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Sheryl Crow, Gracefully Navigating 'Detours'

Pop-rock singer-songwriter Sheryl Crow joins Terry Gross in the Fresh Air studios for an interview and live performance. Detours, her new album, is the most politically and personally outspoken record of her career.

44:27

Other segments from the episode on February 5, 2008

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, February 5, 2008: Interview with Sheryl Crow; Review of Susan Choi's new book "A person of interest."

Transcript

DATE February 5, 2008 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Sheryl Crow talks about her new album, "Detours," and
plays songs from it
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest, Sheryl Crow, went from anonymity to celebrity with the release of
her first album, "Tuesday Night Music Club," in 1993. Her career is filled
with platinum and multi-platinum-selling albums and hits like "Every Day Is a
Winding Road," "If It Makes You Happy," "All I Wanna Do," "Soak up the Sun"
and "My Favorite Mistake." She's won nine Grammys. Crow's new album,
"Detours," came out today, and it finds her reunited with Bill Bottrell, the
producer of her first album. "Detours" reflects some of the big changes that
have happened to her over the past three years, including separating from her
fiance Lance Armstrong, her breast cancer diagnosis and treatment and the
adoption of her son Wyatt. A little later she'll perform some solo songs, but
she's going to start with her band backing her.

Welcome, all of you to FRESH AIR. I'd like to ask you to start with a song.
Sheryl, would you introduce the song for us?

Ms. SHERYL CROW: We're going to do "Shine over Babylon."

Unidentified Man: Two, three...

(Soundbite of "Shine over Babylon")

Ms. CROW: (singing) I walked the heat of seven hills
Endless talk of losing wills
Great highways in a constant melt
Men and women and children all have overbuilt

Buying bread and paying for none
Creatures of a waning sun
Teacher's hands are overrun
Clowns and gypsies all have but gone

You make me want to
Shine over Babylon
You make me want to
Shine over Babylon

Freedoms etched on sacred pillars
Hollow stones on mindless filler
Can lead to madman oil drillers
It won't be long before we all are killers

Little boy lost way up the mount
Cities drowning under boiling fountains
I dreamed of chilly, sunlit days
I was trembling in the golden haze

You make me want to
Shine over Babylon
You make me want to
Shine over Babylon

We celebrate the golden cow
Praise the bloated bank account
If there's a god, where is he now
The precipice is slipping further out

Sanskrit message from the mount
Leave your possessions, hope abounds
There's nothing here for you to cry about
We're all just followers from here on out

I take the stage, I walk the planks
I sing these songs with little thanks
I wait for shouts from crazy cranks
I stand amidst the brown shirt ranks

I found my way to Alexandria
Where gurus bubble up on ganja
Scavengers, they run up and hand you
All the junk that should have damned you

You make me want to
Shine over Babylon
You make me want to
Shine over Babylon

(Speaking) If everything in life was free
Be shouting out our own reverie
The things that you can't seem to see
Seal the gap between you and me

(Singing) You make me want to
Shine over Babylon
You make me want to
Shine over Babylon
You make me want to
Shine over Babylon

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: Oh, that's great.

Ms. CROW: Thank you.

GROSS: Thank you so much for performing that.

Ms. CROW: Thank you.

GROSS: And that was Sheryl Crow with guitarist Tim Smith and Peter Stroud,
Jeremy Stacey on drums, and that's one of the songs that they do on the new
CD, "Detours."

Sheryl, is there a story behind the song?

Ms. CROW: Well, I worked with Bill Bottrell on this record, and I hadn't
worked with him since the first record, which was "Tuesday Night Music Club."
And really the story behind the idea of the song was, Bill came in, first day,
neither one of us had really been in touch for nearly 13 years. Just off and
on, really, a little bit, so we were both kind of anxious, but it just settled
into this wonderful, creative place that we knew we both were probably going
to settle into, and it was really like a homecoming. And this idea was
something that he had brought in, and it just inspired so many lyrics in me.
And we recorded it the first day we were in the studio.

So it really was kind of affirming that our creative life together was still
very vital and that it was going to be a fun record and a very intense record.
This was the beginning of what I feel like were a lot of very pointed and
fearless lyrics that were to come from the sessions. And mainly just, you
know, these are the times we're living in and having him around to kind of
support me in writing about things I really care about was fantastic. It was
a real luxury.

GROSS: Some of it's more topical, more political...

Ms. CROW: Yeah.

GROSS: Personal, too.

Ms. CROW: Personal, yeah. A lot of things happened to me in the last--well,
I went through a lot of things in the last three or four years and...

GROSS: Can I just like name a few?

Ms. CROW: Sure, sure.

GROSS: Yeah. I mean, you know, you separated from Lance Armstrong.

Ms. CROW: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: You had breast cancer.

