Ahead of the 20th anniversary of Almost Famous this Sunday, director Cameron Crowe unearthed his archive, sharing memories of the film while telling stories from his teenage years as a Rolling Stone journalist.
“When Rolling Stone magazine — my old high school, essentially — calls and asks for something, I answer,” Crowe tells the camera. “Their request was to see if I could find anything from the archives, a.k.a. my garage, that pertained to the Almost Famous experience. So let’s take a look right now and go on a little adventure and see what we find.”
Opening a bin in his Los Angeles backyard, Crowe kicked off with a photograph of him and the Pete Townshend in 1973. “This is the first road trip that I ever got to go on,” he says, “I’m covering the Who, and Pete Townshend is my hero. I’m actually shitting myself right here, because not only are we setting up a time do an interview, but I have Annie Leibovitz in front of me taking this picture. So I’m actually in a legend sandwich, and I’m kinda freaking out.”
Crowe based the fictional band Stillwater on several of the bands he interviewed in the Seventies, including the Eagles, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and the Allman Brothers Band. “I always used to hear, ‘We don’t ever get interviewed by people your age,'” he recalls. “Really, I always felt like as a journalist, I got a seat in the front row, and I wanted to serve all the people like me that wanted to be in the front row. I wanted to be a fly on the wall and bring that experience back to the fans and followers of the bands I was writing about.”
After reminiscing about his mentor Lester Bangs and creative rejection letters, Crowe dove into a story from his Rolling Stone years that became a major inspiration for Almost Famous: his first-ever cover story of the Allman Brothers Band in 1973, when he was just 16 years old. Taking place after the untimely deaths of guitarist Duane Allman and bassist Berry Oakley, Crowe conducted a rare interview with Gregg Allman, who then demanded that Crowe hand over the tapes.
“It’s like he’d been sweating,” he recalls. “And his hair was completely flat to his head. And he said, ‘How do I know you’re not a cop?'” (This line would be used in the film, by a hungover Russell Hammond). Crowe’s friend, photographer Neal Preston, would later get the tapes back from Allman, and Crowe was able to file his story. “We had our story — nobody else had that story,” he says, smiling. “But there was another story to be told, and that became Almost Famous. Without the story of the tapes and everything that Gregg did, there is no Almost Famous.”
Crowe also mentions David Bowie’s almost role in the film and the several iterations of the script. He also explains the amount of details that went into making the film feel as authentic as possible, from the original Rolling Stone office in San Francisco to Stillwater’s discography. He walks us through each Stillwater record — which he actually had pressed on vinyl — and predicted their future. “Part of me believes Stillwater is still out there right now, with [drummer] Silent Ed fronting the band, playing ‘Fever Dog’ at this very moment on Zoom.”
Finally, Crowe discovers perhaps the most beloved Almost Famous prop of all, casually hanging on a tree branch: Penny Lane’s fur coat. He signs off with a salute to music journalism. “I’ve been really happy to hear from the guys at Rolling Stone that the movie still resonates with younger writers that come up through the ranks, and they’ve seen the movie and hopefully it encourages them along on the journalistic experience that I think is more important than ever,” he says. “The fact that we were able to make a movie that celebrates journalism, involving a magazine that celebrates journalism to this very moment, makes me very proud.”