Anne Murray says she’s ready to divert from memory lane after new documentary


Published December 15, 2021 at 3:54 pm

TORONTO — Anne Murray has retrodden the path of her illustrious singing career so often in recent years that she wonders if it’s about time she stopped looking back.

More than a decade into her retirement, the four-time Grammy winner has mostly stayed out of the limelight. But she’s indulged in a good share of reflection, which includes a revealing autobiography, numerous album reissues and now the feature-length documentary “Anne Murray: Full Circle,” which debuts Friday on CBC and CBC Gem.

“I’m ready to stop going down memory lane,” the 76-year-old confessed in a recent phone interview from her Nova Scotia home.

Murray was never much for looking back, so when a Canadian production company approached her about retracing her legacy for a movie, she wasn’t initially sold on the idea.

Past experiences with reflection haven’t always been pleasant. Sometimes they’ve been downright “painful,” she said. For instance, working on her 2009 autobiography “All of Me” dredged up memories she would’ve rather left behind.

The book explored her attempt to balance motherhood with a career, a years-long affair with the late Bill Langstroth, a television producer who later became her husband, and her many brushes with misogyny on the road.

“Somebody told me it was going to be cathartic. Nah, it wasn’t,” she said of her foray into publishing.

“Most people I know have regrets of some kind about what they’ve done and there were some tough times.”

But Murray saw participating in a feature-length documentary as both an “honour” and an opportunity. Aside from simply revisiting her accomplishments, she could dispel the myths of celebrity by sharing her own tales of hard work and personal sacrifice.

“People don’t see that,” Murray said of fame’s less glamorous side.

“Back then I had to work my bloody ass off. I had to promote everything. I did interviews morning, noon and night, and did television shows to promote other television shows to promote records.”

“Anne Murray: Full Circle” takes a gentle approach to the “Snowbird” singer’s rise from a humble small-town upbringing to the glitz of show business where she became a household name.

Leaving the modern-day Murray almost unseen, the documentary blends new audio interviews with the singer alongside never-before-seen footage pulled from her personal video archives. 

Several of her contemporaries, including Shania Twain, Bonnie Raitt and k.d. lang, lend their voices to help contextualize Murray’s status as the first Canadian female solo singer to reach No. 1 on the U.S. charts and also the first to earn a gold record.

The film also dives into some of the messy truths of Murray’s success, including a period when she put her children second to her career. The young performer thought, perhaps naively she admits, that it was possible to raise a family while meeting the obligations of a record label contract.

Time hasn’t softened the regret she still feels over those decisions.

“You leave a two-year-old baby and go on the road and I’ll tell you that is painful,” she said.

“It’s tough for a mother to go through…. When I had to go to work, I wasn’t leaving for 12 hours. I was leaving for two or three weeks.”

Directors Morgan Elliott and Adrian Buitenhuis, who worked on “I Am Patrick Swayze” and several other celebrity-themed “I Am…” documentaries, also explore the significance and struggle that came with being a solo female artist in the male-dominated music industry of the 1970s.

At times, Murray said she clashed with some of the male players in her backing band who didn’t like taking direction from a woman.

“I once had a guy who, I was paying his cheques, and I asked if he could please dress more appropriately, rather than a vest with no shirt on stage,” she remembered.

“And he said, ‘Well, I don’t tell you what to wear.'”

Those instances were numerous and often forced Murray to pull another man into the conversation to resolve the conflict. Some of the less cooperative musicians were let go.

Other times, drug and alcohol abuse by her bandmates caused bigger problems.

“There were nights that one musician would be on drugs and would fall into his guitar,” she said.

“Some other night one of them fell off the stage, he was so drunk. This is what I had to deal with. And I was a very young woman. But as time went on, I found more reliable people.”

Murray prefers to reflect on those happier days that came later in her career. It was one of the omissions she pointed out to the filmmakers after watching a rough cut of “Anne Murray: Full Circle,” she said.

“Something missing for me was the camaraderie that I had on the road with my musicians in the last 30 years,” she said, adding that the final cut reflects on those good times.

“We had so much fun,” she said. “It was just a really closely knit family road family.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 15, 2021.

David Friend, The Canadian Press

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