Book review: a singer’s story

KilcherKilcher

Story by Courtney ScobyStaff writer

Jewel Kilcher, also known simply as the multitalented singer-songwriter Jewel, is a master storyteller – that much is clear from her award-winning albums and record-shattering songs.  However, the subtitle of her new memoir, Never Broken: Songs are Only Half the Story, could not be more apt a description.  This artist has much more to tell us than what is encapsulated in her music.

  Never Broken is an unusually honest and deeply personal book.  It is not an autobiography, with the author predictably listing each life event already familiar to super-fans with a few mildly shocking (but not too shocking) details thrown in that ultimately leave the reader relatively unchanged.  It moves you.  The nearly 400 pages of the book flow easily, drawing readers into the narrative and not releasing them even after the book is closed.

The story begins with the author’s alternately idealistic and traumatic childhood beginning in Homer, Alaska.  She endured abuse from her family but also learned important coping skills through writing, meditating and simply existing in nature. She explains how her independence and self-reliance built early in life gave her the strength to move out on her own at 15 and begin her long and winding journey to a career in music.

Kilcher

Kilcher

A significant portion of the book is dedicated to giving young aspiring artists advice for navigating the troubled waters of the industry while staying true to one’s self.  For example, playing in bars from a very young age showed her that men who propositioned her needed to be turned down delicately, with their egos intact, or the interaction could very easily become dangerous for her.

Although Jewel is tremendously – almost supernaturally – talented, she credits the greater part of her success to working consistently and diligently at little expense to her label early on in her career so they would have no excuse to drop her.

She also refused to take shortcuts, waiting until the right label came along before signing a record deal and turning down offers of much-needed money in exchange for sex.

She never accepted disrespect.  When customers at one of her coffeehouse shows talked or left in the middle of a song, she called them out. The book includes a charming story of her future lawyer, who fell asleep when he first saw her play and awoke to the laughter of the audience members when Jewel concocted lyrics on the spot about the snoozing man.

While Never Broken prescribes invaluable advice to any artist, it also details some of Jewel’s more individual musical struggles, such as struggling to break through as a folk singer at the height of the grunge movement and constantly being hounded about the condition of her teeth.

The familiar language of Jewel’s breathtaking songwriting is very much present here. It is clear she did not have the help of ghostwriters or cowriters.  Fans of her music will enjoy the stories behind some of her more cryptic songs (such as “Standing Still” and “Goodbye Alice in Wonderland”) and lovers of language will relish the never-before-released poems included here and there. 

However, these same fans may be disappointed in the lack of attention to her extensive and diverse discography.  She focuses on the recording of several seminal albums, but barely mentions the development of others.

The other half of Jewel’s story provides a lot of insight into what it means to be a human, a woman, an artist and especially, what it means to heal.  She writes about the value of silence and the role we each have in our own becoming. 

While serious Jewel fans will undoubtedly enjoy Never Broken, it is a book that can appeal to anyone who has ever felt alone, or worthless or a failure.

This book is wonderfully empowering and deeply satisfying.  This is not a story readers will soon forget.  As celebrity-penned books come, this is as good as it gets.