"I went to school with a girl named Jewel," I mused. "What was her last name? It started with a K. Kirchner or Kitchener or something."
"Kilcher?" one of my friends said.
"That's it," I said. "How did you know?"
And then there was an appalled silence. Evidently I was the last person in the entire country to know that Jewel was the hottest pop star in the country. Everyone knew the same basic facts: grew up on a homestead with an outhouse. Lived in a van in San Diego. Discovered in a coffee shop.
My friends knew that I grew up in Anchorage, of course. The only reason they hadn't asked about Jewel before was they figured I would have mentioned it. And they didn't want to be those uncool people who say "You're from X? Do you know Mr. Z?"
So, yes, it is true. It was a small school, but our circles didn't really overlap, so I didn't really know her. (I knew her mostly as the girl who yodeled at the talent show. And an impressive bit of yodeling it was, by the way. I just checked YouTube and it's not up there. Seriously? Surely someone must have taped it. Very disappointing)
By the way, Jewel's various biographies rarely mention the years she spent at a perfectly ordinary school, with flush toilets and everything. It doesn't really fit with the Jewel ethos, I suppose.
It's easy to be cynical or snarky about Jewel. It's always easy to be cynical and snarky when someone is being earnest, heartfelt, and sentimental. And her core songs were certainly over-played during the 1990s. She was part of the rise of the "coffeehouse singer/songwriter/folk-pop" musical genre of the 1990s, which most people have well overdosed on by now. To this day, I hear her songs at least once a month - often when a grocery store plays the Muzak version.
But unlike a lot of other 1990s acts, Jewel wasn't the least bit plasticky. She had a unique voice and a distinctive look, charmingly crooked teeth and all. She wrote most of her songs herself, and she wrote them from the heart (followed by a volume of poetry which has become the #1 bestselling book of poetry of all time).