SXSW Film Review: Sheryl
An intimate look at how Sheryl Crow survived becoming a legacy
By Richard Whittaker,
1:00AM, Sat. Mar. 12, 2022
There are lots of descriptors given to musicians. Icon. Pop star. "Real" (whatever that means). But not many have to deal with the idea of being a legacy musician. That's something with which Sheryl Crow, the subject of new documentary Sheryl, has contended - and now come to terms.
Amy Scott follows up Hal (her 2018 biography of another quiet maverick Hal Ashby) with an unsanitized and intimate look at one of the most unlikely music megastars, a literal elementary teacher from Fenton, a working class suburb of St. Louis, who made money on the side singing advertising jingles, then packed up, moved to LA, got talent spotted by Michael Jackson, and then dominated the charts and the Grammys with her first solo album.
It's the stuff of bad Hollywood movies. But that's the reality of Sheryl Crow, a talent so massive that she threw her breakout hit, "All I Wanna Do," on the back end of the b-side of the megasmash Tuesday Night Music Club. But hidden in its feelgood handclap vibes was what made Crow special in the mid-90s, that dive bar stumblebum blue collar energy that would creep into Springsteen territory and even Nighthawks at the Diner-era Tom Waites smoke-and-whisy haze. There's a weary darkness in "Leaving Las Vegas," a bitter wisdwom in "What I Can Do For You," that kept Crow from being shoved into the corner with the glossy Nashville New Country crap that was dominating the airwaves. Crow was the polished bluesy singer it was OK to like even if the rest of your record collection came straight from the 4AD catalog.
And that's what Scott captures in this mixture of archive footage and contemporary interviews with Crow and her peers, family, friends, and advocates (including evusive praise from Keith Richards). Crow's far-from-overnight success imbued her with a toughness that she's needed to get through the infamously misogynistic music business, but it also left a lot of cracks under the surface. There are also the missteps (the scars over the origins and role of the Tuesday Night Music Club, the collective after which her debut album was named, aren't fresh but are definitely still there) and a lot of guilt, much of it misplaced. There's that signature smirky smile, but there's no ignoring the years of haunted eyes.
Sheryl doesn't focus on Crow making it in a man's world, but it never shies away from it, either. Instead, it strikes a sympathetic balance between the consequences of her own force of will and the fact that she was always held to a different standard than the boys. But the other side of that equation is how Crow became an iconic figure, and forged close friendships with other women (including the brilliantly prickly and blunt engineer, Trina Shoemaker, who definitely knows a thing or two about dealing with boys' clubs). No one said it would be easy, true enough, but Crow pulled it off.
Don't miss our exclusive interview with Sheryl Crow, "No One Said it Would Be Easy," March 11.
24 Beats Per Second, World PremiereSaturday, March 19, 4pm, Zach
Streaming March 12-14