First, she was that woman who sings the song with the F-word in it
Jagged Little Pill was released on June 13, 1995. I was nine years old then, with little to no actual awareness of popular music. Sure, I knew songs I heard on the radio, but I had no favorite artist or album. Perhaps I simply didn’t have any interest in music. Or perhaps it was that at nine years old, I couldn't exactly identify with the subject matter of early 90’s rock and rap. I remember the boys in my 4th grade class all became obsessed with Green Day seemingly overnight. One day they all just had Green Day t-shirts on and I didn’t even know what a “Green Day” was. Was I supposed to be wearing green that day? Was it a sports thing? A boys-only joke of some kind?
I eventually figured it out. But yeah…that’s how cool I was.
As Alanis Morissette grew in popularity with each single — You Oughtta Know, Hand in My Pocket, Ironic, You Learn, Head Over Feet, All I Really Want — I became somewhat increasingly aware of her music through the radio.
Sometime in 1996, my family finally got cable television and MTV really helped me out in the music department. The video for Ironic was popular at the time, and MTV played it in constant rotation (back when MTV still played videos all day long). With the video, I had a face to go with the name. This Alanis Morissette person was intriguing. She didn’t look how I expected her to look. I guess I thought she’d be older. There was so much anger and emotion in her music, surely this could only have come from an older, wiser person? But, no, it came from this oddball, big-smiled girl wearing strange clothes.
And while I thought this person seemed to be pretty cool, ten-year old me still didn’t identify with Alanis any more than nine-year old me. Going down on men in theaters and smoking cigarettes while hailing taxi cabs were simply experiences I had not yet experienced. So while I was aware of her existence, she kind of fell off my radar for a while.
Then, she was grateful for India
By 1998, I was beginning to develop slightly more interest in music and was even the proud owner of a handful of CDs, mostly in the Lilith Fair genre — Sarah McLachlan, Lisa Loeb, and Jewel (oh how I loved Jewel!). That year, Alanis released her next album, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, containing the single Thank U. Given my taste for other lyrically-driven, female solo artists, I bought the CD. It sounded a little boring compared to what I knew of Alanis’ earlier music, as if she went to India and let go of her anger there. I quickly lost interest in the album and then soon forgot all about Alanis again.
My musical tastes later evolved through a variety of stages:
- emo-punk-pop (a la Blink-182, Sum 41, and the other bands with numbers in their names),
- regular-ish rock (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Foo Fighters, Audioslave),
- DMB rock (Dave Matthews Band, G-Love, Jack Johnson),
- moody rock (aka the Garden State Soundtrack, The Decemberists)
- classic rock (Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan)
- a trip back to the early 90’s rock I was previously too young to appreciate (The Pixies, Nirvana)
- and finally, where I am now: the discovery of other non-rock-based genres like pop, rap, hip-hop, and even EDM.
And then, she was an epiphany
On a recent morning, I was driving home while in the mood I call “I Want To Punch Someone In The Face”. I can’t pinpoint the exact source of my frustrations that day, but there were a number of contributing factors including: stupid boyfriend issues, stupid job issues, and my ongoing existential crisis. Clicking through the radio stations over and over and over again (because nothing was quite matching whatever it was I seemed to want to listen to), I suddenly landed on Alanis. You Oughtta Know Alanis. Angry Alanis. I identified with this Alanis.
I turned the volume all the way up and sang as many of the lyrics as I could remember from 1995.
Then, the song was over. But I wanted more.
So I bluetoothed and Spotified “Jagged Little Pill” and then that album became the soundtrack to my life for the next two weeks.
I was in love with Angry Alanis.
No, no, wait. Let me re-phrase that: I was Angry Alanis.
I am Angry Alanis
Today, every day, as an adult, I am Angry Alanis. Though, I’m not angry all the time. And neither is Alanis. If you really listen to the whole album, you’ll realize Jagged Little Pill is not about being angry — it’s about life. It’s about being pissed off and sad and lonely and dealing with shit and just figuring it out because that’s the only choice we have. It’s about being a woman. It’s about how sometimes it sucks to be a woman, but it’s also about finding your power as a woman and using it.
It occurred to me, as I listened to this album on repeat, how impossible it would’ve been for me to have any appreciation for these songs at nine and ten years old. Hell, twenty-one year old me still couldn’t have appreciated the lyrical perfection that is All I Really Want. Twenty-five year old me would not know how every single sentence feels in Not The Doctor.
Thirty-two year old me understands, though. I understand completely, and if you are a woman and you don’t identify with Jagged Little Pill at least a tiny, little bit, I urge you to strive to find your inner Angry Alanis.
May we all strive to be Angry Alanis
To be clear, I’m using the term “Angry Alanis” affectionately. “Angry Alanis” rolls off the tongue easily and it’s a nice, quick way to refer to the Jagged Little Pill era of Alanis Morissette. I don’t think we should all strive to be pissed off You Oughtta Know Alanis as that would simply lead to a lot of people being punched in the face. But what I am saying is that we should all strive to have the range of experiences and resulting emotions that are expressed on that album:
May we all know hurt so deeply we scream it. Hurt so deep we feel it in our spines. The type of hurt that you think you won’t ever get over, but then, one day, you just do. And you are better for it because now you know that feeling so intimately you will never forget it. You’ll recognize that hurt next time it’s staring into your eyes and you briefly entertain the idea of pursuing it. Except now you are wiser and so you’ll rise above and you won’t fall for that flavor of hurt ever, ever again.
May we all have robust vocabularies and be unafraid to use them with ferocity.
May we all articulate our feelings with unwavering clarity.
May we all find our own ways to calm the angry voice.
May we allow ourselves to be vulnerable.
May we all feel low, used-up, rejected, dejected, and shamed. The type of feelings where you don’t want to face the world, and you don’t even want to face yourself. The days when you put on a fake smile and hope it doesn’t look fake, when you tell lies about how your weekend was to spare the listener from the sadder truth. The days when your eyes are constantly puffy and your heart is constantly empty. We need those days because they make us stronger, because when you finally grow tired of all of those feelings the only direction out is up. You learn to forgive and forget. You learn to forgive and not forget the things you need to not forget. You learn that you’re your own worst critic. You notice the things about yourself that you love. You notice the things about yourself that you hate, but you try to embrace the things you cannot fix and fix the things you can. You find confidence. You find pride. You find your voice. You use it.
May we all break and heal, resiliently.
May we all learn to laugh at bittersweet irony.
May we all behave with abandon by walking around naked in our living rooms.
May we all fall in love. Over and over and over again. May we all welcome love every single time even though it’s spurned you every single time before.
May we all hold ourselves to the standard of not being the doctor. Of being more than a void filler, a bandage, a mother, a giver but never a taker, a substitute, a placeholder, a toy, a model, another warm body, expendable.
May we leave not only impressions but scars on those who scorned us. Scars that are equal or greater to those they inflicted on us. Scars that serve as reminders of who we really are and why we are so damn beautiful.
May we persevere through the anger and all the associated shit to arrive at a new place where we don’t look back with hate, but with gratitude and peace. Gratitude for having the experiences that shaped you into a better version of you, and peace in knowing you will not only be just fine, fine, fine, but you will sometimes even be amazing.