Beyond the 54 million records she has sold, the Grammy, Juno and American Music Awards (totalling more than 30), sold-out concerts around the world, the Order of Canada and her likeness on a Canadian postage stamp, Anne Murray has bona fide praise from some of the most elite contemporary artists. Elton John said the only things he knew about Canada were ice hockey and Anne Murray. Rosemary Clooney praised her ability to hit the note "smack dab in the middle." She was Elvis Presley's favourite female vocalist and Glen Campbell's favourite guest on his television show.
Yet at home there were the characteristic Canadian skeptics and denigrators. Her Grade 5 music teacher gave her a C after stopping her one line into Swanee River. Despite the soaring success of Snowbird, her Aunt Ethel didn't think Anne would make it in Toronto, and though another family relative thought she had a beautiful voice, the truth was that that relative was tone deaf.
When she became an international musical celebrity with albums that went gold and platinum, and began making huge sums of money ($1 million a week in Las Vegas and an income of more than $4 million one year), a woman in Springhill, N.S. (Murray's birthplace), shouted out ungrammatically and profanely: "Who does she think she is, goddamned Elvis Presley?" Sometimes the press complained (often correctly) that she looked and talked like a high school gym teacher and walked like a football player.
Anne Murray remained true to herself, and if this meant being bland in concerts, she was unapologetic. She did overcome her habit of performing barefooted and of slouching (partly because of scoliosis), but she always refused to yield to pressure if she felt her artistic integrity was being compromised.
This was her rebellious streak and it showed early. At Mount St. Vincent College, her rendition of Summertime was criticized by a couple of black women for sounding "too black," but Murray refused to alter her style or tone. When she was strongly advised to move to the United States for the sake of her career, she refused, becoming instead identified with Canada the way Nana Mouskouri is with Greece or Julio Iglesias with Spain.
Anne Murray always sought to be in control, despite the soft, sentimental lyrics of many of her most popular ballads
She decided to retire professionally in 2008, so this autobiography will have to satisfy her millions of fans who yearn for a new album or concert tour. Though much of its content has already been divulged in earlier biographies by David Livingstone ( Anne Murray: The Story So Far) and Barry Grills ( Snowbird: The Story of Anne Murray), All of Me is Murray's story told in her own words and shaped by accomplished Globe and Mail arts writer Michael Posner. It is warm, straightforward and candid, and Posner has wisely dimmed his own stylistic light in order to let her voice come through.
And it does, sometimes with low-key, self-deprecating humour and surprising honesty, and always with a lack of pretentiousness. Rather like her singing, which communicates both lyric and melody effortlessly, and with an alto range that spans two and a half octaves (pushed up to three with a falsetto, as in phrases in A Love Song), allowing her to sing Doris Day, Patti Page, Rosemary Clooney, Eddie Arnold and the Beatles and make them her own.
So she tells the story of her origins in the tragedy-plagued coal-mining town of Springhill as the only daughter of six children born to a hard-working, beloved doctor and his wife (a former nurse), the modest, uneven beginning of her career with Singalong Jubilee, its skyrocketing after her first gold record in 1970, her business dealings with the considerable help of her "Maritime Mafia" (no sinister connotation intended), marriage, motherhood (a son and a daughter), divorce, personal sacrifices and her experiences with a who's who of show business (everyone from Diana Krall, Burt Reynolds, Merv Griffin, Robert Goulet and Dusty Springfield to K.T. Oslin, Loretta Lynn, Glen Campbell and k.d. lang).
She does not sidestep certain controversies - about her falsely alleged lesbianism (she acknowledges legions of lesbian fans and her idol Dusty Springfield's far-from-secret yearning for her), her sharp snub of the Juno Awards, her adultery with and marriage to William Langstroth (15 years her senior and understandably ill equipped to be Mr. Anne Murray) and some of her ethically questionable business subterfuges.
She is always generous to fellow performers, her favourite songwriters (particularly Gene MacLellan and Randy Goodrum), close friends and loyal business colleagues, and there is never any question of insincerity when she pays them tribute.
About herself, she is always modest: "I wasn't remotely flamboyant. I just had a knack for finding good songs and a way of interpreting them in a direct, unembellished way that people responded to."
This surface placidity could mislead one into thinking that hers is a career without much mystery and a life without enigma. Her Maritime business manager, accountant, lawyer and press agent were a skilled group who did put up barriers to any investigation of her mystery or enigma, but the fact is that she represented an anomalous set of ideas and directions. Often off-handed about her career - she claimed to yearn for early retirement - she tenaciously pursued showbiz success and submitted to decades of gruelling concert tours, changing agents, managers and producers when she deemed it necessary.
Recoiling at times from her girl-next-door image, she repelled media attempts to probe behind it - especially with the help of Leonard Rambeau, her long-time friend and manager - though in her autobiography she takes us on the road with band members who were feasting on drugs, and she makes note of the disturbed Saskatchewan fan who stalked her.
Espousing a deep, abiding love for Nova Scotia, she avoided performing there for many years but then went on to buy homes there and establish the Anne Murray Centre. Critical of other performers who did commercials, she did an about-face and promoted (briefly) the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. At first staunchly opposed to performing in Las Vegas, she relented when the offer was too good to turn down.
The fact is that Anne Murray always sought to be in control, despite the soft, sentimental lyrics of many of her most popular ballads, such as Danny's Song, You Won't See Me, You Needed Me, I Just Fall in Love Again, Broken-Hearted Me and Could I Have This Dance, which portray her as a yearning, confused woman who is vulnerably romantic. Being versatile enough to sing spirituals, children's songs, rock, love ballads, rhythm and blues and country, she confused the music business by defying its attempts to pigeonhole her.
Anne Murray does not seek to place herself on a special pedestal, but she knows her own artistic value, just as any great performer does. She's a great singer, whether or not you like the other things in her image.
Keith Garebian's Elegy for William Saroyan has been selected poem of the month by the Parliamentary Poet Laureate.
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