Cameron Crowe can't stop the music. Trudging out of an editing studio in Seattle after 80 grueling hours of working on a three-minute video for his new grunge-music-scene movie, Singles, he looks as slack and scattered as the footage he's been wrestling with. ''The whole mix is tough I think it needs another day,'' Crowe says wearily. On the other hand, there's a 10 o'clock show by the Boston band Lemonheads at The Backstage, across town, and right now Crowe needs a pop-music infusion the way Popeye needs spinach.
''It's the Lemonheads, man,'' he says reverently, hopping into a van, punching in a Lemonheads tape, and roaring off. His woes go out the driver's window, as does his head, as he hollers along with the band's anthem, ''IT'S A SHAME ABOUT RAY!''
Crowe is in his element doing the rock-club crawl in Seattle. The 35-year- old writer-director graduated from high school at 15 and began covering Led Zeppelin and Humble Pie tours for Rolling Stone. At 21, he enrolled as a senior in a Van Nuys, Calif., high school, and turned his undercover experiences into the script for 1982's landmark teen comedy, Fast Times at Ridgemont High. A romance with Nancy Wilson (to whom he has been married since 1986) of the Seattle-based band Heart made him an avid, if part-time, Northwesterner (he also lives in Los Angeles); he set his 1989 directing debut, Say Anything..., in his adopted city. Now, with Singles, he has made his fondest, loopiest valentine to Seattle. The movie is a seriocomic look at the love lives of grunge scenesters played by Campbell Scott, Kyra Sedgwick, Matt Dillon, Bridget Fonda, Jim True, and Sheila Kelley; its soundtrack boasts songs by the fastest-rising stars on the Billboard charts. With those ingredients and an ambling, naturalistic style, Crowe captures the eccentric appeal of a town where espresso carts sprout on every corner and kids in ratty flannel shirts can cut records that make them millionaires.
The Backstage, where Crowe will recharge his faltering batteries, is an underground cavern festooned with posters and periodicals from the white-hot rock scene. Fans eye the local musical dignitaries who stroll by: Mudhoney's Dan Peters, Kurt Bloch of the Fastbacks, and the Young Fresh Fellows' Scott McCaughey, who's in Crowe's video. Some evenings in some clubs, bands get kicked off stage for showing up naked there are limits and most nights slit-eyed A&R men shark-cruise the crowd, bent on scenting the next Nirvana. On this July night, Crowe grins beatifically while the Lemonheads bash their guitars, and between tunes he chats with his pal Johnny Depp, who just flew in from shooting Benny & Joon in Spokane. ''Cameron Crowe? He's my brother, my father, my uncle!'' Depp exclaims.
''I felt a personal explosion when I came here,'' says Crowe. ''I loved it that musicians here didn't want to go to L.A. and get taught their moves at the Guitar Institute. They'd work four jobs, pull espresso till 2 a.m., then play all night.''
''That Northwest thing it's a real mood,'' says Matt Dillon. ''Cameron's got a knack for painfully true humor. He really gets right to the core.''