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I thought ABBA was the last music to influence me. It was Elvis Presley, The Beatles and ABBA summing up everything. From nowhere, Shania Twain appeared on the Nashville scene. She was country with a difference. Her music had its roots in rock n' roll.
Shania's real name is Eilleen Edwards. She was born on August 28, 1965, and grew up in Timmins, Ontario, Canada, 500 miles north of Toronto. Shania's parents divorced when she was two, and she never knew her father. Her mother married an Indian named Jerry Twain. The family struggled for necessities, and Shania remembers growing up hungry. She hunted rabbits and cut trees in the wilderness. From the age of 8, she played guitar and wrote songs. Her mother encouraged her! She woke Shania from her sleep to perform in bars around Timmins once alcohol stopped being served. Shania felt comfortable in front of audiences. Mary Bailey, a Canadian singer, took her under her wing and became her manager. For a while, Shania honed her skills at an Ontario resort called Deerhurst. It was there that she was dubbed "Shania," meaning "on my way." A tragedy occurred when Shania was 21. Her mother and stepfather were hit head on and killed by a logging truck. It was hard work and sacrifice as Shania's "family" became her responsibility.
Mary and a Nashville attorney engineered a deal with Mercury Records, but Shania's first CD was run-of-the-mill, produced by Music Row veteran Norro Wilson. Norro was old school, and it showed. The Nashville method was for a producer and his artist to collect songs from publishers and to record them in one of a handful of studios using the same musicians who played for everybody. It was a stale system and the reason country music all sounded alike. There was nothing about Shania's first album to recommend it, and Mercury was going to drop her.
Enter Robert John "Mutt" Lange!, a producer from South Africa with money and connections. By chance, Mutt saw one of Shania's videos on television. He saw and heard something no one else did. It was Shania's body, her movements, her grace! He heard the sensuality in her voice. He attempted to reach her by phone and finally connected. Conversations began. Mutt wanted to produce Shania and wanted her to do her own songs. That did it! A romance bloomed, and the couple married in December, 1993.
Work began on The Woman In Me. Mutt spent a million dollars, and they recorded in Nashville. There had never been a country album like it. It was country with a pop and rock spirit. Shania and Mutt co-wrote. Their songs were instant classics. "Any Man Of Mine" became Shania's signature. "(If You're Not In It For Love) I'm Outta Here!" rocked! Country radio played "Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?" reluctantly. This was risque stuff for Nashville. So was Shania's belly button! She was sexy and not afraid to flaunt it. She was the female Elvis!
Shania held off touring, declining to open for established country acts, which was the accepted way. Mutt Lange knew what he had. He wanted to build a catalog of songs that would fill a two-hour concert. Shania had superstar potential.
Mutt was 16 years older than Shania and remembered the golden era of Elvis, The Beatles and ABBA. He and Shania penned 16 gems for Come On Over, their second album. It was released in November, 1997, and went on to become the biggest selling record ever by a female artist, selling 40 million. It dominated the airwaves 1998-2000. Single after single went number one: "Love Gets Me Every Time," "Don't Be Stupid," "Honey I'm Home", "Man! I Feel Like A Woman!" Girls around the country sang Shania nightly in karaoke bars. 1998 was to her what 1956 was to Elvis.
When Shania did tour, she was ready. The concerts consisted of wall-to-wall hits. Her band showed cultural diversity, musicians deferring to her stardom. They played the Nashville Arena in September, 1998, and I was there with my son Michael. It was an orgy of music and energy. In her prime, Shania was carried aloft through the crowd as if she were Cleopatra. Fans reached, hoping to touch! It was Bill Clinton's presidency at its hedonistic zenith!
Nashville was jealous of Shania's success. Ultimately, common sense prevailed, and the Country Music Association voted her Entertainer of the Year for 1999. It is their most prestigious award. It was all there: books, magazines, endorsements. The girl who ate rabbits was wealthy beyond her wildest dreams, but her anonymity and privacy were gone. She and Mutt sold their property in upstate New York and moved to Switzerland. When the economy sagged in 2000, Shania disappeared. New songs had to be written.
