Singles – Chicago Sun Times

Long Way from ‘Ridgemont High’ for Crowe

In his new office on the Sony Studio lot, Cameron Crowe sits slouched in a chair. At age 35, he still looks like one of the kids he defined a decade ago in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.”

Crowe is at work, cataloging information that he has observed. It’s a skill he has honed for a remarkable 20 years – since he first launched a journalism career at age 15, a voyage that made him a top writer at Rolling Stone.

For the past nine years, Crowe has been using his skills of observation to write about young people in their 20s, the choices they make in love, how they find each other. He went underground on a high school campus to write the Fast Times book and later the screenplay. But writing, then directing, then getting a release date for his newest movie, “Singles” (now playing at Chicago area theaters) was a test for the affable Crowe. And for those around him as well, evidently.

“A lot of people tried to talk me out of it because it reeked of the kind of thing that needed to be put in a drawer because I would always talk about it. ‘I’m going to do ‘Singles’ now’ and people would just roll their eyes.

“It was important to do ‘Singles,’ though. As much as I thought of myself as a guy who wrote about all kinds of things, to most people it was, ‘Oh, yeah, he wrote ‘Fast Times’ . . . he does teen movies. I’m proud of that genre, but it was important to write something where no one was in high school, no one graduated, and no one lost their virginity.”

The result is an ensemble piece co-starring Bridget Fonda, Matt Dillon, Campbell Scott and Kyra Sedgwick as denizens of a Seattle apartment. The cast was charmed by Crowe.

“Even when you don’t agree with him,” Dillon says, “he usually can convince you it’s right.” Fonda calls him a “life-watcher.” Scott says he’s so nice “people forget how intelligent he is.”

It may have been intelligence, but it was also serendipity that the film taps into the Seattle grunge music scene, which has exploded since the movie was made. Pearl Jam, then unknown but now the hottest Seattle group, plays the bar band fronted by Dillon.

Music has been a passion for Crowe since childhood. He grew up in San Diego, where his mom was a teacher who speeded him through the grades, skipping him from fourth to sixth.

At 15, he found himself a very young high school junior – “In the locker room it was very obvious that I was a little bit behind.” But he loved rock music and did some reviews for a local underground paper. He boldly wrote Lester Bangs, the editor of Creem, who answered with an assignment to interview the British hard rock group Humble Pie.

His parents had to drive him to the interview. He had to talk his way backstage. But he was soon in the presence of the band’s singer, Steve Marriott.

“I remember he had a big hash joint and a bottle of Heineken. And he was just happy he was sitting there with a guy who knew his music and was interviewing him.”

At age 16, Crowe got his first assignment from Rolling Stone, whose editors didn’t know how old the whiz kid was. Crowe spent the years until he undertook Fast Times at 22 traveling the globe with rock bands.

When his Fast Times book became a movie, he made the switch to Hollywood. But he likes to remember that the movie wasn’t a big hit. Video gave it exalted status.

“A couple of days before the movie opened, they cut the theaters in half because they were sure it was going to be a regional movie. By the time they realized there was an audience, it was too late to catch up.”

He did a flop movie, “The Wild Life,” which was a showcase for Eric Stoltz, but it was a mistake, he says, that started out with good intentions but was marketed as a followup to “Fast Times,” which it wasn’t.

Director James L. Brooks (“the only one who would talk to me after ‘The Wild Life’ “) called him in, read a version of “Singles,” assured him it was good, but nudged him into a sophisticated teen comedy, “Say Anything.” Crowe made his directing debut on that 1989 film. He impressed critics and fellow directors.

While Crowe tackles relationships with gusto on film, only one in his own life has taken hold. He and his wife, Nancy Wilson, who founded rock band Heart with sister Ann, have been together for 11 years. The two are expecting their first child in March.

Courtesy of Chicago Sun Times – Tom Green – September 28, 1992