Sometimes artists have the ability to sneak up on you with their music. Not necessarily in a bad way, but in a way that is unexpected and from left field. One minute in your life, you wouldn’t even consider listening to them, or in some cases, may not have even heard of them. And then in the next, you’re listening to their music, enjoying it, and realising that the style of music you are indeed hearing, is such that maybe, you need at that particular moment. For artists do come and go within the music industry- they often start off with a bang, release a solid debut album, and then maybe fizzle off into the ether, for one reason or another. Then there are artists that keep going and going, creating albums that impact the mind and challenge our very souls, year after year after year. There are artists we may not have heard of before, and then there are artists that we hear constantly on the radio. And both these artists- the overplayed and the unassuming, are valid and needed in society, they each provide a service and fill a void, creating music for people, in different situations, circumstances and purposes. And here in these blog posts that I’ve been undertaking for a year and a half, most of them are such where their music haven’t been at the forefront of my own mind until the time that I have discussed them…and then later, I realise that the artist and the music I have just listened to, shouldn’t have been as foreign and unknown as it was for me. I have since realised that because of my CCM bubble that I grew up in during my primary school years (and well into my teens and young adult (Y.A.) years), I missed out on some good quality music, music that God has used in people’s lives, just the same as CCM. And now in this year and a half, I’ve lifted the lid and realised this one very thing- that whether someone likes CCM or mainstream music, isn’t really the matter to God. He will use whatever He wants to, to connect people towards Himself. What does matter are people’s hearts, and sometimes in the unlikeliest of circumstances, it can be the unassuming artists that come along, and tug at our very hearts, and really challenge what it truly means to love God and love people well in this life.
I have had artists across these 18 months that have really impacted my soul for the better- standouts like Avril Lavigne, U2, Andrew Peterson, Sara Bareilles, Train, Skillet, OneRepublic, Bryan Adams, Lecrae, Alicia Keys, Hanson, Colbie Caillat, John Mayer, Sarah McLachlan and the Goo Goo Dolls; are just some of the artists that have really challenged my own perception of what a certain good artist should look like, and what a certain artist needs to talk and discuss about through song, that can even be deemed to have any form of acceptability as being something worthy to discuss. For all these artists I’ve aforementioned are all on the varying degree-of-success level and you look at their careers- some of more established than others, and some are more popular than others. And that’s ok. For music doesn’t have to be universally ‘liked’ for it to be universally applicable to someone’s life. Good music is good music, whether people enjoy it on a personal level or not. Music has the power to challenge us all on a soul-to-soul level, and over the last year and a half, it’s certainly done so. For these aforementioned artists, plus many, many more, have reminded me that it is ok to love CCM, and that it’s ok to love mainstream. It’s ok to love both, and to be reminded of the truth, that both can lead people to have a better relationship with the Lord. Enter in another artist that I’ve listened to this last week or so, that I’m to discuss at this moment about. A late addition to my top 100 influential artists list, I’ve since been appreciative of this artist and their ability to write songs and music that focuses on lyrics, and it being the main driver for someone’s appreciation of it. Born in Utah, but raised in Alaska, Jewel Kilcher (or known by her stage pseudonym Jewel) and her music have reminded me of the vocals of Kasey Chambers, mixed with the music of Sheryl Crow and Sarah McLachlan…all in a good way.
Jewel’s presence in the music industry since 1995, has been a great gift for music in general- while people may find it odd and interesting that such an artist like Jewel (who’s not really that popular now compared to current artists, or even back then when she started out in the industry too!) is even present here on my ever-fluctuating and fluid influential artists list; what I will say is this. Jewel and her music are both calming and peaceful, while also being poignant and compelling, all at once. It has been her strong determination to stay in the industry for quite some time and not be stagnant in her music style, that has kept her appeal to people all this time. 8 studio albums, 2 Christmas albums and 2 lullaby albums later, we see a smorgasbord of radio hits and other standout songs, all that have challenged and impacted people for the last 20 years or so, me included. And though even now, Jewel may not necessarily be the household name as she once was, what I’ve nevertheless realised is that sometimes the music artists that lose popularity as quickly as they find it, can still be as heartfelt, and sometimes more so, than the artists that maintain their popularity for a longer period of time. For a popular music artist and an influential music artist aren’t always the same, and Jewel and her music most definitely fall into the second category. With five years between her last album (2015’s Picking Up the Pieces) and now, Jewel’s popularity within the music industry has since been on the decline, and maybe that’s ok. I’ve realised over this last year that popularity is overrated- artists that often have something worthwhile to say, are unfortunately shafted in favour of music artists who sing about vapid and superlative things.
