[MAGAZINE] Event interview - 9 April 2017


By Craig McLean
Event magazine
9 April 2017

All I Wanna Do ...is be your average 50 million-selling rock star single mum who still dreams about former lover Eric Clapton, doesn’t waste a waking moment on cycle cheat Lance Armstrong – and thinks it’s a nightmare what women do to their faces to stay young. Sheryl Crow lets fly...

Here comes Mum, home from the school run. It’s a beautiful spring morning and this single parent to two adopted sons has her family routine down pat. She hasn’t travelled for work in two years ‘just so the boys can stay home and be normal. I take ’em to school every day and pick ’em up. I’m at every-thing, and I go to the Boy Scout meetings. It’s seriously normal round here.’

Here in the wealthy suburbs of Nashville, this is a typically domestic scene. But this mum is Sheryl Crow, a rock star who’s sold 50 million albums, won nine Grammy awards and whose office is a huge barn on her rolling, 50-acre horse ranch.

All I Wanna Do ...is be your average 50 million-selling rock star single mum who still dreams about former lover Eric Clapton, doesn’t waste a waking moment on cycle cheat Lance Armstrong – and thinks it’s a nightmare what women do to their faces to stay young. Sheryl Crow lets fly...

Here comes Mum, home from the school run. It’s a beautiful spring morning and this single parent to two adopted sons has her family routine down pat. She hasn’t travelled for work in two years ‘just so the boys can stay home and be normal. I take ’em to school every day and pick ’em up. I’m at every-thing, and I go to the Boy Scout meetings. It’s seriously normal round here.’

Here in the wealthy suburbs of Nashville, this is a typically domestic scene. But this mum is Sheryl Crow, a rock star who’s sold 50 million albums, won nine Grammy awards and whose office is a huge barn on her rolling, 50-acre horse ranch.

Crow was single when she adopted her first son, Wyatt, nine, in 2007, a year after splitting up with the cyclist Lance Armstrong (more of which later), and was so involved in the process that she was present at his birth and personally cut his umbilical cord. Levi, now six, born to different birth parents, followed in 2010. Would she adopt a third child?

No, is the short answer. ‘I got called right before Christmas about a baby,’ she beams, with a broad smile. ‘For a second I thought, “oh!” But no, it’s great the way it is now. My boys are out of diapers, they’re fantastic little people, and it’s perfect. Three would be a lot!’

We are in her loft, clutching steaming mugs of her favourite tea (PG Tips) as we sink into comfortably worn armchairs. The room is stuffed with guitars and recording equipment – she has recently completed her rollicking Be Myself, her ninth studio album. It’s the latest instalment in a non-stop career that exploded into life with the success of the 1994 single All I Wanna Do. Today, as Crow prepares to go on tour, she enjoys the well-established credentials of a rootsy rocker who knows her way around a killer melody and is renowned for kicking up a storm onstage.

Crow has always put her life and soul into her music and lyrics. On Be Myself she tackles everything from love and happiness to politics, Donald Trump and sexual exploitation. Famously, her 1998 single My Favorite Mistake, featured the lyric ‘you were the only one that I ever loved’, which was widely assumed to be about her relationship with rock guitarist Eric Clapton.

When I ask her, as many have, whether the English guitar hero was indeed the ‘one’, she brushes me off. ‘I’m never going to answer that,’ she says. ‘But I love Eric. I will always love Eric. He probably wouldn’t know this, but even before I knew him he was just an important figure in my life, in a weird way.

‘I actually had a couple of dreams about him that were powerful enough that I can remember them, and still feel what they felt like,’ she reveals. ‘He was almost… I don’t want to say angelic in the conventional angel way, but angelic in the anointed way.’

Other former boyfriends include actor Owen Wilson and Lance Armstrong. Crow dated the now disgraced cyclist for three years, and the couple were engaged before splitting in 2006, a week before she was diagnosed with breast cancer – and long before news of his drug cheating exploded into the public domain.

Crow has consistently refused to go into detail about what she might or might not have known. When I asked her in 2013 if doping might have been part of the reason the couple split, her only response was: ‘There were other things that were much more problematic about the whole situation. There were a lot of things that fed into us not being together, like there are in every relationship. We just had some very big, fundamental differences.’

That relationship, she wearily reminds me, ended 11 years ago, though it seems she can never escape it. The week of this interview Armstrong had been back in the news: the US government is suing him for fraud to the tune of $100 million. Is it frustrating that she isn’t allowed to move on? ‘He was a piece of my life that was so important in that moment, and now it doesn’t feel like anything,’ she replies. ‘He holds no relevance to my life whatsoever.’ She is, she insists, happily single.

I suggest she has sacrificed love and an enduring relationship for music. ‘I wouldn’t say I’ve sacrificed it,’ she says. ‘I would just say I was just unsuccessful. It took me a long time to learn what it means to be authentic and intimate with someone – and I don’t mean sexually. But to let your guard down and speak your truth and let the chips fall where they may. You have to have that in a relationship. I’m still learning.

‘I love being in a relationship. I would love to be in relationship now. I’d love for my kids to witness what a successful loving relationship looks like. But I’m not dead, so I don’t think it’s impossible! I’m just a work in progress.’

More rewarding, perhaps, and certainly less problematic, has been her working relationships with high-profile artists – she’s performed with everyone from Michael Jackson (as a backing singer on the Bad world tour) to The Rolling Stones. Indeed, her next album, Threads, is a series of duets with famous singers including Stevie Nicks, Keith Richards, Stevie Wonder and even the late Johnny Cash.

