What Alanis Morissette Taught Me about Life

By Karen Petree

Alanis Morissette performing at Terminal 5 in New York City in 2012.

June 13 marks the twentieth anniversary of the release of Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill, and like many a thirtyish year-old woman, I know I wouldn’t have made it through without the rock star my mother used to say sounded like a yodeling hippie.   But Alanis taught us it was okay to be angry, information that got a lot of us through our teenage angst.

For the past twenty years, JLP has played its way through the capricious cassette players of inherited Oldsmobiles, numerous Walkmans, portable CD players, mp3s and iPods.  It’s been the album many of us have cried and screamed to, healed with and kicked ass with.  But even though JLP is by far Alanis’ most well-known record, she’s made a lot of music since 1995, but unfortunately her newer stuff doesn’t seem to get as much airtime as classics like “You Oughta Know”.  That’s too bad, because for those of us who have been listening to everything she’s put out for the past two decades, we’ve witnessed her personal and spiritual evolution, and by way of speakers and ear buds, she’s been pushing us along through our own.  In honor of the 20th anniversary of Jagged Little Pill, here are some of the most important things Alanis has taught us over the years.

Accept your anger, and use it

Listen: “Bent for You”, “Woman Down”, “Straightjacket”

I have bent for you and I’ve deprived for you and I’m done
I have depressed for you and contorted for you and I’m done
I have stifled for you and I’ve compromised for you and I’m done

(“Bent for You”)

When “You Oughta Know” was released as the first single off Jagged Little Pill, it established Alanis as an angry female rocker.  There was a lot of rage seething under the surface of JLP, but what’s important is that she made it okay for women to be publicly angry.  In her later albums, she’s never shied away from writing anger, whether it was directed toward a lover or the patriarchy.  But unfortunately, Morissette was often typecast as an “angry female rocker”, which led a lot of people to miss another important message of her music:

 

Get Over Your Anger

Listen: “Versions of Violence”, “This Grudge”

Who’s it hurting now?
Who’s the one that’s stuck?
Who’s it torturing now
with an antique knot in her stomach?
(“This Grudge”)


While the emotion driving her songwriting obviously evolved from album to album, she maintained an openness to anger with songs like “Straightjacket,” as well as of its consequences (“Versions of Violence” and “This Grudge”).  Of course Alanis used her anger to make gazillions of dollars, but she cashed in on the convenient fact that it’s never healthy to repress anger in the name of propriety.  The trick is to learn to use it wisely and recognize it for what it is, which is often just the face of your fear, which brings me to the next point:

Feel your feelings

Listen: “Torch”, “Incomplete”, “Not as We”

Gun shy and quivering
timid without a hand
feign brave
with steel intent
Little and hardly here
(“Not as We”)

All of them.  All the time.

When you’re sad and heartbroken, be sad and heartbroken.  Masking negative feelings isn’t healthy and will pull you down.  When you’re feeling insecure, look at yourself and find out why.  When you’re recovering from the end of love, just feel it.  When you feel it, you own it, and then eventually you can let it go.

 

Acknowledge your own bullshit…

Listen: “Celebrity”, “Eight Easy Steps”, “Excuses”, “Incomplete”, “Tapes”, “Precious Illusions”, “So Unsexy”

I have been running so sweaty my whole life
Urgent for a finish line
And I have been missing the rapture this whole time of being forever incomplete

(“Incomplete”)

Once you acknowledge your own bullshit, you can get over yourself and out of your own way. Figure out why feeling insecure or angry and stop making excuses.  No one can do as much damage to you as you.  Your insecurity, self-doubt and fear are your own creation more than anyone else’s.  You bear responsibility for them, and you’re the only one who can fight your way out from under them.

 

…and Recognize Your Role

Listen: “Underneath”, “Lens”, “Awakening Americans”, “Symptoms”

There is no difference in what we’re doing in here
That doesn’t show up as bigger symptoms out there
So why spend all our time in dressing our bandages
When we’ve the ultimate key to the cause right here
our underneath

(“Underneath”)


What we put out into the world is a reflection of what’s going on inside us.  When you figure out how to calm the struggle going on within you, whether it’s just plain ol’ insecurity or a battle of ego, the face you present to the world will inevitably be more authentically kinder and more gracious: You’ll send better vibes out into the universe.

 

Reciprocate

Listen: “Lens”, “Win and Win”, “Will You Be My Girlfriend”, “Utopia”

Now it’s your your religion
against my my religion

my humble opinion against yours
this does not feel like love
(“Lens”)

Once you get over yourself and acknowledge your own bullshit, you’re able to sit across from another person as equals.  When your fears and insecurity are no longer the face you show the world, you are receptive to new ideas and more likely to hear and be heard.  In other words, you promote tolerance and peace.

 

Take Care of Yourself

Listen: “Permission”, “Receive”

My habit to love you first and me: remainders
Favoring you is so knee-jerk, leaves me a stranger
I give hard, impart hard and now I need to retreat
I give out, dedicate and now I need to acknowledge me
(“Receive”)

Give of yourself, but don’t forget yourself in the process.  You are as deserving of love as the people you give love to, and you have to love yourself first.

Then have fun.

Listen: “Giggling again for No Reason”, “Big Sur”,  “My Humps”, “On the Tequila”

Deep celestial and frogs
Fritz and cabins of logs
Amongst the springs we are barefoot and warmed 
(“Big Sur”)


When you learn to get out of your own way and stop sabotaging yourself, you take better care of yourself, and then you find joy. And that’s really the purpose of what we’re doing here, isn’t it?

 

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