Preview: Sheryl Crow

Sheryl Crow: Getting Personal with Politics


If Barack Obama succeeds in becoming the 44th US President following the November 4th election, a great part of the victory will be due to the efforts of some of his supporters in the entertainment industry, among them singer songwriter Sheryl Crow, a keen supporter of the Democratic candidate, who is touring her latest, very personal, but also political album Detours to Japan in December.

Ordinary voters often feel remote from members of the Hollywood glitterati who occasionally make political statements. Last year there were reports that Obama had actually refused an offer of support from Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie because it would make him seem too “Hollywood.” This is not a problem that Crow faces. The Democrats were happy to have her as the main act at a concert held at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre near Denver to kick off their national convention in August.

Crow's image – part dress-down chic, part vamped-up, redneck flair – and her musical style – pop rock with elements of folk and country – enables her to connect with a wide variety of music fans, including those in rural and small-town America, who might think twice about voting for a big city Democrat like Obama.

Her defining image was at least partly influenced by the era in which she emerged on the music scene. When her first album The Tuesday Night Music Club debuted in 1993, followed up by its 1994 hit single All I Wanna Do, grunge music was at the height of its popularity. Its casual, anti-style ethos clearly effected Crow's early presentation – low-slung acoustic guitar, jeans, thrift–store clothes, and a shaggy, sexy, unkempt mane of blonde hair.

Crow's look and signature sound – tactile, textured, made-to-fit, lived-in pop rock, like her 1996 hit If It Makes You Happy – has also enabled her to work well with rock's grizzled elder statesmen. She has made frequent, career-boosting duets and on-stage appearances with the likes of Johnny Cash, Mick Jagger, Sting, and Eric Clapton. It was rumored that she also had a short lived romance with Clapton, commemorated in her 1998 single My Favorite Mistake, a song which the pair have performed live together.

Her clever lyrics have given her the reputation for being the "thinking man's rock chick," a tough, intelligent woman who is still sexy. It is interesting to compare her with another musical sex symbol of a similar vintage – Madonna. Both are examples of strong-minded independent women, but whereas the 50-year-old Madonna seems obsessed with the idea of perfect fitness and a horror of aging – recent reports say she goes to sleep every night slathered in $800-a-pot cream and wrapped in plastic – the 46-year-old Crow has a more relaxed, low maintenance, hippy charm that encapsulates the notion of growing old naturally and gracefully.

Also, while Madonna may dominate headlines, it is Crow who seems to have more real influence on events at this pivotal time in America's history. In August, while on stage in Cardiff, Wales, Madonna bracketed the middle-of-the-road Republican candidate John McCain with Adolf Hitler, a hysterical comment that would do little to win people over to Obama and probably lose him votes. Much more useful to the Obama camp has been the endorsement of Crow, more low-key, real, and in touch with ordinary Americans.

Her recent successful fight against breast cancer emphasized Crow's affinity with the struggles and problems that normal people face. It also helped inspire the theme for her latest album Detours, released earlier this year, which also reunited her with Tuesday Night Music Club producer Bill Bottrell.

The album's title refers to the way that unexpected events, like illness, take us away from how we think life is going to be. But, with songs about war, corruption, and environmental issues, the album also has a strong political slant. A pre-album single, released late last year, Shine over Babylon, contains lyrics that, in view of the world’s recent economic problems, shine with a light of prophecy:

"Celebrate the golden cow," Crow sings in a Dylanesque piece of protest pop. "Praise the bloated bank account/ If there's a god where is he now/ The precipice is slipping further out."

At times of crisis and pivotal moments of change, the political can become intensely personal, and vice-versa.


C.B.Liddell
International Herald Tribune Asahi Shimbun
24th October, 2008
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