Shania Twain: An Intimate Portrait of a Country Music Divaby Michael McCall, Raeanne Rubenstein (Other)
Shania Twain is not your average pop star. She has the mega-hit "You're Still the One", the multi-platinum album Come on Over, the VH1 Behind the Music special...but she's much more than merely the sum of her success. Growing up in rural Canada amidst great poverty. Shania spent summers working for her father in a reforestation crew, learning how to handle an axe and wield a chainsaw as well as any man. At age 21, both her parents were killed in a magic car crash, and she was left to raise three younger siblings alone. The discipline and diligence she was forced to learn was then turned to her music career, with astounding results. From the cover of Rolling Stone to Country America, this cross-over wonder has charmed millions of music lovers around the world, and her fan base continues to grow Here, finally, is her whole story, complete with never-before-seen photos and insider information. This is the book Shania fans have been waiting for.
- St. Martin's Press
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- First Edition
- Product dimensions:
- 5.60(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.54(d)
Read an Excerpt
Chapter One: For the First Time
After all this time, after all the rumors and promises, Shania Twain wanted to make her arrival count. She wanted her entry onto the stage for her long-awaited concert debut as a superstar to carry as much attitude as her songs.
So here she came, sitting royally in an ornate chair with four muscle-bound men carrying her aloft on a platform, rushing through the aisles and delivering her to the stage, where her shining kingdom awaited. As she leapt from the chair and bounded across the Sudbury Community Arena State, through the flashing multicolored lights, her adoring flock wildly roared its approval. Calls of "We love you, Shania," rang out and bodies surged forward.
Shania purposely chose to introduce her first international concert extravaganza in Sudbury, Ontario, a small Northern Ontario mining town 180 miles south of her hometown, Timmins. Sudbury was where a young Shania -- then known as Eilleen Twain to her friends and family -- would drive with friends to see concerts in her youth, big-ticket, big-concept shows by such theatrical rock 'n' roll acts as Pink Floyd, Rush, and Jethro Tull.
Today, in Northern Ontario, Shania is considered royalty. Sudbury declared May 29, 1998, as Shania Twain day, and townsfolk considered her premiere concert the most glamorous event ever to hit the hard-drinking, blue-collar town of 93,000.
How big a deal was it? The local newspaper, The Sudbury Star, called Shania's show "the biggest thing to hit this town since they dug the Creighton mine," a reference to the local nickel mine and the economic center of the area.
Jim Hamm, program director of country station CIGM-AM, said, "For a city our size, we're honored and thrilled to have a star of her stature open up a concert tour here. You don't need me to tell you how much that has been anticipated."
At the Sorento Hotel, manager Howard Kennedy said lines formed around the arena when tickets went on sale, a first for the Sudbury Community Arena. At a local record store, assistant manager Barbara Chaput said her phone had been ringing nonstop for weeks, all calls coming from people desperately seeking tickets.
At the Sheraton Hotel, where Shania stayed, guest services director Curt Deredin called it "an outstanding opportunity" for Sudbury, and the most prestigious moment in the hotel's history.
Because it was the first major concert since Shania had become the biggest-selling female artist in country music history -- as well as one of the hottest performers in all of pop culture -- the singer thought staging it near her hometown would remind the media how far she had come to reach this pinnacle.
At the same time, the media would arrive en masse to see firsthand if this comely star actually had any talent once she stepped outside of the gloss and magic of the recording studio.
Because her recordings owned a slick and carefully processed sheen, and because her videos focused on her dark beauty and shapely body, many critics had questioned the depth of her talent.
The fact that she decided not to tour as her breakthrough album, THE WOMAN IN ME, was setting sales records only gave more ammunition to those who suggested that she was a prefabricated construction masterminded by her husband, rock producer Robert John "Mutt" Lange.
One of the most successful record crafters in the history of modern pop music, Lange had worked wonders with such diverse artists as AC/DC, Bryan Adams, Billy Ocean, Def Leppard, The Cars, Michael Bolton, and Foreigner. With each act, he'd helped craft landmark pop albums that all sold in the multiple millions.
But to skeptics, Shania had become his greatest creation. Her 1993 debut album, recorded before Lange entered her life, barely sold at all. Other than a couple of videos that aired periodically on Country Music Television, Shania's self-titled debut was ignored by the country establishment. Then she married Lange, and her next album topped ten million in sales.
