As her hit album ‘Jagged Little Pill’ turns 20, Canadian singer Alanis Morissette says being labeled angry is “so lovely.”
Alanis Morissette has learned some hard lessons from her extraordinary life.
Her 1995 album, “Jagged Little Pill,” is the best-selling album by a female rock artist, with U.S. sales of 16 million, according to the Recording Industry Association of America, and 24.4 million worldwide. By comparison, Adele’s “21” sold 14 million in the U.S. and 25.3 million worldwide, but she’s generally considered a pop and soul artist.
“Jagged Little Pill” was the Canadian vocalist’s first U.S. album and Rolling Stone called it the biggest U.S. debut of all time. It remained in the top 20 of the Billboard albums chart for more than a year and won Grammys for Best Rock Album and Album of the Year. A scathing single about an ex-boyfriend from the LP, “You Oughta Know,” won Grammys for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance and Best Rock Song. The album generated an acoustic version on its 10th anniversary, a boxed set featuring live material and unreleased demos for its 20th anniversary, and a stage musical to come.
Morissette had just turned 21 when “Jagged Little Pill” was released. She toured for 18 months to support it and then went to India and practiced yoga. She went on to sell more than 60 million albums worldwide, but suffered from depression throughout her 20s.
Now, at 43, she has a 6-year-old and a 14-month-old, and she’s opening up about her postpartum depression. She performs Saturday at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino and Sunday at the Kaboo Festival in Del Mar, but stories this past week on ABC News, People magazine, Rolling Stone and E! Online have focused on her battle with post-birth depression. Her website contains blogs and stories by contributing writers such as Margaret Paul, Ph.D., on “Controlling Behavior – How Do You Attempt to Control?” and Dr. Peter Levine on “Somatic Experience” for psychobiological trauma resolution.
When The Desert Sun caught a break in her hectic schedule, Morissette apologized for her “really crazy life.” So the Q&A started from there.
THE DESERT SUN: Is it crazier now with a family than when you were just a giant rock star?
MORISSETTE: Yes. That’s a capital “Y” yes.
So, what do you find is the best answer to postpartum depression? Is songwriting involved?
It’s a combination. I’ll go allopathic, I’ll go homeopathic, I will go therapy, I will go artistic expression, exercise. I love being near water, so, hot water. Anything warm. Soup! A lot of just talking through old wounds with people who have had it. Not over-isolating, because I have a tendency to isolate when things are challenging. My propensity is toward service and in postpartum depression – in my case – you really have to lean a lot. So it’s really cultivating this muscle where you can lean on people, which is counter to my little survival strategy.
ABOUT FAMILIES: Local support group for postpartum depression
Just looking at some of your songs from the 2000s, it looks like you’ve learned a lot through therapy and you’ve transferred it to your songwriting.
Just clarity. For me, I’m a group girl, student workshop, meditating – pretty much anything that will allow me to remember who I really am and to support people remembering who they really are.
There’s one song, “Versions of Violence,” where you’re talking about “Diagnosing, analyzing/ Unsolicited advice/ Explaining and controlling/ Judging opining and meddling.” And now you’re out there talking about postpartum depression and very personal things. So, in that context, how does it feel to have people talking about your personal stuff and diagnosing and analyzing and giving you unsolicited advice?
(Laughs). Well, the good news is I don’t read any of it. I don’t think I’ve read a chat room or comment section about me in 20 years. I stick with my doctors, my best friends, my husband and my extended family members – especially women that have been through it – and specialists. I know if I were to share any of this, which I clearly am, it’s with the incentive of wanting to support other women because it can be so isolating.
You’ve been in a position where you’ve been forced to isolate. When you get as big as you’ve been, that actually makes your world narrower. Don’t you think?
Right. And I thought the opposite. I was so naïve. I bit at the bait of the bill of goods that fame would offer all kinds of things. I actually came to see I was more isolated because I was the kind of woman – and still am, frankly – I’m highly sensitive. My dream actually is to just sit on a bench and people watch. And be whole. It went from my being the watch-er to the watch-ette. All of a sudden, all of these eyeballs are looking at me and I thought, “Wait. I didn’t agree to this.” But what I’m happy to agree to is to keep being expressive as best as I can, whether it’s through photos or journaling or dancing or writing songs. I just finished writing my 20th song for a new record, and I’ve written about 1,000 pages on my new book, which I might have to turn into a book series! So, there’s a lot of expression going on and I’m excited over the next year, year-and-a-half to just start sharing with people.
