A Shania Twain North American Online Fan Club Tshirt!
From "Q" Magazine. October 1999
issue. Click HERE to
She was a lumberjack and she
wasn't OK. Now she's 30 million-selling, not-country sex diva with granite
eyes and Shania Twain is quite lovely thank you very much. So much so that,
with the gnomic spouse locked safely inside a Swiss chateau, Q went on
a date with her. "I like good clean fun," she warns John Aizlewood.
It is seven minutes to eight
on the evening of Wednesday, August 18 and a pair of R-reg Mercedes are
speeding in tandem through North London's humid drizzle-coated avenues
and alleyways. The two cards have but one aim; to ensure that Shania Twain,
who has sold more records than any other woman on the planet this year,
reaches the Roundhouse Theatre before the clock cries eight.
Shania Twain does not visit
the theatre like mere mortals visit the theatre. The Roundhouse have been
informed that if the superstar is to favour their show with her presence,
she will only arrive exactly at eight, as the lights dim, so that like
Louis XIV-similarly successful it must be remembered-her countenance may
not be gazed upon directly. Truly, she is the Twain ordinary folk shall
never see, let alone meet.
The arrangement calls for the
Roundhouse to be telephoned at 7:55, so that the Twain gang can be met
and escorted to its pre-designated area. Darren, however, has a better
Darren is a tall, thin, bespectacled,
likable black man, proud possessor of a laugh Sid James might think earthy.
He is Shania Twain's security for the evening, fresh from doing Ricky Martin
("very humble") on Oxford Street and Pele throughout the last World Cup
("mobbed everywhere, lovely bloke"). Vastly experienced, Darren's strategy
is two-fold: Plan A, being pleasant to all and, should that fail, Plan
B which involves "getting nasty, but I don't usually have to do that".
Darren suggests telephoning at six minutes to eight. If Roundhouse people
have to wait at the door for Shania Twain so be it. Better than the other
Miraculously, the in-car radio
station, something called Magic (magic only in the way that losing a limb
is "magic"), is playing a Shania Twain song and she is squeaking with delight.
More miraculously yet, around Camden Town the traffic clears and the Twainmobiles
arrive at 19.58.
There will be none of that old-fashioned
stopping-outside-and-walking-in nonsense. The cars screech into a petrol
station forecourt opposite the Roundhouse. Only the contact of Car 2's
passenger door with a small wall and subsequent chauffeurly exclamation
of "shit!" attracts attention.
19:59: A Twain representative
stops traffic to cross the road and find the Roundhouse people. There is
much waving and gesticulating. A smattering of furrowed-browed late theatre-goers
tarry. Darren paces around, confidence undimmed by the honking of petrol-purchasers'
horns, angry at their blocked exit.
20:00: Oblivious to hullabaloo,
Shania Twain sits alone in a Mercedes, concealed by tinted windows. The
greeting party is a pretty woman and a man with a baseball cap and headphones.
More gesticulation all round.
20:01: "Not too far off now,"
says a Twainperson. More waving from the other side of the road.
20:07: Shania Twain emerges
from her Mercedes and grins at non-existent public. North London's traffic
has already been halted, resulting in queues back to the North Circular.
She ambles across Chalk Farm Road and shakes hands with Roundhouse woman
in a manner less regal that Queen Elizabeth II, but only just. We are bundled
inside. Q wisely takes a zig-zag course to bamboozle would-be snipers.
20:08: Showtime! The dimming
lights! The greasepaint! Hurrah!
20:09: Wrong again. Shania Twain
wishes to visit the toilet. Lights brighten. Woman from Roundhouse's lower
jaw begins to quiver.
20:11: Shania Twain safely (and
it must be noted, remarkably speedily) emerges from what has turned out
to be a Portaloo.
20:12: Showtime! Hurrah! Etc!
The show in question is De La
Guarda, a percussive extravaganza performed to a standing audience by a
fearsomely lissom, tightly choreographed Argentinean troupe, who bungee
jump, shout, band and dance their way through 90 sense-battering minutes.
It's quite wonderful.
Shania Twain, thankfully unmolested,
wholly unrecognized, has a rare old time, barely seeming to notice that
her acolytes have formed a circle around her. She giggles, she points up
at the figures flying above her. Her eyes almost pop when members of the
audience are swung 40 feet above her head. Her mouth is agape when a man
walks upside down suspended from a platform upon which another man is jumping.
