Long Strange Tripel

8 years ago I used to take a weekday off every week, between having 28 PTO days and working a flex schedule it seems I could never use all my days. I didn't really know anyone else who wasn't working on weekdays so it ended up being boring most of the time so I would go see movies. On one of those days I went to see “Almost Famous”. I went to the west side Warren Theater (in Wichita) and the movie was showing in the big theater there. I believe it was the 1 o'clock showing and there were only about 7 people in the theater with me. I noticed when I sat down, the guy in front of me was a movie critic and was locally famous, he had a movie review show on PBS. I've done my due diligence and can't find his name or anything about him, but, at the time, I knew exactly who he was. He used to do commercials for The Yard Store (a Wichita junk yard) as well and these commercials were always on the TV*. For the 98% of you who aren't Wichitans I feel I must describe this guy. He kind of looked like Justin Wilson and had a big booming voice. He was about 60 and about as informed on popular culture as you would think someone associated with Wichita public television would be.

*My friend, Big Red, had a theory that this guy was BTK. In those days we obviously had no idea who the BTK was and everyone had their own theory. The best part was that this guy was easily mockable and everyone could do an impression. My friends and I used to spend hours riffing on this guy being BTK, but that was after I met this dude at the theater. Yes, I even called Big Red tonight to see if he could remember this dude's name.

Anyway, so we're sitting there watching this movie less than a week after it was released. I was enjoying the crap out of the movie. I had been eagerly awaiting it for several weeks and if you remember the time, it had a lot of hype. It was kind of hard to avoid all the back story of the movie, you know, how it was basically made up from Cameron Crowe's first real story. Well, somewhere in the middle of the movie, the reel broke and the lights came on in the theater. Some dude came in and said that it would be about 5-10 minutes before the movie would resume. I took my leave and went to the bathroom and came back to sit down. Movie critic guy turned around and asked what I thought of the movie so far. We discussed several parts of the movie. Then he said, something to the effect of, “I don't know anything about this music, these people or the people in this movie”. In 2000, the biggest star in the movie was Jason Lee. I ran down Jason's filmography for him and let's just say I've been a fan from his first onscreen moment in Mallrats (I don't know if that is his first movie or not, it's just where I became his #4 fan). The movie started again as I was running out of things to say about Jason Lee. At the time “Almost Famous” was one of those movies I wish I could scrub out of my brain after viewing, so I could recreate the first time I watched it over and over again. I absolutely loved it, every little part, from Fairuza Balk's chipped tooth eating vegetables to the “Tiny Dancer” scene on the bus. On the way out of the theater, I reminded the movie critic to write good things about Jason Lee. I'll never forget what he said to me after that “I don't know who that is”. Good times, and somewhat fittingly, no amount of Googling will allow anyone to ever know who that guy was.

Now, 8 years later, I found myself clicking over to “Almost Famous” after I poured myself a glass of Boulevard's Long Strange Trippel. This is somewhat fitting because I've indeed had a long, strange trip since I first saw “Almost Famous”. I've moved to KC, met my wife, had 3 kids, become a critic myself, and spent 2 hours actively hating Cameron Crowe (listen to the director's commentary of “Vanilla Sky” sometime and you'll know what I'm talking about) the guy who wrote my favorite movie of all time “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”.

I think, if you're a regular reader, you know my stance on Boulevard Smokestack beers, Saison-Brett is my favorite, Sixth Glass is my second favorite and then Long Strange Trippel. I may need to revise this order and move Trippel ahead of Sixth Glass. Of course, it could be because this evening, I've been contemplating the long strange trip it's been since I first saw “Almost Famous”.
I, over the years, have seen “Almost Famous” several times. It's not one of those movies I watch over and over again, I don't even own it on DVD. But, I do watch it about once a year. The first thing I want to say about the movie is that Billy Crudup and Jason Lee give this movie 2 great performances. It is a tough thing to play a rock star credibly, and these 2 do an excellent job of it. The scene in which they get the T-shirts with Russell (Crudup) in the foreground and the rest of the band in the background and out of focus is masterfully handled by the 2 of them. Of course, it is a well written scene, but watching it with those 2 guys playing it out, it takes on a realism that lesser actors wouldn't have been able to pull off. It's an important scene because thousand of bands through the years have had this same confrontation, from Blondie to No Doubt, the most talented band member has to be very careful about how they are portrayed or marketed. If this scene doesn't work, I don't think the average viewer can take these guys seriously as a band. I think it's the hook of the movie for me, as it drives the next 20 minutes of the movie. Russell storms off with William on a quest for “real”. Russell ends up tripping on acid, jumping off a roof and getting back on the tour bus. Then the most famous scene of the movie happens, the band singing “Tiny Dancer”.

