Singles – Details Magazine

Crowe’s Feat

Cameron Crowe has just finished directing his second feature, Singles (starring Matt Dillon, Bridget Fonda, Kyra Sedgwick, and Campbell Scott), producing a music video for Alice in Chains, and moving into his new offices on the Sony lot. Not surprisingly, he’s running late. “I just drove up from San Diego,” Crowe explains once in his underfurnished office. “My dad passed away three years ago and now my mom is clearly in love with this guy who is great but who is not my dad. It’s a little strange but kind of cute, and it made me think – crushes will always be crushes, no matter what age you are.”

At thirty-four, Crowe has the slightly wearied look of a student at semester’s end: hair crookedly parted, wearing black Nikes and a T-shirt with the name of a lesser-known Seattle band. (“They don’t have any music yet, but they do have their T-shirts.”) With his movie Singles, he has moved on from the teen turf he covered so well in Fast Times in Ridgemont High, The Wild Life, and his directorial debut, Say Anything…. “At a certain age,” he admits, “it’s unbecoming to be like, ‘Yeah! Let’s go to the beach, dude!’ I’m now writing about people closer to my age and finding fireworks in that world.”

Crowe was still in his twenties when he first began writing Singles as “a fizzy little romp” about a group of friends living in a courtyard apartment building, tangling with independence, romance, and careers. He researched his story, dispelling his original glib take, by quizzing everybody he knew on his favorite topics – love, life, desire, music. A self-confessed research fiend, Crowe is the inquiring mind who wants to know. Halfway into a conversation, he’ll stop to ask “Why is that?” as if trying to grasp some essential truth.

He was twenty-two when he returned to high school and posed as a senior to research Fast Times. Having skipped three grades, he’d graduated from high school at fifteen and kick-started a career as a rock journalist when he sent his first articles from a San Diego underground paper to Lester Bangs at Creem. Bangs wrote back with a warning “not to fall for any of that rock star bullshit” and an assignment to interview Steve Marriott of Humble Pie. Crowe was soon on the road with Led Zeppelin and King Crimson and publishing regularly in Creem and Rolling Stone.

Living out a teenage fantasy often harbored by regretful forty-year-olds, Crowe slipped back into school as an undercover student to gather material for an early portrait of high school life. Filled with anxious romance, uncertain ambition, and surf-infused psyches, Fast Times was first published as a novelistic “true story”; in 1982, he wrote the screenplay to the film, which featured Jennifer Jason Leigh, Phoebe Cates, and Judge Reinhold and introduced Sean Penn as Spicoli, the spiritual progenitor of Bill, Ted, Garth, and Wayne. Fast Times was followed by The Wild Life, a less than wild success. But producer/director James L. Brooks found some funny moments in the script and contacted Crowe about a possible movie project. “Jim looks for an original voice, and everything else is secondary,” remarks Crowe. “Even though he’d just seen a movie where guys were headbutting and yelling Paaaarty! he followed his instinct. I owe a lot to him because – no offense – I was headed toward Encino Man.”

Over the years, Crowe met with Brooks several times a week to discuss writing, humor, plot, and screenplays – including earlier drafts of Singles that weren’t working. “He was brutally honest,” says Crowe of his mentor. “It was my version of film school.” Advising Crowe to put aside a free-floating earlier of Singles, Brooks offered him a plot starter kit, an intriguing “what if …” situation: What if a beautiful daughter discovered that her adoring father was really a crook? Crowe’s answer was Say Anything …, a deceptively simple story about love and leaving home that shook up the standard elements of the teen genre. “After working so hard on a three-act story for Say Anything …,” Crowe says, “I wanted to make something that would play more like an album.”

A musician and Seattleite by marriage (his wife is Nancy Wilson, rhythm guitarist and vocalist for the Seattle-based band Heart), it was Crowe’s involvement with the emerging music scene there that finally brought Singles into focus. Warner Bros., the studio producing Singles, was not entirely convinced by Crowe’s location choice – couldn’t he set his story in a sunny California condo development? But with the arrival of the Seattle music explosion, people started saying, “Great, is Nirvana in the movie?”

Nirvana isn’t in the movie. Instead, Crowe went with Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Mother Love Bone, Alice in Chains, and Seattle’s own Jimi Hendrix. Paul Westerberg of the Replacements has written the movie’s soundtrack, providing what Crowe calls “a subliminal sound of connection being made.” To this music, the film’s overlapping narratives – the dreams of a would-be rock star, the Francophile maitre d’, the romantic environmentalist, the impractical engineer, the aspiring architect/espresso waitress – are strung together.

As I’m leaving, Crowe hands me a tape of the soundtrack and apologizes for not having a print of the film to show me. “The one we had burned in the projector, just like in Cinema Paradiso.” He does promise to send me a T-shirt. On the way home I listen to Westerberg singing “I try to comprehend you but I’ve got a dyslexic heart,” and I think of Cameron Crowe. Those words could be the tattoo on his soul.

Courtesy of Details Magazine – Susan Morgan – September, 1992