Frances McDormand just wants to sing karaoke. She suggested this last night at the 2021 Oscars, a pretty lame evening save for her howling and unsurprisingly awesome acceptance speech for Best Actress — her third time winning the award. “When you’ve got voices like Leslie [Odom Jr.] and Marcus [Mumford], we should add a karaoke bar,” she said.
Twenty years ago last fall, McDormand starred in Almost Famous as Elaine Miller, a college professor who frequently told her budding music journalist son that rock & roll was about “drugs and promiscuous sex.” She was the kind of mother who made soy cutlets and celebrated Christmas in September when she knew it wouldn’t be commercialized. And, in a deleted scene from Cameron Crowe’s film, she is asked to endure all eight minutes and two seconds of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.”
In the video above, Elaine arrives home to find William (Patrick Fugit) in the living room with his journalism teacher and school counselor Mrs. Deegan, who is played by Crowe’s real-life mother, Alice. Anita’s boyfriend Darryl is also here, claiming to be moral support. The teacher informs Elaine that Rolling Stone has assigned William a piece on Stillwater, and needs to miss four days of school to go on the road with them. She instantly says no, quoting a Johann Wolfgang von Goethe line that William quickly reciprocates.
In an effort to prove to his mother that rock should be taken seriously, he plays her “Stairway to Heaven,” smartly telling her it’s filled with J.R.R. Tolkien references. “This song will change your life,” he says. The scene lasts the entire song, as Elaine flips open a newspaper while everyone else air drums to the 1971 classic. “They sound like nice kids,” she says when it finishes. “Is it meant to elevate humanity? Sure. Let’s elevate humanity, after we sell you drugs and sex.”
It’s not discussed often enough that McDormand and Fugit are matching in Seventies orange here, and although the scene was cut, you can still catch a glimpse of the outfits in the final version of the film. “Frances was making listening the most entertaining thing I’d ever seen,” Crowe told Rolling Stone last August. “I was sure that we’d have the full length of the scene and it would just be a hilarious intermission kind of thing in the movie, where now you’re going to listen to ‘Stairway to Heaven’ and watch Frances McDormand rise in the pain of it. I thought we might be able to earn the length of it.”
Sadly, they didn’t, but thankfully it’s living on YouTube. Led Zeppelin denied the use of their song, but instead gave Crowe “Bron-Yr-Aur,” “That’s the Way,” “Tangerine,” “Misty Mountain Hop,” and “The Rain Song.” “That was a huge buoy to swim to,” Crowe said, “because without Led Zeppelin, it’s just not the same movie.”
McDormand was nominated for Best Supporting Actress in Almost Famous, but sadly lost to Marcia Gay Harden in Pollock. If the Academy knows what’s good for them, they should listen to McDormand and add a karaoke bar at next year’s ceremony (and also, maybe, a host). McDormand would sing “Stairway to Heaven” and everyone could air drum — presumably six feet apart.
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