Tuesday, March 4, 2008
The Mess You Left
I heard Alanis Morissette's "You Oughta Know" on the radio today, for the first time in probably about five years - although it was the first hit off Jagged Little Pill and apparently the most popular (it's hard to tell, since it was never released as a single, although it still went to Number 13 on the pop charts), it seems to have been overtaken in popularity by some of the followups. And probably for good reason. Listening to "You Oughta Know," it struck me that the singer was - and I use this phrase only after much deliberation - literally insane.
I don't remember that being the impression back when that song was a hit in 1997. People were more concerned about the naughty lyrics, or about speculating which Canadian celebrity had been the object of Ms. Morissette's infamous bad taste in men. (The driving pop metal was helped along by Flea and Dave Navarro, which is odd, since up to that point Alanis had been sort of a Canadian Debbie Gibson, and I can't imagine those guys playing on a Debbie Gibson record. Maybe Morissette offered them a lot of money.)
Let's take a look at the words to the song, focusing only on Alanis' complaints against her one-time beau:
Every time you speak her name
Does she know how you told me you'd hold me
Until you died, till you died
But you're still alive
This is a cute conceit, but if Alanis is really perturbed by the fact that this dude at one time told her that he would love her forever, then changed his mind... well, grow up, Alanis. Everyone talks like that. It wouldn't be so romantic to say, "I'm going to love you until I stop loving you, probably around the time I meet someone who's not so gol-danged crazy as you." But that's what we really mean. Just ask Johnny Depp about that WINONA FOREVER tattoo.
It's not fair to deny me
Of the cross I bear that you gave to me
Who's denying her the cross she bears? She seems to wear it pretty proudly.
It was a slap in the face how quickly I was replaced
Was there supposed to be a period of mourning? One suspects that if Alanis hadn't been quickly replaced, she'd be gloating about how long it took for him to find someone who measured up to her.
And that's it. He lied about loving her forever, found someone new too quickly, and is sonehow denying her the right to bear a cross. If the song is supposed to summarize the evidence of his duplicity, and justify the singer's reaction, it fails. There's no cheating, no abuse, no meanness. Sounds like your basic romance that found its natural end.
The rest of the song is Alanis being nasty and threatening, right in the middle of the poor sap's dinner. It certainly doesn't justify her obsession with his new girlfriend's capacities as a mother. It seems like the story of a normal breakup - except that the jilted woman is stone nuts. The question isn't why he dumped her; it's why he hooked up with a lunatic in the first place.