August 12, 1996 12:00 PM

>Lyle Lovett


Lyle Lovett had it good: a growing reputation as one of the finest singer-songwriters around and a string of albums on which he’d gradually broadened his musical palette to include country, R & B, gospel and big band. Then came Julia Roberts. And all the well-honed talent, wit and style were eclipsed: Now he was seen as the geek that the beautiful movie star had unaccountably married in 1993.

“All that stuff was extraordinary and very hard for me to process,” the performer says of the attention paid to the whirlwind relationship, which ended when the couple separated more than a year ago. But Lovett—a courtly Texas gentleman with a strong sense of who he is—survived. He’s back now with a new, critically lauded release, The Road to Ensenada (Curb/MCA), and seems happy with his music, his life, even the state of his relationship with Roberts.

Do you and Julia stay in touch?

We are friends. We really are. We see each other occasionally, when we can.

One of the songs on your new album is titled “Fiona,” which is Julia’s middle name. Are any of the tunes about her?

I just liked the sound of the name. I’ll just say that I’ve always written songs about relationships. My last album featured all songs written before 1986, and there was speculation that those were about her too. But that’s fine. I’m not offended by that. If anybody knew the real story, they’d probably be disappointed.

While married to Julia, you took a lot of flak for your looks. Did that bother you?

There was a piece in Newsweek a while back, and they used a picture of Denzel Washington as an example of what people find attractive, and they used my picture as an example of what people find unattractive. I thought, “My God, this is like having your picture next to the definition of ‘ugly’ in the dictionary!” They rearranged my face with a computer, and I have to say, the new me wasn’t bad.

Is the old adage that misery is good for art true in your case?

I agree it’s easier to write about being unhappy than it is to write about being happy. And I’m happy right now. And I’m not writing a thing.

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