‘Music, you know, true music – not just rock and roll – it chooses you. It lives in your car, or alone listening to your headphones…with the vast scenic bridges and angelic choirs in your brain. It’s a place apart from the vast, benign lap of America’. – Lester Bangs
Sometimes explaining why you love something so much can be the hardest thing you can possibly do. Whenever somebody asks me why I have such an affinity to the music I love, my response is usually a frantically passionate yet completely incoherent rambling about how it makes me feel. Unsurprisingly, it’s only a fraction of the time that somebody truly gets it. The reason for this (if Lester Bangs fictionalized words above are anything to go by) is that once music has laid claim to your soul, its presence is an enigma and trying to define it for somebody else is as useless as trying to justify your sexual preferences; its just who you are.
Music has never existed within tangible realms. It exists in landscapes that we create for ourselves and they are landscapes we live by and call home. ‘The vast scenic bridges and angelic choirs’ are inexplicable to anybody but you because everyone is experiencing their own bridges and their own choirs. Only rarely will somebody understand how driving down a freeway listening to Tom Petty can make you want to cry with happiness (Because it does sound a bit weird) but as Lester Bangs character in Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous tells his young protégé, ‘the only true currency in this bankrupt world is the one you share with someone when you’re uncool’.
Watching Almost Famous was the first time I was really able to make sense of the inexplicable force of music. It is the cinematic embodiment of every time you’ve forced somebody to listen to a song under the pretext that it will ‘change their life’. In particular, it depicts the true currency of what it is to be a rock and roll fan or as Fairuza Balks character explains, ‘to love some silly little piece of music, or some band, so much that it hurts.’ Being a fan is about finding allies, those rare people who have chosen to abide by the same symphonic landscapes as yourself. As the girls in the movie always hysterically announce, ‘It’s all happening!’ and although the ‘it’ is never defined, they all know what it means, because they’ve felt ‘it’ a million times.
It also celebrates the tenacity of fandom. Music draws you into another space, to somewhere you’d rather be, to a place where everything you’ve ever dreamed of can happen and does. It, essentially, breeds idealists. As Penny Lane repeatedly muses when something appears that is adverse to the musical landscape she has created for herself, ‘if this was the real world…’ and they do all believe they are living a separate existence that is apart from the real world, within a heavily soundtracked landscape that is much preferable to the ones they’ve left behind.
Yet the real rock and roll moments aren’t in the shows and the parties and the drinking. They are in the small, tender moments, the flashes of purity amid the parade; Penny gliding across an empty concert hall floor, present, even after the fanfare has gone away. A broken band repaired and reminded of their pursuit through a unified rendition of Tiny Dancer and last but not least a defeated Russell Hammond, sitting in young Williams teenage bedroom and being asked ‘what do you love about music’ and bravely replying, ‘To begin with?…Everything.’
To me, this is the crux of music and of rock and roll; The visceral moments that refuse to betray the things you love and believe in and the risks you take to intrepidly show just how goddamn much you love music. But hey, that’s just my opinion and my opinion might not make a whole lot of sense to anybody else so I shall boldly leave you with the words of the great Jeff Bebe of Stillwater by saying, ‘here I am…and fuck you if you don’t understand me’.