Jewel is one such artist who dares to dive deep with her music, into the crevices and confines of the human condition, challenging us all as we look deep within ourselves, to really ask questions that maybe we may not have pondered had it not been for such music as Jewel’s. Since hearing Jewel in the 2000s (again, in this case, hearing songs here and there, but never realising who the artist was), this is an artist that has great musical versatility- from country and dance, to folk, pop, and contemporary music, and that not being a household name right now may actually be a good thing. For good music to be enjoyed and appreciated, and really respected for delving deep into difficult issues, you need to go below the surface, to bypass the popular and the artists people normally hear every single day. For to say something that matters, requires a certain amount of poignancy that would otherwise be not compatible with the current mainstream popularised music of today. And so for an artist like Jewel; it is no surprise that, to be as influential as I believe she is, that she’s not that popular. And maybe, just maybe, we understand this fact through listening to Jewel and her music- that it’s ok not to be as known as maybe you have even anticipated. For to be known in the music industry isn’t the goal- to create good music is. Music that challenges us to look at our own relationships, both with God and other people. To look deep within ourselves to see what we need to fix about our own lives and the lives of others. Jewel is one such artist, able to do that with her music, and has been an artist that has become one of the unlikeliest of finds (in a good way) for me in the last few months!
I would probably betcha that people don’t necessarily know who Jewel is right now. I mean, why would they? It’s been five years since releases already, and within the five years, society and music has changed. What was once deemed popular before is now declared obsolete. What was now coined as relevant before, is now seen as lagging behind-the-times. And for Jewel’s music, I think many people feel as if artists like Jewel aren’t as relevant right now because music has changed. And maybe they’re right. As I look around where the music landscape is today, it’s not hard to see that the popular artists right now, guys like Ed Sheeran, Rihanna, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Florida Georgia Line, OneRepublic…a lot of these guys weren’t around the 1990s, and a fair portion of them weren’t really present in the 2000s either. Nevertheless, I’ll reiterate this point as long as I will, because it’s true- influential artists transcend time and decades, and while a popular artist may be in the business for lets say a decade, influential artists impact and tug at our hearts long after they have faded in their popularity. In Jewel’s case, popularity for her was miles ago. Her last album was in 2015, and even the last studio album before, that, unveiled in 2010, isn’t really available on the internet anymore (aside from Spotify). So her presence in the music industry in 2020, dare I say, need not to be even missed if for one reason or another, she decides to move on and try something new. Regardless, as I’ve heard a lot of her music over this last week, it’s clear to me that influence goes beyond whether something is popular at a certain point in time, it really digs to the heart of why music is made in the first place. You can listen to a song from the 1990s or the 2000s for nostalgia sake- it can take you back to a place in your childhood or to a time in your life where you think fondly on. Or it can challenge you in a way where you look at your own life, do an assessment into why things are the way they are in your life, and see if things need changing. Jewel is one such artist that has the ability to bring to the fore, fond moments and memories of the past, while also showcasing compelling melodies that challenge the very narrative of life we are living right now.
I was discovered when I was homeless, and by the end of that year, living in my car, I started to get a grip on what happiness meant to me. I had learned to meditate, discipline my mind, overcome a panic attack. And my authenticity and happiness meant more to me than anything else. I wasn’t trying to get signed, but when record labels started coming to me, it was scary. I think if you take somebody with my emotional background, and you add fame to the mix, it doesn’t typically work out great. If you look at most famous people, there’s a lot of psychological breakdown that happened because it’s not really a very healthy lifestyle. It’s a lot of drug addiction, and it’s fraught with problems. And I felt like I was a real candidate for that. My solution was to make a really simple record. I didn’t think the record would be incredibly successful, but I knew it would be a really authentic record.
So instead of taking a huge signing bonus and working with the hottest producers that were being introduced to me, I did the opposite. I turned down the signing bonus, took a big back-end [deal]. … I’d hoped to have a career like John Prine, a singer-songwriter, that would carve out a living and be really happy with that. It got a lot bigger than I anticipated. I feel really fortunate that I was able to make something that was so authentically representative of who and what I was. I was seen for that. It’s kind of an unusual experience for somebody with my background—you know, neglected and adverse upbringing—to be able to be myself and not have to pretend to be somebody else.
