The Hero’s Journey to being Almost Famous
This is an attempt to apply the structure identified by Joseph Campbell, as a recurring theme in the stories humans have been telling for centuries, to the film “Almost Famous”. This might not make perfect sense to those who have not watched the film.
The hero of our world, however unassuming, is William Miller. A fifteen year old boy, who is a fan of rock and roll, and aspires to become a rock journalist.
The Ordinary World
William is an extraordinary student, a “good kid”, advanced placement in school has led him to be the youngest in his class. But none of his classmates like him, and his only real “friends” are his mother and sister. The university professor mother, is convinced that the world is not fit for the children to venture out alone, and tries to control every aspect of the children’s lives. The excess of which leads William’s sister to rebel and leave home at the age of eighteen. She leaves behind a stash of rock music which William listens to growing up, and his love for rock and roll leads him to the next phase of his journey.
The Call to Adventure
William find’s the record “Tommy” in her sister’s stash, and “Sparks” starts to play in the background (the remixed version, not the original, which is fair considering the rise in tempo of the remixed version matches that of change in William’s life). Growing up under the influence of his rebellious sister, he becomes a fan of rock music himself and starts writing for local underground newspapers. William’s mother expects his fascination for journalism to fade as he grows up, but he keeps at it. His admiration of the late 60’s music is apparent in his articles he sends to Lester Bangs, the editor of Creme Magazine, who appreciates William’s dedication, and agrees to meet him.
The call to adventure, takes over a span of time while William is growing up. Watching his sister leave contributes to his discontent with his ordinary life.
Meeting with the Mentor
Impressed by William’s writing Lester meets him while he’s in San Diego. Lester cautions him: don’t get starry eyed. Often on the quest the apprentice finds himself fascinated by the lifestyle, the mentor cautions him to not lose sigh of his objective, and more importantly not give in the to the pull of the dark side (write about music objectively and not let his personal relations get in the way of journalism). He warns that rock music is on a downward spiral(as it was the early 70's) and the bands will get William to write praises about them by corrupting him. It’s his responsibility to not let the music industry become the “industry of cool”. His reputation has to follow from honest and unmerciful critique, and staying unbiased would be the biggest challenge.
Lester gives William a parting gift, an assignment on Black Sabbath, but also warns him of the perils of the adventure.
The Call to Adventure — Manifests
This is the final unsettling moment in William’s life as he gets a taste of the rock and roll lifestyle himself while on the assignment.
Refusal of the Call
The refusal is not obvious, it is only hinted by the naval gazing William goes through. Often he doubts his place in the world he’s thrust into, living with the band, navigating his relationship with Penny, and struggling with getting the assignment together.
This part occurs in small parts over the course of the film and is not restricted to a specific point in time.
Crossing the Threshold
William’s reputation as a writer finds the music editor of The Rolling Stone magazine interested in him. The editor decides to give William an assignment, and he seeks advice from his mentor, Lester. The mentor warns him again of the nature of the profession, and how the big magazines alter stories and the bands try to earn favors in return for drugs. Nonetheless the assignment would be a good start for William’s career in the big league and he hardly pays attention to the words of caution from his mentor.
William’s mother unexpectedly agrees, and the next thing we see him on the tour bus along with the band Stillwater.
Until this point William was in the safety of his home, but now he’s on the tour bus, fully committed to follow his dream of becoming a journalist.
Tests, Allies, and Enemies
One of William’s biggest ally is Penny Lane, who helps him out while he’s away from the safety of home. But his relationship with Penny also becomes the biggest hurdle in the way of his assignment. He develops a crush on her and throughout the time he spends with the band, he is frustrated by the romantic relationship Penny has with the band’s guitarist Russel. If I could add something here from the album “Tommy”, it would be —
So you think 21 is going to be a good year.
It could be for me and her, But you and her-no never!
Often William finds himself in situations where he gets major material for his assignment but as he’s making friends with the band, he lets it go. His biggest test is the temptation to give in to the lifestyle and enjoy his time as a “fan” and not worry about journalism.
During the tour William comes across a situation where he sees how relationships built while traveling, hardly matter to Russel. It makes him question his own friendship with him. The pressure builds up as William has not yet been able to get a key interview with the band members and is also going to miss his graduation if he doesn’t hurry. Meanwhile the people at Rolling Stone magazine are getting restless and William is afraid of losing his big break.
William experiences first hand that the music industry is not as glamorous as it seems from the outside, and people often aren’t what they seem to be.
William confronts Penny and tells her the truth. She is shattered as her deluded relationship with Russell comes to an end. William goes to New York with the band, but unexpectedly finds Penny again, in a very bad shape and overdosed on drugs. In the ordinary world, he also misses the graduation and his mother is visibly unhappy. This strikes the contrast between the ordinary world and the adventurous world, and how different the stakes are. But also how William strikes the rock bottom in his life at this point.
He manages to get Penny medical attention and ends up saving her life.
Since the beginning William has had a crush on Penny and the loss would have broken him, I believe this to be the Ordeal.
William’s relationship with Penny changes, as she suddenly starts taking him seriously and he’s not a kid in her eyes anymore. Saving her life affirms his place in her life, and he learns the one thing nobody knows, Penny’s real name.
William drops Penny at the airport, but as the plane starts accelerating on the runway, both of them get anxious. The longing is clearly visible on both their faces.
I believe this to be the reward, as William since the beginning wanted to be taken seriously and this point marks a desirable change in his relationship with Penny.
The Road Back
On their way back the band’s plane encounters an electrical storm and everybody on the plane gets convinced that they’re about to die. As their final moments approach all of them confess secrets they’ve been keeping.
William confesses his love for Penny to Russell and accuses the band of using the “Band Aids” despite pretending to love their fans.
The plane manages to land, and Russell gives William permission to publish everything that happened during the tour. William goes to the Rolling Stone magazine office.
This is the Road Back as William has almost accomplished what he set out to, but he cannot rest yet, as he has an article to publish.
During the tour William never finished the article and all he has are hand written notes. Lester reminds him of the only advice he gave him, “don’t make friends with the band”.
The people at Rolling Stone magazine love William’s work, but as he doesn’t have anything on record, the fact checker calls the band to confirm the events. Afraid of coming off as amateurs, which could hurt the band’s growing fame and reputation, the band and specifically Russell deny the story.
Russell’s betrayal hits William hard, he realizes that real life isn’t about being cool, and that he missed his big break because he was careless. Heartbroken he goes back home.
This part represents the Resurrection as William finally realizes the harsh realities of the industry after experiencing them first hand. He now understands that the glamorous lifestyle of the rock music industry is only a part of it.
Return with the Elixir
At the end, Russell ends up at William’s house. Russell tells him that he called the magazine and told them that whatever William wrote was true. William rubs his eyes in disbelief but is happy. He picks up his tape recorder one more time and starts to interview Russell.
I think this is the final part of William’s journey as his time with Russell left a lasting mark on him, and Russell finally starts to care about other people.