(Part 12 of an ongoing series)
To this day, and even long after the Apocalypse, I’ll stand up for my girl Jewel. Or at least I’ll stand up for most of the music she made in her younger days. Back in the ’90s, Jewel was great as long as she wasn’t straining to be the 22 year-old who’s so wise-beyond-her-years she can tell you what life is really all about. For instance, her song “Who Will Save Your Soul” gets better the more you ignore what the lyrics are trying to preach. And as for the embarrassingly clunky anti-prejudice title track of her debut album Pieces Of You, it’s better just to ignore that one altogether.
But when Jewel was younger and sang about love with very little pretense, she was phenomenal. I could write a thousand words about all the great songs on Pieces Of You, and one day I certainly will, though for now I’ll just talk about my favorite Jewel song, “Sometimes It Be That Way.” It’s a fan favorite that Jewel’s frequently played in concert, yet it’s only been commercially released as a live bonus track on 2001’s This Way. Just another one of the many dubious career decisions my girl’s made since she hit it big, I guess.
Of course, there are many bootleg versions of “Sometimes It Be That Way” out there. The best version- the one I’m bringing to the Post-Apocalypse- is one that was recorded sometime in 1997. Most of the other versions I’ve heard tend to be too slow, too cutesy, and not nearly hungry enough. Though maybe I prefer my Post-Apocalyptic version because it’s the first one I heard. Well technically, it’s just the first recorded version I heard. I first heard Jewel sing the song at Jones Beach in the summer of ’97, and loved it so much that a few weeks later, when I was clacking through the used CD racks in the West Village’s Generation Records, I made sure to find a Jewel bootleg with that very song. (I wouldn’t say I was totally embarrassed to be a 16 year-old dude buying a Jewel bootleg at Generation Records, but I did buy a couple extra punk albums that day so the clerks wouldn’t think I was completely lame.)
Jewel says she wrote “Sometimes It Be That Way” while on tour opening for Bob Dylan, and it shows. The song’s got a strong Blood On The Tracks vibe, but it’s still so very Jewel. With just her happily restless acoustic guitar by her side, she runs down a list of apologies to a recent ex. Some of those apologies are sad and sincere (“I’m sorry if it was my swerve/ that tempted you to sway“). More than some of those apologies are bitter and sarcastic (“I’m sorry if my heart breaking ruined your day“). Almost all of those apologies are delicately wrapped in private jokes and charming poetry (“And Aphrodite with her neon lamp/ kissed Neptune, they put her face on a stamp/ and I’m sorry I used it to mail a letter to you/ sorry I’m glue and the rest bounces off of you“).
Oh, yes: there’s also Jewel’s marvelous voice. She sells every strand in this complex web of post-breakup emotions like a seasoned pro, sliding from each one faster than a speeding couplet and smoother than honey melting in chamomile tea. All the while, she sings with a wide enough perspective to be playful about it. Like at around the 30-second mark when she sings, “I’m sorry that Jesus died for my sins,” then adds with a wink, “and I swear to God it won’t be happening again.” And when she finally starts belting her heart out to the nosebleed seats around 2:35, it’s well-earned, perfectly-timed, and skin-chilling.
Not all the songs on my Post-Apocalyptic iPod need to carry an extra layer of meaning. For the most part, they just need to be good songs that I like. “Sometimes It Be That Way” is a great song that I love, and as a bonus, it should also help keep me grounded out in the ruins of civilization. Because shit happens. Once in a great long while, there’s an apocalypse. And when there’s an apocalypse, it’s not unlike a painful heartbreak. You just gotta keep strumming your guitar and say oh well, sometimes it be that way.
Approx. 3 minutes, 47 seconds; 7,828 minutes, 16 seconds left on the iPod