Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, Temple of the Dog: Cameron Crowe and his tunes

Posted by · 8:20 am · November 28th, 2011

I mentioned my thoughts on Cameron Crowe’s “We Bought a Zoo” in this morning’s round-up. To elaborate a bit, the film has problems. But I don’t know if “problems” is the word, because there’s no denying that the film works. It’s just heavy-handed in a way that doesn’t feel organic to the material (unlike the heavy-handedness of, say, “War Horse”).

Nevertheless, I have zero desire to dismantle it because its heart is in the right place. It mines legitimate emotion in a number of areas and, knowing what Crowe has been through in his personal life as of late (divorcing his wife of many years, Nancy Wilson), you can see him working through some things with this material. And much of it rings true. It’s an uptick from “Elizabethtown,” no doubt, and I think he’ll find his stride again very soon and before long, we’ll have another top-notch Crowe film on our hands.

One thing that stuck out in “We Bought a Zoo,” though, was the soundtrack. Of course, it would.

Crowe’s professional life began as a music journalist at Rolling Stone magazine when he was 15 years old. Talk about a cush gig. My colleague Steve Pond was bouncing around the same beat at that time and cracked me up once when he told me, “I was 16 and covering music at the Los Angeles Times, which would have been hot shit except Cameron was 15 and at Rolling Stone.”

That early initiation into the world was fictionalized in the great (and I mean great) “Almost Famous” in 2000. But Crowe’s love affair with music made its way into his films from the beginning. There are classic moments in Crowe cinema that feature music, whether it’s John Cusack holding a boom box blasting Peter Gabriel above his head in “Say Anything,” a busload of misfits crooning “Tiny Dancer” in the aforementioned “Almost Famous” or the original tracks he commissioned from Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney for “Jerry Maguire” and “Vanilla Sky,” respectively.

But then there are the soundtracks. The compilations. The collections of tunes that make up the emotional landscape of his films in music. And “We Bought a Zoo” is another example, with Tom Petty’s “Don’t Come Around Here No More” and Temple of the Dog’s “Hunger Strike” finding room with equal aplomb. And, by the way, he has now featured two songs from my favorite Bob Dylan album in his films (“Shelter from the Storm” in “Jerry Maguire” and “Buckets of Rain” in “We Bought a Zoo,” both from “Blood on the Tracks”), which gets him major brownie points in my book.

In any case, The Hollywood Reporter has a big cover story on Crowe this week and in it, Kim Masters gets into the music thing pretty intensely. Most intriguing was the mix CD Crowe assembled for actor Matt Damon to help convey the emotional journey of the film. It went like so:

1. “Save it for Later” – Pete Townshend

2. “I’m Open” (Live) – Eddie Vedder

3. “War of Man” (Live) – Neil Young

4. “Soul Boy” – The Blue Nile

5. “Mohammed’s Radio” – Jackson Browne

6. “Sanganichi” – Shugo Tokumaru

7. “Airline to Heaven” – Wilco

8. “Buckets of Rain” – Bob Dylan

9. “The Heart of the Matter” (Live) – Don Henley

10. “I Will Be There When You Die” – My Morning Jacket

11. “Ain’t No Sunshine” – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

12. “Child of the Moon” – Rolling Stones

13. “If I Am a Stranger” – Ryan Adams

14. “Concrete Sky” – Beth Orton

15. “Helpess” (Live) – Neil Young

16. “Don’t Be Shy” (no piano) – Cat Stevens

17. “Nerstrand Woods” – Mark Olson and the the Creekdippers

Also revealed in the interview is that Crowe is working on an interview with Neil Young that will be featured in Rolling Stone, bringing things full circle. Talk about living the life.

“We Bought a Zoo” opens in theaters nationwide on December 23.

For year-round entertainment news and awards season commentary follow @kristapley on Twitter.

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