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Try keeping up

Jann Arden performs in Whistler, releases a new album and book, and is thinking about Christmas



Jann Arden has a lot on the go.

For one thing, there is a new single, Arden's first release in several years. "How Long Goodbye" is due out this fall, followed by a new album, These Are the Days, early in 2018.

She is also on the road, touring until the third week in December, giving a series of Christmas concerts across Canada in which she sings with the symphony orchestra belonging to whatever city she happens to be in — including Edmonton, Toronto, Victoria, Winnipeg and Vancouver.

"We're doing three or four of my own songs that aren't Christmas oriented, but people really seem to like the program. I only did three shows last year, but they sold out. We didn't realize that people really like to come out for Christmas music. Maybe the symphony is the draw," Arden says over the phone.

And she has just completed recording the audiobook for her new memoir about life with her beloved mother Joan, who has Alzheimer's disease.

The book itself, Feeding My Mother, is based on her popular Facebook posts and Instagram photos that documented the love and heartache. It comes out in November.

It's a gift, therefore, to catch Arden at home near Calgary ahead of her free concert at Whistler Olympic Plaza on Friday, Sept. 1, at 7:30 p.m.

"Life's such a mishmash of things right now," Arden says.

"I'm off to shoot an album cover with an incredible guy in Toronto, then I have a couple of days where I'm acting in a show called Working Moms. I'm shooting my second episode with them.

"All this is really wonderful and fantastic. I have no complaints. I am really enjoying myself."

And she is finding time in the next few weeks to take a brief break with her mother to Palm Springs.

"(My mom is) very in-the-moment, and she appreciates it at the time, but she can't remember it afterwards," Arden says.

It's clear that she speaks truth. Fans of Arden know that she is generally filter-free, open, and with a heart that is very comfortable resting on her sleeve. She has made over 55,300 tweets on Twitter, which she uses as a kind of chitchat device.

Unsurprisingly, fans love her for it; Arden was once voted the Canadian celebrity most deserving of her own talk show.

Another example that comes to mind is when she followed Pamela Anderson onstage at the 2006 Junos after the Baywatch actor made a speech against the seal hunt; Arden raised laughter and annoyance equally when she said her bra was "made entirely of seal eyelids."

I asked her how she balances such a busy life, keeping in mind that in 2007 she was hospitalized with Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, a heart condition commonly associated with exhaustion.

"I have a really normal life. I live in the country and that has really made a difference. I've lived west of Calgary for most of my life — I'm not a city person," she says.

"And I have a wonderful management office. They deal with all the semantics and minutiae of how this all works, and I never micromanage. You delegate and you let people do their jobs."

And Arden's job is entertainment. Now 55, she has been nominated for 19 Juno Awards since rising to fame in the early 1990s. She's won eight of them.

The new album is in the can and ready to go, and Arden can't wait.

"We've been writing it since June 2016, and we recorded it this past May at the Warehouse Studios in Vancouver. It was done super early, which is hard for me," she says.

"But what's nice is that we don't feel rushed to pull something together.

"After the cover photos it's out of my hand, it goes to the art department. They can ask me what I like, and I'm like, 'I don't know! What do you guys want to put on there?'"

Musically speaking, Arden says the album was largely written with a number of collaborators, particularly from her band.

"I'm so excited, I'm just trying to leave it in my jar on a shelf. This album is so different for me. I don't even know where to start; I've never done anything like it," Arden says.

"I think my fans will like it. I'm going to be talking about it so much next year, that I've just put it away."

She says she'd like to drive around in her car and listen to it, but she's not done that so far.

"One of the songs I wrote about my mom is going to be the single that we release with my book. It's called 'How Long Goodbye,'" she says.

Asked what it was like to translate her experience with her mother into book form, Arden says she simply wanted to tell people how great her mom is. She says she is immensely proud of the book, calling it "a long form of a song."

"Most of us, not all of us, have had that fantastic experience of having had a good mother. It was easy to write about her," Arden says.

"It was not always in the most positive light, because I am trying to explain the disease. I didn't think I would be where I am now in life; I was looking after both my parents for the past decade. My dad died two years ago.

"I realized how much they would do a dance together, after 58 years of marriage. It was incredible. So when he went, her disease really came to the forefront.

"There is a lot of shame with memory loss. People get ashamed when their loved ones forget, and people are ashamed when they don't act normal in public.

"Alzheimer's is a disease that affects everyone around the person who has it. The sufferers are almost exempt from it; they have this weird autonomy. But all of us around them are devastated, because we know what is going on."

It's more than a description of the experience of living with her mother. Arden's thoughts show that she is fully capable of stepping out of her own situation and looking at the universal nature of her experience.

"My mom says she has a wonderful life. A few months ago, she told me she didn't need to remember things in order to be happy," Arden says.

"I'm taking it all in, but I believe it is divinity. It's remarkable.

"At first I thought, 'Holy fuck. Why is this happening to me, me, me, me?' For over two years I was trying to be the memory police. I finally figured it out. I gave into it and thought, 'Man, we've got to do this together.'"

Arden knows she is fortunate to be able to afford a full-time care worker, and that her life isn't consumed by a 9-to-5 job that means her mom must live in a home.

This is a moving conversation, generously open even for her, but asked about her Whistler show, Arden quickly shifts onto it.

"We play all the songs people will know, but there will be a few surprises. We have lots of laughs and talk to people," she says.

"And I think we might do one off the new album. We'll see."


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