Sheryl Crow's new Showtime documentary 'Sheryl' lets fans get to know the artist behind the hits
A new Showtime documentary tells the story of Sheryl Crow’s journey from a girl playing piano scales in Missouri to one of the few women in rock with the power to control her own career.
“Sheryl” chronicles Crow’s early career challenges, including her move to Los Angeles to appear in the short-lived musical drama “Cop Rock” and her tour with Michael Jackson — whose manager she says sexually harassed her. It also covers her fight with breast cancer, depression, and her high-profile relationships, including one with cyclist Lance Armstrong, who lied to her about his doping.
After shelving her planned debut album in 1992, Crow’s first big hit came in 1994, with “All I Want to Do.” The song came from a session where the band jammed while Crow read from a book of poetry by Wyn Cooper. Crow couldn’t rewrite his 1987 poem “Fun” in a way that matched its energy, she says, so she called the writer to ask to use his words.
“I called the guy and was like, ‘I know you don’t know me. Who knows if this will ever see the light of day? But I’ve used your poem and I’m going to give you 50% of songwriting on this song.’ ” she says. “And then it wound up being a huge hit.”
Later that year, Crow appeared on “The Late Show with David Letterman” to play her single “Leaving Las Vegas.” Letterman asked Crow if the song was autobiographical. Sort of, she replied, because she’d left Los Angeles.
The song title was also the name of a 1990 book by John O’Brien. The author died by suicide weeks after Crow’s Letterman appearance and some of the public blamed her, though O’Brien’s family absolved Crow. She says that devastating experience changed everything.
“I wasn’t the girl next door anymore. I was just I was really broken,” she says. “It took me a long time to absolve myself from it, even though I’d never known him. But to have been sort of tricked, it was definitely a dark moment.”
The documentary also captures many of Crow’s tremendous career highs, including a duet on the song “Strong Enough” with Stevie Nicks, and hearing singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile credit her career to watching Crow perform at Lilith Fair.
Anecdotes like Carlile’s mean a lot to Crow because artists like Nicks, Carole King and James Taylor gave her a way out of her hometown, she says.
“At the heart of who I am, I’m still the girl who grew up in a three-stoplight town,” she says. “It was the mystery and the sounds they were making that made me believe that I could leave my little town and go find a life doing this thing that I loved.”
Some critics have compared Crow’s talent on multiple instruments to Prince, though she says she doesn’t compare and calls Prince “the most anointed musician” she’s ever worked with.
Songs like “All I Wanna Do” and “Soak Up The Sun” give the impression that Crow’s music is always happy and fun, but the documentary gave Crow a chance to talk about album tracks and songs that weren’t hits, like “Weather Channel” — a “lifeline” for her during struggles with her mental health, she says.
“Generally, it’s not the hits that tell the story of an artist,” she says. “It’s the deep cuts. It’s the songs that will maybe move somebody in the quiet of their own experience. But it’s not generally the ones that get played over and over on the radio.”
In the film, Crow opens up about trusting one of her longtime managers to take her to the hospital for treatment.
“I have a teenager and we’re watching the suicide rate go up,” she says. “And it’s time for us to start talking about mental health as being a part of the reality of living.”
After battling breast cancer, Crow worried that she couldn’t have kids. But she took a suggestion from her mother and adopted two boys.
Now as a legacy artist who isn’t concerned with making it on pop radio, she wrote the song “Forever” to tell her boys to live in the moment instead of worrying about the future.
“But also just to clarify, what happens when they turn into teenagers is that their mom is so not cool, even if you’re a rock star,” she says. “ ‘That is so cringy.’ ‘You’re not going to wear that, are you, mom?’ ”
Emiko Tamagawa produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Todd Mundt. Allison Hagan adapted it for the web.
This article was originally published on WBUR.org.
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