You know, it would have been easy to go into pop music and do what everybody said and cover songs everybody said and do what the smarter people say and dress a certain way. And maybe I would’ve been successful for being what would have felt inauthentic—like a lie. I’m really proud that first record was able to do well because it was a deeply satisfying thing to be able to say, “This is who I am. I’m a singer-songwriter.” I was able to make a living at that. To have mentors like Bob Dylan and Neil Young and Merle Haggard … during that record and believe in that record meant a lot.
It is in these above quotes that I’ve come to admire and respect Jewel for the artist that she is, and the tenacity, resolve, passion, heart, and determination she has displayed throughout her career. These above quotation words are from an interview, discussing upon her reflections on her debut album Pieces of You in 1995, and her thoughts on the lead-up to her debut album and what was going around during that time in her personal life. To think that she initially came from a homeless background astounds me and gives me a lot of respect for her music. For it is when someone fights for what they believe in, like Jewel in her earlier years, there’s a lot more genuine heart there, something that isn’t necessarily as visible or even seen compared to other artists. Jewel’s songs for me have been full of lessons learnt by her, and upon listening, songs that have helped me to say ‘lessons learning’…but this blog post has never been about me ‘regurgitating’ facts about songs. You have songmeanings and songfacts for those. And Wikipedia and Google too. What I will say is this- that looking back at such a career as Jewel’s, one can’t marvel enough at the fact that songs from the 1990s are still applicable in people’s lives today, and the amount of musical genre shifts in one person’s career, and to release each album with purpose, intentionality and grace, is nothing short of miraculous. For me in a personal and nostalgic sense, the song ‘Hands’ from Jewel’s 1998 album Spirit, will always hold a special place in my own heart- it was the first song that I heard from Jewel (though I didn’t know it was her at the time, because how could you- It was the days before facebook, twitter and all the social media, and all you had was the radio). A song recorded and unveiled to us a radio single from her 2nd album, ‘Hands’ indeed is an uplifting song that seeks to encourage and lift us up in a way that reminds us that what we do matters.
What we do and say, affects us and those around us, and how we live our lives is a testimony to what we have believed and have been taught in our lives up until now. For out of our actions, our beliefs come through, and ‘Hands’ is a great reminder of our capacity and power that is literally in our hands to either do good or bad. We are responsible for what we do and don’t, and Jewel’s melody can give us comfort in the fact that beneath all the superlative and unnecessary rituals we may abide by is this- that only kindness matters. Not our cars, our money or our house. Not even our relationships what we often place our identity in. But kindness. Being kind to our neighbour. Being kind to creation, and even the creator. To love God and love people. This is our calling, and it’s funny that a song like ‘Hands’ can conjure up so much impact and influence, even 22 years later. For I’ve always been taught, either through society, media, the church or even myself, that newer is better. But that’s not always the case. ‘Hands’ is evidence of this- it’s still my favourite song of Jewel’s all those years later. It reminds me that what I do matters, that I have value far beyond what even I can comprehend. For our talents and gifts, what we get excited and passionate about, if it can be used in an act of service, so that people can understand that to serve and sacrifice is far more rewarding than to self-centre yourself and to hoard all your talents and passions; is something very extraordinary and freeing. ‘Hands’ is an emotional ride as we are taken on a journey of self-discovery and coming to a sense of peace in the knowledge that what we do and say reflects God in us and through us- and that enormity and weight should compel us to live out of a paradigm of mercy and grace than one out of fear and dreaded performance!
Jewel the person has had quite the story from her childhood till now. From being homeless during the early stages of her music career (and living out of her car) to her debut album Pieces of You being certified 12 times platinum and becoming one of the best-selling debut albums of all time, after it initially being a public failure in 1995- it wasn’t until her first radio single from the album ‘Who Will Save Your Soul?’ was unveiled 16 months later that her album started taking off; Jewel’s presence in the industry and her ability to create music at various points in her own career spanning more than 20 years, is nothing less than miraculous. I mean it. Even now, with her father and her extended family being graced with a TV show about them titled Alaska: The Last Frontier, Jewel’s ability to have a level-head is something that I’m to respect. And especially after the musical career she has had, to be in 2020, still releasing new material, is something that often can’t be heard of without cynicism coming into play. Regardless, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Jewel’s music over the weeks, even if for me personally, I know only ‘Hands’ for word and melody (each of everything else, I hear things on the fly on my Spotify playlist). And so far, what I have indeed heard from Jewel is music at its purest and finest. For fans of Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan and even singer-songwriter/folk artist Andrew Peterson, this is an artist that was unknown when she started, and is quite possibly the least known artist I’ve come across within the last 20 or so years. Regardless, her songs have challenged my own life as of late, as I realise that genre-hopping isn’t as bad as what people think.