Ms. CROW: Right.

GROSS: You have a seven-month-old baby now...

Ms. CROW: Yes.

GROSS: ...that you adopted.

Ms. CROW: Yeah.

GROSS: Those are real big life changes.

Ms. CROW: Those are the big personal changes, and then obviously I, like
everyone else, am going through the chaos of what's happening to the planet
and the fear around that and also the campaign of fear that we've all been
kind of dragged through with this administration. Just a sense of feeling
hopelessness, but that at the end of the day, like with this song, I really
hope that this song would be a bit of a battle cry to incite hope that
everything is not lost, that even though it seems dire that we still have a
voice and we still have the opportunity to incite a change.

GROSS: How does someone like you who writes like such great, hook-y, you
know, pop kind of songs start to incorporate like more political themes in it?

Ms. CROW: Hm.

GROSS: Do you know what I mean?

Ms. CROW: Yeah. I've always had--you know, I've always had one or two songs
on a record that were political or extremely personal. Like we had
"Redemption Day," on the second--on the second record, I guess. And a lot of
social topics, but none of those songs ever surfaced as being pop-oriented.
And so, this was really--this record was nice in that a lot of the hooks wound
up just working out to sound very...

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Ms. CROW: ...very pop-oriented, although pop has changed so much I don't
expect really to get a lot of airplay. But it's like what you and I were
speaking before this interview, it's the Wild West out there. People...

GROSS: In the music industry.

Ms. CROW: In the music industry. And I think the mindset now is that
music--people don't feel like they should have to pay for it. And so for me,
on this record, not only objective but my hope is that people will just hear
it, you know, and that it might actually move some molecules, inspire people
to feel.

GROSS: I'm going to ask you to do another song.

Ms. CROW: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And this is the song that kicks off your new CD...

Ms. CROW:

GROSS: ..."Detours," and on the CD you do it solo, just voice and guitar...

Ms. CROW: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: I'd like you to do it that way for us now, but before you do it,
introduce it for us. Tell us something about writing it.

Ms. CROW: Mm-hmm. Well, this song is called "God Bless This Mess," and
towards the end of the sessions--we recorded 24 tracks in 40 days and we
recorded at my farm in Nashville, and literally my farm is out in the middle
of nowhere. So it felt like we were really removed from anything even
resembling human life and particularly representing the industry, so I felt
like I was kind of left to my own devices, for better or for worse. And on
Sunday morning I was reading The New York Times and there was an
article--which I don't even remember what it was about, but the title was
"Bless This Mess," and it just all of a sudden kind of kicked off this song,
which ultimately is about where we are as a nation.

(Soundbite of "Bless This Mess")

Ms. CROW: (Singing) Daddy's in the hallway hanging pictures on the wall
Mama's in the kitchen making casseroles for all
Because my brother came home yesterday from somewhere far away
He doesn't look like I remember, he just stares off into space
He must have seen some ugly things
He just can't seem to say
Oh, God bless this mess
God bless this mess

I got a job in town selling insurance on the phone
With Robert and Teresa and two con men from back home
Everyone I call up doesn't have the time to chat
Everybody is so busy doing this and doing that
Something has gone missing, and it makes me kind of sad
Oh, God bless this mess
God bless this mess
God bless this mess

Heard about the day that two skyscrapers came down
Firemen, policemen and people came from all around
The smoke covered the city and the body count did rise
The president spoke words of comfort with tears in his eyes
Then he led us as a nation into a war all based on lies
Oh, God bless this mess
God bless this mess
God bless this mess
God bless this mess

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: That's great. That's Sheryl Crow singing the song that kicks off her
new CD, "Detours," and that's a new song called "God Bless This Mess."

Sheryl, let me ask how your health is now. I'm sure...

Ms. CROW: Mm.

GROSS: ...our listeners want to know. A lot of people know that you had
breast cancer.

Ms. CROW: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: You caught it really early on.

Ms. CROW: Really early, yeah. I just had my year and a half, and everything
looks great. And I'll continue for three years having every six-month
checkups, but I really, and that was such an odd experience in and off itself
because my relationship was with somebody who is so well known as a cancer
survivor that that...

GROSS: Right.

Ms. CROW: ...was...

GROSS: Right after you separated, you got cancer. Right.

Ms. CROW: Yeah, it was a really interesting time in my life but ultimately,
I think the really great thing that came out of it was that I became sort of a
spokesperson for early detection. And I have a very, a very large fan base of
women--and even young women, so it's great to be able to, you know, encourage
people to not only to be diligent about getting their mammograms but to at
least know their family history and to do self-checks. And until we have a
cure for cancer, prevention is the best opportunity that we have.

GROSS: While you were getting the radiation treatment...