As the lights go on, the Twain
mob sprint out, pausing only to re-shake the hand of the Roundhouse woman.
The traffic has already stopped, probably of its own accord. On the other
side of the road, a Mercedes awaits. Shania Twain, rear seatbelt fastened,
is understandably overcome with inarticulacy.
"It was just totally fantastic!
I've never seen anything like that before. Totally unique, original and
fantastic. It stimulated so many of your senses. Very, very exciting. Fun
and passion. Wow! So energetic."
Slowly, she gathers herself.
"You know what," she confides,
face tightening. "I don't really like people treating me as a star. I'm
so uncomfortable with that. In a normal social environment I don't want
to be treated special or different. It's something that really bothers
I can't stand it. If I go to
a club I go very plain and simple. You'd be surprised at how long it takes
before people realise it's me. The more you act like that and don't take
a big entourage, the more normal you can be. I get away with a lot that
way, so I have experiences without people hanging on."
She stares into the late-night
Baker Street traffic, bites her bottom lip and compulsively rubs he tips
of her thumb and forefinger together. Her eyes glint like granite.
In central Canada, Windsor,
Ontario lies 500 miles of south west of state capital Toronto. There, on
August 28, 1965, Eilleen Regina Edwards was born to Sharon, who was prone
to depression, and Clarence Edwards, who had other things on his mind.
Clarence fled when Eilleen was
two. Sharon re-located herself and her two daughters north, to Timmins
("The City with A Heart Of Gold!") a rough-as-a-buzzard-gold-mining settlement
of 50,000 with an unemployment problem: think Barnsley. Winter lasts from
the end of October to the middle of April and wind-chill means temperatures
of minus-80. When Eilleen was six, part-Irish Sharon married full-blooded
Ojibway Indian Jerry Twain. Sharon spent days on end in bed, upset. Jerry,
much loved by his stepdaughters, struggled for forestry work and there
wasn't enough food to go round. Most of all though, was the cold. God,
it was cold.
"There's a lot of neat little
stories," explains the former Eilleen Twain, over Darjeeling at London's
quintessentially posh hotel, Claridges's. "Actually they're not neat at
all. There were many days when we had to huddle round the stove because
we couldn't pay the heating bill. We went to bed wearing our coats, literally
freezing. It's not the way you want to live, you can die in those conditions.
I don't think our parents would have allowed us to die, they would have
taken us to a shelter, but we definitely endured what we could, we pushed
a to the limits. We managed and I'm glad we did. A little bit of hardship's
OK, it's not the end of the world, it's better than being abused. As a
child, you feel punished if you're separated from your family just because
you're poor, se we did everything we could to hide it from other people
so we children wouldn't get taken away."
Luckily, Eilleen could sing
and play the trumpet "very poorly". Her desperate parents would wake her
at midnight and drive her into Timmins. Clubs which provided musical entertainment
had stopped serving alcohol at midnight and so it was legal, albeit unusual,
for an eight-year-old to sing the closing 12:30-1 am set, covering Me &
Bobby McGee, anything by Dolly Parton and originals for which she'd written
out chord charts for the band. Did the authorities know about this?
"Um, I didn't advertise it.
I didn't go to school saying I was in a bar until two this morning. The
clubs gave me $20 and it was my parents' way of getting me experience."
The crowds of course were senseless
"I was scared shitless. I had
terrible stage fright. It was a good thing my parents encouraged me. If
I'd had it my way, I'd have taken the easy option and remained a songwriter,
not a performer. I loved music but I was never passionate about being a
In the early-80's, the Canadian
government had one of its periodic guilt trips over annihilating centuries
of Indian culture and a decent proportion of the Indians themselves, so
grants were made available for Indian businesses. Jerry Twain was one of
the lucky ones and soon had a forestry plantation. Eilleen had been working
at McDonald's ("I learned a work ethic, etiquette and discipline"), but
now split her time between giggling throughout Ontario and being a foreman.
"I miss it so, but it was hard
work. There were a lot of four in the mornings when I did not feel like
getting up to plant a tree. I was one of the guys, I really was. I worked
as hard as any of them, if anything even harder. I was determined never
to be outwalked or outworked and I gained tremendous respect from my workers."
Although not a shouter or a
swearer, she was strict enough.
