September 21, 2000

Put On A Happy Face

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No matter the subjects explored in his films, filmmaker Cameron Crowe immerses himself in the selection of music which serve to underscore his themes. From the scene where John Cusack raises a boombox over his head to express his heartbreak in Say Anything to the grunge scene in Singles, this man knows how to create an aural atmosphere for his cinema.

Serving as a producer on the soundtrack for Almost Famous, his latest film, Crowe personally selected songs from the early ’70s which represent his wistful, nostalgic, and perhaps even slightly sentimental memories of the era. Each track on the album is spirited, light, and just a tad “sweet,” leading one to “recall” the “70s the same way as Crowe does.

The album starts off with Simon and Garfunkel’s “America.” It’s a quiet, smooth piece which seemed to get nostalgic as soon as it was performed for the first time.

Some of the bands covered by Crowe during his journalism years are represented on the CD (Lynyrd Skynrd, Led Zeppelin).

One thing I noticed was how rock ‘n’ roll institutions such as Rod Stewart (“Every Picture Tells a Story”) and Elton John (“Tiny Dancer”) sound so young on this CD. We’re so used to hearing Elton belting Lion King songs or to seeing Rod look like a sad puppy after getting dumped by supermodel Rachel Hunter that it’s a bit startling to hear them jam with as much purpose and energy as the best of today’s young musicians.

Of the 17 cuts on the soundtrack, only two of them are new material. Track six is “Fever Dog” by Stillwater (the fictional band in the movie). There’s an instrumental track titled “Lucky Trumble,” too. Both of these songs were written by Crowe’s wife, Nancy Wilson, former lead singer of Heart, who also wrote the musical score for the film. Overall, the CD reflects Cameron Crowe’s fond reminiscences of his coming-of-age. Given the turmoil of the times, it’s not too much of a stretch to say that Crowe’s putting a good face forward about things. I mean, c’mon, the repercussions of the “60s were still readily apparent in 1973, yet Crowe saw fit to include even The Beach Boys on the album. (I couldn’t help thinking about Chris Tucker’s reprimanding of Jackie Chan in Rush Hour — “The Beach Boys are gonna get you killed!”)

The CD is a good listen, a kind of easy-going “mini-hits” compilation. However, it reflects how much of a kid Crowe was in 1973. The music isn’t as confrontational as one might expect given first impressions (even Cat Stevens isn’t all that edgy), and there’s no way a mere seventeen songs can convey the entire spectrum of a generation’s emotional response to the world. There’s a sense that something’s missing here, so the Almost Famous album falls short of the ambitions of, say, the Forrest Gump two-disc soundtrack.

Archived article by Eddie Feng