Ms. CROW: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...was there a period of just kind of like, you know, keeping to
yourself, staying quiet...

Ms. CROW: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...and kind of reflecting and just summoning whatever...

Ms. CROW: Yeah.

GROSS: ...summoning your strength and stuff? And when that period was over,
do you feel like you were changed in any way by having....

Ms. CROW: Yeah.

GROSS: ...that period of time?

Ms. CROW: It was really an informative time and really, I think, ultimately
really created a huge expansion in my life on a lot of levels. I think it's
probably always been my propensity to just stay busy instead of getting bogged
down with feelings, and I've always gone to my music for any kind of pain I
ever felt. And so this was really an exercise in holding an emotion and
really just working through the pain and not making myself busy. And I think
we all have probably, to a certain extent, perfected that in our Western
upbringing of not really sitting with an emotion and dealing with it. Instead
we push it down and it just becomes a part of our make-up and that certainly
is not good for our health.

But I really, really met myself every morning at 7:30 on that radiation table
with this huge--I call it a mother ship, with its beams shooting into my body,
and anybody that's gone through radiation will attest that it's something you
can only do by yourself, and you really have to consider from that moment
forward what you want your life to look like and who you want to be and how
you're going to treat yourself.

And one of the things that I learned from that experience--and I think there
is a lesson in cancer, just like any diagnosis--and that was that I have to
really put myself first from here on out, and that I can't take care of
everybody else and everybody else's needs and wants before my own. Because
ultimately what happens is that I suffer. And I've talked to so many women
who've had cancer and they all kind of testify to their own experience that
the breasts represent nourishment and nurturing and that their lesson is that
they have never allowed anyone to nurture them or nourish them, that they've
always been giving out. So this was really a wonderful lesson for me.

GROSS: Can I point out that after the cancer, you decided to become a mother
and adopted a baby?

Ms. CROW: I did. Yeah.

GROSS: So now you're officially a nurturer...

Ms. CROW: Yeah.

GROSS: ...and are completely responsible for another life.

Ms. CROW: Yeah.

GROSS: So in a way you've just taken on the kind of responsibility...

Ms. CROW: Yeah, and he's...

GROSS: ...putting somebody's needs before your own.

Ms. CROW: Yeah, and that was really a decision, too. I felt like, when I
came out of radiation, I really--I mean, actually through the whole experience
I sat with myself and tried to just envision what I wanted my life to be,
because I felt like I'd really gotten thrown off course. I was raised in a
family with parents who had been married for 50 years. We're all very close.
And so that was what I thought my life was going to look like. And obviously
I have this other, incredible life being able to be a musician and I'm on the
road, so my life isn't conventional, and yet that part of my life was missing.
And so I decided when I'd completed radiation that I would start the adoption
process because I felt this mothering instinct, and Wyatt came in about a year
later, came in May, and he's just--he's a great little teacher. I mean, he
seems to sort of know everything. So it's been a really rewarding seven
months.

GROSS: My guest is songwriter and singer Sheryl Crow. Her new CD is called
"Detours." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: My guest is songwriter and singer Sheryl Crow. Her new CD, "Detours,"
came out today. She writes songs with great hooks. Here's a medley of some
of her most famous ones.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. CROW: (Singing) ...nothing like Billy and me
Because all I wanna do is have some fun
I got a feeling I'm not the only one
All I wanna do is have some fun
I got a feeling I'm not the only one
All I wanna do is have some fun
Until the sun comes up over Santa Monica Boulevard

If it makes you happy
It can't be that bad
If it makes you happy
Then why the hell are you so sad

I'm going to soak up the sun
I'm going to tell everyone to lighten up
I'm going to tell them that
I've got no one to blame
For every time I feel lame
I'm looking up, oh
I'm going to soak up the sun

Every day is a winding road
I get a little bit closer
Every day is a fading sign
I get a little bit closer
Feeling fine

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: I asked Sheryl Crow about writing songs.

Does the hook come first or does the hook come later?

Ms. CROW: I mean, you hope it comes first.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Ms. CROW: I grew up--my parents were just--are amazing musicians, and I grew
up in a household with a Magnavox and they played everything from Cole Porter
and Ella Fitzgerald to The Beatles and James Taylor and Motown and Mahalia
Jackson, Aretha. And I had this incredible introduction to all kinds of music
and a real appreciation for everything and for all kinds of music as well, and
so when I was growing up everything was about melody. And so on my best day,
the melody comes first with a strong hook, and then everything else falls in
line after that.

On this record, I found that the music and the lyrics were coming together.
In fact, the song I just sang, "God Bless This Mess," I wrote at the kitchen
table and it was about 10 minutes of writing. And that's, you know, on your
best day, when you can get out of your own way and not self-edit and not be
critical and just let it flow.