ABOUT MAKING ART WITHOUT RESTRICTIONS AND THE VULNERABILITIES THAT COME WITH IT: There’s been evolution that’s good and evolution that I don’t perceive as valuable. On this record [Picking Up the Pieces], it was really ridding myself of the evolution that covered me up. Twenty years later, you know too much about the industry, about what having a radio crossover means, what it means to say, “I spent the last 10 years building up a country fanbase, and I’m making a folk record, and I shouldn’t walk away from that, and I don’t even know what genre this record is, and oh my God, there’s no radio single!” You have to get all that out of your head and just be willing to make art. On top of that, I was going through a divorce, and looking at my entire person and saying, what is my essential self? I don’t think there was an area of my life that wasn’t touched.
I don’t know a single person that hasn’t been through some sort of heartbreak, whether they were married or it was a break-up or they lost somebody they loved to death. The disillusionment of innocence and first love is pretty universal. I’ve always found music really healing. I talk in my  book about this moment when I was homeless and didn’t have anything left to lose, and I was like, “I’m going to start saying my worst fears, my deepest hopes, the things that I think make me unlovable.” I started writing songs and was really shocked that I wasn’t rebuked or shut down. I was seen for the first time. Oddly, people in the audience felt seen for the first time, and we all felt less alone. It’s counterintuitive that the more transparent you are, the safer you are. I think it’s what helped me in my career with fame. I’m a pretty introverted person. When I was looking at getting signed, I felt very uncomfortable at the prospect of being idolized, because I was so deeply flawed. I had a very abusive background and I was homeless, so the idea of having to be perfect was horrifying. The only thing that gave me comfort was if I could lead with my flaws and say, “Hey, let me keep myself off of any pedestal anybody ever might consider putting me on.” That allowed me, at age 18, to never be considered a teenybopper act that had to transition into being an adult.
ABOUT SHIFTING GENRES AND FANS STICKING WITH YOU: My hardcore fans stay with me. The formats were shifting dramatically in radio. Where “You Were Meant For Me” snuck into the alternative movement in the ‘90s, today if that came out, that’d be too country for country. I can’t tell you it’d make it on pop radio or country, frankly. I’ve always been in between worlds, and you’ve got to figure out where your best shot is. When I was looking at the shift, I was looking at pop music going very different from the kind I was interested in making, and if I wanted to be a singer-songwriter and tell stories, it became obvious the place for that was country radio. Now country radio has shifted again. It’s become much more pop. [The new record] is an Americana folk record, and I can’t say that it’ll get played on any radio station…the onus of a singer-songwriter is to follow your heart, and it’s a pain in the butt. It’d be a lot less draining to know what target you’re hitting and just hit it. That isn’t how I approach things, and it creates a lot more work, but that’s the privilege and burden of being a singer-songwriter. I don’t know what’ll come out of me next. I’d like to do some spoken-word poetry set to music. A standards record is something I’d enjoy. I’m a much better singer than the melodies I write for my own music, because I’m so interested in telling the story that I try to sing just enough to tell the story. The standards really let you sing. They’re what I cut my teeth on, so I’d love to pay homage to that.
