Sheryl Crow, Memphis, TN August 2, 1998
Sheryl Crow: she hasn't taken heroin and she won't gossip about Eric Clapton, so what *will* she do? "People have needs," she tells Adrian Deevoy, darkly.
She left Kennett, Missouri, as the sun came up and drove through the cotton fields and farmsteads listening to the Allman Brothers on the radio. It all felt so Southern. On across the mighty Mississippi and on into Memphis, cradle of rock 'n roll, bedroom of the blues. She was thinking about Elvis, 21 years gone, she was humming a Dylan tune -- three chords, as far as she could figure -- she was wondering about one of her own songs. Was it good enough?
Now Sheryl Crow is standing in the doorway of a photographic studio dressing room wearing some strappy shoes, a pair of black knickers and an open, sawn-off bolero jacket. In the near-naked flesh, she is in perfect petite proportion: her arms and legs are long and slim and brown; her stomach is flat; her breasts are bare; her bikini-line could do with a bit of work. This, however, is the look she has settled upon for the Q photo shoot. "What do you think?" she laughs, knowing full-well what you think.
You make a soft gurgling sound - like a baby sucking on a blocked bong - and retreat from the threshold grinning like a mentalist. This allows her manager, Scooter Weintraub, to enter the room and make a management decision. "It's a little cheesy" he says of the unclothed ruse. The next time you see Sheryl Crow she is wearing a nice frock. Cheers, Scooter Weintraub.
In the photgraphic studio, Crow is wiggling her slender limbs to The Stone Roses' Second Coming. When it finishes she asks if we can hear their first album. Weintraub dutifully moves toward the hi-fi only to notice some joker has put two Eric Clapton albums in the CD selector.
"Who the fuck put these on?" he mutters, removing the offending discs. "Like, she's really gonna wanna hear Clapton". Sheryl and Eric, as you probably know, used to have a bit of a thing. Her latest single, My Favorite Mistake, may or may not be about him. She's not saying.
My Favorite Mistake starts her new album, The Globe Sessions, which Weintraub has now plonked into the CD machine. The songs tumble out, sparse, cool things in that now-familiar Sheryl Crow strum-and-whine style.
But gone, you notice, are the detached Raymond Carver-like narratives, the drily-observed characters. The album seems to be all about Sheryl Crow -- this time it's personal -- and, my God, she sounds miserable.
Q: What's wrong with you, woman?
SC: What are you? My therapist? You have to paint a picture of what's going on at any one time and this is very personal. I haven't done it so far -- I know how to craft a song and write a narrative lyric, but this time I couldn't avoid the first person. Once I got off the road after what seemed like five years I started to reflect upon the relationships I've had. I got back and I didn't have a home, didn't have any friends, my relationships were all ended and I sat there in the dark for a while and got kind of overwhelmed by it all. I thought the people around me -- my record company, my management, my agent -- were trying to kill me.
Q: Why are so many musicians' relationships doomed to failure?
SC: It's the lifestyle. My relationships with musicians haven't proven to be particularly succesful. My last relationship, which was really good, wasn't with a musician but the problems stem from simply not being present. You have to be home and be committed to being present and when you're touring you can't do that. You can only ask someone to be faithful for so long and after that... People have needs. What can I say?
Q: Did you hear the rumour that you are a heroin addict?
SC: (laughs) No, I didn't hear that. It's good though. Oh God, I should be having a lot more fun for the amount of stories I've heard about myself lately. Maybe that rumour came from the fact that I just played a heroin addict in this really small, independent movie. But I am not a heroin addict.
Q: Have you taken heroin?
SC: No. You know, I prefer the plain old organic drugs.
Q: Heroin is pretty organic, though.
SC:I guess it is but it's too scary for me. It really is. (laughs) I'm not a junkie, okay?
Q: When were you last snot-flying drunk?
SC: It's been a long time since I've been like that. I've really cleaned up my act. Alcohol is such a downer, I can't really enjoy it anymore. With me drinking was great, I'd get real drunk and I'd be very happy and wildly entertaining and I couldn't be more fun to be around until the witching hour. As my Dad says, One is too many and a thousand's not
enough. So if I drink, I have to get drunk and that's just not fun. I was a big drinker but I'm not any more. I used to drink Jack Daniel's, I found it helped me speak the truth. I knew the answers to all the world's problems when I drank Jack. (sighs) I have to limit myself to a couple of beers or whatever.
Q: Do you fall in love easily?
SC: It's like anything else I do. I jump in with great trust and serious venom. There's always a great deal of commitment on my part in a relationship and I hope for the best. I'd hate to think I've gone through my life without truly falling in love. I've been deeply in love and had some wonderful relationships. God, you know, I have a great life, I've met some fantastic people who I'm inspired to be around and I've dated some of them. What else could you ask for? I certainly don't feel cheated.
