“And you know what? A few of us went down on guys in theaters.” –Nicole Cliffe
In addition to physical books and a few regular columns and blogs, I read many articles each week, most of which are fairly depressing. The news just blows serious chunks right now. But every once in a while, you come across a piece that truly mesmerizes your soul, that transports you to an almost maniacally euphoric headspace and leaves you giddy with delight. SELF profiled Alanis Morisette this week, and they tapped Nicole Cliffe to interview her and write it up. It’s the best thing you’ll read all year. I know fun things like Objectivity and Journalistic Integrity are always editorial concerns – they should be – but it is beautiful and right that SELF allowed an Alanis superfan to do this piece. Every woman between the ages of about thirty-seven and forty-five just feels so heard.
It was 1995 and I was a sophomore in high school. After years of roller-skating in monotonous strobe-lit circles with Belinda Carlisle and spending middle school trapped in the musical equivalent of an unscented hand soap factory with Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey, we heard those first harmonica notes of “All I Really Want” and everything changed. What was THIS?! THIS, my friends, was Jagged Little Pill. Every American teenage girl essentially tripped over herself in her intense haste to embrace and devour the whole album. It was such a revelation, such sweet, sweet validation! I cannot think of an album I ever loved more. I spent many an hour riding in cars with my girlfriends, the ink still drying on our driver’s licenses, windows rolled down on hot summer days, belting “You Oughta Know”* at the top of our lungs. It was our pointed screed to every teenage boy who’d been a dick to us. (So… all of them, I guess?)
I suppose one might question what upper-middle-class, suburban white girls have to be angry about? But if the guys in our class – carrying more privilege than we – could come to school in their flannel shirts and combat boots, brooding along to Eddie Vetter and pretending they understood all the lyrics to “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, why couldn’t we girls have our own grunge manifesto?
At long last, we did. It was some of the first music that felt real. It tapped into our anger, our swirling angst, our fears, our ambivalence. Alanis was an unapologetic feminist; maybe at the time, conservative teenage Dallas suburbanites didn’t know enough to call her as such, but we knew enough to know she was right. About everything. She offered an emotionally raw but unabashedly loud voice to every teenage girl who was becoming acutely aware of unfair, exploitative gender power imbalances, who felt intense pressure to conform to molds she just didn’t fit, whose Boomer parents and teachers refused to listen or even care, much less adapt to a rapidly changing world.
Who didn’t relish her menacingly singing lines like “Why are you so petrified of silence? Here, can you handle this?” and then sudden, dramatic silence for three. whole. beats.
Who among us with overbearing parents who never thought we were good enough, who never relented their vicious nitpicking, didn’t furiously melt into “Perfect” with every fiber of their being?
“Sometimes is never quite enough
If you’re flawless, then you’ll win my love
Don’t forget to win first place
Don’t forget to keep that smile on your face”
Who belted out “Forgiven” and made it their outlet, their anthem exalting their bitter resentment of the rank and ignored hypocrisy they saw every week at church?
“My brothers they never went blind for what they did
But I may as well have
In the name of the Father, the Skeptic and the Son
I had one more stupid question”
I always adored “Not the Doctor”, unsure of why it spoke to me so much then. Now it makes sense, seeing as it seems to be a warning about emotional vampires and man-baby misogynists (a few of whom I later had the distinct displeasure of dating).
“I don’t want to be adored for what I merely represent to you
I don’t want to be your babysitter
You’re a very big boy now
I don’t want to be your mother
I didn’t carry you in my womb for nine months
Show me the back door”
It’s hard to choose a favorite – after all, I know every word to every song on that album, would you like me to sing it for you? – but “Mary Jane” may have been it. I frequently felt like that Mary Jane character, afraid to admit the suffocation and emotional abandonment I experienced and sometimes so needing that message Alanis delicately but deftly offered up.
“So take this moment Mary Jane and be selfish
Worry not about the cars that go by
‘Cause all that matters Mary Jane is your freedom
So keep warm my dear, keep dry”
It holds up almost twenty-five years later; or, as Cliffe declared, “it still fuckin’ slaps”. Some critics and bystanders have asserted that her subsequent albums lack the edge and grit of Jagged Little Pill. I disagree. While no album of hers can ever squeeze out the sacred site in my heart that Jagged Little Pill will always hold, we can’t forget Under Rug Swept. “Hands Clean” may be one of her best songs ever. She wrote this powerful number in 2002, a good fifteen years before #MeToo. The upbeat melodies belie the scathing, honest pain of the brilliant lyrics. I mean, the song is about a rape, (“Oooh, this could get messy / you don’t seem to mind / don’t go telling everybody / and overlook this supposed crime”) yet it makes you want to dance and croon. Some criticized this, because it inevitably meant that many would gloss over the important words. But it’s this exact subversiveness that makes it so perfect. Morissette is describing a horrible situation, an actual crime, an exploited power imbalance. But set to such peppy, groovy music, she seems to imply to us that she has the power now. This asshole’s fate is in her hands, and maybe she can come full circle and relish that for just a minute. Maybe we all can. That’s Alanis. That’s her legacy.
*Did you know that her male producers made her re-record a few songs on Jagged Little Pill to see if her “intensity could be stamped out a bit”? Um, no honey, it couldn’t. The original versions made the cut. But seriously: fuck. the. patriarchy.
- 1 6 ounce can frozen lemonade concentrate
- ½ pound 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup granulated sugar, plus more to sprinkle over the cookies
- 2 tsp lemon zest
- 2 large eggs
- 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp baking soda
- ⅛ tsp salt
- Preheat your oven to 375 F. Line two baking sheets with silpats or parchment paper.
- Fill a deep mixing bowl with warm water and place the unopened can of lemonade concentrate in it. It will thaw (enough) while you make the cookie dough.
- In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar with a hand mixer. Add the lemon zest and mix again to combine. Now add the eggs one at a time, beating to combine thoroughly between each egg addition. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt.
- Measure out ½ cup lemonade concentrate and set the rest aside. Add about one-third of the flour mixture to the creamed butter and sugar. Beat on low speed until just combined, then add about half the lemonade concentrate. Again, beat until just combined. Continue adding the flour and lemonade alternately, beating on low after each addition, until combined and the mixture shows no streaks of flour.
- Use a cookie scoop to drop approximate tablespoonfuls of cookie dough onto the prepared baking sheets, spacing them 2 inches apart. Use your fingers to pat the drops of dough into roughly even balls. You don’t have to be the least bit precious here, but you do want them roughly uniform balls instead of globs with little bits of dough sticking out willy-nilly.
- Bake the cookies for 8 minutes. Check them, and if the edges are not starting to brown, give them 1 minute more. The centers will look underdone, but this is okay. Using a pastry brush, immediately brush the tops of each cookie with some of the reserved lemonade concentrate. Then sprinkle lightly with sugar. Transfer cookies to cooling racks and allow them to cool completely.