While watching all of this, I came to the realization that I was really enjoying the Long Strange Trippel. I don't know if it is because I'm really connecting to the movie or if it's just a really great beer. But the 2 seem to go together.

Another strong aspect of the storyline is the relationship between William (Patrick Fugit) and his mom (Frances McDormand). The relationship over the month or so he was on the road with Stillwater was basically a long distance relationship, certainly not the relationship most teenagers have with their parents. Along the way there are many fun phone calls, from Fairuza Balk telling McDormand how great her son is (after asking if she was talking to girl who was going to bring them weed) to McDormand lecturing Russell about being a serious person. But, McDormand comes through as a sympathetic character (in a lesser actor's hands I don't think this would have happened). At the end of the movie when Russell shows up at William's house and McDormand answers the door, she does something I don't think anyone else could have pulled off. It is about the most subtle acting I've ever noticed, McDormand said something to the effect of “I always knew you could be this good of a person” while giving Russell the evil eye, then opening the screen door to let him in. I don't know what it is about that scene, but a little tear comes to my eye. It's almost the validation that Russell seeks, coming from the one person he would never actually seek validation from.

I think 8 years ago if I had spent 2 hours writing something about the movie, I would have written about 12 paragraphs about how Jeff Bebe (Lee) was the coolest guy on the planet. Then I would have said something about how great Kate Hudson was. But 8 years is a long time, and Hudson has made about 20 horrible movies since. She is retroactively ruining the movie, but at the time, I think she was a best supporting actress Oscar for it.

Earlier I wrote that on my initial viewing I wished I could scrub my brain of its memory of the movie so I could watch it again for the first time. But, that is not necessary. I think the movie is everything you want it to be every time you watch it because the story itself is who you are. Every time you watch it, you package all of your memories, experiences and thoughts into young William and can imagine William's life as your own, guaranteeing a new experience. That is the genius of “Almost Famous”, it works as a movie because the story is genuinely interesting. But it works as an 8 year old movie, because it's adaptable to your life. I think in 50 years, I'll be able to watch it and get something different from it than I got tonight.

Long Strange Trippel was a happy coincidence tonight. Looking back on my experience watching this movie tonight contrasted to my experience in the theater, I'm glad I had the beer to enjoy. I don't know what I'm trying to say here other than, for me, “Almost Famous” is a movie that hits me in a way that makes me nostalgic for experiences I never really had, but had in my own way. Long Strange Trippel is a beer that goes great with your own nostalgic trip to movieland. And, Long Strange Trippel moved ahead of Sixth Glass in my Smokestack rankings. My suggestion to you would be to pick up a bottle and watch your favorite nostalgic type movie.

Addendum: Here it is nearly 3 years since I wrote this post and I watched this deleted scene. I completely understand why they cut it from the movie, it's essentially 10 minutes of watching Frances McDormand and the kid listening to "Stairway to Heaven". I know right where it was going to go, the last scene of William at home before he convinces his mother he can on the road with Stillwater. Just knowing this scene exists really makes "Almost Famous" a top tier movie all time. Leaving the scene in would be the equivalent of the scene in "Fargo" with Marge and her weird friend from high school in the hotel restaurant, only more relevant. It would have been a really ballsy move but would have made an already long movie even longer. But, in your head, when you watch "Almost Famous" put this scene in there.

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