GROSS: Now, you said that "God Bless This Mess," you'd seen a "Bless This
Mess" headline...

Ms. CROW: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...and then the song came to you. What about hooks like "All I Wanna
Do Is Have Some Fun" or...

Ms. CROW: That one actually was very similar to "God Bless This Mess" in
that that title--in fact, a lot of the lyric to that song came from a poet
named Wyn Cooper, who's a teacher up in Vermont. I think he teaches poetry,
in fact. And this song was recorded during the "Tuesday Night Music Club"
sessions, and this little rat pack that I was hanging around with, we would go
out and drink margaritas and hit all the seedy joints and then come back and
work on music. And this song--we had this musical idea, and there was a book
of poetry right in front of me so I started using this lyric called "Fun" and
thought later on I'll write lyrics. I wrote five different sets of lyrics and
none of them compared in the spirit to that, so I called Wyn and said, `I know
you don't know me, nobody does.' I didn't have a record out and I said, `I've
written a song and we'll send it to you and cut you into the publishing, and
all that' and that's how it happened.

GROSS: Did he liked it?

Ms. CROW: He loved it, yeah. Especially when the checks started rolling in.

GROSS: He really loved it after that, yeah.

Sheryl Crow will be back in the second half of the show. Her new CD is called
"Detours." I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with singer and songwriter
Sheryl Crow. She's won nine Grammys and has had several platinum and
multi-platinum albums that have included such hits as "Every Day Is a Winding
Road," "If It Makes You Happy," "Soak up the Sun," "All I Wanna Do" and "My
Favorite Mistake." Her new CD, which was released today, is called "Detours."
Her first album, "Tuesday Night Music Club," was released in 1993. "Tuesday
Night Music Club" was more than just an album title.

Talk a little bit about the Tuesday Night Music Club, which was a group of
songwriters...

Ms. CROW: Yeah.

GROSS: ...that you worked with early in your career.

Ms. CROW: Yeah. Yeah.

GROSS: What was it like to have a group like that?

Ms. CROW: Well, I'll backtrack a little bit. I had made a record for A&M--a
quite expensive record with a producer who was very well known and a fantastic
producer but just, we weren't very well suited. So I'd made this record and
asked A&M not to put it out, and then I kicked around for about a year and
started hearing rumblings around town that I was getting ready to be dropped
from my label. And about that time I met Bill Bottrell and was invited out to
what they were calling the Tuesday Night Music Sessions. And they had just
had--they'd only had one jam session. I came to the second one and met David
Baerwald and Dan Schwartz and Kevin Gilbert and Brian MacLeod and Bill, and it
was great fun. And we got together about three more times, and from those
sessions came "Leaving Las Vegas" and "All I Wanna Do" and maybe a couple of
others.

And then, at that point, Bill and I decided we would start making a record,
then the two of us just were in the studio and we would invite people to come
in and overdub. But really, the impetus of the record were the jam sessions.

GROSS: Now, you mentioned you had an album that you asked your record company
to not release.

Ms. CROW: Yeah, I know. That was...

GROSS: Why didn't you want them to release it?

Ms. CROW: ...bold and brazen. Well, back then, most of what was on the
radio was Madonna and Paula Abdul, very dance-oriented tracks. And then on
the other end of the spectrum you had very slick stuff, like Toni Childs. And
so the producer who signed me actually--and, as a precursor to this, I had
been turned down by every label in Hollywood--and I happened to hand my tape
to Hugh Padgham, and he loved it. And he loved the demos, and the demos were
very slick and they were made on what was the equivalent of ProTools at the
time. And I think his love for the demos in some ways prevented him from
hearing the essence and from being able to get at a more rock sound, which is
what I come from.

So ultimately when I handed the record in, it was so slick I felt like that
ultimately I'd just be lost in the bins--the record bins--way back when we had
records. And so they were OK about it, you know. After much begging and
pleading, I said, `Look, just give me a chance to really be who I am,' and you
know, `I promise it'll be more interesting.' And then they did, but it took a
while for us to get there.

GROSS: But they were your songs on that album that you killed, weren't they?

Ms. CROW: They were. Yeah.

GROSS: Do you remember any of the songs? Could you do an excerpt of one of
those songs for us?

Ms. CROW: I can do a little bit of a--you know, it's hard for me to remember
a lot of that stuff. And actually a lot of it went on to be covered. In
fact, this one, I think Celine Dion covered. I don't revisit that album very
much, to be honest, but I know you can get it on the Internet for some
ridiculous amount of money.

(Soundbite of "All Kinds of People")

Ms. CROW: (Singing) There's a time for love
And a time for healing
Can't go back and undo what's been done

It's word of mouth
Time is revealing
Just how far we've let this kingdom come

All in all
Na na na na
Na na na na na na
Yesterdays

Some will lie for you
Some will die for you
There's all kinds of people in this world
Some will na na na
Some...

