The Only True Currency in This Bankrupt World: On Sincerity, Connection, and Almost Famous
From the moment my teenage eyes met the quirky opening credits, I could feel myself falling deeply in love with the film Almost Famous.
It’s Director Cameron Crowe’s love letter to rock ‘n’ roll, and more importantly, to music fans. And as a teenager whose identity was baked in being a music fan, I strongly identified with the movie’s sentiment. But what especially resonated with me was a particular moment, which captures the painful challenges and profound tenderness of embracing your truth and the genuine connection that can come as a result.
Near the end of the film, famous rock critic Lester Bangs [Phillip Seymour Hoffman] and teenage William Miller [Patrick Fugit] share a heart to heart during a late night phone call.
William is an aspiring journalist and obsessive music fan with the opportunity of a lifetime. He’s on the road with his favorite rock band, Stillwater, getting paid to write the cover story for Rolling Stone. But with this opportunity comes the harsh realities of hollow transactional relationships, and falling victim to people pleasing in order to fit in. This results in William being used and abandoning himself in the process.
Bangs, who is usually overwhelmingly cynical, comforts him, and offers the following words:
"...The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool…”
With the band, William is starry-eyed and walks on eggshells, desperate for crumbs of approval; he’s tempted with putting his journalistic integrity on the line in service of making them look cool. Meanwhile, in this scene, he’s fully wearing his heart on his sleeve. Teary-eyed, he opens up about his struggles, and invites Lester in, giving him the opportunity to show a softer side of himself too.
You could say it’s entirely uncool. But it’s in their uncoolness that their connection grows stronger and we see that they’re mirrors of each other. And by comforting William, and encouraging him to remain honest, Lester demonstrates a shift away from the transactional nature that often comes with a mentor relationship, to instead, embodying what that relationship can be at its purest and highest level: friendship. There’s no room for that kind of sincerity in rock ‘n’ roll or on the road.
At fifteen, I often wondered if there was room for this kind of sincerity anywhere. So this movie, this scene, this line, enchanted me. I could see myself in William’s earnestness, something the world hardly celebrates. And I’ve always felt its disapproval. It felt uncool to care about anything openly and wholeheartedly. To be true to oneself, and to choose integrity at the expense of belonging. Surrounded by a lack of sincerity, and people prioritizing transactional relationships over genuine friendships was not for me. It made me feel alone. I clutched onto Lester Bangs’ words and have carried them with me since.
Today, fifteen years later, they’re still with me. And there’s definitely no shortage of empty transactional relationships to choose from. Look around and take your pick. Like the “friend” who only ever reaches out when they want something from you, or only sees you as a means to kill time but has no real care for or interest in you as a person, or people who tolerate you, and are only nice and want to spend time with you if they tangibly benefit from it.
And that desire and pressure to belong somewhere? It didn’t end with high school. It seems that it’s only become more tempting for adults to settle for watered down versions of themselves, or to abandon themselves entirely. Perhaps, that feels easier. But in a world of so much disconnection, where one too many people feel unseen, and alone, there’s much to lose.
That’s why there is power in being unabashedly uncool. When we revel in our uncool, we allow ourselves to be truly seen, and we become mirrors for others to see themselves too. There’s magic in that. Earnest enthusiasm, deep adoration, the heaviness of the heart, human flaws, aching loneliness, you name it–all those things matter. And to be sincere about the human condition, to share it with one another, that’s everything.
I think, by doing so, we’re creating bridges of connection. Bridges that not only offer genuine connection with kindred spirits, but maybe even opportunities for healing. And that requires a delicate process of being honest about who we are and a willingness and immense courage to share our truth. But it’s worth it so we can get closer not only to ourselves, but because there are always people who are seeking and needing someone like us.
I believe that’s why I feel so connected to Almost Famous. It’s clear that it was created from a place of deep earnestness and that’s where I always find parts of myself. That’s where I feel most at home. And I think I’ve always been seeking the ways parts of myself and my life exist in the fragments of others. Looking for connection in books, films, art, music, whatever. But that connection, and what captivates me, hits me on the most profoundly visceral levels, and lingers within my bones, only comes in what is honest. Not most beautiful, not perfectly crafted, nor most popular. But in what is dripping with sincerity, and brazenly uncool.
And if it’s true that “the only true currency in this bankrupt world is what we share with someone when we’re uncool,” then maybe it’s time we all stop hiding, withholding, settling, and making our uncoolness so small. Why not, instead, plant a flag straight into the ground of our uncoolness, lean right into its roots, and share it? Why not let it flourish and use it to build sprawling bridges of connection everywhere? I wonder, how rich might we all be then?