I Think About This a Lot: Sheryl Crow’s Toilet Paper Controversy

Sheryl Crow.
Photo: Getty Images

I Think About This a Lot is a series dedicated to private memes: images, videos, and other random trivia we are doomed to play forever on loop in our minds.

The second I had access to enough unsupervised time online to develop a taste in music that wasn’t directly influenced by my parents and peers, I latched on to all the bratty, aggressively male pop, punk, and emo I could. My favorite bands came from cold places like Long Island and wore their guitars slung low to leave more room for feelings, and that made them authentic to me. Sheryl Crow, the quintessential California (by way of Missouri) girl did not fit that mold. I considered her highlights and ankle bracelets corny, and scoffed at the idea that feeling melancholy was something to escape rather than a chosen, honorable lifestyle.

It wasn’t until 2007 when my mind began to change about her. While anti-plastic straw evangelist Adrian Grenier was still bro-ing out on Entourage, Crow was willing to make a few enemies for the sake of the planet. She toured campuses across the United States in an eco-friendly biodiesel bus with Laurie David, producer of Al Gore’s climate-change documentary An Inconvenient Truth, giving a presentation that livened up global-warming education with music and comedy. Midway through, Crow wrote an instantly controversial blog post for the Huffington Post.

The post offered a few options for anyone looking to reduce their carbon footprint, but it was the one suggestion concerning toilet paper usage that sparked outrage. “Now, I don’t want to rob any law-abiding American of his or her God-given rights, but I think we are an industrious enough people that we can make it work with only one square per restroom visit,” wrote Crow. “Except, of course, on those pesky occasions where 2 to 3 could be required.” Perhaps we should have always anticipated that the woman who kicked off one of her biggest hits with “my friend the communist holds meetings in his RV,” would one day ruffle feathers like this.

This recommendation was not another mere feel-good aphorism about being kinder to Mother Earth, but completely ruthless in its specificity. And, because Crow is a shrewd blogger, she didn’t dwell on the details but rather kept the toilet paper edict down to one paragraph. Crow didn’t even go so far as to state whether or not she had attempted the feat herself before moving on to another frankly brilliant idea: shirts with detachable sleeves that you can use as napkins. She threw a Molotov cocktail and let the rage views pour in. Suddenly, lots of people were clicking on a blog post about recycling.

It was a rare burst of anger that seemed to bring people of all stripes, from dedicated environmentalists to conservative talk-show hosts, together. Crow clarified that her comments were meant in jest, but it was more fun to imagine her dutifully monitoring paper products. Jay Leno and Rosie O’Donnell cracked jokes on television. Fox News’ Red Eye equated her rider, which included demands for recycled napkins and reusable plates, to fascism. Host Greg Gutfield mocked her efforts, “The crow that is Sheryl thinks the planet’s in peril,” which (credit where credit is due) is better than any stanza I’ve ever written. A user named Mystery Squid on called Crow a “Hollywood limousine liberal” and told her to “go pound sand.” Crow and David tried to speak to Karl Rove about the matter, and he was not a fan. “Much to our dismay, he immediately got combative,” they wrote, “and it went downhill from there.”

For me, it was a different revelation: I suddenly loved Sheryl Crow. Forcing the Bush administration to consider climate change because you blogged about wiping your ass is my precise definition of punk rock. She was always weirder and wiser than I gave her credit for, but I’ve been making up for lost time as a Sheryl fan ever since. These days, I Instagram her lyrics on karaoke screens and swell with unearned pride when cool girls like Phoebe Bridgers and Soccer Mommy cover her songs. Every day truly is a winding road.

Knowing that Sheryl Crow didn’t put a lot of thought or follow through into her toilet paper agenda is why I can’t let go of it. Nor do I believe that many people have become more conservative with their use of toilet paper save for the occasional smug purchase of Seventh Generation instead of the slightly cheaper option. My own Catholic upbringing trained me to feel a blistering sense of guilt, but unlike the metal straws I’ve purchased for my iced coffee habit, this isn’t an act of environmentalism I can commit to. Yet I catch myself judging my most private moments by her totally arbitrary standard. Maybe I need four squares because I’m a failure. Don’t even get me started on five.

I Think About Sheryl Crow’s Toilet Paper Controversy a Lot