This blog has been different than the many others I’ve undertaken in the past. Purely on the basis that I haven’t listened to as much of Jewel’s music as even I would’ve liked in preparation for this blog post, but maybe even more than that, I’ve released that in some blogs in the past, I was only solely listening to the music just because I knew there was a blog coming up, and therefore, I needed to do research. And so, maybe if I wasn’t undertaking said blog in the past, I may not have listened to that artist, who knows. But what that says about Jewel and her music is this. That music and my love for it, in all its facets, isn’t dependent on whether I write a blog for this artist in the future or not. I should just enjoy it just because. And that’s what I’ve been doing here with Jewel. I’ve been listening to her music. Enjoying it. Letting it soak in. Understanding that I don’t necessarily need to come up with this big long exegetical explanation as to why I believe this song in the discography matters, and why I reckon this song is poignant…and so on and so on. I’ve just been enjoying songs from Jewel just because. Frankly, this is the first artist where I don’t really know which songs are the singles, and which songs aren’t. And maybe that’s ok. Because once you become privy to someone’s discography and know which songs chart and which songs don’t, you start to maybe think ‘I should enjoy this song because it’s gone well on radio and everyone else likes it’. And as soon as maybe you don’t, you start to think and ponder. And for Jewel and her music, I’ve kind of gotten rid of that. And it’s been good. I’ve started to enjoy songs for what they are. ‘Life Uncommon’, from 1998’s Spirit is a challenge for us all to life a life full of hope and optimism, to challenge ourselves each day to dive into a life uncommon- to love our neighbours as wholeheartedly as we have been loved by God as we’re motivated to act by faith as we hopefully seek positive change in the world we live in, while ‘Absence of Fear’ is a call to someone (it can be someone else in your life- either a spouse or a friend) or even to God Himself, to come and fill voids in our lives. It is to remember that when someone comes, be it God or someone else, into our lives, fear often dissipates because what has come instead is echoes of hope, love, acceptance and affirmation. ‘Who Will Save Your Soul’, from Jewel’s first album, speaks to this very core of a soul and what it actually means for a soul to be saved, and the fulfilment (or even lack thereof) that comes from what the media tell us about fulfilment and happiness; while songs like ‘Pieces of You’, ‘Foolish Games’ and ‘You Were Meant to Me’ (all on Jewel’s 1995 album Pieces of You) all speak about the issues of relating with someone different than you, unrequited love, and crushes on someone that may turn into something serious, respectively. Even a song like ‘Again and Again’ (from 2006’s Goodbye Alice in Wonderland), a song that I heard in the 2000s, takes on a new meaning now as I hear it again- the song itself is about a breakup, and how the two people in the relationship need to decide whether to full break it off and to move on, or to have another go and try again. The song is a reminder that often couples can be in limbo- not knowing if trying again is the right choice, or to break it off with the partner, forever, is the choice as well. Such a song as this can hopefully encourage people that can be very indecisive to make decisions, and remind ourselves that regardless of what decision we can take, that love itself is worth the fight, even if it can seem like the harder decision to undertake is the one that lets relationships die in a naturalistic way. And then there are others scattered through this discography.
‘Goodbye Alice in Wonderland’, the title track of the 2006 album, is a great challenge to us all, to make a deciphering stand between pretending and dreaming, and understanding that one is harmful and one can bring people to achieve even the most impossible of things. To acknowledge that maybe what you’re holding onto in life isn’t as constructive and applicable to your life as you once thought, can be a scary thing sometimes. ‘Goodbye Alice in Wonderland’ allows us to grow up in a way, to rid ourselves of childish things and to become a man and look at things for what they really are, rather than what we want, long or even aspire for them to be; while ‘Drive To You’, also on the 2006 album, is a realisation song that awakens people to the love that they have with their spouse/boy/girlfriend, as they realise that the feeling that comes from being the presence of the other, trumps every other feeling that happens when people are apart. ‘2 Become 1’, from Jewel’s dance album 0304 alongside her 2008 country album Perfectly Clear, reminds us all of this certain truth I’ve come to know and believe to be possible, that true love and communion with someone else, leads to this notion of 2 becoming 1- unified in one love for each other, one vision and purpose moving forward in life, as we find the right person to do life with. ‘Two Become One’ is a reminder of the sacredness of marriage and a reminder that when two people join in a symbolic ceremony, they are in fact joining in more ways than the physical- in spiritual, mental and emotional ways as well. It also gives people hope that there are people out there for us if we just look around- that we may not see it now, but when there’s a right fit between people, there’s a right fit. ‘Everybody Needs Someone Sometime’, from Jewel’s 2001 album This Way, speaks of this notion of asking for help sometimes, as well as this understanding of our innate need for community and connection, even if it is flawed and imperfect, but it at least can be real, authentic and honest, while a powerful and poignant standout song, also on This Way, is ‘The New Wild West’, where Jewel presents us all with this problem- that the more things move towards what is ‘better’ and more ‘civilised’, in actuality and reality, what is really happening is a life of disconnect and technological advances at the expense of human interaction. ‘The New Wild West’ is just like the old wild west, just with the term ‘new’ slapped in front of it. Hopefully, this song can make us see that the world we are in, isn’t always as good or better than years gone by. What we experience as people, isn’t exclusive for this era, and sometimes what we’ve become and traded so that we can have this nice thing or to have this advancement in our lives, can often be at the expense of humanity and the values we may have held dear once upon a times in our lives.
