This week’s book is “Never Broken,” the new autobiography of Alaskan, multiple Grammy nominee and platinum selling recording artist Jewel Kilcher.
This book starts as a very traditional biography, as Jewel literally starts with her earliest memories and takes us through her childhood of yodeling in Alaskan fisherman bars as a 7 year old (yes, it’s as strange as it sounds). Her parents suffered a messy breakup, and her father ended up with sole custody on account of having slightly fewer demons.
Jewel is one of those souls who basically raised herself. Her father had a drinking problem and was abusive. Her mother, for some reason, failed to see she was responsible for raising and financially supporting her own children. She would eventually, however, become a big part of her daughter’s life after her daughter acquired lots of money her mother could squander as she wished. Jewel played in bars with her father as a very young child, and went out on her own at the age of fifteen, at times being homeless. Her story, eminently repeatable, goes through a tiny VW bus with a bed and dresser bolted to the floor parked on the streets of San Diego, and through a twelve-million-selling debut album that sounded like nothing else out there in a world of Nirvana and Public Enemy.
I was most interested in Jewel’s take on her meteoric rise with the first album. I found the book from there on a much better read, learned quite a few things along the way that were new to me. Jewel recounting her opening for Bob Dylan is hilarious and insightful. Her transition from playing by herself to playing with a band turned out to be a big challenge. As she says“I had no idea how to lead or to guide them. I would get so frustrated that I couldn’t keep the crowd’s attention the way I did solo. I would stop mid-song and tell them I was going to finish the set on my own”
This is a slow, sad, draining book in many ways, partly because of the circumstances of both Jewel’s childhood and adulthood, and partly because of all the introspection. In other ways, however, it shows how strong a child can be, and shows how success and stardom can be made possible with hard work and perseverance. As an adult, Jewel obviously wants to help others with her writings, others who are having or had difficult childhoods, as well as others who want to be singers and songwriters. Her childhood penchant for journaling provides her retrospective view of how her meteoric rise and gentle drift back into the mid-list a vibrancy and immediacy you can only get from reading your journaled thoughts at the time just before committing words to paper on this book.
By the end, she appears to be mostly happy with her current life as a mother, country singer and writer. She even offers “Jewel’s Quick Tips for Living a Fully-Realized Life” (paraphrasing) in the Afterword. Still, by the end of the book, it was difficult not to feel sad and overwhelmed by her story. No question, Jewel faced more challenges than most but eventually found her path to a successful career as a singer/songwriter. The thing about Jewel’s life that stands out for me is that she always works on herself, and I mean always. What comes through so strongly in her book is that when faced with a life challenge she grapples with it, works on it and finds a way to process it in order to move forward, she does not shy away from life’s challenges and that is what is most impressive about her.