"I would tell people how to
do things a few times. If they didn't get it right then they would be let
go. If they cheated, they would get fired and have to walk to the nearest
road. It could take you a day to do that. Cheating lets other people down.
What an insult!"
Those skills have not been lost.
"I'm a doer, a thinker, not
a follower, but I wouldn't say I'm a slave-driving miserable person to
work for. I have very mature, responsible, reliable people. I expect from
others what I expect from myself which is my best. It seems to be working
Aged 22, Eilleen Twain had moved
to Toronto to sing. On November 1, 1987, a timber truck veered across a
Timmins road and drove straight into an oncoming car whose driver and passenger,
Jerry and Sharon Twain, were killed instantly.
"Now, sometimes to a fault,
I live in the future and depend upon time to heal, which it does if you
let it," their daughter explains, quietly. "But if you live in the future
too much it can be empty, life can keep passing you by. At some point you
have to be satisfied, you have to get over this grief."
Has it made you a colder person?
"No, it's made me a warmer person,
much much. I've become more emotionally vulnerable and sensitive, aware
how fragile life is. It affected everyone differently, but I exhaled a
great deal when I finally came to grips with all of it.
"When something as drastic as
that happens to you, you realise you cannot control everything. Things
are going to happen and there's nothing you can do about it. It's almost
a relief to accept that fact, it can relax you. You realise that you have
to put your efforts into trying to be happy. I let go of a lot of things
and let shields down. I'm not much of a fighter any more. I'm actually
weaker, but it's OK, I don't mind. I'm living life more than I ever was."
The oldest Twain sister had
married, so Eilleen returned to care for her remaining sister and two brothers.
The following June they all moved 300 miles south, to Huntsville, Ontario
where Eilleen was appearing in a Vegas-style revue. Four years later, free
of family responsibilities and every conceivable due well and truly paid,
music attorney Dick Frank saw her perform and paid for her to come to Nashville.
"It wasn't compromising. I didn't
say, Well maybe I'll be a country artist for a little while and see if
I can make it. I was so down-to-the-core familiar with country that it
was natural for me."
As a name, Eilleen Twain was
deemed too uncountry. Losing Twain would degrade her dead parents, so she
took an Ojibwa word, Shania ("I'm on my way") as a Christian name.
1993's self-titled hack-country
debut, despite a Sean Penn-directed video for Dance With The One That Brought
You, didn't rock anyone's world. Twain he songwriter, dressed in a parka
on the sleeve, contributed only the lyric to God Ain't Gonna Getcha For
That. "I didn't expect to become a major superstar right after that."
Meanwhile in London, another
video, for the album's only quality song, What Made You Say That, caught
the eye of reclusive South African multi-millionaire Robert John "Mutt"
Lange, producer of Def Leppards's best-selling work, Bryan Adams, Backstreet
Boys, Boomtown Rats, AC/DC and, most grueling of all, The Cars' Heartbeat
City. More guru than producer, "Mutt" Lange contributed more to his charges
records than some of them liked to admit and more than some of the others
ever knew. In Shania Twain, "Mutt" Lange like what he saw and saw something
in what he heard.
Soon the pair were gossiping
like harpies on the telephone and songwriting together. They met in Nashville
in June 1993 and by December were married. "Mutt" Lange, aged approximately
50, is a fascinatingly elusive figure, rarely photographed and never interviewed.
What do you call him? Robert?
Robert John "Mutt"?
(Crossly) "Actually, I refer
to him as "Mutt", but his name is Love to me."
And what about his mother? What
does she call him?
"John, if anything. His mother
called him John."
Do you accept your marriage
looks pretty strange from the outside?
"It probably does, but if I
could be like him I would. Him and I are so much the same. I respect, appreciate
and envy him. He doesn't want to be famous and just because he's married
a famous person, all of a sudden it's an issue. He's always been this way
and that's a very admirable quality."
Do you get lonely, with him
never being there?
"Oh yes, when I'm away from
him, I don't like it. I hate it. I hate being away from him."
Do you ever go back from, say,
awards ceremonies and say, Where wee you? I needed you?
"No. I don't take those seriously.
A family members always comes with me. It's not like I'm sitting there
holding my husband's hand going Am I gonna win, am I gonna win? That's
so dramatic and I'm not like that. It's certainly nothing I would need
my husband there for, my goodness."