Q: What happend to your relationship with Clapton? Do you think that he has -- to put it politely -- some sort of serial dating problem?
SC: All I can say about Eric Claton is that' he's still a really good friend of mine, and I still feel the same way about him as I did before I started dating him.
Q: But do you think he's in the thrall of sexual addiction?
SC: What? That's a little personal, isn't it? I think he's an amazing human being and I absolutely love him. I know I could call upon him if I needed to and he'd support me in anything I was doing. He's a very strong ally.
Q: What made you decide to go from being friends to dating each other?
SC: That's so personal. I'd rather not talk about that. Eric will read this and I'd rather he didn't read me gossiping about him. I know it's really interesting fodder but he's my friend.
Q: Have you seen the snowbaording gear he's taken to wearing?
SC: Really? That's funny. Snowboarding gear? Wow.
Q: Is there one song that has helped you understand the break-up of a relationship?
SC: One that I listened to over and over back-to-back was Into Temtaption by Crowed House. There's all kinds of guilt goes along with losing somebody or splitting up or doing someone wrong and that song is so beatifully written. That temptation of being with someone and having someone else walk through the door and you know that something is going to happen.
Q: Are you faithful?
SC: I have been. In the past. I can be very faithful and I have a lot of patience.
Q: What's the greatest lyric ever written?
SC: Yesterday. That's just one of the most perfect songs of all time. It's so simple, so memorable and so straight-to-the-point. There's no fat in that lyric anywhere.
For a change of scene and possibly a spot of lunch, we walk out onto the street into the 100 degree humidity. The heat is oppressive, offensive, preposterous. "Damn, it's hot!"says Crow in a cartoon drawl. "I'm going to have to get me a hat." A trolley bus trundles down South Main and we stop momentarily to savour the tiny breeze. Crow passes a bunch of black dudes who are fixing a car in a non-urgent fashion. They mutter lasciviously in unintelligible Memphian as the singer sashays past. What did they say? "Oh, that I was real pretty" she deadpans.
Two blocks on we come to the Lorraine Hotel where Marting Luther King was killed in 1968. There's a discreet museum there now. King had come to speak in support of the striking refuse collectors and got assasinated. What a way to go. Blown away vibing up the binmen. The whole town went into a weird paralysis, Crow recalls, the National guard were called in. "I can remember when segregation first came along," she says. "I was born in '62 and right up until '68 Memphis went through this very harsh growing period where the white folks were moving out to the suburbs and blacks were moving into the city and there was this mass confusion when they found out that they had to put their kids into the same schools."
Q: Did you have black boyfriends in high school?
SC: I was a bit backward as far as that was concerned. I didn't really have any boyfriends -- black or white -- when I was in high school. I have had black boyfriends but that didn't really happen for me until I got into college. I didn't used to get asked out until I began playing in bands and hanging out with what I later discovered were "musician types".
Q: Give me a memory from your childhood.
SC: I don't know why I'm thinking of this but...my elder sister was really talented at playing classical piano, Bach and all sorts. But I had really bad kidney problems and I was in hospital and the day of her senior recital they let me out and wheeled me into her recital in a wheelchair. It was such a big deal. And I remember being the focal point instead of her. I remember that so vividly, I don't know why, maybe because I've just been at home.
Q: Do you believe in God?
SC: I do. I've been through all sorts of religious trips where I haven't been sure what's propaganda and what's capitalism and what's plain old societal influence and now I believe in a way kind of like the Indians believe -- what holds a tree together is the same as what holds a person together.
Q: What? Sap?
SC: No, the energy. And that energy is God and everybody has that energy in them and whether you call upon it or not, I guess, creates your definition of God. Or whether God has power or doesn't have power. The Indians believe that you come onto the earth and you never really own anything. You can't own a piece of land because after you leave, that piece of land will exist for thousands of years.
Q: Did you buy your house?
SC: I did. I just bought a house. (laughs) So, I guess it really belongs to God, doesn't it? Which is great because it means I don't have to pay for it. He can. I've just moved into this loft in the meat packing district of New York which is a really weird area. Not only is there this smell of dead meat but there's tranvesties everywhere and a really big Harley-riding contingent. The nights have a very strange frenetic feel to them.
Q: Do you want children?
SC: A psychic told me I was going to get pregnant next Febuary. I'm really sceptical about anything that I can't see, but this very scholarly woman started getting into this psychic thing with me and she said a few things that blew my mind. Then she told me that I was going to meet someone in August and that February would be an excellent time to concieve. I said, OK, I'll try plan my touring schedule around that. I was kidding with my Mom and I said, I can't come home during August because the psychic told me I'll meet the father of my child then and I'm not going to meet him in my home town.
