Driving is usually pretty relaxing for me. I enjoy many versions of it: taking in the scenery, hanging my arm out the window and making “waves” in the air current, quiet moments of silence and reflection, or singing along LOUDLY with good (and sometimes bad) music… While I was driving home yesterday I engaged in the latter, with mostly good music. After singing along with several popular hits, a great song came on the radio that not only has musical emotional power, but has cinematic emotional ties as well. It’s one of those songs with the power to transport you to another place or time. Like a track on the internal soundtrack you have filed away as background for the big moments of your life. Once connected to a moment or memory, it becomes linked forevermore. Do you know what I’m talking about?
The song was Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer”. A song, for me, that is inextricably associated with a scene in a fantastic movie. (It’s also tied to a hilarious scene in a “Friends” episode, but that’s another story altogether!) The movie is “Almost Famous”, Cameron Crowe’s semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story of a young journalist trying to make the most of an amazing opportunity while traveling with an upcoming rock band and their bandaids. (Not groupies!) There’s no way to summarize the movie adequately, so if you haven’t seen it you should bookmark this page, go experience it and then come back and we’ll compare notes!
“Tiny Dancer” is just one song in a soundtrack FULL of gems, but it is a pivotal moment in the film and perhaps my favorite scene in a list of many. It begins with Elton’s lovely piano as background music for tension filled silence of a group of characters and swells, adding one voice at a time, to an entire bus full of people singing joyfully and without abandon. It underscores the ability music has to bridge any gap or difference and connect. It shows how, regardless of the number of struggles or battles, these people will always have a commonality. A unique and beautiful way to communicate and resolve their differences without ever having to ‘say’ a word. And the scene itself! Even without all of the layers of meaning and the use of music as a vehicle to move the story forward, the scene is like the best love letter. It starts simply and sweetly with something familiar and layer by layer it becomes a complete, heartfelt whole that is far greater than the sum of its parts.
I don’t know if I’ll ever fully understand why this particular scene resonates so strongly with me. It’s not my favorite song. It’s not a song that has deep, personal connections for me although I’ve always liked it a great deal… And it’s certainly not a singular event in an otherwise dull cinematic experience. Yet, it moves me just the same. Crowe manages a magic that fills my chest and leaves a lump in my throat even though I couldn’t tell you why. Like the group on the bus, I find myself pulled in and singing along with the same sense of camaraderie and glee. And, much the same as he begins it, Crowe ends this masterpiece of a scene as simply as it began. William, our young journalist, looks at Penny and tells her, “I have to go home.” Surrounded by the people who have come to represent his true family, she responds, “You are home.”
(Although I would NEVER recommend taking the scene out of the context of the movie, lest you cheapen the emotional effect of it, you can view a You Tube video of “Tiny Dancer” from the movie here…)