Paula Cole recalls her Grammy glory
By MARK KENNEDY
AP Entertainment Writer
Twenty years ago, Paula Cole heard her name called, went up to the stage and took home the Grammy Award for best new artist. It was an amazing achievement on a night that turned out to be quite complicated.
The then-30-year-old met her idol, Aretha Franklin, and sang her hit “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?” in front of millions. But she also felt misunderstood and uncomfortable in the spotlight. Cole shocked some people by raising her middle finger and beatboxing during her performance, and triggered jokes for daring to bare armpit hair.
All these years later, that Grammy isn’t her favorite accomplishment. That would be her daughter, Sky, now 16. And her fans, who have stayed loyal, funding her last two albums via Kickstarter. Her story is a cautionary one for anyone thinking that winning one of music’s most coveted awards solves everything.
“That night was laden and confused and amazing,” says Cole, who turns 50 in April. “My career on the other side of that has been definitely different – smaller, humbler, a more authentic career. A more authentic second adulthood, if you will.”
The Berklee College of Music-trained Cole is now touring to promote her album “Ballads,” a collection of 20 jazz covers primarily from the 1930s-60s. It honors her dad, a bass player in a polka band, and it also allowed her to go back to her roots.
“I intended to be a jazz singer. That’s where I started, and my first gigs were in jazz clubs,” she says. “I got rerouted because I wanted to write my own songs with my own truths.”
Cole went into the Grammy Awards in New York in 1998 as a Lilith Fair veteran with seven nominations from her second album, “This Fire,” which contained the hit “I Don’t Want to Wait,” which became the theme song for “Dawson’s Creek.”
Her “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?” – a wry, ironic study of gender stereotypes – had been incorrectly seen by some as nostalgic and anti-feminist. Her flipping the bird onstage was a sign that she was firmly in satire mode, but it also underlined her discomfort that night.
“I was a very dark horse,” says Cole, who took home best new artist honors.