(End of soundbite)

Ms. CROW: You know, it's--basically, that's what it is.

GROSS: Is it frustrating for you to not remember your own song?

Ms. CROW: Oh, can I tell you? I have the worst memory. I mean, I can't
remember words to "All I Wanna Do" sometimes. And luckily my fan base is
pretty--they're good sports about it. I have written some incredible lyrics
on the spot during my shows. It's like, I write it, and once I've written it
then it's written and then I can move on so...

GROSS: Then you don't need to remember it anymore.

Ms. CROW: I have to go back and study my lyrics, yeah, before I do her.

GROSS: Now, you mentioned when you were growing up, your parents listened to
everything from like Cole Porter to James Taylor...

Ms. CROW: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

GROSS: Is there a song or two that you feel is like the template in your mind
for music? Like, you heard it so much or loved it so much during your real
formative years as a young girl...

Ms. CROW: A few--yeah, a few songs. "Someone to Watch over Me" was one.
(Sings) "Somebody loves me, I wonder who, I wonder who it could be." A lot of
the old big band stuff. My parents were in a big band when I was a child and
they would come home on the weekends with all their buddies...

GROSS: They were in a big band?

Ms. CROW: Mm-hmm. And, you know, they played locally...

GROSS: What did they do in it?

Ms. CROW: There were a couple of guys who actually had played with Tommy
Dorsey, and they came back to Kennett to put together a band and my
parents--my mom played piano and sang--amazing singer--and my father played
trumpet. And they would come home after their gigs and put on records, and
also they'd play along and dance. And I slept on the stairs because I didn't
want to miss any of it, as did my sisters and my little brother.

And I just assumed that every kid had that--that that's what their parents did
because I didn't have any other references. So I grew up with just amazing
dictionary of jazz artists and big band artists like Stan Getz and Stan
Kenton, and obviously Ella, and all the great crooners. But a lot of those
old songs were, to me, what songwriting was about.

GROSS: So do you think that those songwriters, like the American popular
songbook kind of songs....

Ms. CROW: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Cole Porter.

GROSS: ...affected your idea of what a good song is.

Ms. CROW: Absolutely. And then later on, you know, we had The Beatles,
which I think was a continuation of incredible melodic songwriting. But I
grew up playing the piano, as did all the kids in my family, so when I started
writing songs, you know, I went to Elton John. He was probably the first I
could play by ear. So he was really the first I could really relate to.
(Singing) "She packed my bags last night pre-flight, zero hour 9 AM." You
know, stuff like that with those great soaring hooks. It was why I wanted to
be a songwriter. James Taylor. Writers that just took you there.

GROSS: Did you sing with your parents?

Ms. CROW: I did. I was terribly shy about it. And I had parents, of
course, who would, you know--`Play so-and-so,' you know, `for our friends.' I
can remember actually playing--the song that I remember playing and busting
out on my parents was...

(Singing) "Whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa, my love does it good."

(Speaking) ...and my dad's face turning red and that was my first experience
with censorship of him saying, `Do you know what that means? What does that
mean to you? My love does it good. Look you little seven-year-old.' So...

GROSS: He shouldn't have said anything. Otherwise you wouldn't even have
thought about it.

Ms. CROW: I know. Exactly.

GROSS: Now, you started off as a professional singer, I think, singing
jingles.

Ms. CROW: Mm-hmm. I started off, actually, as a school teacher in St.
Louis and I was living in St. Louis and singing in bands, as I had done
throughout college, and this wonderful producer, Jay Oliver, came in and asked
me if I would come into his studio and sing a commercial. I had never sung on
a mike in a studio. I had never been in a studio. So it was a great learning
experience and he was so generous in teaching me really how to work a mike.
And one of the first things we did was a McDonald's commercial--out of
Chicago, regional, and then it went network. And it was...

(singing) "It's a good time for the great taste of McDonald's."

Which we all know. But they had me do voices. It was for a campaign, and
they wanted this cow to have animated voices, like Marilyn Monroe.

(Sings like Marilyn Monroe) Ee-eye-ee-eye-oh

Or Aunt Bea...

(Sings like Aunt Bea) Ee-eye-ee-eye...

You know, all these different characters. And that's what ultimately sent me
out to LA. I quit my teaching job and took my tape of--or my reel, as they
called it--of jingles and started getting some work.

GROSS: So that was your profession for a while, singing jingles?

Ms. CROW: Mm-hmm. For about six months, and then I landed the Michael
Jackson gig as a backup singer.

GROSS: Was there an audition for that? Or did they just...

Ms. CROW: There was.

GROSS: ...hear you on a commercial?