We're sitting in a bar at dusk eating catfish with french fries and Ketchup, drinking Budweiser and Bass and chatting about music, life, stuff. There's a documentary about Babe Ruth on a TV and Tom Petty's on the jukebox. A bloke with a bad moustache then humbly asks for an autograph. When he's gone, she can barely remember his name.
She thinks it was Todd or Scott or something. It's as if you've stepped into one of her old songs. How tempting is it to peel the label off your bottle of Bud? She loves to talk about the minutiae of music: Dylan's mercurial live melodies; John Lee Hooker's heartbeat rhythyms; Hank Williams's heart breakhomilies; Keith Richard's gloriously slovenly basslines (curiously, she claims to write all her songs on a bass guitar). She worries that the gaps between the tracks on her new album might be too long and casually lets slip that she has a degree in classical piano.
As a kid she was very into the Stones and early Fleetwood Mac. She even liked them when Stevie Nicks joined. Then there was The Band, who wrote about the people she could identify with, farm folk, and the blues and soul music, Stax from here in Memphis and Motown from Detroit. And all around her was country music, which she inititally loathed because it's all you hear in the South, but that was before she became "heavily involved" with the Stones' Let It Bleed and Dylan's Nashville Skyline.
Q: And now you've recorded a new Dylan song, Mississippi, on your album. Tell us about Bob Dylan.
SC: Well he's a songwriter of some note. You really should try listening to him
Q: The song, smart-arse
SC: It was something that Bob was going to put on his last record but he didn't like the version that he did. His version was like a shuffle but I wanted it to make it more uptempo. He hasn't heard it yet but his daughter has and really liked it which made me feel a lot more at ease, but I really hope he likes it. When you let a song go, it's like
giving your children to someone who is going to dress them up on a weird way. When I listen to my version now I think it sounds like Chrissie Hynde, which makes you realise how much she was influenced by Dylan.
Q: How did you get the scar on your chin?
SC: Dog bite when I was six. They took me to hopsital and I don't know if they'd have sewn it up in the city but they said that they didn't really sew mouths because there's too many germs. About two weeks later the dog went missing. My Grandmother had given him to some farm family . She didn't want ot upset me so she told me he ran away.
Q: What's been the most memorable telephone call of your life?
SC: Mick Jagger. He called to ask me to sing with him. I thought it was someone pulling a prank at first. I picked up the phone at 4:30 in the morning and he said, "Hello, it's Mick Jagger" and I almost hung up. I thought, This is pretty late for such a lame joke. But he started talking about songs and it dawned on me that it WAS him. He was asking me which song I'd like to sing and I was like, Let me think, which song have you guys done? Have you done many good ones? It was very surreal. I named a couple of obscure ones, being such a fan and wanting to impress him. I said, How about Monkey Man or Live With Me, thinking they'd want something uptempo but he said he was thinking about Wild Horses and I'm like (gulps) Sure, that's a pretty good one, too. You know, what was I going to say? Ah'm not singin' that old thayang?
Q: Is being famous all it's cracked up to be?
SC: There are some great things about it. Then there are aspects that are a hindrance. I had people standing outside my house last week yelling my dog's name. And I have people who threaten my safety.
Q: Has it changed the way you deal with people?
SC: Some. I went through a period after the success of my first record feeling very dubious of people's honour. I felt I really couldn't trust people and I couldn't figure what they were after. I felt attacked and ridiculed but there's no handbook for fame, you just have to learn it as you go. I think the trick is not to take it too seriously.
Q: Can you be a ruthless bitch?
SC: I'm sure I can be. When it comes to my art and stuff I really know what I want. I don't think I treat anyone badly because I was raised not to do that and there's nothing that makes me more mad than people who are rude and heartless and mean-spirited. Like when I started it was the era of shock-jockdom on radio and I had a really hard time with that. It's always poking fun at some social group or individuals who can't defend themselves. It's very hard to deal with if you're not like that and you don't want to be a part of it.
Q: Is Jerry Springer emotional pornography or what?
SC: It's definitely manipulation of the worst kind because people end up feeling like they need it. We've come to expect so little of ourselves.And celebrity-ism has become so big. There's this need to build people up and destroy them publicy and it's become a drug, like we need it to make ourselves feel good. I think it's best not to let it into your brain, otherwise you end up having to feed it. What is that weird endorphin that makes you have to know what Gwyneth Paltrow is wearing to the next social function? Whatever it is, it's very easy to get sucked in. I've gotten to the point now where I can't read about any of that stuff anymore because it makes me feel bad about what I do.
Q: Is there any food that you absolutely refuse to eat?
