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“I was very realistic,” says the Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Jewel as we record an episode of The Hollywood Reporter‘s Awards Chatter podcast and reflect on the fact that it has been 25 years since her debut album Pieces of You. “The odds of me selling records? I was a folk singer. Like, I wrote very emotional folk songs at the height of grunge. I knew when I sang it moved people, but I felt like the odds of that working were pretty much slim to none.”
A quarter-century later, the verdict is in: Jewel, now 45, beat the odds. That first album went 12-times platinum — meaning 12 million in sales — on the back of hit singles like “Who Will Save Your Soul,” “You Were Meant for Me” and “Foolish Games.” And she subsequently released 11 other albums which produced numerous hits of their own — among them “Hands,” “Intuition” and “Stronger Woman” — and racked up an additional 28 million in sales.
But would any of Jewel’s remarkable journey — from homelessness to household name — have been possible without mindfulness? Mindfulness, which Jewel says she taught herself and describes as “conscious presence,” changed the course of her life, in her view. It is the subject of Robert Beemer‘s new documentary The Mindfulness Movement, for which she and Deepak Chopra served as executive producers, and of her new song “Grateful.” And it something that she thinks could help you through the stress of the ongoing pandemic, explaining, “We’re gonna be okay. We can’t control what’s happening to us. But we can control how it changes us.”
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LISTEN: You can hear the entire interview below.
Past guests include Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey, Lorne Michaels, Barbra Streisand, George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Robert De Niro, Jennifer Lawrence, Eddie Murphy, Gal Gadot, Warren Beatty, Angelina Jolie, Snoop Dogg, Jessica Chastain, Stephen Colbert, Reese Witherspoon, Aaron Sorkin, Margot Robbie, Ryan Reynolds, Nicole Kidman, Denzel Washington, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Matthew McConaughey, Kate Winslet, Jimmy Kimmel, Natalie Portman, Chadwick Boseman, Jennifer Lopez, Elton John, Judi Dench, Quincy Jones, Jane Fonda, Tom Hanks, Amy Schumer, Justin Timberlake, Elisabeth Moss, RuPaul, Rachel Brosnahan, Jimmy Fallon, Kris Jenner, Michael Moore, Emilia Clarke, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Helen Mirren, Tyler Perry, Sally Field, Spike Lee, Lady Gaga, J.J. Abrams, Emma Stone, Al Pacino, Julia Roberts, Jerry Seinfeld, Dolly Parton, Will Smith, Taraji P. Henson, Sacha Baron Cohen, Carol Burnett and Norman Lear.
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Jewel was born Jewel Kilcher in Utah, but was raised from infancy on a remote homestead in Alaska. As she recounts, both of her parents were musicians with whom she performed at hotel dinner shows from the age of 5 until her mother left the family when Jewel was just 8. At that point she became a duo with her father, often performing at bars where she would steal the show with her yodeling. But her time with her dad was anything but easy; between the ages of 8 and 18, she lived in 22 different places, often missing school, and he physically abused her. “He and I had a rough relationship,” she acknowledges. “A lot of great times, but also a lot of really hard times.” She moved out to live on her own at 15. (They have since reconciled.)
It was around that time that, at the urging of an acquaintance, Jewel applied for and received a partial scholarship to a private music school in Michigan; members of the community who believed in her potential kicked in the rest of the tuition, and she headed off to study, ultimately overcoming dyslexia and panic attacks to learn how to play the guitar and write her own poetry-turned-tunes. After completing her studies, Jewel relocated to San Diego, where she lived with her mother and worked a number of jobs; at one, her boss pressured her for sex and then wouldn’t pay her when she refused, so she could no longer pay her rent. Her mom suggested that they live in their respective cars, which they did for a while. Then her mother moved back to Alaska, Jewel’s car was stolen and she was homeless.
“Things got progressively worse,” she recalls, noting that she became agoraphobic, started suffering from life-threatening kidney infections and began habitually stealing. Then, one day while about to snatch a dress from a store, Jewel had an epiphany: “I remembered this quote that I had read by Buddha that said, ‘Happiness doesn’t depend on who you are or what you have, it depends on what you think.’ I was stripped of everything but my thoughts, and I became very inspired and impassioned to see if I could turn my life around one thought at a time. So I didn’t steal the dress and I made a commitment to try to figure out what I was thinking.” In other words, she discovered mindfulness, which, she says, taught her that “if you can observe a thought and create a gap before you act on it, that gap, that time you give yourself, you can actually insert a new behavior.”
Jewel started writing music, and the rest, of course, is history. She landed a gig at the Inner Change Coffeehouse in Pacific Beach, and quickly found a following. Record label execs started driving up from Los Angeles, and there was a bidding war for her services. Jewel signed with Atlantic Records, refusing upfront money for the biggest backend deal in the label’s history. She assembled 14 of her songs for Pieces of You — including “the first song I ever wrote,” “Who Will Save Your Soul.” And then, for 14 months, nothing. “It had not sold,” she recalls. “It was a failure.” But her label didn’t drop her because she cost them so little and was willing to work so hard to promote her work. And, in the meantime, Bob Dylan and Neil Young became fans and took her under their wing. And, 14 months after the album’s release, she blew up — appearing on the cover of Time and Rolling Stone, performing for the president and the pope and inspiring another generation of singer-songwriters to come.
Jewel believes that she survived sudden fame and all that followed thanks in no small part to mindfulness, and she has spent the last five years paying it forward — teaching mindfulness exercises on her website JewelNeverBroken.com; writing a book about her journey for adults, curricula for adolescents and a cartoon for toddlers; establishing a charity; and composing her 13th studio album, Gratitude, the first single of which, “Grateful,” she recently released. “This is the first time I’ve written a record from scratch in my entire life,” she says. “It was very hard. I wrote 200 songs to get 10 that I like.”
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