anne murray

Late in 2003 I had back surgery. Afterward, they put me on drugs for pain, and I do not tolerate drugs for pain at all well. Hunter Thompson-esque visions of faces coming out of mirrors and talking to me, and ceilings sliding around in circles if I dared to look up. That said, this piece was published in Mountain Xpress in Asheville, N.C., during my second tenure there as assistant editor, and music editor. During the drugs for pain.

Originally published Nov. 26, 2003 | (c) Mountain Xpress, 2003

Tainted love

Canadian pop star’s silly little love songs provoke inappropriate passions

In the winter of ’68, in a drafty motel room in Port Huron, Mich., Anne Murray and I had a brief, doomed affair to the soundtrack of border-bound freight trucks rattling through the frigid dark beyond our desperate door.

And I am a better man for it — though Anne, soon to become a world-famous singer of gooey love songs, refuses now to acknowledge that I even exist.

OK, I’m sorry, really. But for that very last part, the whole tale was utterly cooked up, a lie bred of my soft heart’s being torn so asunder. I was actually only 2 years old in 1968, the year Anne’s dewy-eyed debut album, What About Me, was released. And I’ve never even been to Michigan.

But the Canadian star truly won’t talk to me. And Lord knows, I’ve tried.

I was initially told by Her People that a phone interview was likely in conjunction with Anne’s current Christmas-themed tour, which brings her next week to Asheville — that I could chat with Anne of snowbirds, Teddy bears, the tears she cried, chains of love, urban cowboys, what have you. I made it as far as the Inner Circle of her handlers, only to be abruptly — even coldly — dismissed, like some regretted former fling who drops by out of the blue to say hey, only to have the door slammed flat in his face.

And it hurts, Anne. It does.

Your songs — stitched across the AM-radio fabric of my briefly disingenuous youth — led me to believe so much more was possible between us.

The Grammy White Way

The Novia Scotia-born singer, now 58, has a full hearth of awards to dust back home in Toronto, when she ever gets off the road.

Four Grammies. Three American Music Awards. Two Country Music Association Awards. More than 20 Junos (Canada’s Grammy, as people like to call it). And in 1985, Anne was made a Companion of the Order of Canada, which is, apparently, a pretty big damn deal up there.

Too, she’s released about as many best-of/greatest-hits collections in her 35-year recording career as she has albums of new material. Plus, there’s that kids’ record (There’s a Hippo in My Tub, 1977; reissued 2001), and the holiday-music double-header What a Wonderful Christmas (2001), which Anne is again touring this December.

She’s long been one of the queens of adult-contemporary and soft-country radio — which means that most of us recognize more of her music than we probably think.

As an interpreter of others’ songs — the manner in which Anne has invaded most of our lives — she’s a tremulous mouthpiece of cheery thoughts and blushing, hand-holdin’ fun:

She needed you, and you were there.

She cried the tear; you wiped it dry.

You are her sunshine.

Heaven is that moment when she looks into your eyes.

She’d like this dance for the rest of her life.

The world will be a better place, just wait and see.

Anne is an avowed appreciator of Bob Dylan, and has even tackled his sublime “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” — a cover I have, gratefully, never experienced. Because I, too, am a Dylan fan.

But I have heard Anne’s takes on Eric Anderson’s “Thirsty Boots” and Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” What about well enough, I wonder, could not be left alone?

No, I cried the damn tear

So let me start over, completely honest this time.

To this day, that whole syrupy school of ’70s-sprung female singers (nay, vocalists) sparks in me the flight response: Helen Reddy (“Delta Dawn”), Debbie Boone (“You Light Up My Life”), Toni Tenille (“Muskrat Love,” with that blasted Captain).

And, above all, Anne Murray.

In particular, Anne’s perky 1973 hit “Danny’s Song,” written by saccharine soundtrack puffball Kenny Loggins, a candidate for hell’s own music hall of fame.