SC: I wont eat veal. I don't really eat red meat. And I hate liver. And oatmeal, your porridge.
Q: Our porridge isn't half as disgusting as your grits.
SC: Grits are fine. Cheese grits, boy, they're delicious. But oatmeal? Urgh. Vile. Makes me choke.
Q: What's the capital of Denmark?
SC: I'm sure I've been there. Oslo? No? Luxembourg? That's a country? Oh, I'm so humiliated!
Q: Do you think it's true that playing that wah-wah guitar tube thing made Peter Frampton's teeth fall out?
SC: Is that the rumour? Ok, so all Peter Frampton's teeth have fallen out and I'm a junkie.
Q: You've met Dwight Yoakam. Is he bald? He never takes that hat off.
SC: There's some hair there, I'm pretty certain. The last time I saw him I said, Just give me your dictionary of country music, and he turned me on to some people I'd never even heard of. You get into some of that old stuff and it totally turns your head around, it's so pure that it takes all the fear out of writing a gut-level point-blank lyric for me. But (thinks for a second) I'm sure he's not bald. He's still a big country music sex symbol, I believe.
Q: What's your stance on condoms?
SC: I don't think anyone should be embarrassed to use one. Ever. It's such a weird period we're living in, it's frightening. I'm dating someone right now and it's strange to have to be concerned about things like that. They're impersonal but the alternative kind of sucks, doesnt it? I think it's imperative. What do you think?
Q: That people don't bother with them anymore.
SC: (laughs) Well, I'm preaching safe sex here in my interview.
Q: You sang backing vocals with Michael Jackson for 18 months so you'll know the truth about this. Is his nose really held on with magnets?
SC: I refuse to answer. I'll plead the Fifth. Because I might know the answer to that.
Q: What did you learn from working with him?
SC: I learned that it's very important to learn the names of those who work for you. He never learned my name. In eighteen months, he never once called me by my name and in a situation the name is everything -- it's your identity and if someone can't be bothered to ask you your name then there is no identity. You can't have people give their time and their energy and their lives to you and you don't even know their name Forget it.
Q: What did you call you when he spoke to you? Cyril?
SC: He didn't speak to me. Someone else would speak to you on his behalf. It was a Woody Allen-type situation. It would be, Michael wants this, Michael thinks that. But in his defence, watching him every night was amazing. Every evening there would be moments in the show that defied any kind of negativity. He'd go out and do those moves that he'd created and sing that music that no-one has done before and you'd be standing there thinking, This is unique. For that reason I have a lot of respect for him but his manners need a little work. Being around him was like going by a car-crash. You just can't keep your eyes off of him and you can't figure out why. Good or bad there's this weird curiousity and when he walks into a room the enery shifts.
Q: Do you think you are attractive?
SC: No, because I have a hard time looking at pictures of myself or videos. I have quite a hard time looking in the mirror. I hate all of that. I can find the smallest things wrong, crooked mouth, stupid smile. That's one of the reasons I don't read magazines. You think you know what you look like and then you see a picture of yourself. It can be
Q: Do you feel better now you've dropped the spooky runny-make-up look you had for your last album?
SC: Do you now, I took a lot of heat over that. You go through periods in your life and when you're in the public eye you go through them in front of everybody. It was all me, it wasn't some big make-over and I don't regret it at all. I was tired of being the girl-next-door. I was really bitter and that's how I looked and that's how I was dressing at the time. Then things calmed down. Now people are saying, You're wearing jeans again, what's the story? Well the story is, I'm not in a bad mood any more.
Q: When did you last drop acid?
SC: During the recording of Leaving Las Vegas [from Tuesday Night Music Club]. That's the only time I dropped acid on that record. The first half of the record was a drunken mess and the second half was the clean-up period. We only did one take of that song and I tried to go back and re-sing it but I couldn't do it again. I couldn't recreate the energy.
Q: Do you have anything to declare?
SC: I'm sick of being a woman. That's what I want to declare.
One last drink then she's got to head back to Kennett. Before leaving she tells marvellous stories about meeting Van Morrison and playing with Bob Dylan, then pleads Q not to print them. She says that Micheal Stipe "is very into sleep deprivation. He enjoys the hysteria, although I guess you'd have to be a very emotionally stable to cope with that". Michael Jackson appears on the TV and she visibly bristles. "There he is," she sneers, her top lip curling, "Mr Sociable."
Then she calls her mum and gets into a classic mother/daughter conversation in which you can only imagine the other voice. "Hi... still in Memphis, yeah... oh it was fine... that was good too... no just eaten, catfish and things... well, are you sure?... OK keep some for me anyway... no I'm leaving now... yeah, right now... I know... bye... you too... yeah, I will... bye..." And she's gone.