Almost Unknown: A New Era of Writing

Illustration by Daniella Urdinlaiz via flickr. Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

When I was in my mid-twenties, something slipped out of sequence and I became a teenager. Not in the sense that I experienced a hormonal tsunami reminiscent of my literal teenage years. Not in the sense of dying my hair too dark, slavering over stupid-fast cars, and picking up a guitar — I’d wait to adopt those emblems of the midlifer’s zombified adolescence until my early thirties. I mean in the sense that I fell in love with rock and roll.

And, in full second-time-teenager mode, I would’ve characterized this felicitous turn as discovering the patchwork genre christened by Alan Freed way back in the early ’50s. Same way one discovers Salinger. Discovers Jim Jarmusch. Discovers that all the crunchy-kale eating and NPR listening in the world won’t save you from alienating friends if you keep claiming to discover things that are right the hell there.

It started with Almost Famous.

Oddly enough for a milestone like this, I can’t remember the first time I watched it, but meaningful rewatchings are highlighted in my memory. The movie’s now been with me through good times and bad, celebratory phases and those lows that left me feeling too old too soon, voiceless, spayed, Trumped, excluded from some exciting zeitgeist by virtue of having missed the only train. To me the movie was always pure excitement and I watched it eighty, ninety times and I named my daughter after a character in the movie.

I Googled the song playing in that car scene with William and the band and found out it was “Misty Mountain Hop” and thought so that’s the famous Led Zeppelin. (Forgive me fathers and mothers of rock, for I knew not what you did. My musical upbringing was the stuff of pop-country ignominy.) I listened to Led Zeppelin until I’d fostered a nearly seamless love-hate for them. I listened to the Guess Who because Lester Bangs (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman in the movie) liked them, and I realized I liked ’em too. I also listened to Heart’s full catalog and their Kicking and Dreaming audiobook, as Nancy Wilson handled the Almost Famous soundtrack. Etc., etc. For a while the whole sound and style of rock was, for me, confined to the waning heyday memorialized in a movie released in 2000.

I would go on to write for Modern Rock ReviewClassic Rock ReviewCover MeThe Spill, and wherever else would let me express my opinions on who rocked and why and just how big. I would stay up late at night writing annotated essays about how Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett’s life mimicked art and vice versa and about how the popularity of Greta Van Fleet signaled the happy-go-lucky end of the world as we know it. I would discover a whole part of my writing identity that had been there, barely buried, waiting to be unleashed by a movie with the just-right soundtrack and ’70s vibe.

For me, even with plenty of publication credits, it would always be a matter of being almost unknown as opposed to almost famous, and that would be perfectly fine. Because in the run time of Cameron Crowe’s fiction-glazed autobiography, I had found not only my new favorite movie but also, a la rock writing, a new way to be happy. It gave me, as a wise man once said, “a place apart from the vast, benign lap of America.”


This originally appeared in The Junction. If you liked this post, join me on Medium.


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