Being an artist is a trip. It’s a commitment to never being comfortable. It’s a commitment to passion. It’s a commitment to authenticity, wherever it takes you on its bumpy road. It’s a commitment to listening to an invisible voice in your heart that no one can see or hear, asking you to believe in it. Like ‘Horton Hears A Who.’ There will be evil kangaroos that HMMMMF! And vultures that pick at your tender vision. It’s an artist’s duty to die for their art. Or harder yet, to live for their art.
Sometimes just being alive is an act of defiance, you know? Refusing to go numb. Feeling it all. Giving people not what they want, but what they don’t know they want yet. It’s a messy road. There are days in my life as an artist that the joy is so joyous you can’t believe you don’t pass out. There are days that are so uncomfortable, where your muse is demanding you strip away whatever artifice you gathered about yourself for comfort, and bare your soul. And it sucks. But you obey.
I don’t know when I started writing proficiently. Tidily. Cleverly. But, I did. I look at a song like “Ten” on my album Sweet and Wild. It’s a good song. Clever. Learned. It’s not easy to write a song like that, a clever and concise idea. But who the fuck wants clever, anyway?
I did, I guess.
Did you know I quit writing poetry after everything went down with my Mom? It’s true. That is a bad sign. That means on a deep level I was holding my breath. In the most important way. Cutting myself off from my own soul. My poetry has always been my soul. Well, as close to seeing the shape of an invisible thing as it gets. The black and white scratches on a white sheet of paper. The shedding of an immortal snake skin. The fingerprint of a vesperal thing. A reflection of a ghost. I have written poetry since I was young. It’s how I came into the world. And it quit after everything with my mom. I just couldn’t afford to feel anything. I’d fall in, you know? I’d go crazy, you know?
Time passed and I healed. I wrote a book. I made a record. Picking Up the Pieces was a return to my folksy self. I took refuge in the old familiar songs that have kept me company for so many years. Older songs that never made it to an album finally got their place in the sun. “Carnivore” ripped out of my lungs. “Everything Breaks” snarled its way onto tape. “Nicotine Love” brooded and threatened with a throbbing disdain. “His Pleasure Is My Pain” left the delicate trace of lace shadows cast by the moon, foreshadowing a quiet departure. And then there was “Love Used To Be.” An ode to fallen love. A eulogy to marriage. Hands down, this song is one of my favorite lyrics I have written. I have only performed it live twice maybe. It’s too hard to get through. That song was me trying to get the poison out. The sorrow out. The loss of innocence bleeding from every pore. I had to record that song over and over in the studio because I kept crying so hard that I ruined every take. I knew I was getting a divorce, but no one else did. The weight of that secret had to find its way out. And it did. No one in the studio knew why I was crying. But they must have known. I don’t suppose you can hear it and not get the gist of it. That song wrote itself. It ripped out of me with razor blades. It was the only new song on that record.
My book Never Broken did what my books do; help me make sense of the jumbled mess inside, organized it and clean it up in black and white, so that I can see it more clearly on the outside.
And that was that. A divorce album. A book to put a button on it. I was free. 40. A road wide open before me. I began to form new companies and build things outside of music that might be able to sustain me and my son. I began to build income around a genuine passion - mindfulness.
Then a funny thing happened... I started to see familiar signposts along the road. Overwhelming. Anxiety rising. Exhaustion. Huh. Curious. I pushed forward, thinking time might cure all... ___________________________________________
A hundred years ago. OK, well actually maybe 25 years ago, I knew a man named Danny Buch. Danny worked at Atlantic Records. Danny was manic, man. Wound tight. A radio promo man. Maybe one of the toughest sales jobs out there. Trying to broker deals between spoiled sensitive rock stars and power crazed cocaine-fueled disc jockeys. This was before my time. Well. Mostly. He had worked Zeppelin records and all kinds of epic shit that was on the Atlantic roster. The 70’s and 80’s was the height of radio power and drugs and rock and roll. A golden era for record labels. I don’t know exactly when Danny came on the scene. I need to ask him. But I do know he caught a healthy dose of what that era was like. Legend.
