CoS on Film: Singles (1992)

Let us beat past the arduous task of re-explaining everything we’ve mouthed on at great length about here, here, and here. With numerous members of our staff pushing 30, it’s no surprise that we have such a loyal early-90’s fan base amongst us. We were likely born in a cloud of Aqua Net, only to be raised by ravaging alt-rock wolfpacks, and we’re goddamned proud of it! For those 70’s alumni out there who could stage dive at Alice Cooper with the best of ’em… stop pickin’ on me or I’ll use my Wayne Campbell gun rack of doom on you.

Back in 1991, Cameron Crowe was still riding the success of directing John Cusack’s boom box in Say Anything…, long before some emo band named themselves after his project and recorded an ODB cover song. During a movie pitch that had to have taken place in a dank Seattle bar basement pre-PowerPoint, producers aimed to cull together an ultimate grunge mixtape and tried to film footage around it wherein Generation Xers make important relationship decisions and/or have sex. After copious amounts of caffeine, Singles was born, and a certain sect of America celebrated with more coffee.*

While we’re all very familiar with the television series originally intended to be based on Singles–a sitcom titled Friends–the most famous tie-in would be its official soundtrack, backed by the film’s director who once wrote for Rolling Stone. This all-too-perfect collection/time capsule of songs includes pieces from Soundgarden (“Spoonman”, “Birth Ritual”), the Smashing Pumpkins, Pearl Jam, and a few other choice acts Kevin Smith couldn’t afford to have in Clerks two years later. Alice in Chains does appear on both compilations, though we suspect they’d have put their music on whatever paid for Staley’s drug habit at the time.

As a cinematic creation, Singles represents a lot of what love and the early 90’s music scene was like. By this time, AIDS and renewed femininity had already taken the world by storm; underground bands that many might have perceived as talentless were suddenly gods outside their garages, kicking a dead glam rocker when he’s down; angst was still a term not yet entirely cliche or riddled by teenagers pining over Nevermind 20 years down the road to feel “complete.”

Singles was released as the grunge explosion detonated, sparking a true musical movement. In the background, the unnoticed Citizen Dick lazily scoffs at the scene, because folks in their 20s were good at that in 1992. Now we just blog about our miserable job, then go back to selling Herbalife like dedicated automatons. Perhaps you’re listening to the Singles soundtrack as you read this. If so, you win. If it’s on cassette, you win by, like, a million or something.

I don’t know. I’m crashing right now.

To say the Singles soundtrack stands on its own is the world’s biggest understatement since the first “Rush Limbaugh is fat joke”; it so unwaveringly overshadows the celluloid counterpart that one seldom recalls the names of key characters from the film, yet nearly every band on the record remains synonymous with “alternative rock,” despite the Smashing Pumpkins now occasionally eliciting vomiting. (Thanks, Corgan!)

But Westerberg’s score, his two song inclusions (“Dyslexic Heart”, “Waiting for Somebody”), a double-whammy of Mudhoney and Hendrix for credibility (“Overblown”, “May This Be Love”), Ann and Nancy Wilson’s own Lovemongers covering Zeppelin (“The Battle of Evermore”), two Pearl Jam pieces once solely exclusive to this variety bag of tricks (“Breath”, “State of Love and Trust”), and PJ’s predecessor Mother Love Bone getting one somber chord in on the fun (“Chloe Dancer/Crown of Thorns”)… what’s not to love? The Smashing Pumpkins have their eight-minute “Drown” as an appropriate chaser, but you want Vedder and Cornell like Limbaugh wants cake.

That’s just what I heard on the grapevine. No, I don’t know what a “twitter” is. Are you damaged?

Another major talking point about Crowe’s Singles is the staggering abundance of cameos present. Not only does Pearl Jam appear as the faux band Citizen Dick–alongside Matt Dillon’s character, Cliff Poncier–you get performances by Soundgarden and Alice in Chains for additional sustenance. In the acting fold, we get Crowe himself as a rock journalist (as if that’s a far cry) and Eric Stoltz as a loud mime (just because). Even the acclaimed Tim Burton tags along for some reason. (Maybe he was sleepwalking. That’s how he directed Corpse Bride. I swear it.)

What’s also still enjoyable nearly 20 years later is how Crowe turned Seattle into such an enviable place to be. He takes us everywhere. You see the bizarre industrial leftovers in Gas Works Park, the tourist trapping Pike Place Market, Hendrix’s iconic grave in Greenwood Memorial Park, and the ultra-hip neighborhood of Capitol Hill, where the main apartment complex is located (and continues to sit today). It’s all in the background, but there’s just something alluring about watching the twentysomethings frolic around the Emerald City, engaging in situations that we mockingly (or self-deprecatingly?) hash tag as “firstworldproblems” today. Then again, maybe it’s just the music.

Matt Dillon’s Cliff Poncier w/ “Citizen Dick”

During a star-studded hour or two of relatively less well-known faces, some couples constantly teeter-totter from committed to commiserating, and Bridget Fonda takes orders for lattes. You can totally watch the movie on your old VCR from college if you need that summed up. I’m here to write aggrandizing remarks about the music. I’m an artist, damn it! Ask the Belgians.

To conclude, here’s a music video by Screaming Trees for posterity’s sake. We’re required by law to embed this song somewhere. I beg of you to have mercy, and thank the stars Collective Soul wasn’t a radio standard back then.

Did I mention that Cameron Crowe would later give birth to Jerry Maguire? No? It’s alright. He made Singles, and he trademarked the ultimate hopelessly romantic gesture. He gets a pass.

Cameron Crowe’s Pearl Jam Twenty debuts September 20th. Stay tuned for further coverage.

*This wording is indicative of 90’s misanthropy and not considered official canon. Please forgive my sugar-induced twitching.


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