Jewel also presents to us two country albums in Perfectly Clear (which houses a country version of the dance hit ‘Two Become One’) and Sweet & Wild in 2008 and 2010 respectively- an interesting departure from the folk pop that Jewel has found herself in, many times before; while these two albums themselves have often given Jewel the license to become more vulnerable with the releases and the songs in them. For I find that country music in general tends to be much more authentic than pop, and so for an artist like Jewel, who already wears her heart on her sleeve, to undertake and write these two country albums, is something of a blessing. And for me, I’ve always taken a likening to a heartfelt song with a lot of emotion and poignancy, and Jewel has a lot of it on her two country albums. ‘I Do’ is a great reminder, from Perfectly Clear, that the choice of love and commitment, be it in a romantic sense or even in a platonic, friendship sense, can often come from a lot of hard work and perseverance. Nothing good comes easy, and ‘I Do’ is a song that allows us all to make this choice, often daily, to walk out in the belief that my relationships matter and who I am in fellowship with on a daily basis, can impact my own life as much as I can impact theirs. ‘What You Are’, from Sweet & Wild, is a ‘Hands’ 2.0 according to Jewel, and a reminder that we already are what we are, and what we have inside ourselves cannot be attained by something external, that we are indeed beautiful, strong enough and bright enough, because God Himself tells us we are. ‘What You Are’ is almost like a spiritual ‘remind-me-I’m-enough’ song, and even though I know there’s no ‘God’ spoken in this track, I firmly believe that God Himself has been moving through it, reminding us all that good things will always come out of bad situations, always. No matter which way you slice it, in hindsight, we can see the reasons behind why we have been in situations prior, or why this bad thing has happened to us. Maybe not now, and maybe we’re not supposed to. But what I’ve come to know is this, that we are good enough not because of what we do, but rather, we are good enough because of God’s worth and value on us. This is what we believe, and ‘What We Are’ is a reminder, albeit a subtle one, about this. ‘Stay Here Forever’, a song written as the lead theme song for the movie Valentine’s Day, is an understanding that to be so in love with someone, is when you can say that you can stay with them forever in a place and not go out and do your own thing, when sacrifice for the other comes so naturally that you can’t help but to place someone else’s needs above you own, while songs like ‘Ten’ and ‘Satisfied’ also are standout songs on this 2010 album- ‘Ten’ is about gaining perspective after difficult spousal fights and a realisation that love for the other person covers a multitude of scenarios where we wish to be ‘right’ in arguments, while ‘Satisfied’ underpins a lot of her own songs on not only Sweet And Wild, but for all of her songs in her discography, period. As Jewel has unveiled to us herself, we see that the song is ‘…hands down my favorite message on the album. This is up there with ‘Hands,’ and ‘Life Uncommon’ for me. I really believe we don’t always know what it takes to be happy and satisfied. Sometimes it’s simpler than we know: finding those you love and letting them know you do. To me that is the definition of the word. My favorite spot is the bridge ‘horses are built to run, the sun was meant to shine above, flowers were made to bloom, and then there’s us – we were born to love.’ To love out of a place of knowing that we are loved beyond comprehension, is something of an art to believe, but songs like these, within a discography like Jewel’s, is what can give us the hope and confidence to know our self-worth and the love that comes out from knowing that we are loved ourselves.
2015 saw the unveiling of some of her most vulnerable work she has ever completed in Picking Up the Pieces, and saw her revert once again from the country space she occupied for a while, to the folksy pop she has found herself again and again in her life. The album as a whole is a much more introspective look at life, and her musings over the last while, has all come enveloped into this collection of music and song, an album that for me, has become one of the most underrated throughout all of Jewel’s career thus far. ‘Mercy’ is a prayer to be on our knees, broken, until we are open and transparent and real before our creator and before people, nothing left to hide and realising that to be open, exposed, transparent and broken isn’t necessarily a bad thing- that out of such pain in our lives (that comes from being pried open and our deepest, darkest secrets revealed), comes hope, healing and rejuvenation. ‘Mercy’ is a great encouragement for openness to occur. And then there are plenty of other songs Jewel has unveiled in the 2015 album: ‘My Father’s Daughter’, a collaboration with country superstar Dolly Parton, is an autobiographical song for Jewel, as she reflects upon her heritage, and the influence of especially her father and what it has created for her today; while ‘It Doesn’t Hurt Right Now’, a duet with Rodney Crowell, is an honest portrayal of what could be going through someone’s head, post-revelation of something that can make or break a relationship. As Jewel has said herself, the song is ‘…very theatrical – with a storyline that conveys the aftermath of a woman’s affair on a broken relationship devoid of communication. It’s also about the complexities of love and the willingness, courage and ability to engage yourself in it fully or not…’ ‘Family Tree’ is a song that opens us all up to our heritage, as we look at our own lives to see which parts of our family trees are great for us to continue the tradition of, and which traits of our family seem to be destructive to people around us, and ourselves too; while a song like ‘The Shape of You’ is a deeply emotional track about the feelings someone has when people they know die untimely deaths, for whatever reason. There still seems to be a part of people missing from whence this beloved person has passed, and this song by Jewel can hopefully convey these emotions through song. Jewel also gives to us the songs ‘Plain Jane’ and ‘Love Used to Be’, about topics like self-worth, insecurities and identity, alongside feelings of divorce and the aftermath, respectively; while a song like ‘Everything Breaks’ acknowledges the transientness of life and the breaking of relationships that often occurs in life, just because. For whatever reason, relationships can end, and this song is a great big way of relating to such feelings of inadequacy in these relationships, and outside of it.
