- The Washington Times - Friday, December 24, 1999


Before she lost her first tooth, singing star Jewel already was performing in bars with her father.

The progeny of homesteaders from Switzerland, the Alaska-born Jewel had a childhood as colorful as Huckleberry Finn's.

"I was raised bar-singing with my father since a very young age," she says as her long blond hair cascades behind her shoulder. "And we made our money that way. And I thought I'd make a living at it. I hoped."

Before that, her grandfather occasionally toured Europe with his children in a vaudeville act. "They would sing and dance and act. So I was raised learning to basket-weave, learning scrimshaw ivory. My aunt was a sculptress. They all did theater, all did instruments and all sang. So I was just raised doing all those things. Creativity was all those things," she says.

It still is. Jewel has expanded her abilities not only in music, but in film. In her movie debut, "Ride With the Devil," she plays a sweet widow who befriends a pack of bushwhackers and she does it with surprising conviction.

Having been a precocious and dyslexic child, Jewel remembers suffering a sort of midlife crisis as a preteen.

"I lost hope when I was 10 or 11. I was doubting myself at that age. I guess that's the darkest," she says, shaking her head and crossing her legs. Her black sandals, with 3 and 1/2-inch heels, clash with her blue denim jacket and profusion of turquoise jewelry.

"I was a very instinctual kid, and I learned to doubt it. I remember thinking maybe you couldn't know yourself. Maybe other people had to tell you who you were. That changed the course of my life. I surrounded myself with people who would tell me who I was."

At 15 even though her dyslexia forced her to plod through her reading she discovered philosophy. She became so engrossed in the subject that eventually she was conducting seminars for teachers on how to introduce the subject to a less-than-willing audience.

"Before that I was a typical girl, dressing up and going, 'Do you like me?' " she says, batting her eyes. "That really changed my whole attitude. It was very empowering."

"Empowered" is a good way of describing her. Though she's shy, she is emphatically focused on her work. "I got real shy in my teens. I couldn't move. I was really self-conscious and awkward," she says. "By the time I was 18, I had gone through so many years of so many phases that I was pretty comfortable with entertaining and getting people going and keeping them interested. When I toured, I toured solo in front of punk bands, Goth bands, all sorts of music, barrooms. And because of my bar background, I could go, 'Shut up,' or I could make them listen.

"I'm shy, but I also love my craft, my job, and I like being good at my job. I've had so many years of getting my brain around that from a young age that by 18 I was pretty savvy. [I was] 18 and gangly and had a ton to learn. I still feel that way about myself now."

Jewel moved to Colorado for a time, then followed her mother to San Diego. "My mom went there for health problems, and there were some really good doctors down there like alternative health. And I ended up just staying."

A string of jobs waitressing, answering phones, doling out coffee in a coffee shop kept her barely afloat.

"I got fired, got kicked out of my apartment with my mom," she says.

She and her mother had split the rent, so they found themselves homeless. That's when her mother suggested they live in their cars.

"To take the economic pressure off, she's like, 'Live in your car.' Being from Alaska … that's not too weird of an idea. I was raised without electricity and water, so you're basically camping anyway. It seemed like a great solution; then I could just write. I didn't think all the time, 'Am I going to get my rent paid?' "

She began singing every Thursday night in a coffee shop. The word spread, and soon record-label representatives were showing up and checking out her act.

"When the record company said, 'I think you could make a record,' I was shocked. I was like, 'Go find some talent.' "

It did. Her "Pieces of You" album, cut four years ago, sold more than 10 million copies. "Spirit" has sold 4 million.

She also writes. Her book of poetry, "A Night Without Armor," has been published by HarperCollins.

Writing, she says, reflects her "journey."

"The best I can do is be honest. When I'm depraved, I'm writing about it, and when I'm well-behaved, I'm writing about it. Luckily, writing really centers me, and I've always used that as a tool for staying in touch with myself."

Jewel's sweetheart is rodeo champion Ty Murray, although it would seem she would have little time for romance she toured 330 days this year.

At age 25, she has grasped what many celebrities take years to determine: Fame has altered her universe.

"If you took my childhood and held it up in a mirror so that everything was the exact opposite it's still a reflection of me, but the exact opposite, everything's backward," she says. "Solitude has become fame, anonymity has become fame. Open space has become constant confinement. Poverty has become wealth. A lot of good things, too. It changes everything. And learning to keep my equilibrium has been my job. I've tried to be very constant about it."

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