In 1993 I come be-bopping along. A messy-haired 19-year-old. Punk rock attitude spilling out of folk songs. I was quick to say fuck you to a rowdy audience member or cuss out a club owner - then launch right back into lyrics about being sensitive. I was a dark horse with a chip on my shoulder and a lot to prove. And I wanted to win. I believed in my songs. I bled them. But radio didn’t. Radio wanted no part of my folksy mid-tempo jams. But Danny saw me sing live, and he felt it. So did Ron Shapiro, a great champion at the label. So did Andrea Ganis, a rock star goddess of a promo woman. But it was Danny who came to me white-lipped. Spittle flying. Eyes wide. Saying “Jewel, I got a great idea! I bought a mile radius of AM radio bandwidth on Broadway here in New York! You’re gonna play to all the traffic that is stuck there during traffic hour!” My tired ass got propped up on a white van with a small sound system mounted to it. He had interns wearing signs saying TUNE IN TO AM 460 TO HEAR NEW ATLANTIC RECORDING ARTIST JEWEL! It was horrible. Traffic honking so loudly and disinterested drivers talking on phones. But you had to hand it to Danny, he was passionate. He believed. Then “Who Will Save Your Soul” failed at radio. And when “You Were Meant For Me” first failed at radio, I went in the studio to record a pop version of “You Were Meant For Me” with Juan Patino. I gutted my own song. Took a full minute out somehow. Gutted the chorus. Sped it up. Made it sound like a Lisa Loeb song. Lisa Loeb is amazing, but she sounds like her. I shouldn’t. I did it willingly. I was scared. I was scared the voice I heard in my head was wrong. Scared no one else heard that Who, and that I would be boiled in a steaming hot kettle of beezlenut oil. Afraid what was in me wasn’t good enough. I was willing to change. I was willing to try it at least. But I hated the end result. Too ashamed to say it, I kept my reservations quiet. I handed the new version of the song to the label. It was Danny that found me in the hallway. It was Danny that said “Jewel, man, I don’t want you to change for radio. I want radio to change for you.” The label threw out that bad version of “You Were Meant For Me”, and they went back to bribing, promising firstborns and doing god-knows-what to try and get “Who Will Save Your Soul” to take off. And finally it did.
I am in a grocery store in Vegas where I am working on a new company with Tony Hsieh from Zappos - building a company that offers mindfulness tools to employees. One we can scale to other companies. And working with my youth foundation that is based out of Vegas. And I am starring in a Cirque show about my life. I’m exhausted. Some other personal shit is going down that has me really strung out. But I love my work in mindfulness. I believe in it.
My phone rings. The voice is nasally and excited. It's Danny god-damned Busch! Holy shit. “Danny! How are you?”, I say. Blast from the past. “I’m good, I’m good”, he says. “I’m sitting here looking at a magazine and you’re on the cover. You’re on Mindfulness Magazine. Hey, I am married now. She’s a therapist. She’s great. She has me all calmed down. Well, working on it. Ha ha. But Jewel, I need a record, man. I need a record, you know? I need you to make a YOU record. Be you. Talk about what’s in this magazine but in songs. Songs, man. You gotta do songs.”
I was stunned. “No”, I say. “I’m a mom now. I make records, but indie records.” Did you hear Picking Up the Pieces?”, I ask him. “But, I am not gonna go for a big push again – won’t go back in the public eye. Not to radio. It’s too ...” I am at a loss for words... Gut wrenching, I think to myself. Exhausting. Scary. Huh. Not the words I thought I’d say.
I hang up the phone. Danny calls my manager. Danny calls me again the next day. And just like Danny, he just won’t quit.
Danny Buch introducing me in Napa - November 2, 2019
I think about it a while. Over the next month, I mull it over. The thought terrifies me. Which means something's up. I know me. If I’m terrified for no good reason, there must be a good reason I’m hiding the reason from myself. You follow?
In fact, the idea scared me enough that I decide it is exactly what I better do. I better make a record. And commit to going back in the public eye. Because it makes me want to practically pass out. So, it must be important to me. Why else would something seemingly so normal for me, make me want to crawl in a hole and hide. I had to face it. I didn’t want to. But I had to. And I knew I couldn’t do what I did on my last one. And frankly, all my other albums. I couldn’t go into my back catalogue of unused songs to make this album. I had to write it from scratch. I didn’t know why. I just knew that’s what I had to do. And it bummed me out.
I have always been prolific. By the time I was discovered, I had hundreds of songs already in the ole bank. And I kept writing a lot. So, by the time it was time for my second record, I didn’t have to write it. I just had to pick from hundreds of songs that were stored up. My whole career was like that. Even when I made a country album, I had several albums worth already written. I would pick 10 from my back catalogue and maybe write 2 for the album. And that was it.
But that wouldn’t fly here. Not for this one. I needed this one to be who I was now. 45. Been through some shit. And terrified I couldn’t write another good song.