All during these years, hardly anyone had seen her perform. Few knew of the years of grueling nightclub shows or of her acclaimed headlining performances at a top Canadian resort. In America, she went from being ignored to being adored because of one album, and that album bore the name of one of the most successful record-makers in rock history.
Finally, after years of refusing to perform, her first tour of the arenas of North America would provide her with the opportunity to prove once and for all whether she could carry a tune live and whether she could communicate with an audience and entertain the fans she'd gathered with her hit songs.
Could she or couldn't she? She chose the comfort of home to answer that lingering question.
From the initial planning meetings, Shania made it clear to everyone involved what her show would be like.
"It's going to be high energy," she said. "It's going to be very dynamic. The music's going to be more exciting than how you hear it on the album. There's not going to be any elaborate props, and the set itself won't be hydraulic or anything like that. It's going to be about lights and sound and performance. I want it to be about performance as opposed to about the set."
In other words, she didn't want anyone accusing her of camouflaging her talent behind a flashy, multi-media stage production. There would be fireworks, but it wouldn't be tightly choreographed, or based on props or technological tricks. The singer wanted to make sure she proved her critics wrong, once and for all. And she wanted to make sure she communicated with the audience; that she created an air of intimacy instead of acting distant and aloof.
Every chance she got, Shania made it clear she was ready. She wasn't nervous, she said. Far from it. She was excited about the opportunity to finally get back onstage, her true performance home.
"I can't wait," she said. "I'm more anxious just because I haven't really had the opportunity to feel audience's response. That's the thing I'm missing most, to really feel the impact from the people, from the fans. As high as the numbers are in sales and things like that, they're just numbers to me. I can't really relate; it's too indirect. There's a void for me, and I want to see people respond to my music, live. Just to get out there and just, I don't know, vent. Just get out there and physically put myself into my music...I can't wait for it."
The support existed behind-the-scenes, too. Her manager, Jon Landau, said on the day before the show, "She works her butt off. She's very results-oriented, no-nonsense. She's going to blow a lot of people away."
Her husband was along for emotional support. But other than making sure the sound system worked well, he kept out of the limelight. When the press asked Shania if he would be in the wings, she shrugged and lied, saying she wasn't sure if he was coming. Lange notoriously protects his privacy, and she knew better than to tip off reporters that he was in attendance.
In Canada, especially, a quote from Lange or, even more importantly, a photo had been a high priority since the couple's marriage more than four years earlier. Even at the wedding, Lange refused to pose for photos, for fear they'd end up in the hands of some publication. He wanted nothing to do with the press or with any sort of publicity.
So when asked, Twain said her husband, a soccer fanatic, was thinking about traveling to Paris for the World Cup finals. She understood his need for privacy and to stay out of the glare of the world's media.
However, the day of the show, Lange lingered around the enormous soundboard situated near the back of the arena floor. He tweaked the sound, turning knobs and making last-minute adjustments.
"We've worked hard putting it together, but what I'm really interested in seeing is how the people react," Lange told a Canadian newspaper reporter who spotted him on the arena floor the evening of the concert. "That will be the barometer."
Other than that, Lange said, "the biggest concern for us is the sound. In a smaller arena like this, sound is always a bit of a lottery; you just never know."
For any big tour, a first show also gives a chance to work out some kinks. But George Travis, production manager for Shania's tour, felt confident going into Sudbury. A veteran who had worked on world tours with Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, and Mariah Carey, Travis told reporters he felt calm at a time when he usually would be scrambling because of last-minute details.
"What Shania has done is allowed us to go out and get all the very best people in order to put on a first-class show," Travis said. "We've got the best in the business; they've all got major experience with a host of top tours and artists."
As the starting hour for the show grew near, and as the arena filled to a capacity of slightly more than 5,000 people, the buzz in the air was electrifying. Leahy, a Canadian family band that blends Celtic and folk music into a Riverdance-style stage show, opened with a high-energy performance featuring fiddle-driven instrumentals and high-step folk dancing.
After they left the stage, Shania didn't keep them waiting long. Once the muscular couriers delivered her to the stage, Shania joined her band in moving vigorously to the opening chords of her song, "Man, I Feel Like a Woman."
Running across the stage as if warming up for a workout, beaming with high-watt charisma and extending her finger skyward, she shouted, "Are you ready, Sudbury?" The crowd answered with a deafening cheer, and the hometown hero smiled brilliantly and added, "Let's go, Sudbury!" Then she started the first song of the most important concert tour of her life.
