Shawn Colvin's 'Diamond In The Rough' Is A Fractured Fairy Tale

Shawn Colvin, the three-time Grammy-winner best known for the 1997 hit "Sunny Came Home," released a new album and a memoir this week. Lyrical, funny and painfully honest,reads like a seriously fractured fairy tale.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

Shawn Colvin, the three-time Grammy-winner best known for the 1997 hit "Sunny Came Home," released a new album "All Fall Down," as well as a memoir this week. Diamond in the Rough is an utterly raw account of Colvin's childhood in South Dakota and Illinois; her life-long battle with anxiety and depression that started in middle school; conquering the alcoholism that dogged her through her 20s; her numerous romantic debacles (and two divorces); and finding happiness in her career and motherhood in her 30s and 40s. Lyrical, funny and painfully honest, Colvin's memoir reads like a seriously fractured fairy tale.

Huff/Post 50 caught up with Colvin in New York, part of her multi-city tour.

Where did the book come from?

I'd have never had the bravery to consider writing a book, but my managers approached me and said, 'why don't you try to, we think you have a story to tell.' I said, 'be that as it may, who wants to read it and why do you think I can write a book?' I just approached it from, 'I'll just write a couple chapters.'

You paint a vivid and heartbreaking picture of your father: "...wrenching me from under the table when I sassed...pushing me against walls if I left the basement door frustrated with me for waking my mother up in the night that he kept me awake all night once, so I could 'see what it felt like.' I was six years old."

He ran the gamut -- he could be tough and scary but also funny, entertaining and just full of mischief and irreverence. My father actually called me out of the blue in the early 1990s and said, 'what was your childhood like?' And I said, 'if you still want to know call me in the morning.' I wanted to see if he was just being sentimental. But he called, and I told him 'this was what was hard and this was what was great.' So I got to say that stuff to him and he listened to me and that was very healing. That really put it behind me. Now he has advanced Alzheimer's and he is as sweet and docile as a person can be; he loves to be hugged and touched and kissed and is just dear, totally dear. So that has given me another opportunity to just know him that way.

In the book you described your mother as "caught between having the gift of compassion and the curse of concern for appearances." She baked bread, made your clothes -- but eventually went to law school in her 40s and became an assistant district attorney. Tell me about her.

My mother was an intelligent, ambitious person who married when she was 20 and had my brother when she was 21, and that hemmed her in. She embraced motherhood with all her heart and soul and gave mothering 100 percent. It took some guts for me to sort of describe aspects of the family that didn't work for me... and it caused my mother some pain. I don't know how she has reconciled that, but she's very dear to me, very supportive and very kind.

"All Fall Down" was produced by Buddy Miller, who you describe meeting and working with in your memoir.

I met him in the '70s; he was the reason I moved to New York City. He invited me to join a band and I was floundering in the Bay area at the time. I came to New York and just about every significant thing that was going to happen to me in my adulthood happened here. Then he moved to Nashville and we hooked up to join a little group called Three Girls and Their Buddy -- me, Buddy, Patty Griffin and Emmylou Harris. I got the chance to reconnect with him [on this album]; he's a great guitar player, great singer and a great producer. He knew exactly what needed to be done.

In the book you perfectly capture the intensity of 14-year-old hero-worship when you write about making a necklace for Joni Mitchell and handing it to a roadie at one of her concerts. Then you met her later in your career.

It was little beads strung on leather and he stuffed it in his pocket. Not only would I meet Joni Mitchell, ironically, when I was leaving her home where we made [the album] "Fat City," she gave me a necklace.

In the book you describe drinking as "the constant in my life, the thing that kept me tethered to sanity until it made me insane." In 1983 you joined AA and quit drinking. What finally motivated you to get sober?

It was my pride to an extent. I was very into music from the time I was 10; I was in the junior choir in school and crazy about the Beatles and loved to sing and music was really important to me. I had this little epiphany when I was immensely hung over one day. I had shown promise in high school and did well at acting. Music was my identity in school and certainly with my classmates. In that rather small town of Carbondale, Illinois, I became a big fish in a small pond and was a popular act in the bar scene.

By the time I got to New York I was floundering; I had not found myself as an artist by any means -- I could copy and sing and perform well but I was not a leader, and I was drunk to cope with my anxiety and depression. One day I thought about the classmates I grew up with, that their view was going to be 'what happened to her?' It was so sad. It was clear to me I had ended up being a drunk and that was a real turning point.

What's the one thing you know now that you wish you knew when you were growing up?

I wish I had known that I wasn't alone with my fears and my neuroses and my feeling so different and unbalanced. I wish I had known there was name for it; that I was not alone and there was treatment.

At this stage of life, what's the one rule you feel you can break with impunity?

I guess it's swearing on stage if I want to. I feel like I've earned that -- earned my language.

What is the riskiest thing you've done in your life since you've turned 50?

I went down the Colorado River at the bottom of Grand Canyon for a week; it was fantastic -- no phone, no lights, no motorcar. The food and tents and things we used for any comfort at all we carried on the boats. As anybody who has sequestered themselves in nature for a while knows, it's enlightening and peaceful and there's a sense of accomplishment to do something like that.

What ignites your creativity?

In the past I was driven to write out of pain and about the personal epiphanies I experienced. Now I'm more in love with the music itself -- the way the words are shaped, the way they go with the melody, what comes out when you least expect it, when you let it come rather than having a specific idea of what I want to write about. It's not as filled with angst and ego.

What is your biggest regret?

I'd say my biggest regret is being an immature lover. I said in the book I'm good at a lot of things and personally a treasure in some relationships -- friends, siblings, mother. But as far as romance goes I have not figured out how to be mature -- and so I haven't had much success with that. I'm very happy being alone raising my daughter, I feel fine and fulfilled and complete. But that my biggest failure and regret.

What is your greatest accomplishment?

My daughter -- I figure if you can keep 'em alive until 18 you've done good. All parents say this, but she's a wonderful girl and delights and amazes me, and I've had something to do with that -- at least being a witness to that and loving her.

(Check out the slideshow below for some classic Shawn Colvin performances.)

Shawn Colvin

Before You Go

Popular in the Community