All words: Kir Jeffrey — All photos: Kevin Hulse
Singer/Songwriter/Actress/Guitarist/Yodeler/Mother/Author, Jewel, has the most social grace of anyone you’ve ever met. At the mention of her name you’re probably immediately picturing the innocent teenager singing “Foolish Games,” or maybe your schema accelerates to the blonde bombshell in the firefighter outfit from the “Intuition” music video.
If you think a National Book Festival is a strange place to meet a cross-genre musical superstar, you’d be right. The new mother was inspired by her son to create a children’s music book called That’s What I’d Do, recently released on September 18th. This past Saturday on the National Mall, Jewel spent the better part of her afternoon promoting her book and answering questions from small children. If you had the chance to ask a four time Grammy nominated, top selling musician anything it probably would be nothing like this.
Small Child #1: Jewel what’s your favorite song?
Jewel: Of all time or one that I wrote?
Small Child #1: (long pause) Of all time.
Jewel: Well, that is a hard question! Hmm, you know what I really don’t know, I’ll think about it and have to tweet it later okay?
Small Child #2: You sing me to sleep every night!
Jewel: I’m so happy that I’m able to do that for you! Do you have a question or are you just saying hi?
Small Child #2: Just hi.
Older Child #3: Hi Jewel, I saw you did a movie with Tobey Maguire, what was that experience like?
Jewel: Well, Ride with the Devil was a great experience. I had never really done much acting before so it was terrifying. I’d be so worried, wondering why they hired me; they could’ve picked any actress they wanted. We found that it was probably because I was the only girl in Hollywood that actually looked true to a young age because of my teeth! (crowd laughs) You never know what will get you a job! I recently had the opportunity to play June Carter Cash for a Lifetime film, which was an amazing opportunity as well. I’d say, overall, I enjoy it.
Small Child #4: Umm, what is your favorite song that YOU wrote?
Jewel: Well, gee, that’s a hard one too! These are such good questions. All my songs come from a different experiences so it’s hard to pick just one! I’ll think about that one later too.
Small Child #5: Can you sing us a song? (Crowd cheers like hippies at a rock show)
Jewel: Well, I guess I could. Here, I’ll sing the book I brought with me. (Jewel sings like an angel as she turns the pages to her book)
Not only did Jewel handle her tough kid questions at the children’s tent with the utmost grace and poise, she then agreed to share some of her time with BYT! Knowing Jewel was in DC promoting her book and not her music, I strayed away from 90’s lyrics and resisted the urge to request a duet.
BYT: Motherhood is such an amazing journey; I assume your inspiration for writing children’s literature is because of your son. Tell me about that?
Jewel: Yea, I started writing when I was trying to get pregnant. I wrote Lullaby, a CD. I’d always heard that parents put their kids to sleep with my music, which normally would probably sound like an insult, but it was always touching that there was something they found soothing about my voice. I always had in my mind to do a lullabies album and it was a good time to do it, finally. When I was pregnant, I wrote The Merry Goes ‘Round, a children’s record of morals and Aesop’s Fables that I wanted my son to learn. One of those songs was called “That’s What I Do” and when I was writing it I knew I wanted to turn it into a book and have it illustrated. It took me about a year to get me to this point and be able to be here.
BYT: You started as a poet singer/songwriter, that’s how you transitioned to authoring?
Jewel: Yes, it’s all based on songwriting. I took the lyrics from my songs verbatim and put them in the book. It’s not changed at all even the chorus repeats itself.
BYT: Tell me about your inspirations.
Jewel: I love Shel Siverstein and Dr. Suess and their very poetic leanings. Maybe I’ll do a book based around that for children sometime in the future. For now, It’s the sentiment I wanted to share. I wanted my work to be poetic and have strong metaphors because that’s what interested me as a child, using my mind in that way through writing. I also think that if you get too specific it alienates people. It’s a sentiment; it’s something I want parents to share with their children.
BYT: How and when did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Jewel: Gosh, I never considered it as a career. I just wrote; I just enjoyed it. In fourth grade I started writing poems in poetry club. It was just a hobby, something to do in your free time that was just very fun. I wrote and journaled a lot. I had no idea it would lead to a career, I didn’t ever say, “I’m going to become a writer.” It probably would’ve ruined things. I probably would have had to go to school for it. The most important things to me are creativity, originality and telling your story and I think school probably wouldn’t have necessarily encouraged me to do that. Further schooling would have taught me grammar and spelling, which I suck at, but not going let me explore my own voice. Songwriting was an accident; it was always to make myself feel better.
BYT: What did you want to be?
Jewel: I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was kind of drifting; I didn’t know what life had in store for me really. I worked hard at it but everything was out of passion. I was very surprised that people liked it as much as they did. I’m very focused and very driven. Once I looked at getting signed I learned everything about it but I didn’t think I could make a living doing something I loved that much. I didn’t dare to dream that big. I was on my own; I moved out when I was 15. It was when I was homeless when I got discovered. When I sang people really seemed to like it and that gave me hope.
BYT: If you could do anything differently, would you?
Jewel: There are lots of things I would do differently. I would have enjoyed it more. I was so focused on making it work that I never just stopped to go, “Holy crap, I’m singing at the Vatican, how cool am I?” Now looking back I wish I could’ve taken it in, felt prouder and really enjoyed it. I wish I could’ve been a bigger fan of the experience.
There you go, folks. Jewel, an amazing self-starter, is a humble testament to why you should be determined to do what you love without overthinking it.