Ms. CROW: No, there was, and I was a pretty sly cookie. I was in a jingle
session and overheard some singers talking about this audition that was based
on recommendation through either Bruce...(unintelligible)...or Rod Temperton
or Quincy Jones, and I found out where it was and I just went. And they
didn't kick me out. They just assumed I was there on recommendation, and I
stood in front of a video camera and said, `Hi, Michael, my name's Sheryl Crow
and I'd love to go on the road with you.' And I got called back. I don't know
what--no singing or anything. I got called back, and I was put with three
other singers, three males--fantastic singers--and we auditioned together and
we got it.

GROSS: Wait. Are you saying you did your audition without singing?

Ms. CROW: Yeah. And I have this funny feeling that, to be honest, that I
got this audition because--I mean, I looked like I had just rolled in from the
farm. I mean, I had just moved from Missouri, I looked like a school teacher
still, and I think he probably thought I was so harmless that having me out
there was going to be a no-brainer. I don't know.

GROSS: But why would Michael Jackson want someone who looked so harmless?

Ms. CROW: I don't know. I mean, I think at the time, it was all starting to
swell with the "wacko Jacko" and the hyperbaric chamber and the, you know,
just all that stuff. I can't even venture to guess why he would have picked
me, but there you go.

GROSS: So what did you have to sing as the backup singer?

Ms. CROW: Well, I sang...

(Singing) I just can't stop loving you, oh, baby

And I sang...

(Singing) She says I am the one

GROSS: Oh, great.

Ms. CROW: Uh-huh. I did a lot of...

GROSS: That must be thrilling to...

Ms. CROW: It was unbelievable...

GROSS: Yeah.

Ms. CROW: And, you know, I have to say that, aside from all the crazy circus
around him, he's truly one of the most remarkable performers ever. I mean, I
look back on the early stuff. I can remember seeing him on variety shows as a
little Michael and singing the Frank Sinatra tunes and just how phenomenal he
was. But to be on the side of the stage and watch him bust out some of those
moves that he created and knowing how hard it is to come up with something
that no one has ever envisioned, the originality in that, that's really,
that's anointed stuff. That's the kind of artistry that you dream about.

GROSS: Wait. What year was this?

Ms. CROW: This was the "Bad" tour. It was 1989, '88 and '89.

GROSS: Did you have to dance?

Ms. CROW: I had to dance, yes, in like five-inch heels. I came home with
the biggest set of corns on my toes you've ever seen, and I still have them.
Those are my war wounds from the Michael Jackson tour.

GROSS: My guest is Sheryl Crow. Her new CD is called "Detours." We'll talk
more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Sheryl Crow. She's here with
her guitar and she has a new CD coming out that's called "Detours."

Yeah, so when you stepped out and became a solo artist...

Ms. CROW: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...did you know who you were onstage, who you wanted to be onstage?

Ms. CROW: I really had the luxury of touring for a very long time before I
made it, and I look at these kids today--I sound like an old fogy, but--who
are becoming huge via TV performance, and I feel like I was so lucky to get in
under the wire, being able to tour. We toured the first record, in fact, for
a year and a half before "All I Wanna Do" ever came out. And that was a very,
very fertile learning ground for me.

GROSS: Were there pressures on your as an attractive young woman...

Ms. CROW: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...to be the kind of, you know, sexy, like post-teen...

Ms. CROW: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: You know...

Ms. CROW: Way post-teen.

GROSS: Way post-teen.

Ms. CROW: I only got my record deal when I was like 26 or 27. Most people's
careers today are over by then.

GROSS: But were there pressures, like to sell you on sexuality?

Ms. CROW: Oh, an immense amount of pressure. And if you look back on the
early records, the artwork, I mean, I'm like no makeup. I look like I dragged
something out of my brother's closet and threw it on. I was so adamant about
not being perceived as beautiful that I kind of, in many ways, betrayed myself
because I didn't allow myself to just be who I was. Because I wanted so badly
to be taken seriously. And that's probably part of the psychology of my being
where I am is that, for me, making music was--I wanted to be respected. I
wanted to write music that really made a difference. So you're in total
conflict at all times when you're dealing with commerce and perception and
image.

And so I felt like for the first, really the first five or six years,
particularly on the second record, when you look at that artwork, and I'm
wearing like black makeup, I felt like I was just at odds with the industry
and the business all the time, that I just wanted to play and to be taken
seriously and not have to do sexy videos and look a certain way. Now I'm sort
of more comfortable with it and I enjoy, you know, not looking like a street
urchin.

GROSS: You were a cheerleader in high school.

Ms. CROW: Oh, no, no, no.

GROSS: You weren't? Oh, I had read that you were.

Ms. CROW: I was a drum majorette. I was the marching band's leader.

