NASHVILLE SKYLINE: Shania Twain’s Domestic Unrest

Would Be Biggest Creative Divorce Ever in Country Music

The news of domestic unrest in Shania Twain’s life is troubling. If the Shania Twain-Robert “Mutt’ Lange split is permanent, it will be a monumental creative divorce. Maybe not a pairing and subsequent split-up on the order of Lennon-McCartney, but, nevertheless, the Twain-Lange musical partnership remains the most successful collaboration ever in country music history. Together, they built a country music edifice like no other.

If she never sets foot in another recording studio, Shania Twain’s legacy is forever set and secure. Although I for one certainly hope she is not done with her career. Her music and her place in the pantheon of modern country music are unassailable. At her height, she personified a free and exuberant country-pop sound and exuded a certain wholesome sexiness that transformed the image of Woman as country artist. She set concert ticket sales records, she sold more records than any woman country artist ever, she went from country star to international pop superstar, and her groundbreaking videos forever changed the concept of country music as a video form. Astonishingly, her breakthrough, epochal album, The Woman in Me, sold multi-multi-platinum without her touring at all to push it. She supported the album entirely with music videos. That had not been done before and has not been accomplished since.

I’ve been surprised this week, and shouldn’t have been, I guess, by the outpouring of support and sympathy and just plain love that I’ve heard expressed for her. This is a woman who is obviously very much admired for what she’s done and who she is. As an artist, as a woman and as a mother, she has been a true role model. She has been a true music professional, remained scandal-free, above petty Nashville jealousies and rivalries and has always remained a musical benchmark. And she has firmly kept her private life close and private. She opened doors in country music for many women, most of whom made the best of the opportunity, but some of whom have perhaps abused the privilege.

My first glimpse of Twain was at a fairly small Mercury press party early in her career when she was just beginning to hit big. Industry women clustered around her to get a glimpse of this exotic new creature. One woman who worked her way near enough for a close scrutiny emerged from the scrum of onlookers to report to her girlfriends, and she exclaimed, ‘Shania’s this big around!” — and she held her hands together to approximate about a 12-inch waist.

Twain’s allure was greatly enhanced by her videos, which truly were revolutionary for the time for country music. She was hectored at the time of the “Any Man of Mine” video, with its belly button barrage, for ruining country music by exposing her navel. But that’s about all she ever really did show, when you look back at her video work. She slyly hinted at the rest. And six months after that video midriff revelation, you couldn’t walk down Music Row without encountering seeming hordes of midriff-baring babes with their navels hanging out. I remarked on that phenomenon to Trisha Yearwood, who wryly said, “If I can’t see my navel, then no one else is going to.”

Twain was sensual without being slatternly, was glamorous without overreaching and managed to do everything well without overstating anything. And for my money, Shania made the all-time sexiest country music video ever with “The Woman in Me.” It could be sub-titled “Shania Twain’s Great Pyramids.” It is truly a classic example of music perfectly wedded to form and movement.

Her life and career were country music’s true fairy tale. She came from a broken home in rural Canada and often sang for the family’s supper as a child. After her parents were killed in a car wreck, she raised her younger siblings, supporting the little family by singing at a resort.

Poor girl escapes poverty and makes good, meets and writes and records with her prince, marries her prince, and they have huge success together and then leave it all behind to go off to live happily ever after in a storybook castle in Switzerland. And to raise a family together.

But castles can be cold and drafty and unhappy places, and it turned out that they didn’t live happily ever after. Together, at least. Real life rudely interrupted their fairy tale. What’s next? I certainly wouldn’t presume to guess. I can only hope all goes well for her.