Motherhood came next! Mutt and Shania took time out from their fairytale careers to become parents. Their son was born, August 12, 2001. Mutt had been married but had no kids. He vowed never to marry again. Shania gave him a reason to.
The Chicago concert in July, 2003, kicked off a second world tour. Up Close & Personal, taped in Nashville, simulated Elvis' 1968 Comeback Special. Shania was making an effort to be part of country music even though the establishment resisted. Radio did not want to play Up!, and there were no number ones. "Forever And For Always" peaked at number 4. The video put Shania on a beach. She was still beautiful! The Up! CD did something that Come On Over did not. It reached #1 on Billboard's pop album chart.
Up! was a progression. The couple had evolved musically. There were good songs on Up! even if Nashville considered it artsy. "C'est La Vie" proved conclusively that Shania and Mutt evolved from ABBA. Notes in the chorus are identical to notes in "Dancing Queen." The CD had a disco feel with classical riffs. Politics had changed drastically from Bill Clinton to George W. Bush as 9/11 put America on a conservative course. Still, Shania partied into the 21st century, becoming the only woman with three consecutive albums topping the 10 million mark. On the strength of three records, she stood with Elvis, The Beatles and ABBA.
Shania's catalog is thematic. Her lyrics are female. She is the consummate libber, dealing with feminine concerns: looks, clothes, men, fun, money, work, hair, food and weight. Shania is Everywoman! In one respect, she differed. She broke loose from men in her age group and married a father figure, a man who could elevate her career to the level she deserved.
It came out in 2008 that Shania caught Mutt in an affair with the housekeeper. They divorced! Once again, Shania followed in the footsteps of Elvis, The Beatles and ABBA.
Shania did a two-year residency at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas beginning in December, 2012. After Vegas, she went back on the road for what she called her final tour.
SHANIA'S AUTOBIOGRAPHY - MY THOUGHTS
The truth comes out! Shania Twain's autobiography, titled "From This Moment On," has little in common with the promotional bios that came out in the late 1990s. The fairytale is over! I was impressed that Shania wrote this book herself, without help from a seasoned author. She is articulate! Wordy! It is almost as if she is writing to and for no one, just putting down her life as it happened. To begin with, her real name is Eileen Edwards, not Shania Twain. Her mother married an Indian named Jerry Twain after she and Eileen's father divorced. One thing that irked me was how Shania (Eileen) kept referring to Jerry as her dad. She beat it like a drum as if trying to convince herself. "My dad, My dad, My dad!" "My father, My father. My father!" I felt like throwing the book across the room and screaming, "He is not your father!" I found myself talking to the picture on the cover. She does not look like that, but it is a beautiful image. Shania paints a different picture of family life from the ones in previous bios. Her "family" was dysfunctional. There was not enough money to pay bills. There was never enough food, and Shania was jealous of kids who were well fed. Jerry and Shania's mother argued. They fought! And the fights got physical! Jerry was abusive both to Shania and her mother. He would drag her mother out of bed by her arm while she was in the throes of depression. At age 14, Shania insisted that they leave Jerry, and she and her mother fled to Toronto without letting Jerry know where they were. Shania met her first love and went on the pill. She matured early, performing in bars and living in an adult world. Sex, alcohol and drugs were everywhere. Finally, she and her mother went back to Timmins.
Shania writes about the frustration with her first album for Mercury. The songs were no good, and she knew it. The fairytale began when Mutt Lange showed up. The Woman In Me, Come On Over & Up! were phenomenal. Her success exceeded her dreams. It was also hectic. A blur! Shania got what she wanted but attests to the loneliness and isolation of fame. Shania and Mutt ran out of songs after Up! and since their marriage was based on music, it came to an end. With her autobiography, Shania reverted to doing what Dolly Parton does, selling the poverty of her youth.