After the song, which celebrates how wonderful it is to be alive and female, Shania breathily told the crowd, "I feel great! I've been waiting so long for this day and now it's finally here! I feel pumped!"
The crowd remained on its feet, never wavering in its noisy response. As wave after wave of cheers washed over her, she shook her long brown locks and shouted, "We're just getting started, Sudbury. I've got a lot of energy to burn."
The next day, in reviews across Canada and stretching as far as the daily Tennessean in Nashville, the comments were glowing. "OK, her detractors can now stop questioning Shania's singing ability," a Canadian critic wrote to lead his review.
Four months later, Shania would tackle the second-most important performance of the tour. It opened much the same way, except this time she didn't start with the chariot entrance. Perhaps that's because in Nashville, Shania still hadn't quite received the royal reception her record sales would seem to garner.
Still, on a warm and clear night in late September, she came onstage to a deafeningly positive reception in the capital of country music. "Are you ready, Nashville?!," she screamed, echoing the introduction of her first concert tour.
The crowd of more than 15,700 packed inside the sold-out Nashville Arena screamed its ecstatic response. The city where she'd struggled for acceptance, the only city where pockets of resistance to Shania-mania still held, had given her the answer she wanted.
If Shania still had something to prove, it was in Music City, USA. It's the town in which she launched her career. But it's also the town that still denied giving her any major awards, still whispered questions about her talent, still snickered and cracked jokes about brash style and her fresh, forward-moving interpretation of modern country music.
Two nights prior to her concert, Shania left the Country Music Association Awards without a single trophy. Considered by most music industry insiders to be the most prestigious night of honors in her musical genre of choice, the CMA Awards only nominated her for one major award, Album of the Year, for her COME ON OVER collection.
By far, her hit-filled album had been the best-selling and most-talked-about package of the year. Yet the award was given to Tim McGraw for his album EVERYWHERE, which hadn't sold half as many as Shania's, even thought it had been on the market twice as long.
To add insult to perfidy, when she opened the CMA show with a rousing, fireworks-filled version of her hit "Honey, I'm Home," the industry-packed crowd responded with lackluster applause. After the song, CMA show host Vince Gill walked out on camera with his fingers in his ears and wisecracked that maybe the song should be called, "Honey, I'm Deaf," drawing a loud round of laughter from the Nashville insiders in the crowd. "Man, that was loud!" Gill said.
It was not much of a welcome for the person who had done the most to keep country music in the public eye during an otherwise drab period.
So, two nights later, when Shania bounced onstage at the Nashville Arena and asked, "Are you ready, Nashville?" it could be taken as more than a standard concert question.
Indeed, it could be the ongoing theme of her relationship with the home of country music: Nashville, are you ready for Shania Twain? The rest of the world has embraced her -- the Canadian Country Music Awards had just given her a bevy of major awards two weeks earlier. So, why hasn't Music City, USA?
On this night, on this stage, in front of this crowd, all those doubts were cast aside. "Finally, I'm here with the tour in Nashville," she beamed. "It feels really wonderful."
At least inside the Nashville Arena, Shania has triumphed. For more than ninety minutes, the crowd stayed on its feet, waving banners with her name on it, throwing flowers onstage, shouting how much they love her. In response, Shania gave them all she had.
"I'm proud that I'm able to bring you a show in which I do all of my own songs," she said, a reference to her reason for not touring until now. "Thanks for supporting my records without a tour."
In the end, the crowd stood and cheered until she returned to the stage. As far as the city's rank and file, she was every bit the star the rest of the world thought she was. How that resonated within the corridors of the Nashville music industry isn't yet known.
The day before the Nashville Arena show, one of the city's most visible entertainment agencies, Broadcast Music Inc., tried to assure Shania that Nashville was proud of her.
Roger Sovine, executive vice president at BMI, introduced Shania by announcing that the broadcast of the CMA Awards the previous evening had been the most watched show in its timeslot.
"I think a lot of it had to do with Shania Twain and that great opening number," said Sovine, whose company represents songwriters by tracking performances of copyrighted songs, then collecting and dispensing royalty payments to its members.
Another award to Shania was for her entry into the BMI "Million-Airs" club, given when a song has been played on radio stations more than a million times. Shania's song "Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?" received the honor -- quite an achievement, considering the song only went as high as number 15 on the country singles chart when it was originally released.
BMI President Francis Preston presented Shania with the second honor: "It's a great accomplishment for such a young person to win an award like this, which usually takes many, many years to achieve," Preston said. "She should have all of our applause and praise."
