Singles – Seattle Times (#1)

Rock ‘Singles’ – As his movie finally nears theaters, director Cameron Crowe talks about love and noise in Seattle

Singles,” the soundtrack, is a hit. Which is good news for “Singles,” the movie.

Cameron Crowe’s film about the sometimes angst-ridden, sometimes funny couplings and uncouplings among a group of Seattle twentysomethings, set against the backdrop of the vibrant local rock scene, isn’t scheduled to open until Sept. 18.

But the success of the soundtrack, which jumped into the Top 30 last month almost immediately after its release, has created a buzz about the film that almost guarantees a strong opening box office here.

The album, made up mostly of rock songs from stars of the Seattle grunge scene, has already spawned a couple of popular singles and MTV videos, including the first big hit for Alice in Chains, the grinding, brooding “Would?,” and the pop-rock “Dyslexic Heart” by one of the few non-Seattleites on the disc, Paul Westerberg of the Replacements.

The soundtrack is a steady seller thanks to contributions from Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Mudhoney, Mother Love Bone, Screaming Trees and the Lovemongers, among others. Several other potential hits could come from it over the next few months.

“It’s cooking along,” a smiling Crowe said in an interview last week, “which is great.”

The director, a former rock critic for Rolling Stone, author of “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” (book and screenplay), and director of one other film (the charming, offbeat “Say Anything”), has become something of an expert on soundtracks. He’s just finished an article for Musician magazine that traces the whole history of soundtracks, from the days when they were poor sellers hidden away at the back of record stores to their present status as hit collections and potential movie audience-builders. There are 11 soundtracks on the Billboard Top 200 album chart, including two in the Top 10 (“Boomerang” and “Mo’ Money”).

“They used to be a souvenir of a movie,” Crowe said between sips of a double tall latte. “Now not even all the music on the record is in the film.”

That’s not the case with “Singles.” All the cuts on the recording are in the movie, including a couple of songs performed live on screen, in scenes set in local clubs.

Although the recording is a showcase for the cream of Seattle rock, and local band members appear in the movie as characters as well as musicians, the movie isn’t really about the Seattle rock scene. Although star Matt Dillon plays a member of a Seattle grunge band called Citizen Dick, he’s never seen performing. Mostly we see his character at his day job, jerking espresso at a place called the Java Stop.

“To do Matt Dillon like a stereotypical ‘Spinal Tap’-type guy really would have been embarrassing,” Crowe says, pushing back strands of his thick auburn hair.

Although Dillon is billed as the star of the film, his is really a supporting role. Other, mostly less-well-known actors among the half-dozen principals are the real focus.

“All along, Matt’s character was meant to be a little booster rocket on the side,” Crowe explained. “It really made it tough to talk him into doing it because he’d never done something like that.”

Dillon agreed to the role only after hanging with Jeff Ament, Stone Gossard and Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, when the band played New York two years ago, back when they were still going by the name Mookie Blaylock. Dillon is a dedicated jazz and bebop fan but was impressed with the musicians’ talent and dedication.

Ament became the inspiration for Dillon’s character – not Mark Arm of Mudhoney, one of many rumors about the film that have floated around the past year.

“Matt’s clothes are straight out of Jeff’s closet,” Crowe said. Dillon’s apartment in the film is a copy of Ament’s, right down to the colorful collage of posters, handbills and magazine clippings on the walls. Ament’s record collection, books and magazines were added to complete the ambiance.

“Jeff’s artistic sense was a big influence,” Crowe admits. “I would say almost as much as the music of those guys.”

The movie is set in an old brick U-shaped apartment building where the main characters live. Crowe was chagrined when the popular new “Melrose Place” appeared on TV this summer with a similar setup. “Thank God we don’t have a pool,” he quipped.

He was also struck with his film’s similarity to another new TV series that ran this summer, “Grapevine,” in which the characters talk directly to the viewers, as they do in “Singles.”

But Crowe doesn’t fear his movie will be seen as imitating those new TV shows, because it was started long before they appeared, and because he has faith in the movie’s cast to divert attention from such similarities.

In addition to Dillon, the movie features Bridget Fonda (daughter of Peter), who was largely unknown when Crowe cast her but is now recognized for her starring role in the current hit, “Single White Female.”

In “Singles” she’s “the person who is kind of the soul of this apartment house,” Crowe said. “I thought she stole . . .,” he continues, before stopping himself. “Well, I wrote the part for her.”

The other young actors are all relative newcomers. They include Kyra Sedgwick, best known as Tom Cruise’s girlfriend in “Born on the Fourth of July”; Campbell Scott, son of George C. Scott and the late Colleen Dewhurst, who played opposite Julia Roberts in “Dying Young”; and Jim True, a stage actor from Chicago.

“I drove myself crazy casting this movie,” Crowe admitted. “I did it for six months and I was burnt out.”

Among those he auditioned was Paula Abdul, for the part of man-hungry Cosmo girl Debbie.

“She nailed the audition,” Crowe said. “Personally, I think she was born to play the part.” And she accepted the role – until plans for her tour got in the way. A young actress named Sheila Kelly, who was in the cast of “L.A. Law” last season, was recruited for the part at the last moment. And it turned out that many of her scenes ended up being cut.

Chris Cornell, lead singer of Soundgarden, also auditioned – for the Matt Dillon part. He flew down to Burbank to read scenes for executives at Warner Bros., who were duly impressed. Crowe wanted him to take the part, but Cornell’s music career also prevented him from doing so. He does appear in the film, in a bit part and with Soundgarden, and contributed to the soundtrack. He created some of the incidental background music and has a great solo song on the soundtrack, “Seasons,” in addition to Soundgarden’s hard, punchy “Birth Ritual.”

Crowe’s wife, Nancy Wilson of Heart, did a cameo but it ended up on the cutting-room floor. She and her sister, Ann, of the Lovemongers, are heard on the film doing a knockout cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Battle of Evermore.”

“Singles,” the movie, was completed early this year and originally was to have opened in April. Its release was delayed because of industry politics, Crowe asserts – not because of problems with the movie, as rumored. Crowe expressed frustration with Warner Bros.’ delays, and has been promised that the Sept. 18 date is firm.

“I’m on to the next one, happily, finally,” Crowe said, cradling the now-cool latte glass in his hand. “It’s a completely different thing.” The new film focuses on a man about Crowe’s age of 35, and his several girlfriends.

“I always end up writing about relationships,” Crowe concluded, “just because to me there’s nothing as interesting.”

Courtesy of the Seattle Times – Patrick MacDonald – August 30, 1992