If you’re a certain kind of person who came of age in the 1990s, and someone innocently asks you “Isn’t it ironic?” your brain can only go to one place: The music of Alanis Nadine Morissette, who’s 1995 album, “Jagged Little Pill,” became the unexpected soundtrack of a generation – a generation of young women who’d realized they didn’t really fit into the box society was trying to put them in. And that was okay.
I feel drunk but I’m sober, I’m young and I’m underpaid
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 everything is going to be quite alright
‘Cause I’ve got one hand in my pocket
And the other one is flicking a cigarette
What it all comes down to
Is that I haven’t got it all figured out just yet
“I was just writing about my human condition, and perhaps the human condition, you know?” said Morissette. “The vulnerability, the rage, the betrayal.”
“Jagged Little Pill” won five Grammys and sold more than 33 million copies worldwide, making it one of the most successful albums of all time. And now, 25 years later, “Jagged Little Pill” has been turned into a Broadway musical.
Correspondent Luke Burbank said, “A lot of people had approached you [about a musical]. And I guess you were resistant for a while?”
“I was open to it, but I didn’t want a jukebox musical,” she replied. “Or, I just didn’t want it to be an awkward, you know, square-peg-into-a-round-hole thing.”
Morissette agreed, but on one condition: The musical couldn’t be autobiographical. It had to have its own story, which is where Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody (“Juno”) came in. It was her job to write a plot around Morissette’s songs.
A lot of the songs, Cody said, “actually have a narrative, they have characters. They’re about something. They’re about meaningful things.”
Things like a seemingly perfect Connecticut family, the Healys, trying to come to terms with just how imperfect real life actually is.
Speaking of real life, at her home in Los Angeles, Cody – a mother of three – showed Burbank the somewhat unglamorous spot where she wrote the show’s first draft: the garage. “I actually wrote in a couple of weeks where I was just completely manic. Like, I just was crankin’ it out. I would call and get food delivered through the garage door. Yeah, I’m eating burritos in here. I’m in, like, a robe.”
The show tackles some very real issues – race, addiction, sexual assault – that could have been plucked directly from today’s headings.
“There is a moment in our show that acknowledges mass shootings,” Cody said. “And the cast lays down to simulate that they’ve been shot, and we project an image. And I hate to say it, mass shootings have become so common that I can say, like, ‘Oh, that’s gonna be interesting tonight, because there was a mass shooting today.'”
Morissette said, “There’s some topics in there that I think some people involved in the musical were a little reticent, they were a little scared of it. And my response to any apprehension on their part was, ‘It’s me, I’ll back it up.'”
Her music has never shied away from confronting the big issues of life, something apparent on “Jagged Little Pill,” which Morissette co-wrote at just 19 years of age.
She says the fame was immediate, intense, and disorienting: “After recording ‘Hand in My Pocket,’ I remember walking down the streets and I couldn’t walk down the streets anymore,” she said. “So, life went from me watching people to all of a sudden I became the watched. I thought fame would afford me this hyper-connectivity with people, we’d be kumbaya-ing, Sharon Stone would be, like, I’d be lying in her lap, she’d be petting my head …”
“I’ve had that fantasy, too,” Burbank noted.
“Yeah, I mean, who hasn’t? And so, none of that was happening. And I was actually feeling quite isolated and alone.”
“I think a lot of people would be surprised to hear that you felt invisible while you were very, very famous?”
“I’m not gonna speak for everybody, but often there’s a trauma that has us chase fame,” she said. “‘Cause if you think about what fame is, it’s a lot of eyeballs looking at you. My father very wisely said when I was younger, ‘Honey, in the public eye people will love you, people will hate you, and people won’t care – no matter what you do.'”
Now 45, Morissette spends time these days at home in Northern California with her husband and their three children. She’s been very open about her struggles with post-partum depression with all three children, including her four-month-old son. “It was actually a saving grace to be able to write. I can write when I’m happy, I can write when I’m despondent. Writing is always there for me.”
“Smiling” is one of the two new songs Morissette has penned for her Broadway musical, and she’s not done yet. She’s written 16 albums so far, and is currently working on a new one, which she’ll support with a tour this spring. But the one thing she says she wouldn’t write differently? Her song “Ironic,” which is maybe her most well-known, but which famously doesn’t so much describe irony, but more just a bunch of bad things happening:
It’s like rain on your wedding day
It’s a free ride when you’ve already paid
It’s the good advice that you just didn’t take
Who would’ve thought, it figures.
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
Burbank asked, “Do you feel like you, with your music, have launched the largest national conversation about what actually defines irony?”
“Yes. I can unequivocally say that,” she laughed. “And I love the malapropism. I make up words all the time. I mean, I’m aware that I’m really, really, really smart and I’m aware that I’m really, really stupid. So I’m fine.”
“Now that’s ironic.”
“There you go!” she laughed.
You can stream the original Broadway cast album of “Jagged Little Pill” by clicking on the embed below (Free Spotify registration required to hear the tracks in full):
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Story produced by Michelle Kessel.