The tune will suddenly start dripping from the overhead speakers when I’m trapped in, say, a Wal-Mart, buying myself some Dr. Scholl’s Gel Insoles, maybe, or a pair of Dale Earnardt boxer shorts. And there’s no possible way I can ever outrun those first appalling verses:

People smile and tell me I’m the lucky one
And we’ve just begun; think I’m gonna have a son
He will be like you and me, as free as a dove
Conceived in love; the sun is gonna shine above

It’s like being shot in the head, except that I don’t die. And how fair is that?

But in truth, it’s not nearly that simple, my dislike. Anne is, after all, an icon — a little piece of good and true; a frosty-coiffed slice of adorable, apple-cheeked, Norman Rockwell hominess and pre-Internet “girl next door.”

So her music, to some extent, must be obeyed.

Anne’s voice has always been rounder and riper than those of her contemporaries. And when she kicks in with that too-seldom-used, growl-y bottom-end, it’s actually sorta hot.

Erratic ’70s rock critic Lester Bangs was so stirred by it as to declare in a 1974 Creem magazine review — now excerpted in Anchor Books’ just-published Mainlines, Blood Feasts, and Bad Taste: A Lester Bangs Reader — that Anne is all about “S-E-X with a capital X.”

In fact, her songs are invariably about anything but. (Have I mentioned that in ’71, Anne put out an album called Straight, Clean & Simple, which was later eponymously renamed, for reasons that I have to believe are exceptionally funny?)

Another paragraph into Bang’s review, and he actually nailed the truth — typically not something he let get in the way of his ramble-prone writing — calling Anne “the ultimate tease.”

Bangs was just being cute there. But, honestly, even the Canadian songbird’s volcanic-titled “Make Love to Me” (1993) never once gets overheated:

Anne could use some squeezin’. You give here chills. She won’t be happy till you’re hers – cuz you’re so doggone sweet. So ya best get that bump-and-grind outcha mind, yo.

That last part was mine, actually. Anne never sang that.

Yet I can be tender, too. I’m capable of nice thoughts. And still, Anne remains ultimately removed from me, out there somewhere in this big ol’ world, as I suffer here, staring down my cold, cruel phone.

I pine for a lass, as Anne sings, who “holds the world in a paper cup.” And, oh, that I could drink it up, and love her till she brings me luck.

Aw, screw it. I’m gonna go shout along to the Bloodhound Gang’s “Kiss Me Where It Smells Funny.” What else is left for a broken-hearted boy to do?

 

As a sidenote, the following short letter to the editor ran in Mountain Xpress in early 2004, addressing the weekly paper’s yearly roundup of quotes by Asheville movers-and-shakers, and by Xpress staff writers as well:

Xpress has misquoted itself

A serious error has been made to which I must call your attention. When you ran your article of great quotes from 2003 [“Wagging Tongues,” Jan. 7], you overlooked the single-funniest thing that appeared in the Mountain Xpress last year. Here’s Frank Rabey in his [Nov. 26 feature article on] Anne Murray:

“[There’s] no possible way I can ever outrun those first appalling verses:

‘People smile and tell me I’m the lucky one
And we’ve just begun; think I’m gonna have a son
He will be like you and me, as free as a dove
Conceived in love; the sun is gonna shine above’

It’s like being shot in the head, except that I don’t die. And how fair is that?”

Thanks for correcting the record.

– Charlie Thomas
Asheville

And what the … ?

As a second side-note: Not long after this was published in Mountain Xpress, a note showed up out of the blue in my email inbox, from Steve Sexton, Anne Murray’s orchestral director for more than two decades at that point, who was handling the duties for her “What a Wonderful Christmas” tour stop in Asheville that precipitated this article. I was sure he was going to excoriate me for the tone of this piece: How dare I insult a bona fide musical institution in such a callous, and flip, manner? Well, bowl me over with my own expectations: Sexton’s note declared this one of the best articles he’d ever seen written about her. I’m still trying to keep from stepping in my own mouth, from where my jaw sits on the floor every time I chance to remember that …

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