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GROWING AGAINST THE GRAINONCE ONLY A SIDEMAN, RODNEY CROWELL IS CLEAN, SINGLE AND SUCCESSFUL

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Back then, I was inspired and creative with my writing, but not very mature as a performer. Me and maturity get along well now, but it's a conscious thing." Of course, he admits readily, it wasn't just a dearth of maturity that led to his early lack of success.

I was using drugs during that whole period," he says with a verbal shrug. It bothers me even to listen to those albums; in fact, I won't. It's like I'm pushing myself through that cocaine keyhole again. The only thing good that happened, in kind of an organic way, was the writing. That seemed to come from somewhere else. But that Rodney Crowell and this one here are two different people altogether."

The failure of his third Warner Bros. work, 1981's Rodney Crowell-combined with Rosanne's sudden and spectacular success-put the young marriage under strain. The couple decided to move back to Nashville. They were struggling with drug and alcohol problems, and were beginning to raise a family. The Left Coast lifestyle, they decided, wasn't conducive either to solving the former or nurturing the latter.

The move didn't turn the Crowell-Cash domicile into a house of bliss, but both sought counseling to curb their drug use, and they looked for ways to improve their marriage. Crowell dismisses the frequent reports during that time about their tumultuous" and volatile" relationship.

We never commented on it," Crowell chuckles softly. It was funny to read what people would say. Our relationship was always deep and civil and spiritual. There was nothing tumultuous about it."

Crowell maintains that both he and Rosanne directed their considerable energies toward music and art. He grew as a writer in great part because he began reading-especially poetry.

As we speak, I'm surrounded by books," he says. There's Rimbaud, Galway Kinnell, Anne Sexton." Crowell, who is active in youth reading programs, also numbers fellow Texan Larry McMurtry (Lonesome Dove) and short-story specialist Raymond Carver as favorites. Crowell extends major credit to this passion for poetry and his ongoing substance-abuse recovery for his recent success.

I've been clean and sober since 1986," he quietly-and proudly-notes. After I got off the drugs, I concentrated on writing and working in the studio with others. It was a very productive time."

This period of clear-headed activity culminated in the release of Diamonds and Dirt on Columbia. In addition to the Grammy he earned, the album went gold. Five consecutive singles from the work went to the top of Billboard's country chart, a record for solo performers. The fifth song to hit the top was Above and Beyond"-the first song he had played with his dad's band way back when in Houston.

Crowell was now climbing the steps to the podium to accept honors for his performance. One award in particular, however, amused Crowell and company. Acknowledging the resounding success of Diamonds and Dirt, the Academy of Country Music named the veteran performer Top New Artist for 1989.

It was okay," Crowell laughs, I really didn't care. Besides, what would I say? `Hey, fuck you guys! You guys are slow!' Rosanne kept it in the best perspective. She watched it on TV, and when I called her, she said, `You know I can't take this seriously.' She was laughing."

Crowell followed Diamonds and Dirt with 1990's Keys to the Highway. A critical and commercial success, the album featured the hits Things I Wish I'd Said" and Many a Long and Lonesome Highway," both tributes to his father, who had died the year before. After Keys to the Highway, Crowell decided to take some time off to concentrate on songwriting. There was, he admits candidly, much to write about. The marriage was growing and contracting, changing constantly." Finally, the two individuals became irreconcilably stronger than the unit. Rosanne Cash and Rodney Crowell's divorce became final at the beginning of March 1992.

Cash has moved to New York, where she records, paints and sculpts. She and Crowell share custody of their three daughters.

I love her dearly," Crowell says slowly, almost inaudibly, and that's not gonna stop. Our love is so spiritual that it transcends the norm. A lot of people are going to go back to that `tumultuous' stuff, but that's bullshit. We continue to love each other. To say Rosanne is my best friend is to understate the depth of it." Crowell pauses. He is notoriously cool to public commentary about personal matters, so his willingness to talk-and with such frankness-about the demise of his marriage seems astonishing.

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Larry Crowley