making a difference
Interviewed By Barbara Goodman
Editor of Canadian Health & Lifestyle
One of my most challenging interviews ­ not because she’s difficult to talk to but because she’s so darn funny. I couldn’t hear myself think through my incessant giggling.
Laughter would relay the feeling of the interview although Jann would quickly say it’s all bulls__t, bulls__t, bulls__t. The truth is that between the laughter and quick-wittedness you’ll get to know native Albertan Jann Arden a little more.
Her open heart, her humour and her love is unmistakable by the way she connects with people through her music, books and in a manner you may not know, her charity work. In true Jann form she uses words to reveal how she is making a difference.
|H&L It was a pleasure reading your books. |
Jann Oh, good. Books about nothing, very practical, I’m a good meanderer.
H&L You expose your soul there.
Jann Is that what I do? I don’t know if that’s what I do. I always think I’m not all that personal. A book is much less exposing than writing music, music is much more vulnerable. I’ve always written, I have over 65 written journals and written music for 25 years, so it doesn’t bother me.
Writing is immediate, you feel it for a split second, and then it’s gone. That’s why it seems like it’s all over the place (the meandering). Plus the editor does his stuff. That’s why it comes out one day ­ Hey what a great day and the next, really horrible. But that’s ordinary life.
H&L Why a book?
Jann It was a simple choice. We stopped the fan club paper trail; it was expensive and archaic with everyone having computers. So Tim, the web guy, asked if I would mind putting my journal online. I journal on my computer now, so it was easy.
I don’t think about a lot of people reading it because I don’t think that I’m exposing anything ­ just an ordinary life. And I think it’s important for people to realise that my life really is ordinary! I’m not Celine Dion; I’m a pretty organic person. I make a record every two years, do press for three weeks, and tour with my band for 10 weeks. The rest of the time I do corporate jobs and charity stuff the public doesn’t see and that’s about 50% of the work I do now.
H&L What kind of charity work?
Jann I was the Canadian spokesperson for HIV and AIDS for a few years. I do things for Autism because I have an autistic nephew and have been involved with Cystic Fibrosis for 12 years.
I do a lot for World Vision ­ I go back to Africa in February and it’s really hard going there. It’s had quite an impact on my life and is a scary undertaking. It can be a dangerous world and I have quite a vivid imagination so it makes doing these things even weirder for me. Still, I feel I have a responsibility to do something for other people. I’ve been so blessed. One person shouldn’t have so much, I’m not a millionaire or anything but it’s still a lot for one person.
H&L What happens in Africa?
Jann The World Vision people choose two children and show their daily lifes, their families ­ or lack thereof. We film the kids for World Vision ads. And trust me it’s very hard to find footage suitable for the public or they’d be turning off the TV ­ it’s that bad. The best possible scenario is aired because people here can’t handle what’s really happening. It’s horrifying, scary and very sad.
We film the stories in impoverished camps that are a three to four hour drive from the army protected hotels I stay in. I’m whisked around by armed guards to the best possible hotels; eat the best possible food while the people are cooking rats on the street ­ just because I have money. It’s unbelievable how 99% of the world lives.
H&L This is one of the ways you make a difference?
Jann I’d like to think so. But the truth is they make much more of a difference for me. That’s the irony. I’m much more gifted by these children, their presence, their energy and their connection with the universe than I could ever possibly give back to them.
H&L Your parents play quite a role in your books.
Jann Oh I love them. (Her voice becomes warm honey) They’re normal, funny people, hard workers. My Dad’s thrilled right now; he’s started building their ‘granny cottage’ on the land I bought last year. God help me. They’re going to be about 1000 feet away. Even now, the alarm goes off in my house. It’s my Dad he’ll say, “Oh it’s only me.” And I’ll say, “Dad one of these days you’ll barge in and I’ll be running around naked.” “Well that’s your own fault,” he’ll say. This is the man I deal with. They’re such kooks.
They supported me in a career that could be very detrimental to a person’s soul and I haven’t lost anything. The nicest compliment I’ve ever had was from my Mom, “You haven’t changed a bit. You’re the same as you were 20 years ago.” It’s true. I have the same friends and live a mile from where I grew up. I don’t aspire to world domination. I actually never wanted to be a singer, I wanted to be a teacher and I just stumbled onto this.
H&L Stumbled onto music?
Jann I can’t explain it. I don’t read music or have any theoretical understanding. I play completely by ear. I’ve been teaching myself piano the last few years so I’m writing a lot more on that now. But I don’t know how it happened.
It’s like turning a radio on and trying to find a station. Everybody has the ability to receive information; I think I may be plagiarizing the good Lord above here. I don’t believe there’s a single human on the planet that has an original idea. I think it’s Divinity. People come onto to this planet and invent phones, computers, the light bulb and cures. What perpetuates that? It has to be something grand or I think we’d still be rubbing sticks together, dragging each other around by the hair! I think it’s the Divinity of God, whatever your perception of that is.
H&L Your writing can be quite profound.
Jann My mom says there’s no story. “Well I thought there’d be a story. And your Dad didn’t like the swearing.” (Jann impersonating her Mom had us in stitches.) “No Mom, it’s just day-to-day.” “Well I know what you do day-to-day. I just can’t believe that people want to read about it. I like a good novel, a good murder story or somethin’.” It makes me so nervous when my Dad starts reading it. I tell him, “I don’t want to talk about it.” (in her father’s voice) “I don’t even want to ask ya’ anything about it. I think it’s pretty good though, isn’t it Joan (Jann’s Mom)? But that’s their interest level. I don’t get “What do you mean about that?” They’re just so funny!!! Bless their hearts.
H&L In your book you write: “Change is the only hope we have.”