Shania knew she and Mutt were drifting apart. He made the first move. Of course, it hurt her pride, something she has plenty of. Shania did not blame Mutt. She blamed Marie-Anne. Traitor! Backstabber! Truth be told, Mutt and Shania left each other. Their era ended in an affair for him and in hatred and confusion for Shania. There was only one road ahead. She had to revive her catalog and play Vegas. Shania was the female Elvis and had to continue in that role. She married Fred, Marie-Anne's jilted husband. The two were cemented by fate and mutual pain. Shania, Mutt, Fred and Marie-Anne switched partners!
There are better singers, dancers and better-looking women. Shania has just enough in these areas to qualify as a total package! What adjectives describe Shania? Ambitious, hard-working, self-absorbed, strong-willed, driven, emotional, insecure. She is an opportunist. She is stubborn and wants it her way. Shania is willing to leave people behind to go to the next level, be it a boy friend of 6 years or manager Mary Bailey. She is smart. She sees herself as a "survivor."
SHANIA TWAIN: AN INTIMATE PORTRAIT OF A COUNTRY MUSIC DIVA by MICHAEL MCCALL
Michael McCall's biography begins with the anticipation of Shania's 1998 tour. Could she do it or was she Mutt Lange's studio creation? The Woman In Me had sold 13 million copies, and expectations were high! The concert at the Nashville Arena on September 25, 1998, showed Nashville insiders that Shania was real. My son Michael and I were in the audience.
Shania was born in Windsor, Ontario, Canada and taken to Timmins by her mother when she was two. McCall leads us to believe that Jerry Twain was Shania's father when, actually, he was her step-father. Shania herself had given a false impression.
McCall paints young Shania and her family as humble and long-suffering, almost saintly. Shania's mother dragged her around clubs in Timmins to sing for miners and loggers. Music became the center of Shania's life.
A Canadian singer named Mary Bailey became her manager, and it was she who started the ball rolling that led to Shania being signed by Mercury Records. The first album with Mercury stunk! It was Shania's belly button in a video that caught Mutt's attention. It caught everyone's, and I noticed that the crevices in her navel were shaped like a peace symbol!
Even The Woman In Me, had a few clunkers. It was the upbeat songs: "Any Man Of Mine," "You Win My Love" and "(If You're Not In It For Love) I'm Outta Here" that sold it.
It was Mutt and Shania's second record, Come On Over, that made her a superstar! Released in November, 1997, it sold steadily for two years. I recall driving down Broadway in Nashville listening to "Love Gets Me Every Time" and thinking, "Those guitars sound like The Rolling Stones!"
McCall reveals on page 110 that Clarence Edwards was Shania's father, not Jerry Twain. Things got nasty as the truth leaked out. Shortly afterwards, Shania broke all ties with Mary Bailey, the woman who had done so much.
Even though Shania used her body to sell records, Mercury stressed that she was more about music than image. Come On Over crossed into the pop genre, and sales skyrocketed. McCall documents the success of her concerts.
Shania would have been nothing without Mutt. Those melodies were his. It was "one plus one equals three," and it was the third entity which created the magic.
McCall gives the impression that Shania had arrived and that hard times were over forever. Of course, life is not that way. His book was published in 1999, when Shania was on top. Since then, she became a mother and went through a divorce. When a new album arrives, it will be without Svengali.
1 Eggar, Robin. Shania Twain: The Biography. Simon & Schuster, 2005
2 Gray, Scott. On Her Way: The Shania Twain Story. New York, Ballantine Books, 1998
3 Hager, Barbara. On Her Way: The Life and Music of Shania Twain. New York, Berkley Boulevard Books, 1998
4 McCall, Michael. Shania Twain: An Intimate Portrait of a Country Music Diva. New York, St. Martin's Griffin. 1999
5 Twain, Shania. From This Moment On. New York, Atria Books, 2011