When Eilleen Twain was in 12th grade — not yet Shania, not yet a global star — her music teacher asked her to sing an original song at a high school concert in Ottawa, Ontario. Though she had been singing professionally since she was 8, often to help her parents pay the bills, performing made her so nervous, she could feel it in her bladder. When the MC called her name, she was sitting in the trumpet section of her school orchestra and felt a warm trickle down her leg. Thinking fast, she kicked over the glass of water next to her chair and said, “Damn! I spilled my water!” Then she took center stage with her acoustic guitar and knocked ’em dead.
Every enduringly successful artist has a survival instinct, but Shania Twain’s is in Joan of Arc territory. Her impoverished childhood in Ontario, detailed in her best-selling memoir From This Moment On, reads like Dickens: parents who didn’t always have money for groceries and moved the family from place to place, sometimes to dodge the rent; five kids who would sleep in dirt-floored basements; a father who would get into violent fights with her mother, who sank into chronic depression. One of Twain’s first attempts at songwriting was titled “Won’t You Come Out to Play” — a plea for her mother to get out of bed.