Jann Arden reflects on growing older, getting sober and learning what she wants in life
This interview originally aired on Jan. 9, 2021.
It's Juno Awards time again! The 50th anniversary of the annual celebration of Canadian music airs live on Sunday, June 6, 2021 on CBC TV, CBC Gem, CBC Radio One, CBC Music and streams globally at CBCMusic.ca/junos.
During the ceremony, Jann Arden will perform and will be inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.
Arden is one of Canada's best known singer-songwriters. But when she reached her 50s, her life changed in unexpected ways: she became the caregiver for her mother, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, she became the star of the sitcom Jann and she realized that getting older doesn't mean you can't grow, change and celebrate.
If I Knew Then is Arden's memoir looking back on this journey, and how she learned to free herself from other's expectations and not only live her life, but revel in it.
Arden spoke to Shelagh Rogers about If I Knew Then and what she's learned as she's gotten older.
On growing older
"I would never want to be young again, ever. There's nothing about it that's appealing to me, Maybe my boobs. I think I wrote that my boobs might have been appealing, and my neck. But I love the sureness. When you gather all these experiences and are able to draw from them when you're doing any kind of problem-solving or when you're doing any kind of repairing things, you have a lot to draw from. You don't at 25. You don't even at 35. And I do write in the book, it's like you start becoming a person at 40. Most women that I talk to — most men too — they agree. They're like, 'Oh yeah, you finally fit into yourself.'
I would never want to be young again, ever.
"Every decade that goes by, I feel like a completely different person. I just do. I think about decisions that I make and the way I go about my day-to-day life and it's completely different from decade to decade — how I navigate problems and relationships and job opportunities. There's just things — the television show, for example — I would never have done 10 years ago. Television had been offered to me over the last 25 years. And I just had never done it because I didn't feel capable. I just didn't feel like I could do it."
"I wasn't a person that drank every day. When I watched my dad's alcoholism as a kid, I watched somebody who drank morning, noon and night. I can hear my mother saying that: morning, noon and night. I always just thought, 'I'm not like him. I'm not like him. I'm not like that. I don't drink hard liquor. I don't drink rum.'
When I sobered up, I realized how much I like myself and what a decent person was lying in wait.
"I have an artery that goes into a spasm more or less, and my heart kind of balloons up. It's absolutely self-induced. It's from alcohol and it's from abusing alcohol and not eating right. The 12th, 13th, 14th time I ended up in the hospital, we did everything we could to keep it out of the papers and to not let that go anywhere. I was in this little ICU room there trying to figure out what to do with me. And Nurse Nancy Clark came in. She said to me, 'What do you think got you here?' And I think I talked a little bit about drinking, and then she sort of stood there and she looked at me and she said, 'Jann, you are drinking too much and your heart doesn't like it. Your heart is telling you, just begging you.' It wasn't accusatory, it wasn't mean-spirited. It wasn't pointing fingers at me. It wasn't trying to make me feel guilty. It was very kind. And that was it. I haven't I haven't drank since I just stopped. For some reason it just got through to me.
"When I sobered up, I realized how much I like myself and what a decent person was lying in wait. I'm really grateful that whatever happened that day, that my whole self was prepared to hear it. I'm on year five now, which is ... Wow. And I will never go back again. It's amazing how your body can can repair itself and and carry on forward."
Reclaiming what is means to be a 'crone'
"A crone can be on her own without any problem at all. She doesn't need somebody propping her up or telling her how to fix herself. She fixes everybody else. Say what you will about the crone, but everyone in the village comes to the crone. They come to her for guidance. They come to her to have people fall in love, whether it's magic, witchcraft, medicine, spirituality. The crone is wrapped up in that wisdom. I think people often equate being 80 or 90 or 100 as a crone, but a crone is just someone with a laser focus and who is unapologetic and doesn't rely on other people's opinions to value herself. That's what I liked about the word, that's what I liked about the mythology around it.
A crone is just someone with a laser focus and who is unapologetic and doesn't rely on other people's opinions to value herself.
"I live in the trees in the country. I'm here by myself. When I quit drinking, I ended a relationship. There was an absolute parallel to that, because when you get clarity, you go, 'Oh, my God, what am I doing with my life?' I'm here with my five-pound dog and just spent the last two weeks ago having my neighbour come down and split a bunch of wood to have for the winter. And it just feels good to not have to answer to anybody. It's not to say that I'm not interested in ever being in a relationship again, but I don't know if that means living with anybody."
Jann Arden's comments have been edited for length and clarity.