The Sunday Telegraph 4/9/06
The Sunday Telegraph
Edition t - Inside Entertainment
SUN 09 APR 2006, Page 009
Crowe's change of heart - Russell Crowe on hellraising and song - A radical change of perspective from Crowe -- By NUI TE KOHA
He may still make headlines for his bad-boy antics, but Russell Crowe believes his new tack in music is bringing calm to his life. NUI TE KOHA reports.
Russell Crowe's latest album has shown the actor-singer-songwriter to be in a good place. Released originally as a download in May last year but now available on CD, My Hand My Heart has been met with curiosity, analysis and interpretation.
The recordings indicated a completely new tack.
Crowe dissolved his band Thirty Odd Foot Of Grunts (TOFOG) to write the most revealing songs of his career. And for a star of Crowe's magnitude, his lyrical honesty was unflinching.
He bared his soul on wife Danielle Spencer's strength, family tragedy and a former hell-raiser gaining perspective.
Certainly, these sentiments suggested a new Crowe, less uncomfortable in a celebrity skin and finding calm in his life.
Then, on June 6 last year, Crowe was arrested for throwing a phone at a New York hotel clerk. The incident caused a global media storm. Crowe later pleaded guilty to misdemeanour assault and paid $160 in court costs.
The profound messages on Crowe's album rang with new meaning and sour irony.
"Did I not take my own warnings into account? Did I not listen to my own wisdoms?'' he asks. "That's the wonderful thing about that level of personal composition.
"You're bound to be shown up by your own lessons if you go around preaching perspective.
"But let's get down to the actual event. I go to a courtroom, a judge asks if I would mind paying court costs, I pay it, and that's it.
"And I'm standing there trying to understand why this is a world-wide news event.''
At the time, prosecutors said hotel security video showed Crowe throwing a phone, then striking a karate pose and taking a theatrical bow.
Crowe confirms that.
"I think my words were: 'Just get me a phone line. Elvis is leaving the foyer.'
"It's obvious on the tape that there was a good deal of humour involved. I think that was taken into account.''
With a new band carrying the same initials as his previous one -- The Ordinary Fear of God -- to back him, Crowe is energised to perform live.
And, almost a year after releasing My Hand My Heart, he's finding new layers in the songs.
One Good Year, which features the line: "I've been chasing grace/Grace ain't so easily found'', has expanded vocally.
Mickey, about an intriguing yet colourful character, has a prettier live version.
Mr Harris, Crowe's choral requiem to a friend -- the late hell-raising Welsh actor Richard Harris -- is a certified show-stopper. A six-part, a capella vocal, it has floored audiences from Sydney to Paris.
"I'm having a strange love affair with the songs. I'm seeing them differently,'' Crowe says.
"And I'm beginning to see the potential in the songs.
"They're becoming sharper and more angular, with their own coolness.''
My Hand My Heart has just been released as a disc.
Crowe has also covered Nick Cave's Breathless and penned Testify, a charge of gospel-blues-rock giving his side of the New York story.
"I feel the irons on my wrist/And lament it's come to this/When they hang me from the gallows/Such is life, they'll hear me hiss,'' Crowe sings.
Testify builds on Crowe's long relationship with Johnny Cash's Folsom Prison Blues, a staple in TOFOG's live set.
"While taking heavily from gospel and blues, it also borrows heavily from Johnny Cash and his style of story-song,'' he says.
"I like the narrative because -- in terms of an intrinsically Australian thing -- the protagonist gets away, as opposed to Americana, where somebody has to crash the car.''
Crowe delivers the last half of that explanatory sentence in a broad American accent, then laughs. "Listen, I applaud anyone who becomes famous and handles it well,'' he says.
"But I never wanted to buy into the seeming falsehoods that come with handling fame.
"That buys into a trap of: 'Well, I am very special and I should be treated special.' Then you play the game completely.
"I'm of the opinion that there are times to have that hat on. And when you don't have that hat on, be the ordinary bloke.
"In this country, they allow me to do that. But in America, I sometimes feel I don't live up to the expectations of a movie star.
"Which is probably a good thing, because I don't rate myself that highly.''
Russell Crowe and The Ordinary Fear Of God -- alongside others such as Bones Hillman (Midnight Oil) and Stuart Hunter -- play The Shed, at the Royal Easter Show, next Thursday.
The band can also be seen every Tuesday night this month at The Vanguard, 42 King St, Newtown. Bookings Moshtix 9209 4614 or www.thevanguard.com.au
My Hand My Heart is available from HMV, Sanity and Virgin stores now.
Aussie crossover artists
* Barry Crocker: The lanky crooner starred as 1970s Aussie larrikin Barry McKenzie, among other roles.
* Delta Goodrem: Pop princess made her big-screen debut last year in Hating Alison Ashley.
* Hugh Jackman: Song-and-dance man was a Hollywood hit as Wolverine (X-Men), and other roles (above centre).
* Kylie Minogue: Our queen of pop dabbled in big-screen roles, albeit unsuccessfully (above right).
* Olivia Newton-John: Angelic-voiced beauty played Sandy in Grease (above).
Caption: Baring his soul: Russell Crowe's many talents have seen him becomoe one of Australia's successful crossover artists