Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about movies and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the movie urban legends featured so far.
MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: Fast Times at Ridgemont High used the song “Kashmir” even though it did not fit into the script.
Led Zeppelin has had a strong history in their career with the protection of their songs as far as allowing them to be licensed for films and stuff like that.
This is a policy that has been wasted away a bit over the years as:
A. The large sums of money available to them for licensing plus
B. The large amount of other respected artists who have licensed their songs
have led to Zeppelin being a bit more willing to allow their songs to be used. That is why you can now hear, say, “Rock and Roll” being used to sell cars or “Kashmir” being used to sell phones.
However, in 1983, that was not the case – they were practically Fort Knox when it came to using their songs in ANY sort of context.
This is where Cameron Crowe fits in.
Cameron Crowe was a rock journalist for Rolling Stone while still a teenager. While working for Rolling Stone, he did articles on Led Zeppelin and came to be quite friendly with the band (years later they would choose Crowe to do the liner notes for their career-spanning Box Set).
In the early 1980s, the 22-year-old Crowe went undercover as a high school student to write a book.
That book was called Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
The book was optioned for a movie, and Crowe was hired to write the screenplay.
Directed by Amy Heckerling, Fast Times was very much about music. The soundtrack was very important (and led to at least one hit song, Jackson Browne’s “Somebody’s Baby”). Amusingly enough, as you can tell from the soundtrack, there were very divergent tastes involved in making the soundtrack.
Here’s the track listing…
1. “Somebody’s Baby” (Jackson Browne) – 4:05
2. “Waffle Stomp” (Joe Walsh) – 3:40
3. “Love Rules” (Don Henley) – 4:05
4. “Uptown Boys” (Louise Goffin) – 2:45
5. “So Much in Love” (Timothy B. Schmit) – 2:25
6. “Raised on the Radio” (The Ravyns) – 3:43
7. “The Look in Your Eyes” (Gerard McMahon) – 4:00
8. “Speeding” (The Go-Go’s) – 2:11
9. “Don’t Be Lonely” (Quarterflash) – 3:18
10. “Never Surrender” (Don Felder) – 4:15
11. “Fast Times (The Best Years of Our Lives)” (Billy Squier) – 3:41
12. “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” (Sammy Hagar) – 3:36
13. “I Don’t Know (Spicoli’s Theme)” (Jimmy Buffett) – 3:00
14. “Love Is the Reason” (Graham Nash) – 3:31
15. “I’ll Leave It up to You” (Poco) – 2:55
16. “Highway Runner” (Donna Summer) – 3:18
17. “Sleeping Angel” (Stevie Nicks) – 3:55
18. “She’s My Baby (And She’s Outta Control)” (Jost/Palmer) – 2:53
19. “Goodbye, Goodbye” (Oingo Boingo) – 4:34
As you can see, there’s a mixture of younger artists popular among the teen set, as well as a bunch of Southern California soft rock artists. This was because Heckerling wanted the former group of songs on the album, while producer Irving Azoff felt that artists like the Eagles would be best for the movie. That Azoff was the manager of the Eagles I’m sure had absolutely no impact on what he felt made for a good soundtrack.
Anyhow, one of the neatest things about having Crowe write the movie was that presumably he could use his connections with famous rock artists to get good songs for the soundtrack. Specifically, it was felt that Crowe would be able to deliver what few (I think literally ONE other film had done this at this point, and it was a minor French art film) others could – a Zeppelin song for use in the film!
In fact, Crowe actually wrote a scene in the film specifically ABOUT Led Zeppelin’s music.
In the scene, geeky Mark Ratner (Brian Backer) is taking Stacy Hamilton (Jennifer Jason Leigh) out on a date. He has been told by his more “sophisticated” (read “sleazier”) friend Mike Damone (Robert Romanus) the following five-point plan:
First of all Rat, you never let on how much you like a girl. “Oh, Debbie. Hi.” Two, you always call the shots. “Kiss me. You won’t regret it.” Now three, act like wherever you are, that’s the place to be. “Isn’t this great?” Four, when ordering food, you find out what she wants, then order for the both of you. It’s a classy move. “Now, the lady will have the linguini and white clam sauce, and a Coke with no ice.” And five, now this is the most important, Rat. When it comes down to making out, whenever possible, put on side one of Led Zeppelin IV.
So, while Rat and Stacy are in the car, Rat plays “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin…
Now, naturally, a lot of rock fans would scream, “But ‘Kashmir’ isn’t ON Led Zeppelin IV!”
Which is true.
It is not.
It is on Physical Graffiti.
However, while Crowe was able to score a big coup by getting Led Zeppelin to agree to let him use A song in the film, they would NOT let him use any song from Led Zeppelin IV (their fourth album to be self-titled).
Years later, when Crowe made a film based on his years as a rock journalist, Almost Famous, he screened the film specially for Led Zeppelin and they loved it.
And they agreed to let him use a number of their songs. But even THEN they had limits on which songs he could use (to wit, they wouldn’t let him use “Stairway to Heaven,” which was going to be used in an amazingly bold scene where Crowe was going to have the character based on him play the entire song (which is famously quite long) for his mother to convince her to allow him to go on tour with a rock group).
Crowe and Heckerling, though, figured it was better to get A Led Zeppelin song than to not get any just because it didn’t fit the script, so they went with “Kashmir.”
Here’s the scene in the script, by the way:
EXT. THE RAT’S CAR – LATER THAT NIGHT
We see The Rat behind the wheel of a green Volvo.
Stacy sits beside him. They are driving the streets
INT. THE RAT’S CAR
This is it. The Big Date. “Led Zeppelin IV” is on
the car stereo of his sister’s van.
Note that the script had him playing the correct song. So it was not that Crowe originally wanted the character to play the wrong song.
Over the years, well-intentioned fans have made a couple of good “no-prize” answers (a “no-prize” is a comic book term – it is something you come up with to explain why an error wasn’t REALLY an error), like “Damone says that Led Zeppelin IV is good for making out, and since they’re not making out in that scene then it explains why he isn’t playing Led Zeppelin IV” or “This shows that Ratner is so geeky that he played the wrong album!.”
While those theories really are quite good, Crowe admits the “mistake” – it just wasn’t worth changing the script just because they couldn’t get the right song, and heck, getting “Kashmir” was still quite a coup!
The legend is…
STATUS: True (although interestingly enough, in saying “true,” I’m also debunking what is perhaps a more common legend, which is that it was an intentional mistake and that they never tried to get anything from Led Zeppelin IV).
Thanks to Jaan Uhelszki, who related the story in Rolling Stone in 2000 when Crowe was approved the use of the Zeppelin songs for Almost Famous (although Uhelszki misquotes the line as side TWO of Led Zeppelin IV).
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is email@example.com.