Alanis has made amends for “Ironic”

My manlove and I got to see “Jagged Little Pill” last weekend on Broadway. Shoutiest of shout-outs to Nana Red for watching the offspring over the weekend that we ran away from home.

Microreview: the show is very, very good. The talent on stage overfloweth, from choreography to song arrangement to the book, which was written by Diablo Cody. I wouldn’t say the musical is a timeless work of unparalleled brilliance, but the songs and dialogue hang together pretty seamlessly, the character portraits are interesting, and you leave feeling hopeful, with a whole new appreciation for the Alanis Morissette canon.

Oh, Alanis. You really cannot say the name “Alanis,” even 25 years after “Jagged Little Pill” dropped, without asking the rhetorical, “Isn’t it ironic?” And you would not be the first to crucify Canada’s songstress for what amounts to a variety of cliched couplets that completely misunderstand the very concept of irony, conflating these supposedly inconvenient and upsetting things that happen with something that is so tragically coordinated it, well, figurrrrrres.

The song was an instant banger when I was in high school in Ohio where on any given Friday night, my friends and I would be doing our very best white girl howls along to “Ironic” and “You Oughta Know” as if we had any kind of romantic history that even came close to meriting that brand of bitterness. It was such a big moment to own CDs that you played nonstop and shared and left in other people’s cars by accident because they had jimmied their portable CD player to their car stereo and weren’t we all just living that high tech lifestyle on wheels?

Since that time, CD players are practically obsolete in cars, and I no longer think LLBean barn coats are the height of fashion per the contract of every Catholic high schoolie in 1996. But I still think “ironic” is a banger even if the irony is ill-conceived.

And I think we should all treat it as “Jagged Little Pill” the musical does: as a miscalculation by a young writer. Just like people should stop asking Ali MacGraw what she meant when she said “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.“ She’s sorry, all right? And Rebecca Black would like to forget she knows anything about any day of the week.

Perhaps I’ve become some kind of apologist for white women who make regrettable art in their youth. Maybe I need to examine deeper the implications of that. But I’m here as a writer showing up to do my utmost to synthesize my best ideas with my best dedication to the page. Just don’t show me the unadulterated copy from ten years ago. Or five months ago. Or last week. We’re all works in progress but our art evolves. I’d like to think I give as much passage and permission for other women to groove on with their bad, evolving, artistic selves — as much as I would hope the same is granted for myself.

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Writer of essays, collector of vintage, reader of books, wife of one, mother of two. Subscribe to my monthly love letter:

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