Shania Twain: Why Not?
Twain is the subject of, part of, presenting -- I am not quite sure what to call it -- a series of programs on the OWN Television Network. The shows are called Shania Twain: Why Not? . The programs trace part of her journey to get back to the point where, both personally and with her singing voice, she feels ready to be on stage again. You may wonder why a professional musician who’d been performing for people since she was eight would have problems with this sort of thing, or why, if she did, she couldn’t just get over it on her own. Twain, actually, wondered some of those same things, and that’s one of the things that makes the show engaging. She has the money, the time, and most importantly, the will and the courage to take on sorting that out, and to choose to invite viewers along for parts of the journey.
I am not usually one to like the sort of quasi documentary that focuses deeply on people’s personal lives, I’ve never watched the Oprah show (OWN is the Oprah Winfrey Television Network) and also do not enjoy the somewhat related genre of reality shows. I like Twain’s music, though (that always comes as a shock to many who know my own work in music ) and I had always known her to discuss her personal life, which had its share of hard knocks, with dignity and reserve. So I was interested to see what these programs would be like.
It is proving an interesting and creative journey. Twain is having trouble with her voice -- feeling choked, as she describes it. Even if you are not involved with music you’ll know what she means, and if you are a musician you’ll hear it both when she speaks and when she sings. She also feels that she is not comfortable performing in front of people again, though she loves singing and needs to sing.
These may seem, in some ways, fairly high class problems, and Twain knows that. They are also basic ones: an artist struggling with how to make her art, how to live her life, when that life has been knocked apart by personal circumstance . That’s one thing - and another is finding out that the personal resources and strengths one has relied on to get through hard times just don’t work any more. That’s a whole other aspect to wrestle with. Been there, done that, and it is, among other things, disorienting.
The precipitating event in Twain’s life for all these changes was the end of her fourteen year marriage, and the discovery that her husband and her best friend were having an affair. Early in her life, Twain had learned to handle quite a few tough circumstances, growing up poor, and with hard family situations. Then when she was a young woman her parents were killed in a car accident, and she had to provide for and parent her siblings.
Twain and her younger sister, Carrie, both now in their forties, revisit two of the houses they lived in as young children during the show’s early episodes, and this is thoughtfully presented. The conversations between them there, and later at their parents’ grave site. seem natural and unforced, as do most of the conversations in the programs. It’s a nice balance between being aware of the camera, being aware that what everyone says is going to a wider audience, and making a real story out of real events without going over the top into personal experiences and emotions. As someone who has worked behind the scenes in both television and music, props to all those involved, including especially the editors. Thus far, the shows and the story line are working well.
As I write this, I’ve seen four episodes of the show. A few things that stand out: Twain’s visit to her songwriting cabin in Ontario, where she used to go when she was first beginning to make it in country music, her standing on the stage at Caesar's Place, where she’s been offered a gig, and scenes in the first show of her playing and singing with just her sister, her cousin, and one of her long time band mates. Twain’s comment, at the songwriting cabin, that growing up as she did, making it big didn’t mean having a big lifestyle, it meant just being able to eat well, and her comment later on, in conversation with Gladys Knight, about not giving up on the gift one has been graciously given. The fact that she wants sharing her journey to healing to help others, but that she’s not being hokey about it. Her well honed sense of humor.
That sense of humor is one thing I’ve always enjoyed about Shania Twain. I’ve had the chance to see her in concert several times, and it’s been clear that she takes her work and her professionalism and her music seriously, but she does not take herself too seriously. That is part of Twain’s gift in connecting with audiences. As a songwriter, she distills things down to create accessible catchy hooks. They may not be the most complex songs I’ve heard or written about, but in mainstream popular music, being able to use that sort of gift, and choosing to use it, in service of writing songs that are uplifting and engaging at the same time is no small thing, and Twain has done that well. Her album The Woman in Me is, to my way of thinking a gathering of many her best songs thus far. She has also had the excellent taste to perform with Alison Krauss, and to choose the Canadian Celtic band Leahy to open for her during several tours.
That, and she can surely sing. She has the gift of a fine voice, and it is one she is determined to use again. Shania Twain: Why Not? is proving an engaging look at her journey to doing that.
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if I were going to suggest an album for Shania to listen to on her journey, it’d be this one. graceful songs about living through changes, especially when the way is less than clear Carrie Newcomer: Before & After
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