Sheryl Crow: She Only Wants to Be With You
Can we talk? “Sheryl Crow plants a hand on her right hip and addresses what she calls a “granola crowd” packed tight in the Santa Cruz, Calif., Civic Auditorium. Crow has come to the section of “Can’t Cry Anymore,” a cut from her multiplatinum album, Tuesday Night Music Club, where she starts talk-singing, “Got a brother/He’s got real problems/Heroin,” but this evening she eyes the crowd mischievously and sings, “He’s a real pothead . . . ” The 1,500 or so assembled before her, well sprinkled with flannel shirts, overalls and other haute-hippie couture, let out an appreciative communal grunt, and Crow quite literally does not miss a beat: “You too?”
This moment typical of Crow’s early-autumn minitour of the West, from small halls in Vancouver, British Columbia, and Price, Utah, to the Western Washington State Fair, in Puyallup and the gilded darkness of the Viper Room, in West Hollywood, Calif. Her goal is “to just go out and bust the cherry on the new material.” One song from the pointedly self-titled Sheryl Crow drew fire even before the record came out, on Sept. 24. Thus, in each town, Crow makes a little jape before she plays “the Wal-Mart song” (“Love Is a Good Thing,” which lashes the company for selling guns that end up in the wrong hands and led the chain to ban the album from its stores). In Santa Cruz, the crowd boos, and she double-takes: “Boo for Wal-Mart or boo for me?” Getting the right answer, she mutters, “Good – I can’t have you angry with me. I’m very codependent.”
It’s close enough to a clichê: the beautiful thrush who’s happy only when she’s playing to an adoring crowd. But watched closely while on tour, Crow would seem to be living that cliché. Though she’ll fly home during a break in the tour to see her therapist, Crow, her loyal fans may be flattered to hear, only wants to be with you. It’s the work onstage that keeps her alive, perhaps literally. “There was a time,” she says, “when every night I would fucking pray that I wouldn’t wake up. I’ve had so many conversations with people about suicide – people who have never thought of it, never occurred to them, and I think, “Wow, that’s really amazing.’ ”
Yes, Crow’s had a steady guy for some three years now, but there’s so much trouble there that bitter comments (as opposed to the last tour’s more frolicsome intro to “Strong Enough”: “This is for all the men I’ve tortured”) spill out of her mouth at gigs. “That sounds pretty good,” she says at sound check one day after working out the acoustic-guitar accompaniment to her beautifully bleak new tale of faded love, “Home.” “And having said that, why don’t I just hang myself?” Stalking through the video for her single “If It Makes You Happy” like a caged, headachey panther, she makes us send back the question, “Why the hell are you so sad?”
Crow doesn’t just have demons – the inner voices that at least can be counted on to fuel one’s art – she’s got a ring of devils hounding her as well. Sure, she sold nearly 8 million copies of Tuesday Night Music Club – and her studio mates have been clawing her flanks ever since for not sharing enough credit, even hinting that she’s their creation. “I was a musician who’d never gotten into thinking I had to prove myself,” says Crow, who handles guitars with some élan and keyboards with real virtuosity. Even her disaffected colleagues grant her her vocal gifts. “Oh,” says Tuesday Night producer Bill Bottrell, “she is one of the great singers.”
The very hits she must play to make sure her audiences get cozy with her new material are rife with the undying issues raised by the success of Tuesday Night Music Club (the boys in the band called themselves the Tuesday Music Club – the TMC for short). Crow speaks with tormented compulsiveness of the success that has managed to haunt rather than comfort her: “There’s been enough reference to the old record and those guys lashing out at me. It’s unfortunate in some ways that the record did so well, because I lost friends over it. It all comes from the place of, ‘How much did she do on her last record?’ . . . I just think that’s something I’m going to suffer, this bruise in the apple, until three or four albums from now. It’s not anything I can’t tolerate. It just makes me mad sometimes, because I know where it’s coming from. It’s just a lot of bitterness.”
Sheryl Crow was born and raised in the city of Kennett, Mo., whose population of 10,000-plus makes it a good deal bigger than such neighboring hamlets as Frisbee or Braggadocio, in the boot heel of the state. The Mississippi River snakes by some 20 miles to the east, and Memphis, Tenn., is close enough that Crow discarded the idea of recording her new album there lest her sessions be interrupted by friends and relations bringing casseroles. Her father, Wendell Crow (once described by her as “moody”), is a lawyer and trumpeter, and her mother, Bernice, a piano teacher and music buff. “We Do What We Can,” from the last album, tells the autobiographical story of the young Crow listening to Mom and Dad’s swing combo.