Jenny over at Reading the End has come up with a concept – Something on Sunday. What is it? Well, her intro post gives you all the deets, but here’s a snippet of the sort of thing that it entails:
The only guidelines are that you write about something that kept you on your feet that week, whether that’s a person that inspired you, an action you took that you’re proud of, a book or movie or TV show that nourished your heart, a self-care strategy that worked for you, a goofy event or moment that brought you joy.
The idea was set up to be a bright corner in a fairly dark time for many people in the world. Now, Stuck in a Book is a fairly cheerful place all the time (I think), and I face a lot less difficulty and oppression than most – and, perhaps most importantly right now, Donald ‘Total Disaster’ Trump is not my President. I’m no lover of the political situation in the UK right now, but everything is relative.
Enough caveats. It’s a good excuse to talk about things that bring joy. I’ve decided I might use it to do little posts about things I love that aren’t to do with books – not necessarily related to the past week, but just personal posts about things big and small in my life. And, yes, I’m starting with Shania Twain. Not really about her music, but about what it has meant to me over the years.
When I was about 12, I had vouchers or birthday money or something, and I had enough to buy two albums. Pop music was something I was very into at the time, and I bought and avidly read Smash Hits and Top of the Pops magazines. Because yes, of course, whatever I was into I wanted stuff to READ. But I think I was mostly motivated by the tastes of my best friend at the time, a boy called Tom who had recently moved to the area and joined the school. I was pretty unpopular and uncool; he was pretty cool but new. I think that made us about equal on the school scale for a moment or two. And I’m pretty sure he encouraged me to buy the two albums I did get – Savage Garden by Savage Garden, and Come On Over by Shania Twain.
I’m far from the only person to have bought that album. It’s one of the bestselling albums of all time. And it remains a total joy – uplifting, touching, unbeatably catchy. Not, I imagine, at all cool. But while younger people today seem only to know ‘Man! I Feel Like A Woman’ and perhaps ‘That Don’t Impress Me Much’ – two upbeat and sassy songs from the album – I was equally in love with ‘When’, ‘Whatever You Do, Don’t’, ‘You’ve Really Got A Way’ – pretty much all of them. By this point I owned perhaps five albums – so Come On Over was on repeat.
But it proved popular across the family, at least to an extent. Dad likes a few bands and singers, and listens to them occasionally; Mum never really listens to pop music. The music in our house growing up was almost always classical, but we’ve never been the sort of house that put a CD on in the background – when people talk about their musical upbringing, or how they inherited a love of soul or punk or jazz or whatever from their parents, I can’t really relate. I inherited a love of books, baking, the countryside, all sorts of things – but not that. So I find it quite touching and lovely that it was sort of the other way around with ‘You’re Still the One’ – which my parents heard me playing, and which became ‘their song’. They hadn’t had one before, and the lyrics Shania sings – ‘You’re still the one I run to, the one that I belong to, you’re still the one I want for life’ – are simple, but rather a good song to choose for a couple decades into a marriage.
Simple lyrics worked again when I was in my late teens and feeling rather low. It might sound silly, but the song ‘Up!’ was the only thing that really worked at that time – ‘Up, up, up, can only go up from here’. Never underestimate the power of simplicity. And cliches can be profound when they’re needed.
By now – say, 17 – I’d got all of her past albums too, and listened to them inside out. I still do. And it was one of the things that really helped at university – this time because it helped me bond with a new friend. I made lots of fantastic friends at uni (people who liked reading! finally!) but, on day one, Andrea was a Godsend in every sense of the word. I absolutely didn’t want to go clubbing or get drunk. I have never done either in my life, and have not the slightest temptation to – they both sound like horrible experiences to me, but each to their own. On my corridor of new people, only one person preferred to make a hot chocolate and chatter that evening – thank goodness for Andrea. I don’t know if it was in that conversation or later that we discovered that we both knew all the words to all of Shania’s songs. I do know that we once spent a silly and happy afternoon being punted around Oxford (by our friend Michael) while we bellowed out word-perfect versions of ‘Who’s Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?’, ‘Raining On Our Love’, ‘Any Man of Mine’, and more. Michael was embarrassed but tolerant.
Thirteen years after we met, we’ve finally managed to get tickets to see Shania Twain – next year in London – and it feels like a nostalgic moment that brings together many threads of my life. My affection for Shania Twain has certainly lasted longer than any of my friendships, since I’m not regularly in touch with anybody from school (er, except my brother). She might be a distant memory for most people my age now, and a little bit the butt of a joke, but I still love her – not just for her infectious and uplifting music, but because of the happiness she has brought me, in different ways, for about twenty years.