Why isn't he in the wedding
"He's in there! He's in lots
of them. I gave the press one without him, so that he wouldn't have to
Isn't that odd?
"Nooo. Being a celebrity couple
is so tacky, common, corny and embarrassing to him and I totally understand
it. What the hell does it have to do with my music? Nothing."
What's he like?
(Takes a deep breath so deep
it almost sucks up the Claridge's string quartet) "You'd love him. Everybody
who knows him loves him. He loves good conversation; he's a very intelligent
person; he reads a lot; he's a real history buff; he loves fashion and
likes to keep up with the latest of everything; he's very into the aesthetic
of things, which is real fun for a girl when we're shopping. At the same
time he's a major sports buff and he loves European football, and absolute
fanatic. He's a wonderful guy. He's very gentle. People get a good vibe
from him and they love him, he's very sweet and kind. There is no-one that
he could not get along with. He's an avid gardener too."
So why keep saying you have
a low sex drive then?
"Pah! Never said that. I may
have said that I'm not a very sexual person, not the type who needs to
flirt. My videos are sexy and I have quite a lot of fun with that, but
I'm not a very sexual person, I'm just not like that. I like good clean
fun myself. Mind you, behind closed doors, my husband finds me pretty sexy.
It would be really awful if he didn't, very sad for me and 'Mutt'."
Husband came wife's songwriting
partner and producer, tossing in $500,000 of his own money as The Woman
In Me became country's most expensive album, after the record company blanched
at the year-long production schedule. Only it wasn't country as the country
establishment understood it. She was still a Nashville-friendly frump on
the front cover (John Derek took the photographs; wife Bo was assistant),
but on the back Twain was navel-bearing. Weirdly, this, more than anything
she's done including not sounding country at all, irked Nashville, although
now it seems to be illegal for female country starlets to cover their belly
What if you'd been ugly?
"I have been ugly! I'm ugly
Oh stop it.
"No, no! I was genuinely ugly!
I looked like a boy and had two pretty blonde sisters. Not everybody that
is successful is beautiful."
You never show you legs. Dumpy
"They're not very good. I would
call them athletic legs."
The songs hinted at country
and then veered off to all sorts of places. Twelve million copies later,
without a sales-boosting tour, she'd crossed over, and-a jail sentence
back in Huntsville for car stealing half-brother Mark aside-that should
very much have been that.
During Twain's formative years,
the family spent their weekends on the Matagami Indian reserve, absorbing
the culture. Instead of cookies they'd have wild meats as treats and Jerry
would fry little chunks of moosemeat or deep-fry bannock dumplings and
top them with jam. Eilleen loved it: "It was one big family, you could
sleep on anyone's couch."
After being adopted by Jerry,
she was legally registered as Indian, but the more famous she became, the
more she blurred the distinctions between the blood of adoptive and natural
fathers. Inevitably, in April 1996, she was outed by, most hurtfully of
all, the Timmins Daily Press, who claimed she'd "woven a tapestry of half-truths
and outright lies" to give her character and heritage which, paradoxically,
she actually had. Why lie? You were immersed in Indian culture.
"I can see that. The honest
truth is that I never introduced Jerry Twain as my adoptive father. He
always said there were no favourites in this family. He never reminded
us we were adopted daughters: we were all one family. We took quite seriously
and felt really good about it. Now, if somebody had said that I was adopted
I wouldn't have been offended, surprised or defensive. I wasn't hiding
it, I just couldn't imagine making a statement like that for no reason
oat all. It's bizarre."
But why claim Indian blood?
"I actually resent that. Why
should it matter? Is it because Jerry Twain was of another culture that
made me claim that I'm something I'm not? No, that's not true. I am status
Indian. I have been adopted into the tribe. I'm legally his daughter! Yes!
I never thought there would have to be an explanation. I didn't think it
was such a big deal, but obviously I'm wrong."
Ever me your father?
"We were, I guess, introduced
a couple of times. My sister's met him once. My mother would tell us about
his family, where they lived, what they did for a living and little bits
and pieces. She said they were part Indian, so I always believed we had
Indian blood in us. And so now I'm baffled."
Was you mother telling the truth?
"I believe she was (she lowers
her tone to garden fence conspirator and elbows firmly in the stomach).
