Read Jewel’s Heartfelt Speech on the Spirit of Nirvana, Social Unrest and the Next Punk Rock (EXCLUSIVE)

"Punk rock isn’t a genre — it's the outrageous belief in your own voice’s value, even in the face of impossible odds."

Jewel Kilcher

During an appearance last week at a private industry event in New York, singer-songwriter Jewel — best known for her hit “Who Will Save Your Soul?” — gave a stirring speech that amounts to a manifesto of sorts on where she sees music today and what her next project will be: a collaboration with songwriters all across the country, released via RED Music/Sony. And while she got a standing ovation after she delivered the rousing debut performance of a brand-new song called “No More Tears,” she also got one for her speech, the text of which appears in full below.

I was a product of the ‘80s and came of age in ‘90s like many of you — when Nirvana was king. They were king and deservedly so, because they saw a gap. They felt a gap between where culture actually was, and what was being played on the radio.

And that gap wasn’t small, it turns out. It ended up being a revolution.

Nirvana was part of the real world, the world that didn’t think it was a shiny happy place, a carry-over of the glitz, stadium rock and material-girl realness of the 80’s. Kids were in pain. And Kurt, Krist and Dave were those kids. And they gave a voice to a generation that felt the same as they did. Outsiders.

I was that generation. I was one of those kids. How I felt on the inside wasn’t what I saw on TV or heard on the radio. But as the decade progressed, and a disengaged apathy began to set in and even become cool, I couldn’t afford to be disengaged and hopeless. I didn’t want to kill myself. I didn’t want to numb myself. So as the whole world was saying, “I am in pain,” I began to say, “I’m in pain… now what?” I began to write music about “now what.”

And I began to see a gap: a gap between what I was hearing on the radio and what I was seeing around me. The tide was going to shift. Kids wanted solutions. They needed to hear a new truth. That no one will save your soul if you aren’t willing to save your own. That no one is coming for you — you are coming for you. We are going to be okay. Kindness matters.

I fought for that belief. I fought for that gap I saw. I fought for those kids I saw every day, who didn’t hear themselves on the radio anymore. Who didn’t see anywhere to turn. Whose heroes were dying. Who needed to feel like they had the power to change their lives — because they did. We did. We do.

I did over 1,000 shows a year. I was doing four or five shows a day. I did multiple cities in a day. And after one and a half years of working “Who Will Save Your Soul” to radio … the tide began to shift. “Who Will Save Your Soul” got played between Belly and Soundgarden, thanks to a lot of people in this room who took a risk on an outlier: a singer-songwriter, a folk singer talking about being sensitive at the height of cynicism.

When I was on the cover of Time magazine and the headline read “Grunge is out, empathy is in,” I knew I was part of the new punk rock. You see, punk rock isn’t a genre — it is a ferocity of authenticity. It’s the outrageous belief in your own voice’s value, even in the face of impossible odds.

And another revolution happened: An era of singer songwriters was ushered in. An era of women, even. Dominating charts.

But everything is cyclical, as it should be. Soon the “earnest feels” gave way to new kings and queens. Britney Spears and Ricky Martin and a succession of amazing music has happened. Mumford & Sons and the Black Keys and the Kings of Leon and Taylor Swift and Kanye. Drake. Adele.

But I am still on the streets. Helping homeless kids. I travel all around the country. People need help. They are struggling. They are medicating. They are hurting themselves or others. I have been finding ways to help. I built an English class for public schools, giving them tools I developed to cope with anxiety. I’m building a culture company with Zappos to help corporations with the same thing. I have been working with the homeless across the country. I am in the trenches. And it’s real. I listen. I watch. I see what connects. I feel for the pulse of culture. Like I always have.

And guess what? I see another gap.

There is a gap between what’s being reflected in pop culture and the level of discontent, anxiety and outrage that’s on the streets. It’s been a material world again, folks. And magazines, social media and songs are still telling kids that all that matters is how to get paid and laid — how to be popular.

There is a serious gap between the social unrest and what is being reflected back to that society in the arts.

With all the marches and protests and gun violence and political upheaval and division, I kept thinking, well, here comes punk rock again. Here comes folk music. Here come the songs and songwriters who will galvanize a generation to pull the rug from beneath a slick, smug facade to give a voice to what’s really going on — the gritty heroic truth of it all.

I know that many musicians talking about broken hearts and getting high and hot girls are killing it. But kids are killing themselves — and each other.

A lot of music is entertaining. But what’s happening on the streets calls for more than just entertainment. It calls for honesty. Suicides are up 70% since 2006. Anxiety and depression are at all-time highs.

I believe poets and singer-songwriters in any genre have a sacred duty to hold up a mirror to society so that society can see who they honestly are. No better, no worse, just real. To let them know: they exist!

All of you in this room got into the music business because one song at one time changed your f—ing life. Songs like “What’s Going On,” “American Pie,” “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Redemption Song,” “Smells Like Teen Spirit” or maybe “Hands,” when it was played during the 9/11 tragedy here in New York.

Are kids being exposed today to the type of songs that will help ignite a fire in them, to carry them through this phase of history?

I think they will.

Will the musicians make the money for the content they provide? I don’t know. The business is currently being restructured. I urge musicians to educate themselves so they can advocate for their art, and understand the power they truly wield as the source and owner of all the music and content that goes out there to be monetized.

I have been watching culture, and I have been possessed the last year. I have been writing about the gap. I don’t want to make another record. I have to. I am compelled.

And I’m cowriting my next album with America. I am finding the best singer-songwriters in the world, the icons and the iconoclasts, the old and new, the rebels and the sincere of heart, and I am going to bring the people that I have been talking to for the last five years on the streets together with them, and we are going to write — and sh– is gonna get real. Punk rock. Pop. Folk. Country. Urban. I don’t care.  I’m on a mission. My back is in this.

But more importantly, my soul is in this. Because I want the kids listening to the radio, watching TV and on social media to see themselves how they actually are. The beauty, the heart, the fever, the tidal wave of disconnection. And I want them to hear the remedy, because that remedy is in their own hearts. They will know it when they feel it. They just need advocates to help them locate it. And once they do, the rest takes care of itself.

With all the technology that has nearly erased all traces of human naturalness, technology can’t kill music — although it might change its profit center. Music lives because we live. It’s in our f—ing DNA.

So here’s to the sh– stirrers. Here’s to the disenfranchised. Here’s to the earnest. Here’s to the warriors on the streets, gutting it out. Here’s to those who have gone so far inside themselves to stay alive that their voice is untouched, uniquely theirs. We are coming.

And who knows? Maybe that gap will just turn into a revolution. God knows the world could use it.