A few months ago I cued up a new song on Spotify, and from the very first note, I would have sworn to you I'd never not known it. It truly felt as if I could sing right along, like every beat, every word had been living inside me for 25 years.
The song was "Smiling," by Alanis Morissette. I've enjoyed it since then, but two days ago I listened to it at least 10 times. I don't think I've done that since I was a teenager, but in a way it makes sense.
I don't want to make this a long post, because really it's just to say I'm connecting with this work by someone else. Now is not the time for it, but there's probably an essay in me somewhere about growing through adolescence, but even more so through adulthood, with Alanis. Every new album met me where I was at the time, so often putting words to something in a way I wasn't doing very well on my own (even if it was simply "This shit's making me crazy").
The most brilliant thing about "Smiling" is that musically it speaks one language and lyrically another that together create that feeling of being with someone who's known me as long as I've known myself. The sound is a perfect fit to her late 90s work; you could slide it into her catalog alongside "Uninvited" or "That I Would Be Good" and it wouldn't be out of place. But the lyrics, while simple and somewhat sparse, are not of that period. Today's Alanis is no less frank or emotional in her music, but to me there's less raw angst, more acceptance of her vulnerability and anger. Her words carry the weight of time passed.
It's why the song fits so seamlessly into the Broadway musical "Jagged Little Pill." It sounds like 25 years ago, but it makes sense for someone in their 40s to sing it today: Alanis, MJ, me.
Apparently this was by design, as she recounts before her performance of the song here:
If that video is your first listen of the song, by the way, it's a fine way to go. But I do encourage you, if you like it, to go find the non-acoustic version elsewhere, just to get a complete idea.
I realize my love for a song about hitting bottom might seem discouraging. It's true; that aspect of it very much speaks to me, especially right now. Depressive episodes always make me feel 19 again, like I'm wrapped in an old, familiar blanket that's all mine. That may or may not be healthy, but depressed is a thing I know how to be, and for better or worse, that's super comforting.
"Slippery and enticing." I know what she means.
And now, like when I was 19, I'm just trying to keep it together. Oh man, do I barely remember who I failed. Bouncing on a continuum, the ends of overwhelm, all of these lyrics could have been ripped from my journal if I could still be bothered to keep one. And if I had a penchant for poetry and brevity, which I do not.
The good news is that for me, now, the surrender — and that is what I call it — is necessary in order to move on, but it's not a defeat. It's where I am. It's no exaggeration to say that it's because of people who inspire me, like Alanis, that I keep on moving, even when it's really fucking hard.
See? This picture is me just yesterday. Decided to wear my favorite T-shirt, which is from her 2012 tour. And maybe it's just a little, but I am smiling.
Addendum: Because I know some people aren't as familiar with Alanis' work as the years have gone on, I can't help but want to tell you it's not all about pain and difficulty. One of my favorite songs of hers, "Empathy," is from her last full album, Havoc and Bright Lights, and it's full of gratitude and a cheery piano melody. I've honestly always thought of it as an ode to my therapists, haha. But also to anyone I've finally been able to allow any of my walls to come down around. I struggle a lot with fully being myself around people, even friends and family; it's a fully involuntary and self-protecting behavior. That song is for those who've made me feel safe and seen.