Yesterday afternoon, I joined over 600 people at War Memorial Hall in Guelph for “In Conversation with Jann Arden,” one of several special events taking place as part of the 30th edition of the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival.
A beloved Canadian icon, Jann has distinguished herself in the music industry, releasing 13 albums, 19 Top 10 singles, and receiving numerous awards, among them 8 Juno Awards and 3 Prairie Music Awards. She is also the accomplished author of four books.
After a short introduction from University of Guelph president, Dr. Franco Vaccarino, and Guelph Public Library CEO, Steven Kraft, Jann read from her best-selling memoir, Feed My Mother, an entertaining and inspirational account of her experiences as primary “parent” to her mother, who is in the grip of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Jann then shared her life experiences in a talk, aptly titled: “How Good Things Come Out of Bad Things.”
While I have listened to many of her songs, I was not familiar with her extraordinary journey. Here are some highlights:
Growing up in Springback, Alberta with an alcoholic father and a mother who “gave up” was difficult. Jan’s older brother turned to alcohol and was later convicted of first-degree murder. He is currently serving a life sentence. The younger brother emerged, for the most part, unscathed. As for Jann, she retreated to the basement, determined to avoid her father at all costs.
While in the basement, Jann discovered an old guitar that had belonged to her mother. She started playing and got the bug. To his day, she still plays by ear, never having learned to read music. At age 11, she started writing songs. By age 18, she had written 300 “terrible” songs that she kept a secret from her parents. She did, however, find the courage to sing at her high school graduation.
For ten years after graduation, she joined bands and sang in bars throughout northern Alberta, Saskatchewan, and the B.C. interior. While she did accumulate over 600 songs on cassette, she also developed a drinking problem. She has many regrets from that dark period.
When she partnered with Dave Hart, a keyboard player who was twenty years her senior, she learned much about music and life. Dave encouraged Jann to include her original songs in the show. She also started searching for representation. Unfortunately, she met with rejection after rejection; recruiters claimed her music was too personal and too depressing.
Jann’s big break came unexpectedly.
Allan Reid, a young recruiter at A & M, initially rejected her cassette. A week later, his fiancée decided to call off the wedding. Heartbroken, Allan went for a drive and turned on the cassette player. Jann’s song, “I Just Don’t Love You Anymore,” started playing. He finally “got” her music and agreed to represent her. She’s been with A & M for over twenty years and continues to play to sold-out venues.
Jann’s personal life took a dramatic turn when her mother started losing her memory. After the diagnosis, Jan became her mother’s primary caregiver. Determined to keep her mother at home, Jann hired four full-time and four part-time workers to help provide around-the-clock care. While she was fortunate to have the financial resources, it did cost $140,000 a year for the care.
Her partner of ten years issued an ultimatum: It’s either me or your parents. The relationship crumbled.
To release pent-up emotion, Jann decided to share her experiences online. The response was mind-blogging; her first post received over one million views. Those posts and a collection of recipes became the basis for Feed My Mother.
Jann will star in a sitcom loosely based on her experiences with her mother’s Alzheimer journey. It is scheduled to be released by CTV in March 2019.
Jann’s Advice for Caregivers…
Give in. Give up. Go where they go. Surrender.
Don’t correct them.
Be brave. Be easy on yourself.
Let the world do what it’s going to do.
Insights from Jann’s Mother…
You don’t need to remember things to be happy.
You forget to be afraid.