“May we all find salvation in professions that heal” – Shawn Colvin, “Cry Like An Angel”
When Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Shawn Colvin penned these lyrics in 1987, few knew that she was hinting at some long-held, “dirty secrets,” specifically her life-long struggle with depression, panic attacks, addiction and anorexia. They were problems that went back to the singer’s teenage years and, indeed, would require “salvation,” specifically the help of psychiatrists and therapists and anti-depressants. Colvin’s new memoir, Diamond In The Rough, describes that journey in an endlessly fascinating, often-harrowing recollection of one woman’s arduous musical odyssey.
Speaking on the phone from her home in Austin, Tex., Shawn Colvin recently spoke about the memoir.
“For years, my friends have been encouraging me to write my own story. I said I had no idea how to do that,” Colvin says. “But they said, ‘Just write a chapter or two.’ So I did and I got a book deal. I was trapped. I had to do it.”
“I had doubts, ‘Who would want to hear this stuff?’ But my answer was, ‘I think I can be helpful to people by sharing my experiences.’ That was my motivation.”
In her memoir, Colvin describes an idyllic childhood, interrupted when her family moved twice when she was just 12, landing in Carbondale, Ill. Soon she began experiencing severe anxiety.
“The move to Illinois really upset the apple cart,” Colvin says. “Whatever my makeup was emotionally, it just didn’t work.
I was thrown into a large public school that was scary to me. So I just started skipping school and hiding out during the day.”
Colvin says that she saw a therapist but it didn’t help. Nobody really knew what to do. But she says playing guitar rescued her.
“The guitar acted as my life preserver. I could always sing and I had a good ear. Immediately, I started making friends with other musicians. I wrote some songs in high school, but they were just dreadful.”
Singing so often caused Colvin to develop nodes on her vocal chords, which forced her to stop and reconsider what she wanted to do with her life. After high school, she had begun drinking fairly heavily in the clubs where she performed. But in 1983, she got sober and stayed that way.
“I started going to AA. And I think the shallow nature of how I perceived myself was born out during that time. I really only saw my value in my performing. I didn’t understand who I was or what I had to offer beyond that. I seriously considered quitting performing for good.”
Relocating to San Francisco, and then later to New York, drew her back to performing and meeting other musicians like John Levanthal, her longtime musical collaborator (and former romantic partner) who produced Colvin’s Grammy-winning debut album, Steady On.
“He basically changed my life,” Colvin said. “John lives and breathes music. He’s an extremely talented musician and he believed in me on some level and liked my musical sensibility. He liked to write songs and we began co-writing.”
But Colvin says the key to finding her “true voice” was allowing herself to see she was more than just a performer, that she was a multi-faceted human being with many things to give.
“You need a depth of understanding about who you are. You have to be in touch with a deeper sense of self. You have to ask yourself who your real friends are, what you love in them and what they love in you. And I was hiding from those things and faking my self-worth.”
Colvin at age 42 gave birth to a daughter, Callie, who is now in her teens and who Colvin says “keeps her on her toes.”
“Having a child makes you grow up. It’s your responsibility to keep this person alive. I can’t indulge my pain anymore. It’s a real blessing.”
But Colvin still battles depression and anxiety. She says she is lucky to have a great therapist who truly cares and the right medication that works, plus a support system of friends she can turn to anytime.“I just want people to know that they are not alone,” she said. “I’ve learned that panic feels like it’s going to kill you, but it is not, and I work to remind myself of that all the time.”
With the release of a new album, All Fall Down, Colvin is back to touring, with Callie in tow when school is out. Shawn Colvin says she’s “surprisingly content” and finally home.