“America” by Simon & Garfunkel

45. Song No. 306: “America,” Simon & Garfunkel
Almost Famous soundtrack, 2000 (orig. 1968)

Oh, Almost Famous. It has remained one of my all-time top-five movies since I snuck into a showing of it under age, and the soundtrack is a significant reason why.

I don’t think I’ll ever stop feeling like I was born in the wrong era. Whether it’s romanticized cherry-picking shaped by history classes and documentaries or just inspired by the bitterness of knowing I’ll never see some of my longest-running favorites perform in their heydays, I’ve always felt like I was born 20odd years too late. And I’ve always kind of resented that.

Almost Famous is why. Before I was convinced I was meant for New York, I dreamed of buying a VW bus, outfitting it with a bedroom on wheels, and following a tour or driving coast to coast or just embracing any excuse to spend a few months living by myself on the road. And I resent that it never happened. Or that I was denied living in a time when it was a way more conceivable plan to pull off.

That movie appealed my desire to just immerse myself in loving music like the Band Aides do (minus the sex, which was a suuuuper underplayed plot point) AND like a music writer does. It was the perfect union of the emotional and intellectual aspects of loving a song or album or band, and setting it against, like, five Zeppelin songs (plus “Tangerine,” my absolute favorite song in the world, as the most perfect outro ever) was just the best overkill ever.

Almost Famous‘ soundtrack is a love letter to music, and the love put into curating it doubles the impact. That palpable care made it was an absolutely invaluable, incredible primer for classic rock. It taught Teenage Me about all the beautiful things music can do and all the ways these songs have been uniting people for longer than I’ve been alive.

That sense of my lifetime being subsumed by music that preserves its vessels and zeitgeist in a moment of time well before me was overwhelmingly humbling, and it was a reconciliation that grounded my shitty high school self in a reality that I badly needed. Having never really gotten into Simon & Garfunkel, “America” was revelatory in how it made me absolutely love them for even just a song AND how it somehow sounded as tiringly expansive as its titular landmass.

I got my hands on the soundtrack well before the film itself in those days of having to wait interminable months between a big- and small-screen release; pair that with having more of a relationship with music than movies to begin with and I was basically predisposed to love the songs punctuating the story in equal measures. And this song was the absolutely breathtaking introduction to the whole thing, kicking off a tale I would have loved to tell myself with a song about traveling the country in a way that at least still seemed possible and whimsically nomadic to a teenager who had no idea how much the world had changed since then.

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