GROSS: Oh, OK. So baton twirling and all that?

Ms. CROW: Yeah. Yeah. Oh yeah. I was a big baton twirler.

GROSS: Oh. How'd you learn how to do that?

Ms. CROW: I guess I started taking lessons as an early kid and, you know, I
mean, I actually was like, I could twirl three batons and knives and fire and
all that stuff. But ultimately wound up being the drum majorette, which was
fun.

GROSS: Any opportunity to do that onstage?

Ms. CROW: Oh, I have, a number of times, Terry, yes. Actually I've done it
twice. We did it on our last gig with The Wallflowers. You know, when you
usually--you pull out the last-night antics, and I stood behind The
Wallflowers in a bikini like "Laugh-In," with words written all over me in
lipstick and twirled a baton. And then, with John Mayer last summer, we did
the same thing. We all came out and I twirled.

GROSS: Oh, that sounds like fun. Now, one of your songs, "Every Day Is a
Winding Road"...

Ms. CROW: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...was used as a commercial and...

Ms. CROW: That's right, for Subaru.

GROSS: How did it transform the song to you when it got played over..

Ms. CROW: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: That was such a widely run commercial, and you couldn't...

Ms. CROW: It really was.

GROSS: You couldn't miss it.

Ms. CROW: Yeah, I get a bit itchy about things like that and I'm sure most
artists do. When I was coming up, an artist would never have sold a song to a
commercial. That would be the quintessential selling out. And I think when
Sting got in the Jaguar and Bob Dylan was in the Victoria's Secret commercial,
it felt like, OK, the floodgates have been opened. And now that our industry
is really suffering so badly, the best way to get marketing dollars and to
have your music heard is through a commercial because TV is where it's at.
And so we bit the bullet and did it. And it was interesting. I mean, I would
hear it all the time, and my fear was that people would just associate the
song with a car commercial, but that remains to be seen. But, you know, in
many ways I think it really managed to, once again, cement that song into
people's consciousness.

GROSS: My guest is Sheryl Crow, and she has a new CD coming out called
"Detours."

Sheryl, if you don't mind, I'd like to ask you, since you have your guitar...

Ms. CROW: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...to perform the title track of your forthcoming CD...

Ms. CROW: Yeah, I'd love to.

GROSS: ..."Detours," and, again, if you would introduce it...

Ms. CROW: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...to us.

Ms. CROW: Well, this song is called "Detours," and the album is called
"Detours" because it's about the many journeys that we all go on that lead us
far away from who we know ourselves to be, and how ultimately that detour
demands that we come back and really remember who we are or, at least
reinvestigate who we wanted to be. And this song was written after my
relationship fell apart, and I think of Mother--my mom has been such an
amazingly important person in my life, but also I think of God every now and
again as a--could be a mother or a father, and so that's kind of where it's
at. So it's a little bit like a prayer.

(Soundbite of "Detours")

Ms. CROW: (singing) Mother, can you hold me together?
It's so dark and I'm losing my way
I took all of these detours to find love
But when I did, it just faded away

And what do I do with this sweet love of mine?
Do I hide it away and hope someday I'll find
Someone half as awake as the moon and the stars?
Mother, teach me to love
With a paper-thin heart

Mother, your words are so soothing
You speak of love and of life and of peace
But I've made it my course to avoid you
Just to hide to hide from these feelings of grief

Now, what do I do with this sweet love of mine?
Do I hide it away and hope one I'll find
Someone half as awake as the moon and the stars?
Mother, teach me to love
With a paper-thin heart

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: Oh, thank you very much for doing that, Sheryl.

Ms. CROW: Sure.

GROSS: And that's Sheryl Crow doing a song that's featured on her new CD,
which is called "Detours," and that in fact is the title track.

You wrote that song before you became a mother, didn't you?

Ms. CROW: I did.

GROSS: It's about your mother, but now you're a mother too...

Ms. CROW: Yeah.

GROSS: Does it have different meaning for you now, knowing..

Ms. CROW: It does. I had to write a song for a movie called "Grace Is
Gone," which was about this father whose wife was killed in the Iraq war, and
his dilemma throughout the movie is how to break it to his children. And I
wound up writing this song for Wyatt called "Lullaby for Wyatt." So having him
in the studio at three weeks old, for me, was an amazing experience because it
just rendered me just completely fearless. Just having him there made me not
be able to edit myself, and so the last song on the record that you hear is
"Lullaby," and the last thing that you hear on the record is his voice.

GROSS: It's been wonderful to have you here. Thank you so much for talking
with us and for playing for us. We really, really appreciate it. Thank you,
Sheryl Crow.

Ms. CROW: Thank you. It's great to be here. I love this program.

GROSS: Sheryl Crow. Her new CD, "Detours," was released today.

