Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Shawn Colvin bares it all in a revealing new memoir.
Thursday, June 7, 2012
There’s a story behind all of Shawn Colvin’s stories, but the one about the shirt in a publicity photo sent out in advance of the release of her memoir, Diamond in the Rough, may tell the most about the woman behind the songs.
She’s seated casually, wearing well-worn jeans and a colorful striped halter top. She’s been a clothes horse since childhood, when her parents used time at the sewing machine and all the fabric she wanted as the carrot to the stick of going to school.
The stripey top is the last thing she made, and for reasons not even clear to her, she sold it on eBay for $15.
“It wasn’t a difficult pattern, but the ‘Let’s see if someone will buy it’ and selling it on eBay is the stupidest thing I’ve ever done,” Colvin says. “$15 was stupid.”
But then, Colvin has often run on impulse. It’s a recurring theme, not only a career that’s seen her release nine albums and win three Grammy Awards, but also in her memoir. And she’s as frank in her book – about love gone wrong (two divorces), love gone right (one marriages resulted in a daughter) and the challenges of addiction and mental illness (anxiety and depression have plagued her since youth) – as she is in an interview with the Weekly. This week, she leaves her Austin home for a tour to promote her newly released album, All Fall Down, recorded in the wake of another bad breakup.
Q. What’s the newest thing going on in your life, with the tour starting and the book coming out in the next few days?
A. I’m tweeting. I had a Twitter account and I wasn’t using it, and I had an interview here with a local guy I’ve known for a long time. He’s a DJ and writes for the New York Times and he said, ‘You have to tweet.’ So I tweeted yesterday about how I love good hotels. I’m about to be in a lot of them.
I mentioned on Facebook that I was going to be interviewing you, and I received so many messages along the lines of, ‘Tell her that her music got me through a really bad time… ’
I hear that a lot, and the thing that gets me about it the most is I know what it’s like to listen to something in constant rotation and know I’m not alone. It’s something you relate to, the constant experiences, just so many things. I’ve had Stevie Wonder on rotation in the not-too-distant past. Joni Mitchell, of course, Laura Nyro when I was a teenager, and the Beatles. And Rufus Wainwright, and Richard Thompson, Jackson Brown and James Taylor. I’ve been listening to them all.
You write about your second marriage, which ended but resulted in you becoming a mom at 42. She’s 13 now, so how has that changed your life?
You can’t be selfish anymore. It’s instinctive that here is this person and I have to help them and I guess you’d call that unconditional love, to put away your desire to be there for someone else’s good. I had her at 42, and for better or worse, there’s more wisdom I can impart to her at my age, but I also was more set in my ways and that was an adjustment.
You also write about your struggle with anxiety and major depression, and with really brave openness about living with mental illness that has, at some times, been crippling. Why put that out there?
Because the most healing thing about my own recovery and experiences with being sick, besides my family and friends that love me so much, has been reading about people who have been through it. You don’t feel so alone. So if reading about my experience helps someone else, it’s worth it.
The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. It’s not like in my songs, you wouldn’t suspect I went through some rough times. A lot of them are dark and a lot of them are about deliverance, especially the requisite breakup songs, which are many.
Why write a book at all?
My manager told me to, and I disagreed with him. He said, ‘You have a story to tell,’ and I said, ‘I’m not sure I do. I’m not particularly iconic in anyway and I don’t know who would read it, so leave me alone.’ He said, ‘Write two chapters.’ I wrote the two, got an agent, shopped it around and got a deal. Writing it took three or four years. But now it’s out and I feel naked.
Speed round: What are you reading, what are you listening to and what are you watching?
I’m loving the Patti Smith memoir Just Kids. I’ve been re-reading Levon Helm’s This Wheel’s on Fire. Let’s see, what else is on the bedside table? Alice Hoffman’s The Foretelling. For listening, my friend Mary Chapin Carpenter has a new album out June 12, and she gave me a copy. What else? I’m trying to think of what’s in my car. My producer Buddy Miller made a record with the Majestic Silver Strings, it has Emmylou Harris and Patty Griffin on it. There’s another one Buddy turned me on to, an Irish guy we haven’t heard about here yet named Mick Flannery.
I don’t watch much TV and I know I’m missing out. I love those period pieces like Downton Abbey. I watch a little with my daughter and I’m embarrassed to say we watch the cooking channel a lot, we watch Chopped. And Project Runway. I’m crazy about it.
SHAWN COLVIN’s Diamond in the Rough is available at Amazon.com. Follow her at twitter.com/shawn_colvin or at www.facebook.com/ShawnColvin