I had a dream one night. I woke up with a melody in my mouth. A defiant pissed-off hopeful hymn. I got out of bed quietly and grabbed my phone and hummed the tune. It came from in my guts. I was the sinner and the savior at the same time. I was in the pew and on the pulpit simultaneously. Redemption granted. Wind in sails. It was marching orders. And I heard them. It was “No More Tears.”
That was the only easy song to write for this album. It came out as if just to prove to me it was possible. It was wild and real and unlike anything I had ever written. It was soulful and used my voice in a way no one had heard me do. I gave it to Danny and he cried. He wanted to take it to radio right then and there. This is a waltz, mind you. A WALTZ! Look up how many waltzes have been hits. THREE! Maybe! Danny is fucking nuts, man. We can’t roll with this out of the gate. I don’t even have a record written. I need time.
So, I took time. A year. Maybe a year and a half. And I embarked on an odyssey that I may never be able to describe. All I can say is that I see why middle-aged artists do drugs. It would have been a whole lot easier than what I put myself through. Tripping your ass off to see a new vision is a lot easier than wrestling your demons in the dark. But man, its good work. I had to face some shit I didn’t know lived in me. I had to shed some fucked-up beliefs. I had to stop being safe and writing safe intellectual clever songs and get back in my guts. And do you know what that meant?
I had to listen for the poetry in my heart again.
Goddamn it all to hell.
There the terror rose. Like a terrible monster I had sensed beneath a deep and mysterious sea, I dared not enter. For years, since shit went down with my mom and my ex, I glided along the surface of those waters, going fast. Doing good. But if I was going to make this record, I mean really do it, I was gonna have to sink into that water and I thought maybe I’d never survive it. I had to have a reckoning with my soul. And the only short cut was through the heart of the storm.
I called my manager JD and told him I needed to stop doing gigs. I needed to stop traveling. I needed to write. Nothing but write.
This has been my ‘The Old Man and the Sea’. This has been my ‘Moby Dick’. Toiling and sweating in a private fight with an unseen and worthy adversary. I don’t really know if I caught a whale anyone else can see. But I can tell you of the struggle, the toil, the determination, the will that pushed me forward when I wanted to quit a million times. I wrote about 200 songs for this album. To get 12 that I liked. That weren’t full of shit.
And I wrote a book.
And I wrote poems.
No one has seen the poems. They make me cry thinking about them. Isn’t that stupid? Jesus. I can’t tell you why. Poems like flowers blooming on a god-forsaken earth that I thought would never be able to bear the weight of something beautiful again.
Maybe I will share them with you some time.
But guess what cockamamie thing me and JD and Danny decided to do? Put “No More Tears” out. A waltz. To start the record off. And it’s just me and piano. The way it came out of my heart as soon as the sun came up and I found a microphone. What you hear is what I did when I woke from that dream. Only hours passed. It’s the demo. It’s a naked heart. It’s against all the odds. Nothing like what’s going on at radio. Not modern. Nor with the times. But it makes me feel alive, so what the fuck, right? And I’m gonna swing for the fences. I am not hiding. I am here. I will take my licks on the chin, if I gotta, but I’m leading with heart. I have no idea how this thing is gonna play out. There are no guarantees and I don’t have the energy of that 18-year-old me. I can’t beat the pavement to make a dark horse run. But if I’m older, maybe I am a little wiser. And maybe that call that day from Danny saved my life in some way. Forced me to turn the lights back on in a place I was going to let hide in the dark. Maybe.
I need an army, guys. I need people. I believe the world needs us together, in solidarity, putting our hairdos and our politics aside. You see? I believe Every Day Angels are more important than ever. We need goodness to show up. We need people to give a shit. We need to afford one another grace and some room to be healed and be flawed. We need heart. This world is overwrought with mental bullshit. We have hacked our way into insanity. We are saving so much time, but we are no happier. The world doesn’t need more cleverness or cool shit or time savers. We need a whole lot of heart. Don’t let the pace of this modern world tell you that your voice and your heart can’t cut through the noise.
If you like “No More Tears”, share it. I can’t do this by myself. If you know someone who has been through some shit and is looking for a reason to believe, share it. If you know someone who sees poetry in ordinary things, share it. If you know a parent who fights like hell for their child, share it. If you know a child who fights like hell to keep afloat, share it.
And give of your heart freely. Let love be your shield. It just might save a life. Maybe.
Love you all,