She told me they were ashamed of it and would never admit it. I've spoken
to my uncle about it since and he said they have Indian in their family
and they're denying it. Apparently, my great grandmother was Indian and
married a white man. In those times it was not unusual for such women to
have to denounce their Indian status and leave the reservation, so it's
very, very believable that she had to leave her family and never associate
again. There are a lot of predjudiced people. That is my truth, but whether
it is true I don't know. I can understand how people are seeing it that
I'm lying, but I'm not. What can I do? I'm sorry. Actually I'm not sorry
And her paternal grandmother
is called Regina Nutbrown. Claridge's carrot cake, Shania?
What do you think?
"Too dry. And I didn't think
the biscuits wee that great either. I prefer the Ritz. I had a tea there
with my husband and the scones were great. These don't seem home-made,
more like something out of a packet, but I hope I'm wrong. Oh boy, we're
not giving it a great review, ha ha! Am I going to get in trouble for this?
The tea's a little bitter too. If you really know tea you should try Earl
Grey and tell me what you think. It's my British blood."
When it was time for Shania
Twain's third album, "Mutt" Lange didn't have to put his hand in his pocket.
The European version of 1998's Come On Over discussed PMT and VPLs, but
eschewed country almost completely, although North America's edition enjoyed
more fiddles and pedal steels. She became the first woman to sell over
10 million copies of successive albums. The closing Rock This Country!
, much loved by Tipper Gore incidentally, flicked a V-sign to Nashville.
She'd left them behind.
"Have I shown Nashville? Yes,
but it wasn't my intention. Nashville is a very small town, controlled
by a small group of people. It's not like they tried to ruin me, they just
weren't sure. You need the opportunity to get the fans and you're home
free. Then the industry turns around, which is what happened to me. I don't
hold it against them is what I'm saying. That's life."
Now, as "one of the key-selling
artists in pop music", she's crossed over pre-Nashville days, she was rarely
country, so she had little to betray-and she's worked like a dog for it.
Inevitably the drive is beginning to wane and her ambition is to write
a song someone else records before she does. Do you like your music?
"Oh yeah I do, but I enjoy it
more at it raw stage than the finished state. Once you've recorded it,
it's that way forever. As a fan I hate it when songs are changed so much
live you can't even recognize them, but that's restricting creativity.
The novelty wears off after a while."
Would you be less successful
"I wouldn't say I would have
made it to this level. 'Mutt' has the fairy-dust and the magic. What we
have is magical so it would be ridiculous to assume otherwise. It doesn't
necessarily have to be 'Mutt', but it would need somebody that understands
ow to work with the type of artist I am."
Frankly she'd rather be at their
main residence, a chateau in La Tour-Du-Peilz outside Geneva beneath some
alps, with Lange, their horses and a dishwasher that doubles as a cooker.
"'Mutt' is completely bilingual,
although he never knew a word of French before he moved. He's doing so
well. He is the perfect guy."
The "Mutt" Langes, it seems
reasonable to suppose, are not in the Geneva telephone directory, under
"M" or "L". Such is Twain's clout she can order her record company not
to promote her in Switzerland.
She pauses for what seems like
an eternity. Despite her grace, she loathes interviews, almost as much
as she loathes performing on television, her absolute nemesis. Sometimes
she looks beautiful-her transformation to vixen in front of a camera beggars
belief-sometimes she looks dog-tired.
"Let's say I've worked more
than I've wanted to in the last five years, but I've no regrets, a girl
has to work. If you want to be successful, you have to be willing to sacrifice
for a certain amount of time. I was willing, but it's not something I could
She doesn't smoke, she doesn't
drink and turned vegetarian after marriage. What does she do?
"I'm not kidding!" Her face
lurches into life, her eyes widen and for the first time in her 10 hours
in Q's company she's lost in reverie. " I swing dance. On the tourbus after
the show, while the bus is moving, I would just dance the night away, especially
if it's a good, straight dancing road. Even it it's winding, we still dance
and get thrown all over the bus. It's hard, it's challenging, it's fun,
it's exciting. Backstage we would swing too. It's a great workout, good
clean fun and I do a ton of it. I miss it. I gotta teach my husband how
Surely this would be but a trifle
to such a man.
"Hey!" she points her finger
and giggles. "It's not that easy, you have to learn. Once you get the basics,
then you can really get creative. 'Mutt' is a natural mover obviously,
he's very musical so he'll learn. Then me and him will be swinging around
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