Like the frayed jeans on her latest album cover “Threads,” Sheryl Crow has no trouble discussing how real-life scenarios can be stitched together and torn apart.
As a headliner for Ralph Lauren’s “Together in Pink” campaign in support of the Pink Pony initiative, the recording artist spoke of her commitment to the designer’s breast cancer awareness efforts. “He’s constantly working toward bettering the experience for people who are caregivers to people with breast cancer and also raising research money. He’s just very committed and I love the way he goes about it,” she said. “This year, the campaign is about having a conversation. Typically, people don’t want to talk about it. It’s sometimes difficult to get women to be diligent about getting mammograms. In some instances, women don’t want to find out. They don’t want the disruption in their life.”
Diagnosed with breast cancer more than 13 years ago, Crow described herself then “as the picture of good health and the last person you would think who would be diagnosed with a life-threatening illness.” But by having the conversation publicly, she has convinced many other women how breast cancer can strike anyone. “It helped push forward the idea that until there is a cure, early detection is our best weapon,” she said.
The reality is one in seven women is diagnosed with breast cancer during their lives. Crow is routinely stopped by cancer survivors in airports, Starbucks and other public places. “Almost every time the story becomes about the lesson learned in being diagnosed and the change that follows survivorship.…By virtue of being women, we are caregivers. It’s our self-appointed roles to take care of everyone. With breast cancer, the lesson certainly for me and for a lot of women is that we need to learn how to put ourselves first before we can take care of anyone else.”
With an intergenerational fan base that includes grandmothers, mothers and daughters, Crow is all about being proactive. Cancer-free, Crow said, “My story is one of hope and the idea that early detection saves lives.”
Thirty years into her music career, Crow has vowed that “Threads” will be her “last full artistic statement.” The recording artist has been nominated for 32 Grammy awards in pop, rock and country, and has won nine. She has also sold more than 50 million albums. As much as she has loved making albums, growing up reading album credits and examining album photos, Crow said “the process is lengthy, expensive and can be very emotional. In the end, people don’t listen to it in the context of a full artistic statement. We cherry-pick songs and we make our own playlists. Whether we like that or not, that is the reality.”
“I’ve had the gift of having a really long career. As you get older, the things that become important — particularly if you’re a mom of two young boys — are the things that you want to see change. For me, that’s cancer, cures, survivors, treatments and the environment. Whenever I’m helping, fund-raising or doing philanthropic work that’s where the real blessings come in.”
In addition to breast cancer awareness and environmentalism, gun control is another issue that Crow has gone to battle over. Walmart’s recent decision to stop selling ammunition for military-style weapons and asking shoppers not to “open carry” guns in its stores was a step in the right direction for Crow. In 1996, Walmart banned one of her albums because a song lyric suggested the retailer sells guns to children. Crow said Tuesday, “Unfortunately, there have been a lot of lives lost, before they made that decision. I’m hoping that other discounters will follow suit. It is encouraging.”
Like environmental concerns and guns “deeply affect” her children and the way they see their future. “It’s heart-wrenching. They are asking questions that I was not even aware of as a kid. Certainly as a nine-year-old, you should not be thinking about your mortality with regard to not being safe at school, or the planet not being able to support humanity,” Crow said. “Music is an amazing platform and outlet. But at this point in my life, those issues are so urgent that writing songs just isn’t enough. I’ll continue to be outspoken about gun legislation and hopefully badgering my politicians on a daily basis.”
Seven years after releasing the song “Woman in the White House,” Crow expects to get involved with the 2020 presidential campaign. She said, “I have tuned out a lot of social media over the last few years because I tend to get, ‘shut up and sing’ a lot, even though I obviously enjoy the same freedom of speech that everybody else does. I’m waiting to see who becomes our candidate. I think four more years of what we’re going through right now will be very damaging.”
Recording with Kris Kristofferson, who has been diagnosed with a tick-born dementia or Alzheimer’s, helped tie together the idea for “Threads.” “He’s a brilliant man. Obviously, he’s a Rhodes scholar, an incredible storyteller and he’s been very influential on my songwriting. He’s a wonderful friend,” Crow said, explaining she rang up music producer Steve Jordan to say, ‘Look, I want to create more experiences like this — the experience of music being a connector.’ It connects he and I, but it also connects him to his life, to the memories of who he was. At this moment in my career, that’s what I want — the physical experience of music.”
Another defining moment of “Threads” was made possible with the permission of Johnny Cash’s family to rework his version of “Redemption Day.” Crow actually wrote the song years ago and was the first to release it. Cash later recorded a version before his death. Crow has since rewritten the music and combined their voices for the just-released version. “With everything that’s going on with our political dialogue, with everything that is going on in the world, it is such a profound reflection,” Crow said.
Crow and “Threads” producer Jordan initially called the album “People I Love,” since Crow’s M.O. was to work with people she loved and those that were instrumental in her becoming a musician and a songwriter. James Taylor, whose albums she listened to since the age of seven made the cut, as did musicians like Maren Morris. “You can turn on pop radio and hear fun songs that were written by 18 people. But there are also artists out there like Jason Isbell, Margo Price and Brandi Carlile, who you don’t hear on pop radio. But you can hear their influences, and they go back far-reaching. It was wonderful to have the threads going in both directions.”
She mentioned threads of other musical experiences like the fact that when she was an elementary school music teacher in St. Louis, she was part of the audience that watched Jordan and Keith Richards filming “Hail! Hail! Rock ’n’ Roll” with Chuck Berry. “Cut to 30 years later. I’m recording with Keith Richards and Steve Jordan is producing in New York City. It’s the kind of stuff that dreams are made of.”