zeppelin's "Sick Again" from 1975's Physical Graffiti, in which Robert Plant bemoaned the death of the giving, forgiving groupie: "Clutching pages from your teenage dream/In the lobby of the Hotel Paradise," he wailed, a long time ago, "Through the circus of the L.A. queens/How fast you learn the downhill slide." Penny Lane is Crowe's "painted lady in the city of lies"; she, like young William, is the last Real Fan, and she too is ultimately betrayed by her devotion to rock and roll. But William and Penny, children in love with the music if not each other, have too much faith in the beast to let it destroy them. They undoubtedly carry on, hauling out the sad songs on bad days and the fast ones on good days. They grow older, sell their vinyl for CDs, and keep the faith. And in the end, both William Miller and Penny Lane turn into a 43-year-old man named Cameron Crowe.
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