.Front and Center: Sheryl Crow goes down long and winding road in new documentary

Let’s be clear—Sheryl Crow is someone who veers away from the off-stage spotlight whenever she can. As someone who cheerfully admits to “…living with my head in the sand,” she’d be the last person you’d expect to be front and center in a film project. But so it goes with Sheryl, the Amy Scott-directed documentary that recently bowed on Showtime. 

Featuring present-day interviews with Crow, along with a number of famous friends, including Keith Richards, Brandi Carlile, Emmylou Harris, Joe Walsh, Jason Isbell and Laura Dern, this project traces the Missouri native’s path growing up as the piano-playing daughter of big band musicians up through the present day. Rather than having it become a sunshine and lollipops kind of hagiography, Scott succeeds at creating a chronological narrative that includes a mix of performances along with insights into obstacles Crow ran into.

Among the pitfalls touched on are the alleged sexual abuse from former employer Michael Jackson’s late manager, Frank DiLeo (along with battling various forms of sexism while having to constantly prove her mettle as an artist), or Crow having her album banned by Walmart after including a song addressing gun violence that name-checked the big box retailer as a source for purchasing weapons. It was an ambitious project the singer-songwriter wasn’t exactly eager to pursue. 

“When my manager [Stephen ‘Scooter’ Weintraub] and Van Toffler, who I knew back in the early days from MTV and VH-1, came to me and said they had some interest from Showtime to do a documentary, I was really not on board with it,” Crow admitted. “I felt like I’m a very private person, and I didn’t feel like a retrospective was in order when I’m still alive and have so many more songs to write. For a while there, I sat with the idea and decided that there was a world of story and living that is the story of a person and not necessarily a well-known artist. Everybody who has ever become a public figure has that story, so we dug in and my only prerequisite for it was that I didn’t want it to be a catalog of awards and a review of fantastic appearances. I wanted it to be the story of the person I am.”

While Crow was ruminating over whether or not to dive into this documentary, the pandemic proved to be a perfect respite for her and sons Levi and Wyatt. 

“We kind of sequestered, and to have that time where they could experience what it means to be bored and not be entertained all the time,” she said. “They built a chicken coop, raised baby chicks, planted a garden and we rented an RV, went across the country and adopted a Bernese mountain dog. There were things that wouldn’t have happened, and I wouldn’t have traded it. The second half of the pandemic, when they were back in school, is when we dug in and started making the documentary.” 

Having picked Scott after seeing Hal, the latter’s 2018 documentary on late filmmaker Hal Ashby, Crow set to work going through storage, digging up photographs and sitting down and going down memory lane. Crow’s vulnerability is freely expressed, particularly when she recounts experiences like reliving her breast cancer battle along with admitting to suffering from bouts of depression. But it was all in keeping with the sexuagenarian rocker’s goal of being honest in telling her story, particularly given how averse Crow is to the limelight. 

“I’m not a person who reads the press on me,” she said. “I don’t look at footage. It’s more enjoyable for me not to have a critical eye, but to just experience it and feel good about it. It was really fun to remember and see some of that old footage and to experience that it was joyful and it wasn’t the speed crash force in the rise to fame. Or the spinning of plates of how to keep the popularity and then the losing of one’s self. There were a lot of great memories along the way that were hilarious, poignant and fun to see. There were a lot of things I’d forgotten about. And then there are a lot of things that we talked about and that I remembered vividly and aren’t documented because nobody had cell phones. The parties I had at my house—there are so many great things. There were some great fun moments. But a lot of it was also very introspective and [involved] revisiting some hard stuff. There were hours and hours of reflecting, and it was exhausting and super-emotional. But in the end, I hate to use that stupid word cathartic, but it was.”

Of course, it wouldn’t mean anything if the music weren’t the fuel driving this engine, starting with early hits like “Leaving Las Vegas,” “All I Wanna Do” and “If It Makes You Happy,” through latter-day gems like “Home,” “Soak Up the Sun,” “Redemption Day” and “Prove You Wrong” (featuring Stevie Nicks and Maren Morris). A trio of new songs, “Forever,” “Still the Same” and “Live With Me,” proves Crow’s creative spark is still burning strong. And while she publicly said 2019’s Threads was going to be her final album, she intends to continue writing and releasing songs. 

“It’s so nice to be able to write a song like ‘Forever’ and just put the dang thing out,” she said. “I just want to keep writing and putting songs out. I think putting records out now at my age is a little bit of a waste of time. People don’t listen to a full body of work, in order. I want to keep making music and putting it out. I’m going to do like David Bowie. I’m just going to put songs out every couple of months, and people can make their own playlists.” 

That said, Crow’s year will find her touring with a band and then tentatively planning to go out solo while playing a multitude of instruments. For Crow, it’s less about the spotlight and more about sharing her music, particularly when she was asked what stardom means to her. 

“Fame is a mind-fuck,” she responded. “I’m going to have to put $20 in the swear jar in my kitchen as soon as my kids read this. But seriously, it sounds so hokey, but we’re so grateful to be able to go out and play songs for our audiences, which look like Bonnaroo—there are people there my age with their kids and their kids—who are singing all these lyrics. And it’s just such an unbelievably awesome position to be in—to have songs that are generational and a soundtrack. We go out there and play our hearts out, and it’s so much fun. It’s a different show. We’re so committed and so present. It’s a good time.”

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