The gray turned to mist turned to drizzle turned to rain as I drove into Elizabethtown.

My colleagues mock me for my affection towards Cameron Crowe. None of them share my appreciation of his forthcoming film, “Elizabethtown.”

The film (which I previewed with my colleagues in the Paramount screening room two weeks ago) follows Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom) through a career-killing fiasco, through his father’s unexpected death, back home to Kentucky for the funeral. Along the way, Drew meets flight attendent Claire Colburn (Kirsten Dunst). A love story (and, as Cameron like to point out, “hilarity”) ensue.

Stepping off the jetway at the Louisvile airport, Claire reminds Drew the way to Elizabethtown. “The roads around Louisville are hopelessly and gloriously confusing. So don’t forget: 60B. 60B!”

That I would fly to Nashville on my own dime to see Cameron, Orlando, and Kirsten at the premiere, well, that may seem downright nuts. That I would drive from Nashville to Louisville and back for Cameron’s Kurt Loder intervew at an in-store appearence, well, that certifiable. I think it’s perfectly reasonable.

You know it from his movies: the man knows meaning. He knows substance. He knows deep, and he knows simple. He shoots from the heart, not the hip, or worse, the head. Each of his films: Say Anything, Singles, Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous, Vanilla Sky, and Elizabethtown, is a personal expression. It’s real life condenced. And its got a great soundtrack.

I landed in Nashville at eight o’clock this morning, picked up my rental car, and pointed it north on I-65. I was in Elizabethtown by noon. Initially, it was disappointing: strip malls and fast food chains. But the further I drove from the highway, and the closer I go to town hall, the more real it became.

The first familiar marking was a hand-carved Elizabethtown, Kentucky, welcome sign. In the film, it’s Drew’s first incling that he’s arrived as well. Passing under a railroad tressle, the homecoming became more apparent. Local businesses — funeral homes, taxidermies, drug stores, motels — had retooled their signage for the big homecoming:

“Welcome Home Cameron!”

“Orlando — sleep here!”

“Elizabethtown: Small Town, Big Movie.”

Residential homes, too, were adorned with magic-markered, handmade signs:

“We Love You, Cameron!”

“Elizabethtown Loves Orlando!

“Marry Me Kirsten!!!

Louisville’s Ear X-Tacy was buzzing with excitement when I arrived. Kurt, Joseph (producer), Eve (production management) and I paced the store, shuffling through bin upon bin of hip records and CDs. I dropped seventy-five bucks on local music. Kurt bought a “Keep Louisville Weird” t-Shirt. Joseph set up the shot (I sat in for Cameron).

Weeks ago, when MTV News’ “Elizabethtown” special was green lit, I suggested Kurt interview Cameron for our broadband segment. A small portion of the interview would make it into the show, but all of it will live on Overdrive, MTV’s broadband channel. Kurt and Cameron have a shared history at Rolling Stone Magazine. Both of them cut their teeth there. I grew up reading their work. Their Rolling Stone interviews are responsible for my rock-n-roll fantasy, and my music journalism career. To sit in on their conversation, then, was a bonus.

The energy level picked up when Cameron breezed through the back door. I spotted him gliding through the back office, and fought my urge to leap towards him to introduce myself. Instead, he greeted Kurt, got made up, and walked towards the camera crew. I stuck my hand out en route.

Hey, Cameron. I’m Benjamin Wagner from MTV News.”

“Oh! Benjamin, hi! Thanks for your letter. Did you write once before during Vanilla Sky?”

My mind lept to the conclusion that Cameron thought I was some sort of journalist stalker.

“No, no. I’m not that creepy. I just wanted to thank you for the interview.”

“Well, everybody loved the interview. Thanks.”

We talked some more as Cameron and Kurt sat for their interview. Fifteen store clerks, three MTV News producers, and two publicists looked on. I stood behind Cameron’s wife, Heart front woman Nancy Wilson, stifling a smile, as he set everyone at ease.

“Did you notice?” Cameron asked across the record shelves. “There is no 60B, Benjamin. It’s Hollywood magic.”

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