Philip Seymour Hoffman died this week of an apparent drug overdose. I won’t engage in hyperbole about how great an actor he was. What I will do is say that this site’s name was an homage to my favorite of his roles … Lester Bangs in Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous in 2000. Here’s the scene in question:
Lester Bangs: Aw, man. You made friends with them. See, friendship is the booze they feed you. They want you to get drunk on feeling like you belong.
William Miller: Well, it was fun.
Lester Bangs: Because they make you feel cool. And hey, I met you. You are not cool.
William Miller: I know. Even when I thought I was, I knew I wasn’t.
Lester Bangs: Because we are uncool. Women will always be a problem for guys like us. Most of the great art in the world is about that very problem. Good-looking people, they got no spine. Their art never lasts. Oh, they get the girls, but we’re smarter.
William Miller: Yeah, I can really see that now.
Lester Bangs: Because great art is about the guilt and longing, and love disguised as sex, and sex disguised as love. Hey, let’s face it, you got a big head start.
William Miller: I’m glad you were home.
Lester Bangs: I’m always home. I’m uncool.
William Miller: Me too.
Lester Bangs: You’re doing great, man. The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.
“The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.”
Out of all his roles, this was the one I could identify with the most. Forget the historical Lester Bangs for a moment. Hoffman portrays a gregarious, wizened, burnout of a figure that’s a mentor for William Miller. A man who was great but unappreciated. Successful in spite of himself but never lived up to his full potential. Someone who recognized a basic truth about himself and his place in the world and what it meant to be “uncool”. I know it was Crowe who wrote the words but it was Hoffman who brought it to life. Crowe, on his website, said this about Hoffman’s performance:
“My original take on this scene was a loud, late night pronouncement from Lester Bangs. A call to arms. In Phil’s hands it became something different. A scene about quiet truths shared between two guys, both at the crossroads, both hurting, and both up too late. It became the soul of the movie. In between takes, Hoffman spoke to no one. He listened only to his headset, only to the words of Lester himself. (His Walkman was filled with rare Lester interviews.) When the scene was over, I realized that Hoffman had pulled off a magic trick. He’d leapt over the words and the script, and gone hunting for the soul and compassion of the private Lester, the one only a few of us had ever met. Suddenly the portrait was complete. The crew and I will always be grateful for that front row seat to his genius.”
Whenever I think of Hoffman, it’s not the unkempt, bespectacled thespian who looked increasingly uncomfortable in interviews in the decade preceding his death. Instead, he’ll always be Lester Bangs to me.