"Jagged Little Pill" is 20 Years Old, and I Couldn't Have Gotten Through High School Without It

I got Alanis Morissette's epic album right around the same time I got my first Prozac prescription. The former was more helpful than the latter.
Publish date:
June 12, 2015
music, 1990s, alanis morissette, jagged little pill, albums

Moving to Boca Raton, Florida, may sound glamorous to some people, but some people are out of their goddamn minds. I moved there against my will at age 15 from my New Jersey hometown when my parents decided to retire(ish), and it wasn't long before I spiraled into a deep depression against a backdrop of pastel stucco and banyan trees.

Triggered by a combination of circumstances (i.e. moving away from my best friends, not smoothly fitting right in at my new school), adolescence (it sucks for pretty much everyone, right?), and genetics (depression runs in my family), my diagnosis led to a Prozac prescription, which didn't really help me much. I felt numb, lonely, and sorry for myself. No amount of hindsight about the privilege of my upbringing can undo the misery I experienced, but then, depression is no less real even if your parents have an in-ground pool.

What did help me during my high school years—and what I'm sure helped so many high school kids, clinically depressed or just, you know, teenage—was music. And the album that made the biggest impact on me was, of course—of course—Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill, which, this week, had its 20th anniversary. (Holy shit!)

Emily wrote enthusiastically about Jagged Little Pill in 2011, saying, "Alanis was a gateway drug to feminism," which I think is a pretty perfect statement. I didn't yet understand the angst building inside me at the time, but I knew Alanis was touching an increasingly raw nerve in a much-needed, palatable, invisible-training-wheels kind of way.

And she was doing so in a way that I could enjoy with my friends. I spent so many nights in 1995 and 1996 listening to this CD in order (including the hidden track, "Your House," of course) and on a loop, with so many different friends—different kinds of friends. Looking back, that's pretty weird, because even though the songs were very melodic and sing-along-able, everyone seemed to sing along to them in a way that felt very personal to them.

We all satisfyingly shout-sang lyrics like "You took me for a joke/You took me for a child/You took a long hard look at my ass/And then played golf for a while," enjoying the release of belting at the top of our lungs about topics we previously weren't sure we could even talk about in a whisper. These were friends who, as they became adults, also turned out to be feminists, as well as friends who have no interest in labeling themselves that way. Hell, I even went to see Alanis Morisette in concert at the Coral Sky Ampitheather with a guy who grew up to become a conservative lobbyist.

I had very little in common with my half-sister at the time—me, a 16-year-old, depressed high school student and she, a 28-year-old, married attorney—but when she visited Florida that year, my fondest memory is staying up late and making up silly new words to "All I Really Want" and trying to imitate Alanis's wailing, much to any sleeping family member's dismay.

I actually resisted Alanis at first. (And no, not because she'd been on You Can't Do That On Television.) I didn't like "You Oughta Know" when it first started playing on the radio. I was annoyed that everyone was obsessing over who it was supposed to be about, and the song was more angry than I could relate to at that point; I was mostly sad and contemplative, not scorned and pissed. But the rest of the album gave me exactly what I needed at the time: smart, poetic criticism of religion and sexism, a balance of optimism and cynicism I could use as an example for how to perceive things, and a total lack of apology from a loud, wordy, artistic woman.

Basically, "Jagged Little Pill" told me to just keep going even though things felt sucky. It didn't necessarily tell me things were going to get better, though. I could see that Alanis was a few years older than me and still upset about stuff. But I could also see that she was turning her pain into art (and profitable art, to boot), and that felt exciting to me.

I admit, I haven't listened to "Jagged Little Pill" in a long time; I haven't really had the desire to. If one of the songs happens to come on, I'll enjoy it in a nostalgic way, but I think my brain has changed too much in the last 20 years to feel those songs the way I did then. But I will always be grateful to it—to Alanis—for being something of a harness as I climbed my way out of what I perceived to be hell, high school.