ELAINE: Yes, it's poetry. It's poetry of drugs and promiscuous sex. Honey, they're on pot.
It's clear from the beginning of the film that Elaine does not approve of rock and roll—or the culture that surrounds it. As William learns, she's not completely wrong—some of the stuff that goes on behind the rock-and-roll scenes really is kind of iffy—but why is Elaine so overprotective?
LESTER: These people are not your friends. These are people who want you to write sanctimonious stories about the genius of rock stars, and they will ruin rock and roll and strangle everything we love about it.
Lester urges William to remain objective and critical when writing about the musicians. Rock and roll is about the music, first and foremost, Lester explains. It's not about popularity or looking cool.
ELAINE: Look at this—an entire generation of Cinderellas, and there's no glass slipper.
Elaine sees the rock-and-roll lifestyle as a dead end, a vice that will ruin her son's potential. Again, she's not completely and totally wrong—sure, William does end up just fine, but it also seems like the rock-and-roll lifestyle can be a dead end up if you let it become one.
RUSSELL: We play for the fans, not the critics.
When William first encounters Stillwater, Russell and the rest of the band make it abundantly clear that they aren't there to talk to a rock writer—or "the enemy," as Jeff Bebe calls him. The members of Stillwater eventually lose touch with this mission, however, as they fight amongst themselves over relative popularity and struggle with the pressures of the spotlight. They forget the very reason why they are there to play in the first place.
RUSSELL: And you can tell Rolling Stone magazine that my last words were…I'm on drugs!
From the rooftop of the Topeka party house, Russell makes a bold claim. Apparently "I dig music" isn't the right choice for LSD-soaked last words. Here, Russell falls victim to the drug scene that crippled so many great musicians of the era.
LESTER: Tell him it's a think piece about a mid-level band struggling with their own limitations in the harsh face of stardom.
Lester knows exactly what kind of story Rolling Stone wants: a pseudo-intellectual critique of the band itself, rather than an honest, imaginative discussion of the music.
DENNIS HOPE: If you think Mick Jagger will still be out there trying to be a rock star at age fifty, then you are sadly, sadly mistaken.
New manager Dennis Hope represents the music industry: a piece of the corporate machinery that sees profit in rock and roll and will stop at nothing to capitalize on it.
Of course, the irony of Hope's argument is that Mick Jagger, lead singer of the Rolling Stones, is still going strong at the age of 70, not because of the profit (how much more money can he possibly make?), but for the love.
LESTER: You're coming along at a very dangerous time for rock and roll. The war is over, they won. And they will ruin rock and roll, and strangle everything we love about it.
Lester Bangs is firmly in the music-first camp. He does what he can to keep the focus on the music and the artistry. But he knows the war is lost. Folks like Dennis Hope have co-opted rock and roll for the sake of profit, squashing the very essence of the art.
Penny dances alone in the Cleveland auditorium to "The Wind" by Cat Stevens.
Crowe juxtaposes the introduction of new manager Dennis Hope and his corporate, consumer-oriented approach to music with a moment that embodies the purity and beauty of what rock and roll should be. Penny symbolizes the innocence and idealism of artistic expression, what will be compromised by the music-as-business mentality.
WILLIAM: You guys, you're always talking about the fans… she was your biggest fan!
William seriously lays into Russell and the band during their near-death experience aboard the airplane. Russell betrayed Penny—Stillwater's biggest fan—just like they've all betrayed every one of their fans by letting their egos get in the way of the music.
SAPPHIRE: They don't even know what it is to be a fan. Y'know? To truly love some silly little piece of music, or some band, so much that it hurts.
Sapphire, one of the original Band Aids, reminds Russell what it means to be a fan—something that Russell has long since forgotten. He realizes he has lost touch with the very reason why he became a musician. And worse, he has betrayed his biggest fan: Penny.
WILLIAM: What do you love about music? RUSSELL: To begin with… everything.
With William's help, Russell gets back to the basics. He plays music for the love, and that's all that should matter. That's the passionate place the best art comes from, and also the antidote to the big-business mentality the band ultimately rejects.