Jewel, known for her songs “Hands,” “You Were Meant For Me,” “Foolish Games” and “Who Will Save Your Soul” in the mid- and late-90s, will celebrate the release of her book “Never Broken: Songs Are Only Half the Story,” at a signing event 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 24 at Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, 700 Prospect St.
Although she has written a book of poems and a children’s book, this is Jewel’s first long-form nonfiction. It was written to answer the question the singer said she gets asked most: How did you go from moving out at age 15 and becoming homeless, to turning things around and getting where you are now?
“I wanted to write a book showing people what my life has really been like, the side that people don’t know,” Jewel told La Jolla Light. “A lot of people know some general, broad strokes, but didn’t understand what was really happening and how I was also suffering from brutal betrayals that were heartbreaking setbacks for me.”
She said the book is more about the journey that inspired her to write lyrics and melodies, rather than the songs themselves.
Born and raised in Alaska, Jewel moved out of her family home at age 15, and found herself homeless by age 18, living in her car in San Diego. “I knew statistically girls like me end up in a ditch or in an abusive relationship or addicted to drugs,” she said. “I realized if I didn’t turn my life around, I’d be in trouble, so I began writing songs about my worst fears and darkest secrets — the things you think make you unlovable. I knew if I turned to drugs it would ruin me, so I turned to writing and honesty, which ended up giving me a career.
“The songs represent the shift in my thinking to how I am empowered and the architect of my own life. I found myself asking how does anybody who doesn’t have access to therapy, the right relationship, a supportive family or enough money, have a life that they want? I realized if you have a lot of grit and tenacity, you can redefine your life instead of having it defined for you.”
In “Never broken,” Jewel writes about her time in San Diego, where she would perform in coffee houses in Ocean beach and Pacific Beach, and lived with singer Steve Poltz near La Jolla. Although she said she loved her time in town, many coffeehouses charged to perform, which was a stumbling block for the aspiring singer.
“They thought I should pay for the exposure to an audience,” Jewel said. Unable to do so, and in need of a paycheck, she went with a proposition to a tiny place about to go out of business called Innerchange Coffeehouse on Turquoise Street in Pacific Beach. “I told them if I brought people in, I would keep the door money and they would keep the coffee sales. but then I had to find people who wanted to hear me sing, which was hard because I wasn’t known. but the audience built, two by two, then four, and then eight people, and then it was 20, and then 50, then standing-room-only, then two shows a night,” she said.
Of her San Diego audience, Jewel said because she was singing from an honest place of facing adversity, her audience “saw themselves” in her songs, which are “the snakeskin of my soul” and represent what she’s overcome and her hopes for the future.
Psychologically abused by her father as a child and losing a job because she wouldn’t sleep with her boss as a young adult, Jewel said she’s experienced a lot in life, but didn’t want to share it in a salacious way.
“I didn’t write it as a tell-all, there’s lots of things I left out, but I wanted to let people see (my struggles) in a transparent way, what I’ve been doing with my life, and how I kept picking myself up and finding resilience,” she said. “The conclusion is that it isn’t about avoiding problems, it’s about the spirit with which I faced my problems that allowed me to be open and capable of love and trust, when a lot of people make you feel quite broken. I don’t believe we can be broken, I don’t think a soul can be broken.”
Although some content is shocking, Jewel said she didn’t write it to shock people, but to open up the discussion or encourage people to be open about their struggles. In looking at the abuse she faced as a child, she said she learned that abuse is a “learned skill” and that she had to examine her situation — and write about it — to avoid perpetuating the cycle with her now 4-year-old son, Kase.
“When you are raised in an abusive environment, you are going to abuse, unless you can learn to change that emotional language. And I was able to change it so I will never be abusive to my son, but nobody has that kind of conversation out loud,” Jewel said. “We blame people and they feel so ashamed they can’t talk about it or look at themselves honestly. So I wanted to talk about things that are seldom talked about. It’s a bracing book. but there is nothing bitter, angry or vengeful in it. It’s about taking ownership of what my life is. ... that section was a hard part to write, and I didn’t share it to shock people or make them hate my dad.”
part of taking ownership of her life, she said, was nurturing her own soul so she could be happy. “Some of what I had to ask myself was: If my nurture wasn’t positive, can I re-nurture myself? If I wasn’t taught happiness in my household, could I learn how to be happy? And how do I avoid becoming a statistic? How do I find empowerment in my life when all I’ve known is something that would make me feel like a victim?”
“Never broken” includes the story of how she did just that. “I included lyrics and short poems when I wanted (the message) to hit your heart and hit you hard,” Jewel said.
With her familiarity of poignant, tug-at-your-heartstrings short-form writing, she said writing something long-form was an “unnerving” challenge.
“My goal as a writer is to have a lot (of emotion) in very few words. At first I thought I was a bad writer because I was writing so much, because in songwriting, you shouldn’t say that much, there shouldn’t be so many words. I had to get comfortable with the fact that I had to include some history and really explain my story.”
In addition to “Never broken,” Jewel is planning the release of her next album, “Picking Up the Pieces.” She said it will be folksy, self-produced and poetic, much like her debut album “Pieces of You,” which sold more than 12 million copies.
■ IF YOU GO: Book-signing of “Never broken: Songs are Only Half the Story” by Jewel, and discussion with Kpri/102.1 FM radio host Chris Cantore. 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 24, Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego’s Sherwood Auditorium, 700 Prospect St. tickets: $29.70 at warwicks.com and includes a copy of the book.