Amy Grant talks about her new book, her divorce and subsequent marriage to Vince Gill, 'easy' hair, teenage crushes and more
By Liz Garrigan, NASHVILLE SCENE
It’s a Friday afternoon, and there’s a fleet of managers, photographers, nannies, journalists, a makeup artist and construction workers milling in and out. Recording artists Amy Grant and Vince Gill live in the kind of comfortable house where Jim McGuire portraits of country artists such as Johnny Cash and Minnie Pearl hang not far from the framed finger paintings of their children. Halloween decorations adorn the front porch, and what seem like dozens of golf balls sit idle on a side yard putting green as family dogs Skittles and Chester hold court wherever they please.
Grant’s in town only briefly, so her schedule is full. And while she sits down with the Scene, folks from another hard-hitting, ball-busting publication—er, Good Housekeeping, which explains the makeup artist—wait in a room across the hall, visiting on and off with husband Vince Gill, who has wandered out of the bedroom fresh from a shower.
The occasion: the release of Grant’s first book, a collection of bits and bites reflecting on the 46-year-old’s family, relationships, children, career and spiritual life. Interspersed with lyrics from her songs, à la Joni Mitchell, Grant’s new book, Mosaic: Pieces of My Life So Far, is, as Grant puts it, like “a cup of coffee.” A quick read whose content no doubt will be most poignant for women, the book includes a timeline of Grant’s life and career, as well as her thoughts on family milestones from childbirth and death to a spontaneous baptism a few years ago in the Brazos River.
As she makes a pot of coffee amid the din of activity, the organized chaos feels natural to her: “It was the kind of house I grew up in,” the Nashville native and youngest of four sisters says. “And it’s not because my parents had a big social calendar. It’s just that our house was open. We had a piano and we had a pool. We just had gatherings. Home should be the safest, nurturing place.”
Grant says that, despite all of the distractions, hers is a life not unlike many others. Her nanny, Phyllis Mayfield, who’s been with Grant 20 years, once short-sheeted her bed—”I thought we had reentered summer camp.” And when she wants her family to think she’s got it all together, she’ll throw a cast iron skillet on the stove with some olive oil and onions, which signals the beginning of something. “Give me 20 minutes, and I’ll figure it out,” she says.
As for home life before Gill, though, the book only grazes—in terms of details, anyway—the breakup of her 17-year marriage to Gary Chapman, which ended in 1999. In an interview with the Scene, excerpts of which follow, she offers more details about her divorce from Chapman, with whom she has three children. She has another child, 6-year-old Corrina, with Gill.
Scene: Your book is set up as a series of essays, lyrics, vignettes, prayers and meditations—page after page of heartwarming memories, a sort of artifact file of your life. But before we go into all that, I have to ask: how much courage did it take to admit in print, for all the world to see, how much you weigh?
Grant: I worked hard to get down to 145. I was proud!
Scene: In the book, despite the occasional anecdotes about vacationing with the Bushes and hanging out with the likes of Kevin Costner, you come across as pretty much an Everywoman. Is that how you view yourself?
Grant: Yes. I didn’t have a game plan when I started this. I was invited to write a book, and once I’d said yes and a cold sweat set in, then I went, “Oh my gosh, what am I gonna say?” The way the book took shape was, one day a week I would drive out to this cabin on the hillside where Vince and I were married, and that’s about as organized as I got. On the drive out, I would think, “What’s some story that I’ve told and retold?” I wasn’t picky about sequence.
It felt like so much writing produced so little on the page. It was a shocker to me. I wrote it all longhand, and I would have 10 pages of legal pad, and finally—by the time I edited and organized my thoughts—it would come down to three pages of print.
When I first started, Vince would tease me unmercifully about, “Oh, the writer.” And so I said, “You can’t call it a book. We’ll call it anything but a book.” So we started off calling it “the flier.” For several weeks, he would say, “You going out to work on the flier?” We worked our way up to “pamphlet,” then “booklet.”
Scene: You say in the beginning that you’ve always wanted to write a book.
Grant: I think I was 17 the first time I was offered a book deal, and by then I already had things I wanted to hide.
Scene: What could you possibly have to hide at 17?
Grant: I’m still hiding it.
Scene: What kind of guys did you date back then?
Scene: College guys?
Grant: Well, my first official date was to my high school graduation, and he was nine years older than I was.
Scene: What did your parents think about that?
Grant: They liked him, and I think they were probably worn out by the time I came along because I was the youngest [of four]. But I was just curious. I wasn’t destructive.
Scene: I grew up listening to Age to Age and watching my brothers’ and others’ enormous infatuation with you. Did you have any idea back then that you were like a Christian version of Britney Spears?
Grant: I didn’t picture myself that way, so it wouldn’t have occurred to me. I liked people and I had enough of my own crushes on people. My first song was inspired by my oldest brother-in-law’s college roommate.
Scene: Hardly a page goes by in Mosaic that you don’t allude to life’s potholes in one way or another. In one passage, you write, “It was just that I’d grown accustomed to the ache of grief caused by life, by loss, by doors closed that can never be reopened, the ripple effect of my choices. Consciously or unconsciously, I had incorporated scars and shadows into my emotional movement the same way a war veteran accepts a permanent limp or a disfigured limb—just glad to still be alive.” What are you referring to there?