Shania then stepped to the stage, smiling modestly and thanking everyone. "This is wonderful, all these treats and surprises," she said. "I don't know what else to say, this is just so wonderful."
Behind her, the cluster of tall buildings that made up the downtown Nashville skyline glistened in the early evening sun, a light breeze blowing across the fourth-floor terrace where the celebration took place.
Luke Lewis, the president of Mercury Nashville, grabbed a chance to add to the praise being showered on Shania. "Everybody from Nashville should be proud," he said of the singer's success. "All of the music on this album was made here, and we should be overjoyed at the success this woman has achieved."
Lewis's words seemed unusual. Instead of simply underlining the accomplishments of his singer, he seemed to be speaking directly to those in Nashville who continued to bad-mouth the successful country singer from Canada.
On a more personal note, Lewis told Shania, "The last six years have been the most gratifying of my career. I've realized my dreams, and a large part of the thanks for that goes to Shania Twain."
The BMI ceremony seemed to try to turn Shania away from the disappointment of the CMA Awards and toward the excitement of her sold-out show the following evening. Judging from the reaction at the concert, the week seemed to end on a high note for the singer. She and her supporters probably hoped the momentum within the city's music industry had finally turned in her favor.
Initially, the reaction to the show seemed positive. Respected music journalist Jay Orr of the daily Tennessean wrote that the show "put a big ol' exclamation point at the end of Country Music Week in Nashville." The concert, Orr said, took a giant leap beyond that of any of her contemporaries -- a big statement from Orr, who had been very vocal in his support of Garth Brooks over the years.
At the same time, Shania's concert remained rooted in the family values that so often characterize country music shows, he wrote, adding, "Any doubts that she could support her top-selling albums with a state-of-the-art show were erased last night."
Only a few weeks earlier, when Shania appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, a gossip columnist in the Tennessean wrote that many women on Music Row told him that "her eyes look dead."
Considering that Shania was the first country music artist to appear on the cover of the magazine since Dolly Parton in 1980, the Shania story should have been deemed a triumph by the country music industry. That it instead sparked a flurry of catty comments spoke volumes about how industry insiders still view Shania with suspicion.
After the Nashville concert, the same Tennessean columnist who wrote about the Rolling Stone article also counteracted Orr's review by bad-mouthing the concert. Brad Schmidt, a daily gossip columnist for the paper, provided this synopsis of Shania's show: "What if Mary Poppins wore tight vinyl pants and a top that showed her belly?"
Shania's athletic, sexy image didn't fit with the moments when she brought kids onstage and spoke about poverty, spousal abuse, and feeding young children, he said. He thought her presentation might prove especially confusing to the very youngsters to whom she reached out.
"Here's this sexy singer who markets herself as a sexy singer bringing children onto the stage with her and reading kids' fan mail in the middle of her show," Schmidt wrote.
He described it as "two shows in one: a sexy, high energy funfest that screeched to a halt when her Barney family show was thrown in the middle." She was effective at both roles, he said, but "the mistake was mixing them together."
Schmidt ended his column by asking for comments. He got them. "Right now, just because a female is thin, and you can see some of her skin, you are looking at her as a sex object," a reader wrote. "When you are able to look at her as a person, it won't bother you that she hugs a child. When you can see the world in a healthy and correct way, your popularity with women will magnify."
Others saw this dual image in a better light. In a musical guide designed for parents, Entertainment Weekly called Shania "Wynonna with attitude," saying she was a little bit country, a little bit of rock 'n' roll." Her message of "find your self-esteem and be forever free to dream" was empowering, the magazine said. However, like Schmidt, the magazine wondered if that message was diluted with her come-hither poses.
So Shania left Nashville with mixed messages -- a common occurrence since her multimillion breakthrough. Even with the BMI event, even with the sold-out concert, she went home without a CMA award -- the only true sanction the entire Nashville music industry gives to country music artists.
"People in Nashville will not give her an inch," said one top Nashville record-company executive. "It's the same with Garth. It's like, 'How dare these two people come along and be successful when we didn't shape them? How dare Mutt Lange make good records!" There's so much resentment. But anyway, I don't think she and her people give a shit about dominating country music. They're shooting for a real, real big career, like a Madonna or a Barbra Streisand career. In the meantime though, we in Nashville are going to clone her any which way we can -- already every girl act signed better have good stomach muscles. And then, of course, we're going to dump on her any moment we can."
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Griffin. Copyright c 1999 by Michael McCall.
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