Friday, September 07, 2012

Shawn Colvin's Rough Path

A tip off to the direction of Shawn Colvin’s memoir diamond in the rough is revealed in an Anne Sexton quote that precedes the beginning of her story. If you’re not familiar with Sexton, she won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1967.  She battled with mental illness and took her own life via carbon monoxide poisoning. 

Thankfully Shawn doesn’t go there, but does battle depression.  Depression is the theme in about 50% of the musician memoirs I have read.  Prior to this book I read Rick Springfield’s and it was the same:  how to deal with your depression demons.  This of course leads to the question: does depression fuel the creative fire? 

I was interested to read Shaw’s story. I had met her a few times. She was in the same musical circles as Rosanne Cash, John Hiatt, Lyle Lovett and Greg Trooper (I worked with them). I’ve always liked her music and was really excited when she won the song of the year Grammy for Sunny Came Home.  I knew there would be a lot of people I’ve encountered in this book and I was right.  It was interesting to read about her relationship with the talented producer, songwriter and musician John Leventhal (he shared the Grammy with her as a co-writer). 

Shawn was born in South Dakota.  She never felt like she fit in, but when she got a guitar, her world was changed.  I get the impression she never thought she was good enough for her mother, a self-imposed theory.  She thought her mother was perfect.  Her father was angry.  She hated school and avoided going by hiding out in the family camper trailer parked on their property.  She peed on herself while in hiding, but it was better than going to school.  She eventually had a perfect attendance record at school. 

At 14 she designed her first album cover, so it was clear she knew the path her life would take.  She was an astute student of commercial jingles.  Aren’t they some of the most recognizable songs?  She quotes them in her book.  Like most female musicians of her time, she is influenced by Laura Nyro and Joni Mitchell and starts writing songs.  The first concert she attends is Judy Collins. 

Anorexia and addiction play a part in Shawn’s story, as does deep depression.  She could always escape to the music.  This memoir is frank and Shawn does not hold back.  Her warts are exposed, but her love for music and her daughter prevail.  She gets to meet her musical idols and perform with most of them:  fantasies come true. 

This has nothing to do with her writing, but I really disliked the cover.  It’s a black and white childhood photo of her and she’s obviously been playing in the mud.  The photo is cute it’s just that everything is black and white.  The title is written in lower case and barely visible.  Why not plaster the cover with Shawn’s smile and put some color to the book? I guess that would play against the often-dark contents. Contrary to the cover, the book leaves you thinking she’s happy now and her demons are under control.  

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