Recently, I finished singer/songwriter Jewel’s new book Never Broken-Songs Are Only Half the Story. I read it in one day. I couldn’t put it down. I had never really gotten into her music before the book although I liked her hits, but I’m always studying artists and their lives and process. I was fascinated by her life in Alaska and how immersed she was in the wilderness, animals and nature. I was also deeply impressed with how from such a young age, despite genuine hardship, trauma and abuse, she was fiercely independent, practical and realistic but not pessimistic or cynical, a deep thinker, and powerfully commitment to her true self and her happiness. She prioritized listening to herself and making decisions from her own mind. She is an artist I think we can all admire and learn from. She worked very hard at her craft, made no excuses, sang from the heart and never went the destructive route of drugs, alcohol, or other addictions. She constantly wrote in her journals, both poems and songs and she created her own meditation, visualization and writing exercises in order to grow beyond her self limiting beliefs.
Regardless of whether you enjoy her music, her story is remarkable and I highly recommend everyone in my circle here read it. Her words are enriching, poetic, philosophical, inspiring and motivating and her life story is both heartbreaking and beautiful. I think you will be able to relate to it.
I wanted to share a few quotes from the book with you that particularly resonated with me both as a teacher and an artist. She talks about how lucky she was to have had teachers who held space for her artistry to bloom and although they taught her what she needed and wanted to learn, they didn’t try to interfere or manipulate her voice or her artistry and mold her or use her talent to boost their own ego. That is something every artist needs and deserves and something I am committed to when I work with clients.
I also totally agree with her about the importance of going inside. It can be very tough sometimes but to be an artist means you must to go inside to discover what you have to say. And to go be able to go inside you need long periods of quiet and solitude and to develop a belief in your own worth and value. Lots of artists talk about how they need to temporarily disconnect and even stop listening to music altogether in order to get quiet enough to really connect to hear the unique music that wants to come out from inside them.
Here’s what she says:
“The best advice I can give any young artist is to never assume someone knows more than you do about your talent, desire and creativity. Go inward, into your heart, and engage in the darkness and the unknown. Grope and feel around for what you respond to. An artist’s most valuable asset is individuality. You don’t learn it from a teacher. It has to be sussed out and nurtured. Wrestled out of the silence within you. ….You must cultivate a large appetite for the things that move you. Let them wash over you as you begin to build yourself as an artist and as a person. Seek out good teachers and go to school, but protect your own process of discovery and know it is sacred. We must wrestle with ourselves to get to the good stuff.” (page 97)
And this next quote I want to share has bits and pieces of of things that I have said myself many times in classes with students.
Here’s what she writes:
“When I sing, I don’t think about what I’m singing-I think about the effect I want to have on the audience, then I use tools I have at my disposal to do it. I don’t care about how I sound while I sing, or how I look. I care about delivering a transfusion of the feeling in my vein to the vein of the listener, hitting their heart with gravity and force, undiluted by ego or pretense. It’s my job to get out of the way of the emotion, to be a good vessel, and to bring attention not necessarily to myself but to the emotion in the story. Music and art are potent medicine if the artist will get out of the way. This is the craft and art of live singing to me. It takes learning to get out of the way so that a pureness can travel through you to the audience.” (page 239)
She doesn’t mention this, but I think she’d agree with me that the more you can get out of the way and focus on transmitting the story and the healing to others, the less nervous and afraid you feel too. That’s when singing becomes pure pleasure and a high like no other.
Let’s all chew on Jewel’s wisdom for a while and use it in our lives and in our performances.