Lester Bangs

As you know, the great Philip Seymour Hoffman passed away this Sunday.

Naturally, many colleagues, friends, and admirers shared tributes to the talented actor. One of these was Cameron Crowe, the director of the excellent 2000 film Almost Famous. The director — whose movie is semi-autobiographical — recalled Hoffman’s wonderful portrayal as famed music writer Lester Bangs.

He stated on his website:

“My original take on this scene was a loud, late night pronouncement from Lester Bangs. A call to arms. In Phil’s hands it became something different. A scene about quiet truths shared between two guys, both at the crossroads, both hurting, and both up too late. It became the soul of the movie. In between takes, Hoffman spoke to no one. He listened only to his headset, only to the words of Lester himself. (His Walkman was filled with rare Lester interviews.) When the scene was over, I realized that Hoffman had pulled off a magic trick. He’d leapt over the words and the script, and gone hunting for the soul and compassion of the private Lester, the one only a few of us had ever met. Suddenly the portrait was complete. The crew and I will always be grateful for that front row seat to his genius.”

I can say with 100% certainty that Almost Famous was one of the key factors in inspiring me to become a writer — or, more specifically, a music writer. Yes, watching the story of a spirited youth (with whom I felt deeply connected at the time) travel the country and write a brilliant cover story for Rolling Stone (aka living the dream) was a huge inspiration, but it was the short but sweet time Philip Seymour Hoffman spent on screen that resonated.

He caught my eye with his cool persona, his sage (occasionally bordering on jaded) advice. I looked into the real Lester Bangs. I read his articles. I listened to the movie’s soundtrack on repeat, wishing that I could write for Rolling Stone, or more importantly, Creem (despite the fact that the magazine published its last article in 1989). And I realized it’s okay to be uncool — a lesson that I took to heart when I was in high school. Hey, you know you did, too.

I was ten years old when I watched Almost Famous for the first time. I’ve watched it almost every year thereafter, and it will always resonate with me.

I want to share this with you. One of the best quotes of the movie. One that Hoffman said as he channelled Bangs.

“Music, you now, true music — not just rock n 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.”