The Transformation of Jewel (read before you judge)


When I was 17 years old I fell in love with a girl in a coffee shop.  Her name was Jewel.  It wasn’t the type of love where I wanted to marry her and buy a house and have children.  It was the type of love where I just wanted her to sing me to sleep every night.  I was a young boy with a crush that was crushing.  I was obsessed with the voice of this girl who had moved down to San Diego from Alaska.  There was just something about her that caught my attention and wouldn’t let go.

I would bring tape recordings of her performances back to my hometown of Auburn, CA and give them to my family and friends.  I would tell them she was the next big thing.  This confused a lot of my friends.  I had blue spiked hair, a few facial piercings, tattoos and my favorite bands were Sublime, Bad Religion, NOFX and Good Riddance.  I was a little punk.  A punk with a crush on a little folk singer.

Java Joe’s in Ocean Beach was where it started  I was there in the beginning and I was there when the suits from Atlantic Records showed up.  I was there when nobody else was and I was there when the fire marshals had to shut down the little shop because there were so many people packed in there it was a fire hazard.  I followed her to the 91X Summer Fests, I watched her open for Dylan, I used a fake id to watch her perform at Brick By Brick and I even took my parents to see her with The Rugburns at Spreckels when she got big enough to play there.  And in 1999 I saw her for the last time…she was headlining the Coors Amphitheatre.  In a matter of just a few years Jewel had done what I told everyone she would do, she had become huge.

At first I was stoked for her.  I didn’t run into her anymore.  I didn’t travel in the same circles anymore.  There were no more conversations with  her before or after shows.  She was no longer just the girl who played guitar at the coffee shop; she was a big star, but she was also still just the little crooked tooth, ragtag folk singer I had fallen for.  She had moved out of her VW Van into a nice condo, she was playing on a bigger stage and she had seduced a whole country with that voice…but she was still just Jewel Kilcher.

As the years went on Jewel made it really hard to stay a fan.  She is the perfect example of how the major label music business can change someone.  After Pieces of Me she put out a couple more albums in the same vein but then she became a chameleon.  A holiday CD, a pathetic attempt to became a dance-pop star, country music and then an album of children’s lullabies?!!!  The only constant was her amazing voice.  But  her actions began to look like an obvious attempt to chase new fans in new demographics…it just seemed like a money grab.  It seemed she had no loyalty to her fans.

It really is sad.  Because right now most people probably think it’s pretty strange I was writing about Jewel at all.  A lot of you are probably laughing.  And I get that.  If I didn’t have the history I have with her, I would be as well.  But if she would have stayed with what she does best, she could have been an influence to artists such as Tift Merritt, Alela Diane, Regina Spektor or Marissa Nadler.  She could have been respected.  This was a girl who sold homemade t-shirts that said “Fuck You I’m Sensitive”.  This is an artist who wrote 6 new songs a day and would play new material every night; good material.  She was an amazing indie artist in every sense.

Now it seems she’s recycling.  Every album she’s put out since Pieces has included songs she was playing over a decade ago…even Fading, from her newest album, is a song she was performing live 15 years ago.  This is a girl who could have incorporated pop into her music without wearing neon and having firemen spray her with a hose in a video.  She could have incorporated country into her music without trying to be over-the-top pop country. Sure, she wouldn’t be rich.  She might not be as famous.  But she would be respected.  In 1994 Jewel reminded me a lot of Lissie.  I hope Lissie makes better choices.

So why did I bother to go see her at the Arvada Center?

I did a little research and found out that even though she had just released a new country album, this was a solo acoustic tour with material from her whole career.  Not only was she doing songs from Pieces of Me and Spirit, she was also performing some staples from her coffee shop days that had never been officially recorded.  Some of my favorites like Sometimes It Be That Way, Carnivore and other, darker, less mushy songs that most might not expect from her .  I figured a quick craigslist search and a couple mile drive would be worth it to check this out.  I  doubt she will be doing an acoustic tour often and if nothing else, it would bring back some great memories from an amazing time in my life in San Diego.