Back in the 1990s, when you exploded, there were so many women coming up and the Lilith Fair tours created a community of female artists. Did you get to participate in that kind of community with the women doing Lilith Fair or their own tours, or were you at a different level where you weren’t able to be a part of it?
It was almost like I predated the time where there would have been a cozy fit for me. I’m not going to name any names, but I had very patriarchal contexts. So, anything I wanted to proclaim or stand by, it was in a context where I was playing with 17 beautiful male bands (and) a lot of them in their own way were misogynistic and deeply rude. So, it’s almost like Lilith Fair came along when I was breaking apart.
What do you mean by breaking apart?
Just realizing I needed a sisterhood. I needed to expand my community and I think you mention, in your own words, when I first started I thought, “Being famous is going to afford me this real festive community with different artists.” And I came to find it was even more isolating and there were a lot of projections placed upon me. It became a question of, “To what degree am I going to stand up for myself? To what degree am I going to attempt to clarify these misperceptions.” And that became its own full-time job.
Did you have any kind of role model or mentor that helped you with that?
A lot of them were in the psychological community. The therapeutic community kind of saved my life. Basically, I’m an academic geek, so that saved me (too). I have a lot of mentors and teachers who segued into being colleagues and peers, and I started different organizations with them on how to create relational functionality with people. So, I’m sort of viscerally and academically trying to carve it out as a teacher/student/leader. It was really a combination of thematically, viscerally dancing it and singing it and then combined with really stepping up different keynote opportunities and letting people know from the inside out what I’ve learned. I used to read six books a week and now, as a mother of two, I read six paragraphs a week.
I always remember a quote I read a long time ago from George Harrison, who was talking about how fortunate he felt to have the other Beatles to lean on and go through stuff with, and he couldn’t imagine how Elvis could have gone through what they had to go through all by himself.
Yeah. Very extreme loneliness.
Did you ever get to talk to women from previous decades, say Annie Lennox or Chrissie Hynde, who had success (as female rockers) but were isolated because they were women in male-dominated worlds?
Yeah, I did speak with a few of them. Some of them I was just projecting upon. I wanted them to be like mom figures. But, the isolation was a surprise, and then really for this career of mine to become sustainable, it had to turn into, for me anyway, fame being a means to an end versus an end in and of itself. Fame in and of itself is what it was, but it wasn’t fulfilling in a way my upbringing had encouraged me to become, which was, to serve – to help heal and use some of the gifts I’ve been given by God to help people out if I can and, at the same time, just keep evolving my own expression. And now, as a parent, attempting to create space for both of my children to be who they are and to know they’re accepted and loved.
OK, I’m getting told we’re getting close to the end of our time, so, can you tell me quickly about how your musical is coming?
Of course. “Jagged Little Pill: The Musical” has turned into my main situation. It’s all of the “JLP” music combined with songs from the last 20 some-odd years and I’ve written 20 new songs for a new record. There’s probably about five from this last chapter of writing that will present themselves in the musical. I’ve never written fiction in my life, so, for me, it’s just presenting perspectives and ideas and passions within the process. I’m a little humbled by it because, in my own way I’ve been a theater geek since I was really little. I did “Oliver” and “Annie” and I was always singing in school. And I’m a “South Park” fan, which I think is (the root of) the greatest musical of all time.
Do you have a theater or a date when you hope to introduce this?
We’re shooting for next summer. We’ve been doing a lot of great production meetings and I think by November we’ll do a workshop in New York and then work with Diane Pollack, who’s directing it. She works with ART (American Repertory Theatre) out of Boston. I had no idea it would be this fun. It reminds me of how joyful I felt when I was 7 years old and doing all these musicals. That kind of community is my dream. Now I have it with my bandmates, too. Touring and doing musicals is my nomadic community fantasy.
Alanis in concert
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, 84-245 Indio Springs Parkway, Indio
Information: (760) 342-5000
Top 5 charting Morissette songs
“You Oughta Know,” 1996
“You Learn,” 1996
“Thank U,” 1998
“Hands Clean,” 2002
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