Grant: Just everything in the wake of basically blowing up my life as I knew it when I divorced Gary. You don’t just live on an island. Families are very integrated. I mean, I invested in my own family and the family I married into for 17 years—on a daily basis. So to then say, “I can’t do this anymore,” is not just the end of a marriage. That was my biggest life investment up to that point. We did holidays together, dinners all the time; we went on the road together… [long pause]. That made that choice and that change monumental for me.
Scene: How long did it take to make the decision?
Grant: Really, I felt about a 10-year transition from being fully engaged as a wife, all systems go, to being fully engaged in a different direction.
Scene: Were you aware of it at the time, or only in hindsight?
Grant: Only in hindsight.
[Photographer interrupts for a picture.]
I have not actually brushed my hair since yesterday. I had to speak somewhere this morning, and when I showered, I stuck it up in a thing like that [motioning hair on top of her head]. And then I was running late, and my car wouldn’t start, and I spoke with it up in my shower do. And I took it down on my way in [here].
Scene: You know, that just pisses me off.
Grant: People have said, “What do you feel your spiritual gifts are?”—there are circles where those questions are asked —and I’ve always said, “Easy hair, and I can sleep standing up.” I feel like those were the two things that equipped me and took the most stress off my life. I don’t know whether they’re spiritual gifts, but they’re gifts.
Scene: What was it like to fall in love with Vince—and was it the eyes?
Grant: He does have exceptional eyes. What happened with Vince is that I had that uncanny experience of immediate familiarity. And because I was married and he was married, there wasn’t any of that awkwardness that can happen, [no] “Gee, I wonder if.” The first several times I was around him, they were all working situations, which meant we were both doing something that we loved doing. I remember going over to see some artwork on a record he’d done, and I walked in, and [artist Virginia Team] said, “Now, how long have you guys been knowing each other? It seems like you’ve been lifelong friends.” I just remember it was that uncanny familiarity. I’ve seen women take that flirty posture of, “I think he’s looking at me.” [But] we just went straight to “I know you.”
Scene: Is it still kinetic after seven years? It seems like it’s been a sweet romance, but have you fallen into a rhythm just like the rest of us?
Grant: I think everybody falls into a rhythm, but you can’t just say “sweet romance” when two people connect who are both married. That situation is a rough road. I think meeting Vince—I don’t know if it set me on a course or accelerated a course, and I’ll never know. It’s like standing on the edge of what winds up being a sinkhole the size of the Grand Canyon, but it doesn’t start that way. It wasn’t until the fall of 1998 that I said, “I’m leaving this home.” Until then I was just bound and determined to stay.
Scene: Did you know then that you loved Vince?
Grant: I did. [But] I never had a getaway plan with Vince. I don’t know if [my marriage] would have derailed the same way, or if it would have derailed at all, but I felt like to the best of my ability I tried to be where I was supposed to be. And at some point, I just said, “I can’t be here anymore.”
Scene: How did you make that transition as painless as possible for the kids?
Grant: I don’t know that I did. Obviously, I went to Gary first and said, “I can’t do this anymore.” He and I actually had four months of pre-divorce counseling by two counselors.
Scene: You mean counseling to prepare for divorce, or to avoid divorce?
Grant: In preparation. We had off-and-on counseling for 14 years. He and I had that conversation in August, and we started counseling, and then we told our kids the week after Christmas. It was months of trying to sort through, in a respectful way, how to get from here to there. I left in February. It was awful.
Scene: But you and Gary put your heads together, which is a better starting point than a lot of people.
[Vince Gill sticks his head through the swinging door before realizing Grant's being interviewed. "She's like George Washington. She cannot lie," he says, before disappearing.]
Scene: You’re married to Mr. McDreamy. It’s OK to say that to you, right?
Grant: Yeah, I get it.
Scene: In the book, you describe a strained scene with Jenny, Vince’s daughter by his first marriage, and allude briefly to the fact that over the years you’ve come to accept one another. How is life now with her?
Grant: Jenny has an infectious laugh. She loves great competition—she’s a card player; she loves games. She’s just funny, talented, great sense of humor, beautiful….
Scene: At 25, is she close to your children at all?
Grant: As close as someone can be who doesn’t live here anymore. Yeah, if it’s somebody’s birthday, of course she’s going to be here.
I wish you could stick around, or come back, because everybody’s coming. When you see a public couple, you sort of project all these things of what they’re going to be like. It’s sort of like when you pack for a trip and you’re kind of picturing yourself with the wind in your face with that outfit on, or how these shoes are going to feel going down that road. And that wind and that road never materialize. You can’t help imagining all that stuff, but that’s never what it’s like. But it is [still] a very real thing.
[Manager Jennifer Cooke injects: Except Vince really is Mr. McDreamy.]
Scene: Do you like his hair shorter or longer?
Grant: He’s got beautiful hair, and I like it both ways. Sometimes when it’s longer, it can really do a bad wild thing, you know. When you get to know somebody, you don’t look at them in terms of whether they’re having a good or bad hair day. They just are. For being as cute as he is, I’m telling you, I’ve never met anybody who cared less. We’re all heading out the door to church, brushing your hair would have been nice….