By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
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Lily is ever present--in her music, in her lifestyle, and in the flushed maternity of Hickman's face. Lily is present even when she is not in the room. A simple cry from the kitchen, where the girl is playing with her grandmother on a late afternoon growing later, brings Hickman up off the floor. Throughout the day Lily trundles into the master bedroom where we sit, wanting "ne-ne"--breast milk--or the simple reassurance that her mother is nearby. Lily may go with one of Sara's friends next door to jump on the trampoline or contemplate picking the strings of her toddler-size guitar, but she is very much there.
"If I'm not working on my music, generally 92 percent of the time I'm with Lily, and the other 8 percent is answering phone calls or paying my bills," Hickman says. "She's certainly shaping everything I do...You know, there's a lot of things I believed in, but I could never really grasp them before. I've kind of always felt like the square. I've always kind of been on the outside. I always put my nose up to the glass and looked in and saw all these other people having a party.
"And I've come to the fact that I'm not on the outside--or maybe I am on the outside, and it's a whole different world out here and I kind of like it and I don't really want to go inside. I don't really want to be at that party, you know. I like being who I am, and I like that I'm spiritual and sensitive and that I cry over flowers blooming or the sun setting. And Lily brings that to the surface all the time."
She laughs shyly when she says that she can relate to Madonna, who has made much of her recent motherhood in the press. Sara is more understated, but seems equally eager to share the epiphanies of motherhood and the proclamations that having a daughter makes her feel stronger, more feminine.
"The feeling is indescribable," she says quietly, and the tears gather in her eyes. Her expression goes inward to a place that only parents can understand. "I mean, if you've never tasted chocolate, how do you describe that to someone? And if you've never gone on a Ferris wheel, how do you tell them what it's like to go up in the sky? I look at Lily every day, and I just say, 'Where were you before? Where were you before?'"
But the circumstances that brought Lily into Hickman's life, and the results of her coming, have been less than joyous at times. Although the singer doesn't want to say much about the whirlwind romance that led to her marriage, Lily's birth, and the subsequent separation of Hickman and her husband, friends say that it has been extremely difficult. The couple are engaged in a custody battle that has brought on much of the heartbreak to which Sara refers overtly in some of her new songs and obliquely in her conversation.
"I've never really talked about it, and I'm not really sure what people know. I will say that it's real painful, and I'm not sure how to talk about it, because Lily's at the heart of it," she says. Again the tears well in her eyes. "But I feel really good about Lily, because everybody seems to think I'm a great mom and I'm doing a good job...I just want the best for her. I want her to be a happy, healthy child, and so far, I feel that's been true...And I don't see the need to talk about it publicly. I, ah, I want to stop here. I feel that it's between my husband and me."
Hickman is forthcoming about other things that have been close to her heart in the past few years--particularly the subject of her break five years ago with Elektra Records, which rereleased Equal Scary People, released the all-new Shortstop in 1990, and then abruptly dropped her from the label. In discussing the "whole Elektra thing," Hickman's voice fills with conviction; it is tinged with hard-learned wisdom.
She explains that her troubles with the label began almost at the beginning, when Elektra executives wanted her to include on her major-label debut a song she recorded for the Arachnophobia soundtrack, "Blue Eyes Are Sensitive to the Light." Though "it was a guaranteed hit," Hickman says now, she balked at the idea of including on her record a song written by someone else.
"And all of a sudden, I felt this cold draft come in under my doorway," Hickman says of her relationship with the label. "But I was like, 'It doesn't really go with the rest of my record.' It was this very straight-ahead, poppy, milquetoast, Celine Dion pop love song, and I really didn't want to do that."
Shortstop was released without "Blue Eyes," and Elektra was not happy. Yet for a while, Hickman and the Music Business looked like cozy chums: She hosted her own show on VH1, toured with labelmate Billy Bragg, and appeared on Rubaiyat, a 1990 Elektra compilation celebrating the label's storied history. She would record with Twin Peaks composer Angelo Badalamenti. She performed at the Kennedy Center. It all looked so promising.