Crow grew up in rural Missouri in a comfortable middle-class home and lives in the largely conservative home of country music, but she’s avowedly liberal, and the lyrics on her new album address some topical concerns. ‘There’s a lot about the intrusion of technology and how it messes with a relationship,’ she says. The very first line, on opening song Alone In The Dark, is: ‘I told you to be discreet, but you went to the world and you broadcast me.’ It is, Crow says, ‘about the idea that you can sell somebody out over the internet’.

She also addresses ‘the fear-mongering of President Trump’s America’. In A Heartbeat Away, she writes: ‘You bet the President is sweating/while Russia is blowing up the phone.’ ‘Trump’s presence on the record is really felt. It’s about the uncertainty and fear he was creating, but also what it says about us as people, that we would even entertain the idea of having someone like him in power,’ she says.

Crow is equally alarmed by the wider sexual climate and lays out her concerns on the album’s closing track, Woo Woo, where she sings: ‘The girl’s got a secret underneath those jeans/Camera goes up when she shakes that thing….’ She adds: ‘The idea is that all of our pop figures are out there advertising their round asses. And that’s what we’re projecting not only to our young girls but also to our young boys about what beauty is. It’s a very weird time. And then to turn around and say you’re a role model...’ She tuts.

That’s the position accorded to Miley Cyrus or Ariana Grande – young female pop stars famous for, respectively, straddling a wrecking ball in her underwear and dressing like a bunny girl. Crow has a view on this. ‘I’m obviously not a psychotherapist. But if you grew up on TV like Miley Cyrus [the former Disney child star of Hannah Montana], and you’re the goody-goody, I can see where that felt liberating for her. But some of what young girls are projecting… I think when they get to be mums they’ll start looking at it differently.’

Surely those sexist double-standards have lessened in the modern age? ‘No! It’s always been that way. Partially that’s because men can cultivate a younger audience. There are always 20-year-olds who go out and see Sting play. But for a woman, I don’t know how many young guys you’re going to pull into your audience – you’re not attainable or sexy or whatever.’ For the record, Crow looks great: casual in black jeans and T-shirt, a woman who radiates a relaxed, down-to-earth charm.

‘I also look at what women are doing to their faces and bodies in order to stay that young-looking, and it can actually look tragic and atrocious. I wish women could sustain the careers that men do. But I went out and saw Chrissie Hynde play recently, and I was blown away. She was as hot as ever, and rocking. She gives me hope.’

Could she imagine starting out in music in this overly sexualised climate? ‘There’s no way I could do it. I remember on my first album, this stylist came in with all these gorgeous clothes. I was, like, “urgh!” I thought to myself, “I have to make sure I don’t look glamorous because I want to be taken seriously.” So on my first couple of albums, you couldn’t even see what I looked like – everything was blurry and I wore trashy clothes.’

She recalls how her fears were realised around the video for her Grammy-winning 1996 single If It Makes You Happy.

‘The way they shot it, you could see up my skirt. And when I got the cut, I said to the record label: “We’re going to have to re-edit this thing because you can see my underwear.” And they said: “Is that really a bad thing?” We went through it and cut it frame by frame,’ she says firmly. ‘But it’s so different now. There are these magazines that come in [to the house]. It’s like a workout magazine but there’s always a girl on the cover of it in a bathing suit.’ The profusion of that kind of imagery, she notes, only leads to exploitation all round. ‘Some of these very high-profile artists are misconstruing that as having power,’ she says, sucking her teeth. ‘They’re off the mark.’


HITS TO CROW ABOUT

All I Wanna Do, 1994

Crow’s breakthrough hit, a freewheeling ode to good times in Los Angeles. Her most popular song on Spotify, with almost 30 million plays.

If It Makes You Happy, 1996

The first single from her self-titled second album won Crow the Grammy for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance.

Tomorrow Never Dies, 1997

Crow’s theme for Pierce Brosnan’s second outing as Bond has the requisite booming drums, sweeping strings and louche lyrics.

My Favorite Mistake, 1998

A twangy, rootsy love/hate kiss-off to an unfaithful boyfriend, long rumoured to be Eric Clapton. Crow has dubbed it her favourite single.

The First Cut Is The Deepest, 2003

Crow’s cover of the Cat Stevens classic is tasteful and cool, and showcases her great vocal skills.


Today Crow’s primary concern is her family and her health. When we spoke in 2013, she told me she had MRI scans every six months, to keep tabs on the brain tumour. ‘Now I do them every two years,’ she says. ‘I just had one, it’s all good, hadn’t grown. Well, a minuscule amount but nothing more.’ She’s not worried about it. In fact quite the opposite. ‘I use it now and again as an excuse for my bad memory,’ she says with a grin.

As it is, the family of three are looking forward to a summer of travelling together as she embarks on a tour in support of Be Myself. For Wyatt and Levi, Mum’s job, more than anything, ‘is a nuisance. They’re like, “Mum, why do you have to work today?”’ She replies: ‘“Well who’s gonna pay for the Lego?”’

‘They understand it – they’re excited about going on the road,’ she says. ‘But there are some days when they wish I would just be a normal mum.’ So what are her own expectations of the tour, and 2017? ‘I know that commercial pop music is really geared towards young people,’ she says. ‘I don’t for one second kid myself that this record is going to shoot up the charts and be bought by a bunch of 13-year-olds. It’s just good if it gets heard. And now being one of the elder stateswomen of music…’

Sheryl Crow allows herself a wry smile. ‘I look around and go, “Oh gosh, there’s just so much manoeuvring to be the next sexiest, the most trending. I just think, wait till you get to the point where you’re just happy to be who you are. It is,’ she yells, delightedly, ‘liberating!’

Sheryl Crow’s new album ‘Be Myself’ is out on April 21. She will be in the UK for live dates this summer



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