Alanis Morissette will be 40 on June 1, and suddenly she’s talkin’ ’bout a revolution.
Her new single, the anthemic Today, speaks of an “ailing, failing” America that is going down: “Unless we start a revolution, Awaken from this frozen, start the mending of our union, Today.”
The words are a little fuzzy — this frozen what? — but wanting Alanis to change her writing style is like expecting her beloved dogs to go vegan. She wrote Today as the official campaign song for Marianne Williamson, a new-age spirituality movement leader who is running for Congress in California.
This Malibu political activism is a new direction for the former raging alt-rock chick turned California pop psychology princess.
At 40, she’s like an alpha mom who is never in a bad mood, always in control and doggedly following her path to inner peace.
Half a lifetime ago, a troubled Alanis began writing You Oughta Know and other songs for Jagged Little Pill — the album that spoke to millions of young women who felt their boyfriends were giant jerks, incapable of a committed adult relationship. Released in 1995, Jagged Little Pill made Alanis a global pop sensation. It sold upwards of 33 million copies and stands as the best-selling album of the 1990s.
Judging by the Instagram she shared at Easter, Alanis’s life is blessed now, to use one of her favourite expressions.
The photo shows her dressed in weekend sweatpants and a T-shirt, her trademark long hair tucked behind her ears. She’s smiling, reining in three chihuahua/pug dogs who are straining at their leashes. Mario ‘Souleye’ Treadway, her musician husband, is walking beside her. In his arms is their three-year-old son Ever Imre.
The marriage seems to be thriving. On Treadway’s birthday in early May, Alanis tweeted her love: “Happy birthday angel husband.” “So happy you were born.” “It’s an honour to love and grow with you.”
There is a line between love and just plain yuck and the tweets show Alanis doing her trademark wild, skipping dance all over it.
She’s also big on pediatric pronouncements these days. In Milky Way: The Breastfeeding Documentary, Alanis described her experiences as a new mother.
“I persevered through some bumps in the road, to say the least, with breastfeeding because I just felt it was such a natural, beautiful, generous, organic, animal, existential, biological imperative,” she says in pure Alanis-speak.
When her son was 20 months old, Alanis told one interviewer that she planned to keep on breastfeeding until he was ready to stop.
Born and raised in Ottawa, Alanis is now part of pop’s aristocracy. She is strafed with scorn no matter what she does, and her attachment-parenting style is often derided on Internet sites. Yet Alanis serenely rises above it all.
Family is important to Alanis, as it is to most people, only more so. Her son and husband are a protective screen that keep her sane and centred in an industry notorious for out-of-control stars.
She’s deeply interested in her interior world, and has studied the works of many spiritual and motivational leaders, from Gangaji, who espouses universal consciousness, to Debbie Ford, author of The Dark Side of The Light Chasers.
When she’s not rotating her spirituality tires, Alanis is at work on a script — shaping Jagged Little Pill into a musical. It will feature all the album’s songs, plus others from her catalogue. A workshop production is slated for 2015, after which the musical — fingers crossed — is headed to Broadway.
“I look forward to taking the heart of Jagged Little Pill and expanding its story, fleshing it out into ever deeper layers of emotionality, specificity, humanity, power, physicality, spirit and fabulism,” Morissette said, summing up the project.
Some big names are involved, including arranger Tom Kitt, who has won a Tony and a Pulitzer, and producers Arvind Ethan David and Vivek J. Tiwary.
It’s a cool idea for a jukebox musical, when you think about it. You Oughta Know, the album’s first single, is a jealous, vengeful rant. But several other songs — You Learn, Hand In My Pocket, Ironic — are more reflective and conciliatory. The musical may find a way to cover the major milestones in her journey, as Alanis might put it.
In an interview with Origin magazine last year, Alanis talked abut what makes her feel most alive:
“I would say community, connectedness. Certainly family, parenting, relationships, friendship. I’m quite obsessed with the idea of nailing the girl friendship. It’s such an art, so delicate. Then all the way into colleague relationships and relationship with spirit, relationship with one’s own self and inner child, and animals, earth, planet. Fostering and nurturing and really focusing on connection — connection in relationships with others and my own self and God. When I don’t feel connected in all those three areas, life is not very good.”
Life was not very good for Alanis by 1993. She had done surprisingly well for a kid whose first break was singing O Canada at the 1988 World Cup of Figure Skating in Ottawa.
But her triumphs as a pop starlet who made two dance albums and starred on Canadian TV were behind her. Like teen stars Tiffany and Debbie Gibson, Alanis was in danger of disappearing from the music scene.
It must have been a strange existence for her, immersed in showbiz while her peers at Glebe Collegiate were going on first dates. Yet it sowed the seeds of some powerful emotions she had no way of expressing until she began collaborating with producer Glen Ballard in Los Angeles.
Ballard had worked with Aretha Franklin and Barbra Streisand and was best known for writing and arranging Man In The Mirror for Michael Jackson.
They started work in the fall of 1994, but when Alanis headed back to Ottawa for the Christmas holidays, she suffered severe anxiety attacks. The feelings and frustrations were fighting to get out.
“The universe was telling me that if I didn’t stop and be still and start thinking about it and releasing it, it was going to subtly remind me. Or not so subtly remind me,” she says in Paul Cantin’s biography Alanis Morissette: You Oughta Know.
When she went back to work with Ballard in February 1995, Alanis needed to write about the emotional ordeal she had just endured.
When they sat down together, Ballard began by making grunge noises on guitar.
“I’d play a few phrases on guitar, and her pen would start rolling across the paper,” he told Mojo magazine. The songs came “very visceral and fast,” added Alanis.
As You Oughta Know came together, Ballard pushed her to retain the now notorious lyric the raging Alanis hurled at her ex-lover and his new girlfriend: “Would she go down on you in a theatre?”
Ballard recalls, “I was there to say, ‘That’s really you, that’s what it should be and it’s beautiful.’ I had a religious intensity about getting it right.”
The album shot to No. 1 on Billboard. Alanis has turned out a half dozen studio albums since and has sold more than 60 million albums worldwide.
But success did not bring peace of mind. That took years of soul searching and study.
“It’s been a very long journey of finding ways to creatively channel my own personal reactivity and my own anger and take responsibility for it,” she said a few weeks ago in support of the “global forgiveness challenge” launched by Desmond Tutu.
“I naively thought that the writing of a song could provide healing,” she went on. “But I really quickly came to see that no matter how many nights I sang You Oughta Know over and over on stage that the real healing came from actual relationships and communications and my taking responsibility for my side of the street.”
Middle-age is awesome, Alanis seems to be saying. She’s following her path, seeking answers from within, starring in her own movie.
And how many 40-year-olds can say that about themselves?Tags: concert, dates, movie, music, producer, release, singer, tv