Taking home an Oscar among many other awards, Cameron Crowe's 2000 movie Almost Famous did almost everything he wanted it to, illustrating that love affair with rock music that can't be explained unless you feel it. The story is semi-autobiographical of Crowe himself, following a teenager who gets to write for Rolling Stone, telling how Crowe jumped the security barrier and made it backstage at a show. One scene didn't make the cut however, involving Led Zeppelin's famous track, 'Stairway to Heaven'.
In the film, young writer William Miller (played by Patrick Fugit) tours with a band and learns the hard lesson that even though you're with the crew, it doesn't mean you're part of the group - and you never will be.
"Almost Famous is about the implied contract between a reporter and his subject in the early '70s. How truthful are you going to get? It was always a fascinating negotiation…" said Crowe in an interview back in 2013.
This song will change your life
William's experiences in the film were based on Crowe's real-life experiences of his career as a rock journalist in the 70s with bands like Led Zeppelin, the Allman Brothers Band, the Eagles and others.
The 'Stairway to Heaven' scene was key to getting across Crowe's sentiment, so he was understandably very disappointed in not being able to include it. The 11-minute scene shows William's teacher and supporters trying to persuade his rock-hating mother (played by Frances McDormand) that him hitting the road with the Stillwater band is something even the most old-fashioned people support. "Whatever it is, the answer's 'no,'" his mum says before anything can be suggested.
William's mum thinks he's destined to be a lawyer, so she attempts to persuade her by laying out a legal argument: "Lady of the jury, I wish to disprove the prevailing false belief that all rock music is based on drugs and sex," he begins strongly. "True, perhaps, at one time; but rock music is different now. Rock music is now performed by hard-working intellectuals with blazing intellectual pursuits. And I'm now going to play you a piece of music designed to show you that my thesis is correct." He describes the piece as a "mystical attempt to elevate humanity" and declares: "This song will change your life."
The film was then supposed to have 'Stairway to Heaven' play in its entirety as we watch Mom, William and his entourage get lost in the legendary music. Those eight minutes aimed to tell the story of the moment you fell in love with rock music - the first song, those new emotions, the opening of a door into a world of excitement and energy you'd never even imagined before, the certainty that everything had changed forever and it was all for the better.
Instead though, Led Zeppelin, despite their friendship with Crowe, refused to let him use the song, so the scene was dropped from the movie. "'Stairway to Heaven' was off the table because the band just didn't want to touch it," he later explained. "That song, they felt, had ascended to some other place – it lived in its own world." Crowe included the scene in a DVD release of the film, with an onscreen prompt so that viewers could play the song themselves while watching. Thankfully the hard work has been done for you already. You can watch the scene, including the song below.
Obviously, the track doesn't quite have the intended effect on William's mum, but viewers definitely feel a connection. Almost Famous remains one of the best rock movies of all time, partly because Crowe is such a fan that he can't help let his love shine through in his writing.
"Much more than drugs or sex, music was always the baseline passion of the groups I covered. Which is not to say that there weren't wild days and nights of debauchery, there were, some of which I witnessed and some of which I saw the effects of the next day… but in the years of covering and touring with artists for RS and other publications, I never ran across a single musician who wasn't transported while talking about or playing music they loved. It was always my common ground as a reporter," Crowe reflected.
An even stronger reason why the movie works is that so much of the story really happened to groups including Zep and the Allmans. You couldn't make it up, and Crowe didn't, so it's true, and it feels true on-screen. In the absence of the deleted scene, the 'Tiny Dancer' scene on the bus is one of the best and most important moments – but with the deleted scene in your mind, it's even better than you thought it was.