Sleepbetter.org Interviews Jewel

SleepBetter.org is in Stephenville to talk to people about their dreams, of course, and the local poster child for dream-achievement is Jewel, who lives outside of town on a 2,200 acre ranch with husband Ty Murray, the nine-time world champion cowboy. The outline of Jewel’s life is well-known: She grew up in Alaska on her family’s ranch, played in bars and road houses with her father (ducking into the bathroom if the police showed up), and eventually landed in San Diego where she spent a year being homeless before catching the eyes of recording executives and signing a contract. Her first album, produced when she was 19 — barely old enough to vote — made her a Grammy-winning sensation.

There’s always a risk when someone achieves spectacular success at a young age (and we’ll get back to that in a moment). But in Jewel’s case, that success could only be called the reaching of a dream if she’d dreamed it in the first place. Which she didn’t. “I really didn’t have stars in my eyes, in terms of being famous,” she says. Performing was a “job” for Jewel and her father, when she was growing up. “It was what we did for a living.”

In fact, when Jewel moved to San Diego after finishing high school, she didn’t consciously seek to start her music career. Instead, she found a job answering phones at a computer warehouse. Performing wasn’t a dream as much as it was a financial safety net. After losing her job — because, she says, she refused her boss’s advances — and after having her final paycheck withheld in further retaliation, Jewel ended up losing her apartment and living in her vehicle, plagued by health problems. She started singing in coffee houses “because I hoped that’s how I could make money,” she says. And it was in those coffee houses where success found her. It arrived less by design, and more by circumstance. (She had built such a loyal following over a year that labels began to take notice.)

What, then, were Jewel’s dreams at that time? Practicing environmental law, for one. Sculpture, and “at my most desperate times I even considered marrying rich, and letting a guy take care of me!” she says. In short, she engaged in the same kind of pondering about the future that any young adult does. They weren’t dreams, exactly, but more like trying to figure out how she would get by. “I think a lot of times, we don’t know what our real dreams are,” she says.

But music was always a passion — not to be famous — and she had a burning desire to be the best at writing and singing. Every time she sang in that coffee shop that’s all she thought about, and amazingly that passion and drive led her to success. She describes fame as a side effect of following her passion and trying to be the best at what she was doing.

So what are the dreams now of a young woman who has sold 27 million albums, sang in the Vatican for Pope John Paul II, performed with the likes of Merle Haggard and Bob Dylan, and seemed to have accomplished so much at a relatively young age? “Happiness,” she replies simply. “Earlier in my life, I didn’t really even know what would make me happy. I was just driven,” she says. “I had no idea.”

But she eventually realized that making yourself a happy person “was something you have to actually work on. It’s like learning a language.” In her case, during that miserable period when she was homeless, struggling and ill, she made herself pretend to be happy and optimistic —while also taking simple steps to help create happiness and improve her life, in the belief that a positive attitude, even if feigned at first, is beneficial. After all, she says, “your life is a calcification of your thoughts. Our lives become what we believe.”

She also decided always to evolve as a performer. Jewel noticed early on that artists who achieve success at the front end of their careers often grow stagnant later. Their focus is more in maintaining fame, she says, rather than growing and evolving as an artist: “They’re dead creatively, but they don’t know it.” But she also noticed that two groups of people — jazz singers and novelists — tended to get better as they got older.

Her conclusion was that those artists largely fly below fame’s radar, and focus on getting better at writing and singing, rather than trying simply to be more famous. That explains why Jewel loves her small town life on the ranch, and also her movement into different genres — into country and, most recently, her album “Lullaby.

“You always have to challenge yourself because anything you do can run the risk of becoming repetitious, and thus tedious,” she says. And it’s nobody’s dream to be those things.

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