Soon after, Crow returned to L.A. – not for the rest and woodshedding she deserved, but straight into Round 2 with Bottrell. "It's amazing we were still trying to work," he says, "but we both said to each other, "We write the best songs with each other.' I said to her, 'Look, we're really not getting along, you and me, but I like the songs a lot.' " In two weeks, they had eight tracks; all three songs Bottrell co-wrote with her would emerge on her new album.
Crow's emotional state, after months of open squabbles with the TMC, was "raw and vulnerable," she says. "My only objective on this record was to get under people's skin, because I was feeling like I had so much shit to hurl at the tape." She strove to add "some balance and levity." You hear it, especially in "A Change" (motored by hand claps and Crow's organ licks, about the long-dead, eccentric English studio geek Joe Meek), in the rip-and-run single "If It Makes You Happy" ("I promised you I'd never give up") and the Stonesy rocker "Hard to Make a Stand." On the Dylan-esque "Redemption Day," written after a USO tour in Bosnia with Hillary and Chelsea Clinton, Crow seems to wonder why that duo's husband and father "waited till so late" to intervene. The chilling if beautiful track titled "The Book" ostensibly eulogizes a three-day love affair in Rome but could be about the TMC betrayal: "And I didn't know/By giving my hand/That I would be written down, sliced around, passed down/Among strangers' hands."
Work on the new album began at the austerely elegant Toad Hall, but Crow "was feeling ghosts in that room," says Bottrell. They decamped to New Orleans, where the seams in their relationship took just 24 hours to rip open. "The second day," says Bottrell, "we had a fight out on the side street with great hollering going on. It was a fabulous scene. Then I left."
"The unfortunate thing about success," says Crow, reminded of that day, "is that you have to work out your problems in public."
Crow had cut the bulk of the record in New Orleans and returned to L.A. to finish it off when the call came announcing Kevin Gilbert's death. Crow would attend the memorial service: "Yeah, everybody was there . . . It was very awkward. I feel like, I think I've done everything that I can, and now how is it I still can't do anything right? It's almost like a father relationship where you are just always trying to please somebody, and you can't really. And I still don't know. But part of that got worked out on the record."
Crow is sitting, in her almost formally attentive fashion, at a small table in a Vancouver coffeehouse. Through these chore-packed days – this visit has included a video shoot for the British program Top of the Pops, her gig at Vogue Theater and a meet-and-greet with Canadian press and radio types – she doesn't visibly flag till around midnight. She's bare-armed in the drafty joint (handling guitars and accordions has given her nicely strappy biceps) and bears the slightly clouded if alert expression with which she characteristically greets the world. It's not merely for business reasons that those around her like to please – when her grin does break through the clouds, it's like a reward, and she seems to be a woman who likes to laugh, when she remembers how. Yet the denim-clad, fresh-faced Crow of Tuesday Night Music Club has been replaced in her current campaign by a lip-sticked, er, sulky fashion tramp with hooded eyes who just might be getting ready to spit at somebody. "We had a day of press in Europe," says Crow, "and I had two guys come in and say, 'Your cover – you look so sad. Are you sad?' Well, doctor, it's actually a photo." She pauses a beat. "I don't feel like the same person. I don't feel like that accessible girl in the jeans shirt with a dog and, 'Hey, come sit down, I'll tell you everything.' I don't feel like that person anymore. I do feel like having a certain amount of space between me and the world around me. I had given it all away. And now I'm trying to get some of it back."
Somehow – with her drive, mixed with pride, anger and chops – Crow has pulled off a second, more personal arrival on her new album. She's used her influences ("I think that's good, as long as it's not so derivative that you're flying toward the vortex of normality") to churn up 13 songs and a couple of sweet B sides on which she belts ("like a bad lounge singer gone nutty" on "Ordinary Morning"), peals ("Everyday Is a Winding Road"), hushes your mouth ("The Book") and simply sings her ass off ("If It Makes You Happy"). She's pitched camp on VH1, sold 82,000 singles and 143,000 albums (hitting No. 6 on the charts) in the album's first two weeks, and made Wal-Mart squirm (local radio stations in Denver and Columbia, Mo., helped Crow make her point by distributing the album in, by God, Wal-Mart parking lots). She has asked something both simple and profound ("If it makes you happy . . . ") – albeit without having the answer herself.
This is what crow says to the crowd at the Puyallup state fair before singing "No One Said It Would Be Easy": "So I was thinking about getting married. Are you married? What the heck. My parents have been married 43 years, and they really like each other. My boyfriend and I have been together for three years, and we really don't like each other."
In Vancouver, Crow ponders relationships in a quieter setting. "I would never," she says of the boyfriend (an L.A. casting agent she's been on-and-off with lately), "want to say anything to hurt him. You know, I can't be responsible for what I might say between songs. Your relationships do change from night to night. You know, there are days when our relationship isn't so great, and then there are days when I think if I didn't have it, I would go nuts. It's gone this way, and it's gone that way, and it is difficult for somebody to be involved with someone who is not around very much. There's not enough I can do some days to make my boyfriend feel like he's the most important thing in my life – 'Well, then why are you in Vancouver?' – and it is an ongoing process. We have been working at it for three years, and we'll probably continue to work on it."
On "If It Makes You Happy," Crow avers, "I'm not the kind of girl you'd take home." She is, of course – kind to animals (her Lab-greyhound mix, Scout, is a sweetly morose shelter find) and children (she somewhat shyly recounts her morning visits to children's wards in the cities along her way). But hers is not an easeful style. "Ordinary Morning" asks whether painted birds ever fly away, but she's read the book and knows the answer: "They used to paint birds, and they would send them up into the air. And then they would fall to their death because their wings weighed so much. For some reason, that stuck with me."
Some days later, Crow is playing yet another warm-up in a hall an hour north of L.A. As she picks up her vintage Italian accordion to play "Strong Enough," she seems about to repeat her crack from Puyallup. "My folks have been married, like, 43 years?" she begins. But the set of her mouth changes as she shrugs the accordion on, and what she says sounds like a revelation, or at least a progress report, in its own right: "This song – this song is about people staying together." Then, as the audience crowds closer, she plays it with feeling.
This story is from the November 14th, 1996 issue of Rolling Stone.
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