All of Her
Photography by Bryan Adams
Her signature voice has been called one of Canada’s national treasures. Anne Murray has been honoured with four Grammy Awards, three CMA Awards and countless Juno Awards. With the news of the nominees for the 2013 Juno Awards, we look back at Zoomer magazine’s cover story (November 2009) featuring the iconic songstress and her thoughts on the release of her book All of Me.
By David Livingstone
With the publication of her autobiography, All of Me, iconic songstress Anne Murray sets the record straight.
Sure, a literary debut at the age of 64 is a happy affair. Co-written with veteran journalist Michael Posner, the book, coming out in both Canada and the U.S., is being treated to a print run of Atwood proportions and supported by a 14-city promotional tour that will take Murray to Moncton for a signing at Wal-Mart and to Toronto for an appearance at the International Festival of Authors.
But to think that she’s giving up song, that hurts. The pang gets worse when I talk to her on the phone. She’s at her summer place in Nova Scotia, on the Northumberland Strait, from where at night she can see the lights of Charlottetown. There can’t be all that many, I joke to myself, trying to hang tough, but mere mention of them is enough to put this Cape Breton-born Maritimer in a maudlin mood. And when she starts talking about not singing any more, it makes me misty.
I have to ask, “What does it do to you?”
“Oh, nothing,” Murray says, and laughs, leaving me unsure of what was so absurd, the question or the answer.
The funny part, of course, is that I couldn’t tell. Although in 1981, I wrote Anne Murray: The Story So Far, a paperback biography that is probably the definitive work on her kitchen reno, and I did the liner notes for Anne Murray: Now & Forever, a boxed set of three cassettes that was released in 1994, I still find Murray to be strangely elusive.
Making no big deal of it, Murray explains her retirement with a club-woman’s propriety combined with a Mother Superior’s strictness.
“This is something I’ve been thinking about for a long time. It’s hard but, you know what, I know it’s the right thing to do. Because I can still sing and I think that’s the time to stop, when you can still do it. Otherwise, you end up with people feeling sorry for you. There are many of my peers who are shadows of their former selves. I see it and I think it’s unfortunate,” she says, chasing her pious opinion with a hearty shot of self-regard: “Maybe I set the bar too high for myself. It’s hard to settle for less.”
There is no fake modesty in All of Me either. Murray acknowledges that she became a “meta-entity” and does her best to analyze what has made her such an iconic figure.
Career alone doesn’t account for it, even one that began 40 years ago with the television hootenanny out of Halifax called Singalong Jubilee, and that grew to include hit singles, guest spots on American television, gigs as a headliner in Vegas, successes on both country and pop charts, critical acclaim from Elvis Presley, John Lennon and Rosemary Clooney, countless awards, almost as many hairdos and an honorary Canadian postage stamp.
However, Murray’s rise to symbolic status also had something to do with her character. An enigmatic blend of candour and restraint, she has charmed audiences with shamelessly rehearsed patter, all the while insisting that she was never cut out to be a public performer. It’s a riddle that she herself doesn’t solve. At the end of All of Me, all she says she is is, “Just a girl from Springhill, Nova Scotia.” That would sound disingenuous had Murray not done such a thorough job of redefining what “just a girl from Springhill” means. She was never just the “straight, clean and simple” — the title of her 1971 album — young woman who appeared on stage in her bare feet. In fact, as her book reveals, she’s more complex than she’s given credit for.
Some cats knew that all along. In 1973, reviewing an album for Creem magazine, the legendary rock writer Lester Bangs dug beneath the obvious for a theory that ascribed Murray’s “hypnotically compelling” appeal to “the scientific application of that time-honoured and almost forgotten erotic technique — the holdout.”
In All of Me, Murray owns up to some of the delaying tactics she’s resorted to. To get out of her first recording contract she told them she wanted to extend her three-year deal to five. They fell for it. She asked them to return all copies of the original agreement, burned them and signed on with Capitol, an international giant.
On the romantic front, Murray also engaged in subterfuge. In 1975, she married Bill Langstroth, who had been her producer and manager and who at the start of their relationship in the late ’60s was still living with his first wife. “[W]hen reporters asked about my love life, I said I was too busy to have one,” she now admits.
In the paragraph before that, she mentions that it was around that time that Brian Mulroney sought to court her. At least once when he came to her apartment, Murray had her roommate tell him she was not at home.
Although she confesses her own transgressions, Murray says, “I have gone out of my way not to say bad things about people.” There are a few recollections that could be considered catty. She describes a backstage visit from a bellowing Robert Goulet, a singer who, before Murray, was one of very few Canadian stars to make any noise in the States. As for Céline Dion, one of the many who came after, it sounds as if Murray is still smarting from a post-show visit to Dion where instead of being shown to a private holding area, Murray waited for an hour in a crowded room. “I couldn’t really blame Céline — she very likely had no idea this was happening — but her handlers ought to have known better,” writes Murray rather stonily, a stern diva with etiquette on her side.
There’s even a lurid scene that Murray looks back on forgivingly as “drunken foolishness” but reads like something out of Jackie Collins, when Dusty Springfield, a singer Murray idolizes, came on to her, pretending she needed help in the washroom with a broken zipper.