With 8 official albums underneath her belt, Jewel’s musical impact stretches beyond the 8 official studio albums created, from Pieces of You to Picking Up the Pieces. Jewel gave to us 2 Christmas albums- one in 1999 and the other in 2013 (both these albums consist of holiday classics and Christmas carols, even an alternative Christmas version of ‘Hands’ on her 1999 Christmas album), as well as 2 lullaby records in 2009 and 2011 respectively. While for me I didn’t connect as much to the lullaby children’s albums, I do however see the merit in bringing to the fore, lullaby albums that help children in a variety of circumstances where they may need music in their lives, for whatever reason. Jewel also gives to us two standalone songs in ‘No More Tears’ and ‘Grateful’, both songs from her upcoming TBA album, and both talking about issues very prominent that need to be discussed. ‘No More Tears’ was shown to us all in 2019; and was a companion piece to a documentary that was being made about youth homelessness. From experience, Jewel herself relays a bit about her own journey as a homeless young woman, as we gain clarity and perspective on life through her words about this song, and life in general.
‘…when we started the film, there wasn’t really an actual number of how many kids were on the street. It’s such an invisible problem. During the course of filming the film, there are over 4.2 million kids on the street. Most of them are there because it’s safer on the street than where they were raised. It’s a really tragic problem and a very difficult cycle to break out of. One I experienced in a smaller degree for a year in San Diego. I was just very moved by the kids. Moved by the stories that you’ll hear and what they’re facing. What they continue to wake up to every day with the will to live. For them to still have the will to say, “I believe there has to be something better around the corner” is heroic. I wanted to write a song that is based on my experience and the setbacks that had in my life. Those particular moments that like them, when you invest in yourself and say, my being alive is an act of defiance. My refusal to quit is an act of defiance. My insistence that life is going to be beautiful is an act of defiance…I was on the street for a year and I didn’t do drugs. I knew other kids that didn’t do drugs. There are a lot of misperceptions about people who are homeless. Everything from mental illness to. I just remember when I was homeless, just surviving every day. Getting food, water, and shelter was exhausting. The amount of anxiety I had left me so sick and fatigued. I was always moving. You’re always moving and it’s so hard. You go into a place for a job and you don’t look normal. They pick someone else to be the clerk at 7-11 because I don’t have a mailing address to put on a resume. There are so many things people don’t realize what’s so difficult, draining, and exhausting about no shelter. Nobody wants to be on the street. It’s not like people are lazy and say, you know what I’d rather do? I’d rather just live on the street.” I can assure people it isn’t…’
‘Grateful’, unveiled to us all in 2020, was inspired by COVID-19, and a reminder that even in the darkest days, we need to have a heart of gratefulness and humility, to realise that we will always still have something to be grateful for, even in the midst of difficultly and trial. It is when we realise that we have been given so much in this life, that being grateful is only a natural response for us all to undertake. A song that we can live by and understand that out of something so hurtful and tragic, can come hope and a realignment of focus, ‘Grateful’ is a song that hopefully places us all on the right track of pausing in our lives, and just re-evaluating and taking stock…whatever it looks like to us all.
