In 1995, Alanis Morisette released Jagged Little Pill. I was 13. I just lost my father for the second of many times. I was still navigating puberty. I started drinking alcohol and experimenting with weed. Boys wouldn’t notice me for another couple years and I wouldn’t know love for another decade. My grades didn’t reflect my intelligence. My self respect fell away with my understanding as I approached experiences I had never met with before.
In came mega hot “Ironic” by Alanis Morissette. You couldn’t turn on the radio without hearing it. The depths of its catchy oopsie daisy lyrics were beyond me. But now in retrospect I can appreciate it as a song that explores the seemingly aimless way that our daily experiences lead us to our fate.
Well, life has a funny way of sneaking up on you
When you think everything’s okay and everything’s going right
And life has a funny way of helping you out
When you think everything’s gone wrong and everything blows up
In your face
And my world opened up.
Alanis seemed just as mad at the world as I was. She normalized female rage and demonstrated a beautiful and meaningful release of disappointment, heart break and just the general sense of wanting to fuck everything up. She was emboldened by rejection, strengthened by loss. Her true colors poured out from where she had been stabbed in the back, straight to the heart.
This is perhaps best demonstrated in You Oughta Know. Betrayed by her former lover she goes fucking bizerk, showing up at his house to splay her heart on the floor and remind him what he’s missing: a vastly sexual and broken woman. This loss becomes a right of passage for her as she involuntarily transforms, permanently changed by the experience. But as mad as she is, she can’t seem to let him go, even though he has long since let her go and moved on.
When you look at women my age who are stronger and more reckless and more vocal than you’d expect, it’s important remember that we spent our adolescence belting out lyrics like this:
It was a slap in the face
How quickly I was replaced
And are you thinking of me when you fuck her?’
Cause the love that you gave that we made
Wasn’t able to make it enough for you
To be open wide, no
And every time you speak her name
Does she know how you told me
You’d hold me until you died
‘Til you died, but you’re still alive
Throughout my formative years I would connect with many other genres and artists and songs that served as a guiding light to how I interpreted and healed from emotional experiences. But Jagged Little Pill will always be there, echoed in my most pissed off and perplexed moments.
What is a jagged little pill? It’s a truth that’s hard to swallow. The antidote to heart ache is sometimes just as painful to take in. Music and expression can wash it down a little better. Up against giants in this big beautiful and bad world, I’ve got the flavor of Hand in my Pocket, giving me permission to not have all the answers and to falter along the way.
I’m tired but I’m working, yeah
I care but I’m restless, I’m here but I’m really gone
I’m wrong and I’m sorry baby
What it all comes down to
Is that I haven’t got it all figured out just yet
‘Cause I’ve got one hand in my pocket
And the other one is giving a peace sign
Now that I’m nearing 40, it’s hard to see the youth that still exists in my years. Having been through so many ups and downs, I feel weathered and wise. It would be foolish of me to think I’ve learned it all. And it would be foolish to think that life is done delivering big lessons.
We can find sentiment and acceptance in Alanis’ You Learn. Here, she compromises with her failures, accepting defeat and highlighting the lessons learned with each and every bump in the road. She sings more beautiful moments.
You live you learn
You love you learn
You cry you learn
You lose you learn
You bleed you learn
You scream you learn
You grieve you learn
You choke you learn
You laugh you learn
You choose you learn
You pray you learn
You ask you learn
You live you learn
You have to love the advent of modern musical technology. That we can type in any song and soak it up. Through music we can revisit the past and reflect on growth. We can relive pain, pleasure and the passage of time. I suggest if you feel so compelled, spend some time with Alanis. See what she might have to say. Here’s a Spotify link to to album.
Swallow down that jagged little pill.