July 14, 1997 12:00 PM

>Steve Poltz


THEY MET FIVE YEARS ago at Java Joe’s, an Ocean Beach, Calif., coffee shop where Rugburns leader Steve Poltz, then 32, was gigging and Jewel Kilcher, a pretty 19-year-old with musical aspirations, was waitressing. Romance quickly percolated as the two began mooning over more coffee at Denny’s and going on surfing safaris to Baja California. “Next thing I know, we started writing songs together,” says Poltz, who offered the wisdom of his years to Jewel, an Alaska native who had headed south after graduating from high school in Michigan the year before and who was then living in her van. “I was a social misfit,” admits Jewel, who says she was not exactly steeped in pop music history either: “I hadn’t even heard the Beatles before I met him.” But since childhood she had been writing poetry and performing with her parents, now divorced, in Alaska hotel lounges. At Poltz’s urging, Jewel began singing once a week at the Innerchange coffee shop. “Within six months,” he says, “there were limousines pulling up and people offering her record deals.”

Jewel, of course, hit big with her 4 million-selling debut album, Pieces of You. And Poltz, now 37, achieved Most Envied Guy status as the semiclad hunk with whom she cavorts in the steamy video for “You Were Meant For Me,” the über-hit cowritten by the pair. While Poltz, a Canadian raised in Palm Springs, Calif., is still waiting for his breakthrough, he has kept his good humor. “She went triple platinum,” he says of Jewel’s CD, which soared while his own 1995 Rugburns album Taking the World by Donkey flopped. (“We went triple tinfoil. I began asking her for advice.”) No longer romantically entwined, the two remain close. Jewel says that Poltz is still “the only person who, when he sings, makes me cry.” Adds Poltz: “There is just a cool chemistry we have…. It’s nice.”

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