Eccentric's Corner: Rock Star Next Door
Alanis Morrissette is a multiplatinum artist with chops on the silver screen.
Name: Alanis Morissette
Claim to Eccentricity: Combines wisdom and whimsy in life and art.
Alanis Morissette describes herself as very girl-next-door. Sure, if your neighbor has sold 40 million records and won seven Grammy Awards. After becoming a child star in Canada, Morissette hit it big worldwide with Jagged Little Pill in 1995, then ran from the fame. Hearing her reflect is like listening to a sportscaster calling a game between humility and ego. She obviously roots for the former without underestimating its opponent. Now, after four years away from the studio, she has a new album, Flavors of Entanglement, and stars in the upcoming film adaptation of Philip K. Dick's Radio Free Albemuth.
When did you decide to become a rock star?
I saw Grease when I was 3 and I fell in love with this whole concept of performing and telling stories through music. I started dancing when I was 7, and then I was on a TV show called You Can't Do That On Television. I started writing songs when I was 9, and I sent a tape of a couple of songs to a friend of my parents in Toronto and we immediately went into the studio. I never felt pushed, but I think being in the public eye at a really young age is a form of child abuse.
At 9 you wrote "Find the Right Man." What were you thinking?
I was a love addict from a very young age, so I had that whole princess thing going on, and I'm still trying to work it out.
What drove you to India in 1997?
That was right after the whole Jagged Little Pill mayhem. I wanted to disappear off the face of the planet and just be of service somewhere.
Since you wanted fame for so long, was achieving it a letdown?
I called it a fantastic disillusionment. I was conditioned by the Western credo of money and fame above all. Certainly I accrued a lot of wealth and got about as famous as a person can possibly get, breaking records and winning awards. I also realized that I was left with the same demons, only now they were more pronounced and certainly more public and easily misinterpreted, so it didn't solve anything. No solving, just complicating.
What's your relationship with fame like now?
Every once in a while my ego is like, "Woo hoo! I'm important!" [Laughs] But now I use it as a tool. There are certain experiences I've had that people can use as a comfort, and maybe as a lift. And this is the less explainable part: I really feel like it's part of my vocation to be in the public eye. I don't think that's ego, although there's probably ego in it. I'm just supposed to share my journey.
Because your journey is special, or because you're good at plucking insights from it?
I can distill things. That's a talent that serves me well when I have three minutes to say something in a song. And all of this is B.S. by the way. [Laughs] Maybe I'm supposed to garden. I have no idea.
Since you've been performing for most of your life, are there parts of you that you can only get in touch with on stage?
Yeah, definitely. It's like everything in my mind gets really silent, and I let the spirit or whatever word you want to use for God come through me and I offer it up to the audience. I was just watching footage tonight and I seemed to myself like an 80-year-old crone and at the same time a 13-year-old kid running around.
You played God in Kevin Smith's movie Dogma. Smith once said, "She's the closest thing to the divine here on earth."
He might have changed his mind after working with me. [Laughs] I think he projected a lot onto me. There was a period when I was one-dimensionalized as singularly angry, and then I went through an era after the song "Thank U" when everyone saw me as singularly spiritual. And I'm assuming now they're going to say I'm singularly funny or singularly a party girl.
Your popular parody video of The Black Eyed Peas' "My Humps" helped.
A lot of my friends in L.A. are comedians so we were just self-entertaining. And also I was writing this record when I said, "God, it would be so good for me to do a song that's super straight-ahead like 'My Humps.' " It's basically about a guy having to work—"make you work, work, make you work." And I said, "Well I can't write it but I can sing it." A couple weeks later we were shooting a video in my garage.
Could you write a humorous song?
If I could bust my own chops in a song—without turning it into a novelty song—I would, but I can't. I go into the studio giggling and food's coming out of my mouth, and then we start writing and it gets instantly serious.
What's your ideal acting role?
To play a TV character who comes on every 10 episodes and has, like, a 10-year story arc. And the character would span every trait in the human condition.
Would this be a sitcom, or...
It would combine Six Feet Under, Three's Company, and South Park. And it would be claymation! Then I wouldn't have to worry about how I looked.
In Dogma, your only line was "Boop!"
Yeah, that's so great because what the f*** would God really say? My idea was to do handstands and pick flowers and be kind of entertained by it all, and neutral. Actually, I'd compare the life force to a loving grandparent in a rocking chair watching people date and break up and fight and kill, and saying, "Oh you sweet little things, you'll figure it out."
This is the video for "Underneath," from the new album, Flavors of Entanglement: