Singles – USA Today

Singling out `Singles’ Crowe puts `Fast Times’ behind him

LOS ANGELES – In his new office on the Sony Studio lot, a corner room with a huge Pearl Jam poster signed to the “Crowski,” Cameron Crowe sits slouched in a chair. At age 35, he still looks too much like one of the kids he defined a decade ago in Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

He points to a photo on another wall. It’s actor Matt Dillon in a funny hat, shorts and leggings. Crowe calls it the Seattle look. “I never saw that before,” he says in amazement. “They wear shorts and leggings because it’s cold.”

This is Crowe 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 as a peach-fuzzed kid of 15, a voyage that made him a top writer at Rolling Stone.

He went underground on a high school campus to write the Fast Times book and later the screenplay and the result was the classic work about teen-age life. But writing, then directing, then getting a release date for his newest movie, Singles, which finally opens nationwide today, 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 somewhere between college and a stable career.

The cast was charmed by the youthful director. “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.

Also featuring Soundgarden and Alice in Chains, the film’s soundtrack was released two months ago and in Billboard is No. 16 and climbing with sales of more than 700,000 units before the movie even came out, a rare event for a soundtrack album in rock’s short history.

Nirvana, the other super hot Seattle band, isn’t part of the finished film, although the group was before fame engulfed them. Even their huge hit Smells Like Teen Spirit was in it initially.

But Crowe and longtime pal Danny Bramson, who co-produced the album, dropped Nirvana music when approvals became difficult to get.

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.

“I keep waiting for some blind spot to surface,” he laughs. `Oh, didn’t you know that? That was in the fifth grade.’ But nothing.”

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 got hooked on reading Creem magazine and Rolling Stone. He did some reviews for a local underground paper and 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.

“‘Do you want any of this?’



Crowe, who had really long hair, said Marriott never commented on his age. Marriott died in a house fire with a large quantity of Valium and alcohol in his body while Crowe was making Singles. “I was really bummed out about it,” he says.

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 like Led Zeppelin, doing interviews and waiting for taxis to pick him up because he still couldn’t drive.

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 follow-up 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. Says Lawrence Kasdan (Grand Canyon): “He’s got an unusually perceptive, witty, humanistic approach to people, to their weaknesses and strengths. … It’s a rare thing that someone can see people and be both generous and humorous about them. His movies are reports from the front of his generation.”

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.

“I used to think I wrote guy characters almost exclusively,” he says. “But that family (the Wilsons) is so tight – there is a third sister. For years I’ve been able to observe strong, articulate women and how they lead their lives.

“Now I’ve actually gotten the comment from Singles, ‘You can write women really well. The guys I think you could have done a little more with …’ It’s such a victory for me and I lay it at their feet.”

Despite his success in the movies – he’ll do one on a 37-year-old next – don’t get the idea Crowe has abandoned journalism. “I’m just looking for assignments,” he says.

Courtesy of the USA Today – Tom Green – September 18, 1992