`We would go for days with just bread and milk and sugar'
Shania Twain feels at home in the bush. She grew up there, learning to hunt and trap and work a chain saw with her Ojibwa father. Her home town of Timmins is about 700 km north of Toronto, or 1,900 km north of Nashville—and lightyears removed from this cool November night in Manhattan, where country music’s hottest new sensation is rehearsing for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Standing on a floodlit square, she lip-syncs through her hit Any Man of Mine. It is a hoedown song with sawing fiddles, a fat drumbeat and toughchick lyrics—“Any man of mine better disagree/When I say another woman’s lookin’ better than me.” After it ends, she glides into the lights of a waiting TV crew. The interviewer asks about Thanksgiving, and she says it has always been a big occasion for her, without bothering to explain that Canadian Thanksgiving is long gone. No matter. On the day of the parade, a cherry-picker truck will hoist Twain onto a monstrous turkey float four storeys high, and she will smile and wave to crowds of people who have no idea where she is from. “What are you going to wear?” asks the TV interviewer. “Thermals,” replies Twain, without missing a beat. When you are from Timmins, you know about thermals.
The next morning, Twain arrives late to greet a visitor, but the time has been well spent on hair, wardrobe and makeup. Behind the cover-girl beauty, however, is a down-home charm—and a Cinderella life story that sounds like the stuff of a country song. “We were really poor,” says Shania, the second of five children born to Gerald Twain and his Irish-Canadian wife, Sharon, “although I never considered it that bad. We would go for days with just bread and milk and sugar—heat it up in a pot. I’d judge other kids’ wealth by their lunches. If a kid had baked goods, that was like, oh, they must be rich.”
Pushed by her parents, who detected her talent at an early age, Twain first sang in bars at 8 and began fronting rock bands in her teens (“I’d walk home alone at 3 a.m. with a rock in my pocket”). Then in 1987, when she was 21, her parents were killed in a collision with a logging truck. For three years, Twain supported her siblings by singing at the upscale Deerhurst Resort in Huntsville, Ont., where she was discovered by a Nashville impresario. She changed her given name, Eileen, to Shania (Ojibwa for “on my way”) and recorded an album. But the big break came in 1993 when Robert John (Mutt) Lange, then living in England, struck up a phone friendship, without her realizing that he was the producer behind such stellar rock acts as Bryan Adams, AC/DC and Def Leppard. Twain and Lange spent hours on the phone composing songs together. By the time they met, they were close friends. Six months later, they married.
Now 30, Twain calls her life “a dream come true.” Her second album, The Woman in Me, which Lange produced this year, has sold more than three million copies in the United States and 700,000 in Canada. And the couple has bought a large property on a private lake in upstate New York, where they have built a studio and begun constructing a house, Shania’s dream home in the bush. Success, of course, has made life more complicated. In Manhattan, she has no time for Christmas shopping. Instead, for the benefit of the TV crew, she takes a spin around the skating rink at the fabled Rockefeller Plaza. Hearing shouts of recognition from the crowd, she waves and smiles, a Canadian guest star carving her name in the American Dream. The name has fulfilled its prophecy: Shania is well on her way.
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