Michelle Shocked was born Michelle Johnston in Dallas, TX, in 1962, where she spent her early childhood traveling around army bases. In 1977, she ran away from her Mormon fundamentalist mother to live with her father, who introduced her to country bluesmen Big Bill Broonzy and Leadbelly, as well as contemporary songwriters Guy Clark and Randy Newman. She spent the next several years exploring the folk underground, spending the early '80s in Austin, where she began honing her own songwriting skills. After dropping out of the University of Texas, she moved to San Francisco, where she quickly embraced the city's punk scene. When she returned home, her mother had her committed to a psychiatric hospital. She was released when her insurance ran out. Shocked left Texas in 1983, traveled throughout the U.S., and became an activist in the squatters movement in New York. In 1984, she moved to Amsterdam.