Jann These are such ordinary things to me. I choose to write down the obvious and people will say, “I’ve thought that”. And yeah you have. People take comfort in finding a common ground. With a well known person they think their life is a beer commercial, running down a beach in slow motion with your lover Philippe.
When you’re in the public eye people think you have no struggle, that you don’t live like them. To a certain extent that can be true, but everyone has problems whether it’s money or fame. You can’t keep your parents from dying, or your brother from being in jail for killing somebody, or your nephews from having Autism and Cystic Fibrosis ­ life is going to deal out exactly what it’s going to deal to you.
|H&L Jann what motivates and keeps you going? |
Jann A lot of things ­ my family, my friends. The people I work with I’ve been with for years and we’re all like-minded. They’re good-hearted people.
I really love music and words. I’m a voracious reader and like to learn new things, this may be the teacher thing. I’m a self-taught Minstrel. I make my living with words ­ they fascinate me. Words can hurt or liberate people ­ you make the choice. I’m quick- witted and could use words in a vicious way but don’t. Even in school I was quick. My mother says to me, “I wish I could be like that!” (in the Mom voice) But she’s funny too! This guy said to me, “You know you’re 25 pounds away from superstardom in the States?” I didn’t know what to say and was thinking it’s probably more like 35 ­ but thank you very much. I phoned her from LA and she said, “Well why didn’t you tell him that you didn’t want to gain any more weight?” So you see ­ I come by it honestly. I want to leave something decent and good behind, so I keep it about the music and not me. I’m ambiguous with how I dress on stage. Not in a tube top, although my mother would like to see that, “Well I think you’d look cute in a tube top.” And I’m like, “Have you seen my boobs lately Mom?” Isn’t it wonderful that your parents see your perfections?
I’ve done this purposefully. I don’t want to be doing costume changes, it’s not about me. The sets are simple; the lights are really elegant and lovely. It’s a night of thoughtfulness and laughing, wanting people to leave feeling inspired to create their own art.
Humour is half our show. I know some people want me to shut up but they’ve got to put up with both. We sing a song and the audience is quiet, thinking about whoever it is they think about. Sometimes I’ll peek through the curtains to watch them leave, I see them floating out shaking their heads and retelling what I said.
H&L So you like to leave your audiences with something to think about.
Jann I hope so! People give me a lot to think about.
H&L Laughter’s important?
Jann You have to laugh. It’s a good shield from the really probing questions. I say to people, “I’m not here to change the world I’m here to entertain it.” I like to laugh and have a great time.
H&L I find women really relate to you.
Jann I’m an anomaly in many ways. Maybe it’s the Canadian audience, they’re just fabulous. As Canadians I think we have an ability to celebrate being so ordinary that we’re ‘extra ordinary’.
I know that my physical stature defies the press’s sense of what pop music is. How I present myself and what I think is sexy or provocative, or that great word we don’t hear anymore innuendo ­ the great unknowing. I’ve taken a lot of time to not let them (the press) know everything.
I’d find it funny to have four designers trying to stuff me into an outfit that might trim off eight pounds. I wouldn’t be able to hit a high C but by God I’d look good. I also don’t want to create someone that I have to keep up with.
Being in my forties now, though it was a far different story when I was 25 ­ I didn’t come by this easily, I believe your health is wealth. That’s why I’ve run three miles a day for years, how else do you think I got this body? I’m one of the fittest people I know. It’s just not my lot. And I don’t desire to be something I’m not.
Maybe I don’t see what other people see. For me it’s a comfort to accept every line on my face. I’m not getting Botox anytime soon. A lot of my friends in this industry get everything done. I support them, and tell them they look great. Now I don’t have a real tooth in my head. It’s about what you want to do.
I want to see who I am in thirty years. I want to remember that this line was because of that day we laughed so hard. I want to empty myself into the ground absolutely done ­ yellow nails, wearing a purple moo-moo, a glass of port in one hand and my 59 cats with their box full of crap; waving to people driving by, praying that they’ll stop so I can tell them all my stories.
H&L That’s very full.
Jann Yeah, we only have one good chance at it. Don’t spend time looking in a mirror and saying, “I don’t like that about myself or I don’t want that there.” We wouldn’t even know it existed if it wasn’t for the social implications of beauty. I think beauty is loving yourself. I know that sounds so corny, but I’ll get over it.
Last year when I was with a bunch of my band guys we asked one another fun questions. One of them was: “What would you change?” I would change nothing. I wish I hadn’t lied so much to my Mom when I was younger and I wish I hadn’t done a few other things but as far as myself ­ I wouldn’t change anything. I don’t wish for anything. I have everything.
H&L You’re very grateful.
Jann Yeah, very grateful. But I have cranky days where I don’t want to talk to people so I put on my glasses to get through Safeway or Winners without being stopped. Mom’ll say, “Will it kill you to do that? That’s part of what you get. People pay your way.” If it wasn’t for her I’d probably be an ass__e.
H&L Who’s made the biggest difference in your life?
Jann My parents. They’d never admit it. I think they get very flattered but their not ‘stagey’ people. Mom will say, “That has a nice beat.” That’s all my parents have ever said about my music. Dad says, “Well you know my daughter’s a singer.” He was never like that, so it’s nice.
H&L This has been a pleasure Jann. Would you leave the readers with some words about making a difference in their own life?
Jann Really try and be the best version of yourself you can be. Don’t be hard on yourself, there is no point to it. I make mistakes every day. By noon I’ve already screwed up and I wanted to have a perfect day.
So, when it doesn’t work get up and just start again. No matter how terrible things are, or what you’re facing. The end is going to be what it’s going to be and there’s no sense in worrying about it. In the meantime, forge on; be forgiving to yourself, it’s a great start to getting it right ­ I think.
Look for Jann’s two books in bookstores and her new CD Spring 2005.