And that it did!

First of all, The Arvada Center is a great spot to see a show.  It’s a mini-amphitheatre about 15 minutes from my house.  I bet it holds less than 1000 people and has great acoustics.  I ended up with a 2nd row center seat and the past came rushing back when Jewel walked onto the stage and up to the mic at about 8:40pm.  She was 10 feet from where I was sitting and she looked the same as she did in San Diego.  I realized instantly that all those promo pictures of her were just that, promo pictures.  The real Jewel is still alive and well…she just wears more expensive clothes and make-up and is 36 instead of 19.

She started out with her rendition of Somewhere Over The Rainbow before picking up her guitar and playing songs from each of her albums along with some of that unreleased material.  Most songs were prefaced by an anecdote about growing up in Alaska, her parents, opening for Dylan or shoplifting in San Diego.  Some of these stories I had heard before, making it seemed a little staged and sterile, but new stories like the one about her dad telling Jackson Browne and others that he ‘put his best sperm into that one!’ made for great interlude to her songs.

The backdrop changed with each song; showing stars, a burning sun, poppy fields, Van Gogh paintings and old black and white pictures of her family in Alaska.  The whole set made for a nice intimate evening with an artist that proved she still has an amazing voice without any of the heavy production that exists on her albums.  Even her country and pop material sounded like good ‘ol indie folk music in this setting.

I can honestly say that anyone who enjoys music would have enjoyed this show.  Even if I didn’t have the history I do with her material, I would still have appreciated the talent on stage tonight.  Everything from her classic love songs, to her CMT hits to the darker work and new songs I have never heard…she had the audience fully engaged the whole time.  This is the way Jewel is supposed to be experienced; just the ‘ranch-raised’ folk singer and her guitar.

The highlights of the night were a story about her and her husband coming out of the mountains of Northern California on Sept. 14th, 2001 to find all the flags half-mast and hearing the news of 9/11 while a DJ was dedicating her song, Hands, to the country.  Prepping the audience for the best song she’s ever written before performing the silly Cold Song.  And a beautiful version of Foolish Games.  The main set lasted about an hour and a half.

The encore started with her and opener, Radney Foster, doing a duet before closing the night with her trademark yodeling session on Chime Bells.

So the overall conclusion is that behind the media coverage, make-up and production, the young girl in the San Diego coffee shop still  exists.  She still has those knees.  She still has a pointy nose.  She still has crooked teeth.  She still has a voice that can send chills down your spine.  And even though I am now married, have a house and a child…tonight I was that 17 year old punk infatuated with a folk singer; a kid that would still like her to sing me to sleep at night.

JewelThe Needle and The Damage Done (Neil Young cover)

Somewhere Over The Rainbow
Near You Always
Everything Breaks
Down So Long
Life Uncommon
What You Are
Denver Song
Grey Matter
Perfectly Clear
Stephenville, TX
Cold Song
My Father’s Daughter
Standing Still
Foolish Games
You Were Meant For Me
Who Will Save Your Soul
Chime Bells

  2 comments for “The Transformation of Jewel (read before you judge)

  1. Danielle
    June 21, 2010 at 10:35 am

    Wow, Kev, beautifully written as always and truly heatfelt. I also love the comment left from Geo.

  2. Geo
    June 19, 2010 at 7:45 pm

    I am much older than the author of this material and I concur with his feelings, I was going through depression 10yrs ago when I discovered Jewel and her fabulous soothing voice and started to take notice. I have been an avid fan eversince and got all her albums and unfortunately could not afford to go to the states to see the live release of Sweet and Wild, but saw a live release in a Melbourne cinema theatre on 8th June and it was fantastic. I am grateful for your article, story and pictures of Jewel, thank you very much. I happened to receive this as I subscribed to google alerts.

    I am also on Jewel twitter, but not sure if I can communicate with her and the rest of her fans.

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