Coming up, Susan Choi's new novel about a professor who's a suspect in a bomb
plot. Maurine Corrigan will have a review. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Maureen Corrigan on Susan Choi's new book "A Person of
Interest"
TERRY GROSS, host:

Susan Choi's 2005 novel "American Woman" was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize
in fiction. The story of a woman on the run alluded to the Patty Hearst case.
In her latest novel, called "A Person of Interest," Choi takes inspiration
from the story of a violent radical plucked from yesterday's headlines, the
case of the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski. Book critic Maureen Corrigan has a
review.

Ms. MAUREEN CORRIGAN: It doesn't add up. Whatever the sum total of factors
is that's needed to render the ordinary American normal, Professor Lee, who
teaches mathematics at a Midwestern state university, doesn't have enough of
them. His meager life tally consists of a good job; a rundown, underfurnished
house; two divorces; and a strange daughter and a vanished stepson. Professor
Lee, who's nearing retirement age, likes to go home after teaching his
trigonometry classes to students he lightly disdains, pop open a beer or two,
scrape together dinner and fiddle around with mathematics problems far into
the night. He's a loner and an intellectual--or, as we say in America, a
weirdo.

Susan Choi likes to write about this kind of fringe character, alienated and
self-sufficient, folks who refuse to paddle along in the sun-dappled
mainstream. In her wonderful novel "American Woman," Choi imagined the
extended life on the lam of a woman who'd been a member of a Symbianese
Liberation Army-type revolutionary group.

Choi's latest novel, "A Person of Interest," also opens with a bang. One
afternoon, right next door to Professor Lee's own office at the university, a
mail bomb explodes on the desk of a popular young computer science professor
named Hendley. But that's not the bang I'm referring to. I'm thinking about
Choi's incendiary first sentence: "It was only after Hendley was bombed,"
comments Choi's omniscient narrator, "that Lee was forced to admit just how
much he disliked him." That sentence calibrates our emotional understanding of
Lee. He's not a lovable curmudgeon, thank God. Rather, he's a tad cold,
judgmental, stoic by temperament and background. Choi alludes to Lee's
childhood in an unnamed war-torn Asian country.

Lee's failure to ape the niceties of "go along to get along" social behavior
proves his undoing. As the FBI enters into the investigation of the
anti-technology terrorist the press dubs "the Brain Bomber," Lee becomes their
chief suspect. After all, he didn't send Hendley a get well card at the
hospital or attend his funeral in formation with the rest of the mathematics
department.

Choi gracefully incorporates so many stories and tones within this engrossing
novel that it's hard to duly admire them all. There's a faint imprint of the
always-welcome academic farce here. When Lee is first interviewed by a
policeman minutes after the bombing, he gasps, "Who would want to kill us?
We're only professors. We don't do anything." After Hendley's death, the
university suspends classes and institutes a grief plan. A few respectful
days later, the grief plan and its team of counselors are swept aside by
posters decorating the campus that chirp, "A normal day is OK."

At other times, a suspense tale takes precedence. Like some Asian Jimmy
Stewart, Lee seems doomed to be the innocent man tried and convicted by
popular opinion, not for what he's done, but for what he's failed to do: act
affable. The taut conversations between Lee and an FBI agent improbably named
Jim Morrison are the stuff that noir nightmares are made of. Lee will mutter
a sloppy remark or crack a mistimed joke and suddenly Morrison transforms from
friendly fed to Robocop.

But what's most absorbing about this novel is the way it charts the slow
stages by which a life can get stripped down to solitude. In flashbacks, Lee
recalls his first wife, his great love, Ailene. Their marriage was never
easy, but during its early years, their days were filled with the joy of a
baby daughter, play dates, neighborhood get-togethers. And then, partly due
to Lee's emotional stinginess, all those social connections wither. Lee and
Ailene eventually divorce and she dies much too young.

Here's how Lee thinks about the odd consolation the claustrophobic university
town affords him in his grief: "Lee found that his town's very smallness,
which he feared would press unwanted memory on him, somehow gave him relief
from the past. This was the freedom of severe limitation, like passing a
lifetime in one set of rooms. No single scent could remain in the air. No
single occasion could claim the backdrop. The A&P, for instance, was Ailene's
at inexplicable moments, but for the most part it remained the drab store
where Lee purchased his dinner."

Choi is such a pleasure to read because, among her many other gifts as a
writer, she's so smart about evoking the inner lives of those characters who,
for reasons of politics or personality, would rather stay in the shadows. In
her hands, even a misanthropic, second-rate mathematician like Professor Lee
becomes a person of interest.

GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She
reviewed "A Person of Interest" by Susan Choi.

You can download podcasts of our show on our Web site, freshair.npr.org.

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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