By Bob Ruggiero
By Hilary Hughes
By Peter Gerstenzang
By David R. Adler
By Devon Maloney
By Brian McManus
By Jessica Hopper
By Harley Oliver Brown
Somewhere along the line, brothers and sisters, we all had the same thought. Maybe we muttered it to ourselves after hearing the suspiciously open-ended question, "Who Will Save Your Soul?" Maybe we panicked after the $2 million book deal struck for her gooey poetry and the octuple-platinum sales of her first album, the hellish Pieces of You. Maybe we trembled in fear when we first heard the twangy whine of that Jewel Kilcher, the fresh and airy embodiment of a breeze from Alaska just a girl with a guitar, a whole lot of annoyingly earnest notions, and bone structure that could shoe a horse. Maybe some of y'all gasped in sudden revelation when she told Lauren Hutton, "I don't have any strict belief system. I believe in charm. I believe in magic." Perhaps you prayed for redemption when you discovered that she, like the Heaven's Gate cult, makes her home in San Diego. Never mind when, brothers and sisters, we all thought it: Jewel is the Devil.
Well now, what I'm about to say may shock you, but I spent an afternoon with that pious and bubbly Jewel Kilcher in front of a Mormon church just as her first record was breaking, and sure as I'm standing here, didn't nothing happen. Jewel ain't no demon. But the devil has possessed her. Miss Kilcher was forged in the muck of unchecked hippie idealism, pop psychology, New Age spirituality, frontier-country cults, self-obsession disguised as self-help, antidepressants, and the culture of recovery, all places where contrary thoughts or honest criticism can brand someone a "negative" person. Her music is therefore the acoustic equivalent of air freshener. It makes you think of neutral public environments. Hotel lobbies. "Safe spaces." Satan works in Jewel's change-your-life music the same way he works in Oprah's wicked television show by massaging our complacency.
It's our fault that Satan's plan worked so efficiently. We confused moneymaking potential with artistic merit. We referred to anything we wanted to hype as "genius." Forgive us, Father. Jewel was phenomenally attractive, Satan knew we prized that in our pop stars. And lo, he made her teeth crooked, for no one loves perfection absolutely. He gave her a lovely and powerful voice like a cross between Dolly Parton and Crystal Gayle, and told her to strain it to sound cloying and melodramatic. He wrote Jewel's lyrics with a Gump-like hapless do-gooder quality masquerading as a social conscience. Most cleverly, he gave her one of the more bizarre and fascinating life stories in recent rock history poverty in Alaska, under the wing of parents Atz and Nedra, who told folktales during their lounge act; living in her station wagon and washing her hair in fast-food restaurants. You didn't think Old Gooseberry wouldn't chuck a bone to the rock journalists, did you? Repent!
Take a bowl of holy water to the nearest record shop and flick it on Spirit, Jewel's newest CD. If you thought 1995's Pieces of You soft, wait until you hear how much softer Jewel can be, brothers and sisters. Erstwhile Madonna producer Patrick Leonard has gently supported Miss Kilcher's guitar with ethereal synths and a padding rhythm section, and Jude Cole lends his bland guitar to every track. If this album were a food, it would be plain, runny, nonfat, tofu-based yogurt. Satan has even pureed Jewel's heart, and sprinkled religious overtones on top. "Come on you unbelievers, move out of the way/There is a new army coming and we are armed with faith," she declares. In this lyric, Satan cleverly does not reveal in whom that faith must be placed. But sometimes he's more overt. "Kiss the flame," he implores, "Embrace the faceless/The unnamed!" The Evil One is grooming us to be as mushy and "open" as Jewel, to loosen our judgment, using her as a conduit to drive the sword of unrestrained market capitalism through the heart of the world's culture. Just think: we laughed at Rod McKuen and Leonard Nimoy's poetry, but Satan's Lamb has become too powerful to ignore. "In the end," sings Lucifer through Jewel, "only kindness matters." To that I say, No, Jewel. No, Devil. It is only the harsh tonic of lasting, universal, complex human truth which will set us free. I cast you out!
This is the year of false prophets, brothers and sisters, when twentyish kids like Alanis and Duncan are releasing their first postsuccess LPs, as fascinated by their own navels as they are cowed by the responsibility brought on by having the world's ear. They don't think they're Christ, or Buddha, they think we all are, and that they must repay a spiritual debt to their flock, their "Everyday Angels" (as Jewel's fancult refers to itself), by informing us of the good news. Do not listen! See both Alanis and Jewel in their new videos, walking obliviously through the world. Alanis, like Eve, cannot comprehend her own nakedness she would have you believe she has not sinned! Jewel appears as an otherworldly apparition, leading rescuers to victims. She would have you believe she is divine! Brothers and sisters, in the words of Christ, "Beware of false prophets which come to you in sheep's clothing . . . inwardly they are ravening wolves."