‘… [the song Gratitude] was inspired by anxiety. Past and present. And it is about the power of gratitude to fight it. Because now is a time of more anxiety than ever and people are suffering, I really see the pandemic as threefold. There’s the virus, economic fallout, and then mental health fall out. I don’t think I really was up to planning getting through each one. Suicides tend to dramatically increase during the pandemic and isolation right now, suicide hotlines are up 300 percent. So, I think we need to be really thoughtful about our mental health discussion. The danger of loss of life from mental health follow-ups is actually greater than the virus. Again, it creates variety. Not all of us will get the virus, but pretty much a hundred percent of us will be touched by anxiety, worry, and depression. I think we have a long road ahead of us. This is an unprecedented time in history. Never had world events led to the whole world going through this pretty much all at the same time. And it’s going to redistribute. I don’t know if things are going to go back to normal. We need resiliency. We need to be present and reading the signs in real time to understand how we can restructure and support ourselves, if we are overcome with anxiety it makes that process much harder…
I learned about power of gratitude when I was struggling with really intense anxiety and panic attacks when I was 18 in San Diego, living in my car. I learned that there are only two basic states of being. There’s dilated, where you feel open and calm and relaxed. And there’s contracted, where you don’t. I realized I could hack my way out of an anxious state by forcing myself dilate, like participating in gratitude. Every soft feeling or action leads to one of two things, the joy, gratitude, curiosity and observation that’s going to make you open and to dilate. Worry, fear, anxiety, grief, jealousy, etcetera, cause you to contract. I remember the first time I was able to do it, it was feeling of the sunshine through this tree on the street corner in San Diego, and I am profoundly grateful for that moment that I have right there. It warded off my panic attacks for the first time. Incredible thing.
You know, when you suffer from anxiety, you realize if you find something that works it can be powerful. That’s what I wrote the song about. Only we can give up our happiness, nobody can take it even in the most extreme and adverse situation. Many of our greatest leaders and greatest artists have found ways to make it work for them. You know, this time that’s happening. We have no control over what’s happening. We do get to choose what it does to us, remembering that is very empowering, not convenient, but very empowering. I realized how much power I was giving away. Constantly. I was constantly worried, constantly anxious, constantly. And there’s lots of reasons to worry, but it doesn’t help. And so at some point you say, all right, well, if I’m not going to kill myself, what am I going to do? At this point I knew nobody’s coming for me. I have to come for me. When we’re absorbed in worry, we don’t see it. The most effective way to change your life, sadly, is showing up. It sounds so simple, but it’s hard…’
Jewel has always been a storyteller and a singer-songwriter. With a variety of albums under her belt, her presence in an industry still that is so fickle-minded, is something along the lines of a miracle in and of itself. With her debut album becoming 12 times platinum (one of the best-selling debut albums of all time!), as well as a branching out into poetry in 1998, and an acting part in a 1999 movie Ride With the Devil; Jewel continues to remind us all that one album going good, is all it takes to change not only the lives of the artist but also the lives of the listeners of their music as well. With Jewel also having a hand in various philanthropy efforts, from organising a non-profit organisation Higher Ground for Humanity– a focus on education, sustainable improvements and building alliances with like-minded organisations; to serving as an ambassador for the Re:Think Why Housing Matters initiative; Jewel has crafted her career both in music and outside of it, to be proud of. Many accolades and winnings of awards have also been stewarded towards Jewel during the 1990s,- things that mean a lot more, I reckon, than any #1 radio hit across their career. I dunno, maybe the accolades do boost confidence, but in a holistic sense, Jewel’s impact on fans (maybe even myself, included) and people less fortunate, goes far beyond the musicians’ usual scope of what it means to be successful, in general. This singer-songwriter has made a name for herself, especially across her first few albums, and for her releasing songs in 2020, years later; with a similar message to the 1990s, of being strong and pressing on to greater things… it’s all a miracle, if you ask me. And I know that all good things end, and all things end period. I guess sometimes when you’re in a business of giving oneself to the masses, either in the form of music or philanthropy or otherwise, there is never really a moment where you do ‘retire’ per se- you never have an ‘ending’ to your career- you just move on and your career can look a little different, but your message of connection, emotion, relationship, and themes like hope, asking the questions ‘why’, those things will still be the same. It is a reminder that even as Christians in this life, we must never look at life like as something that we need to finish- we’re always learning and growing, always admitting when we get things wrong, and exploring the things that we believe God has imprinted on our hearts to undertake. Jewel’s career has re-evaluated my appreciation of folk-pop and 1990s music, and for that and that alone, songs like ‘Hands’ and ‘Again and Again’ (both for nostalgia sake) have shaped and influenced my own array and direction of music of late…which is a very, very good thing indeed!
Does Jewel make the list for you all when you write your own ‘Best Influential Artists of All Time’ list? Is there any song, like ‘Hands’, that has impacted you on your journey through life thus far? Let us know in the comments. Till next time!