Picture it: Kingston, Jamaica, 1996. A 9-year-old child with an unhealthy obsession with “Little Mermaid” was playing with his toys when “IT’S LIKE RAIN ON YOUR WEDDING DAY” blasted from his television. Little did I know that there would be nothing “ironic” about the impact those lyrics from “Jagged Little Pill,” Alanis Morissette’s third studio album, would have on my life.
In 1996, I didn’t know what Morissette and her three personalities were singing about in the music video for “Ironic,” but I remember it was aesthetically pleasing and a catchy tune. Three years later, CDs were eclipsing cassette tapes and my mom was placing her order for a new round of discs. My allowance cycle hadn’t come around, so I asked my mother if she could purchase P!nk’s “Can’t Take Me Home,” Morissette’s “Jagged Little Pill” and the Spice Girls’ debut album “Spice” (to replace the tape of theirs I had somehow lost).
When the CDs arrived, my excitement went through the roof. My mother’s? Not so much. She saw these covers and had a meandering talk about her concerns about me being so into “girl things.” What she and I didn’t know is that I was 55 shades of gay, and my inner gay kid was drawn to these iconic albums from the vibrant colors on the covers and my natural gravitation to women. Even though my mother deemed these albums were “things for girls,” that didn’t stop her from allowing me to experience the music she knew would bring me joy. After the “talk,” I ran to my CD player and hit play on “Jagged Little Pill.”
“All I Really Want” opened the album, and the lyrics spoke to me, a sexually confused teenager who had been recently diagnosed with clinical depression. I was 12 and at this point in my life, it was the first time I ever told my family that I wanted to commit suicide. I wasn’t readily accepted by my peers or extended family, and that never gave me a sense that my life mattered. And when Morissette uttered the lyrics, “All I really want is some peace, man,” I vividly remember crying because I desperately yearned for it at that age. Yes, “Ironic” was the hit single that indoctrinated me to Morissette, but it was the entire “Jagged Little Pill” album that was medicinal for my soul.
Up next was “You Oughta Know.” The song may be one of the most recognizable tracks on the album, but for me it was the soundtrack to one of my first heartbreaks. I recalled writing a note expressing my undying love to this girl who had long, draping hair, with scrunchies that matched her Lisa Frank folders. She tore the note up and laughed at my proposal of “happily ever after.”
“You Oughta Know” is the kind of breakup anthem that made me jump on my bed, screaming out what I thought were the lyrics. I didn’t fully understand what Morissette was singing about, but the lyrics spoke to my soul. And now, after every heartbreak, I have used this song to heal — because what’s more therapeutic than yelling at the top of your lungs to let all your pain out? Add some snacks to that equation and I was good as healed.
In true teenage dramatic angst, I committed myself to a full-on emotional spiral after listening to these tracks. Later, I realized that I double down on sad vibes when I am depressed by turning on the most emotional music.
The next song on the album, “Perfect,” seemed like it was written for me. I am the child of immigrants, and with this comes the expectation of being the brightest in your class. For Jamaican men, it is also supposed to come with an affinity for football and cricket. The books? I read them. Sports? Well, not so much. So, there was pressure on me to be the perfect student, child and athlete. I was none of those things. I was just me — and that didn’t seem to be enough then.
In “Perfect,” Morissette sings, “How long before you screw it up?” “Be a good boy, try a little harder.” These lyrics resonated with me, as I was just getting by on my dose of antidepressants. I dealt with years of verbal abuse; I was never “good enough,” and it was like someone sent Morissette an AOL instant message telling her all my business. I was only a few songs in and I was crying a river of tears.
By the fifth song, Morissette gained a new fan in 12-year-old me.
Later in the album, when “Ironic” begins with the lyrics, “An old man turned 98,” I was sent back in time to younger me, the one who had that unhealthy obsession with “Little Mermaid.” It was a full-circle moment because I vividly recalled the video I saw on MTV all those years ago. I was filled with a much-needed sense of happiness. A feeling that I rarely felt as a kid. I smiled.
As a kid, I had a limited understanding of her words. But today I understand her message: “And what it all boils down to is that no one’s really got it figured out just yet.”
Hearing this song years later reminded me of how far I’ve come and how my best experiences have outshined the darkest days.
Now when I listen to “Jagged Little Pill,” I know that Morissette’s lyrics have been tools that helped shape my identity. The vindication I’ve felt as an adult while listening to “You Oughta Know” wasn’t something young me understood, but now I can scream the lyrics at the top of his lungs relating to every line.
Today, there is also a sense of joy and contentment in knowing that her lyrics taught me to live unabashedly as myself.
And I’ve got “one hand in my pocket,” and the other one is writing this thank you to Alanis Morissette for giving me the album that medicated my soul — and saved my life.