Paula Cole: The Cole Truth
MOST PEOPLE DON’T KNOW what to make of Paula Cole. Some know that her album This Fire nabbed a whopping seven Grammy nominations. Others know she was a standout at last year’s Lilith Fair. Her image seems to be a bit murky, however. The combo plate of luxuriant armpit hair and stylized, glossy videos tends to confuse. Is she that sexually swingin’, crazy art chick you knew in college? A rage-filled, piano-poundin’ El Niño? A Betty Friedan-readin’, bra-eschewin’ activist? Or is she a yoga-practicin’ Earth mama who wears Celestial Seasonings tea bags as earrings?
“Well, I do sip herbal tea,” she says. “I am someone who likes to garden, talk to my cats and be wacky hippie bird lady. I am intelligent. I am a feminist. I never wear a bra – it’s too binding. And I do swear and smoke pot and shake my ass.” She nods thoughtfully. “So I’m all that. I am all that.”
IT IS THE DAY BEFORE THE GRAMMYS, AND COLE is at the MTV studios in New York for MTV Live. This is not her bag. In fact, she looks distinctly nauseated. Cole is seated next to Meredith Brooks, who is not a big hit among the staff. With her litany of complaints and demands, Brooks has been much more of a bitch than a mother or a child or a lover.
“You have nine Grammy nominations between the two of you,” host Carson Daly says. Cole looks at the floor. Brooks smirks. To worsen matters, a viewer poll predicting the Grammy winners is posted. Hanson score big.
Daly asks Cole and Brooks about how their lives have changed in the past month. “My phone rings about every minute,” says Cole. “So I’m avoiding the phone. But, you know, in the big spiritual picture, it doesn’t matter.”
Finally the show is over, and Cole heads out to a waiting limo. It is dark and rainy outside, silent and cozy in the car. She scrunches herself into a corner and stares out the window as the rain dribbles down. “All those bright colors and everyone in your face and having to condense your personality into these little sound bites,” she says. “You know, I never even watched the Grammys. We didn’t grow up watching TV.” She is quiet as the limo glides toward her Manhattan apartment, where her boyfriend and her cats and her wood-burning fireplace await. “My life has changed so dramatically,” she adds. “It’s really bizarre and abnormal. I miss my parents. And there’s no time. I mean, I had to pee in a cup the other day.” Well, that’s just wrong. “It is. I miss my friends. And I have to be more mean and … strong, because people are so demanding of me right now.” She sighs. “I feel like I’m mourning the loss of my little girl inside, you know?”
The metamorphosis began in 1996, when This Fire, Cole’s intense second album, was released and slowly racked up platinum sales with three solid singles: “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?,” “I Don’t Want to Wait” – the theme song for the series Dawson’s Creek – and the most recent, “Me.” Lilith Fair brought more Cole fans (who will rejoice at her return engagement this summer), and this whole seven-Grammy-nomination business closed the deal, famewise, for Paula Cole of Rockport, Massachusetts, former hotel-lounge singer and card-carrying soul-sister woman.
WELL, WE ALL KNOW HOW THE GRAMMYS turned out. Cole got herself one Grammy, for Best New Artist. “About halfway through, I was getting filled with dread,” she says. “I really thought I wasn’t going to win anything.” After she accepted the award, she went backstage and sobbed. “As much as I want to say it didn’t matter, it really did,” she confesses. Cole is standing on Fifth Avenue in New York, squinting a little in the bright sun.
“Let’s walk,” she says serenely, slipping her arm in mine and heading into Central Park. As she strolls along, folks check her out and occasionally point. She is tall, strong and straight-backed, glowing with vegan health and moving confidently through the crowds in her all-black ensemble. In videos and photos, she looks like she has a prominent jaw, but in person it is much softer, as are her other features (Windex-blue eyes, glossy black hair). Her voice is gentle and melodious, and she looks you square in the eye when she speaks.
She is much more relaxed today, having unleashed her churning emotions upon the Grammy stage. It was a rocking minute-and-a-half performance, beginning with a flash of serious armpit growth and ending with Cole’s trademark human beatbox. “I’ve been doing that for years,” she says. “It brings the house down. It’s just this paradox coming out of this little white girl.” She laughs. “Thank God I have music to vent my emotions. My mom says I’d be in prison if I didn’t have it.”
Diddy Accuses Spirits Company Diageo of Racial Discrimination in Lawsuit
- 'Illusion of Inclusion'