I’ll be honest—the reason I learned how to curse was because of Alanis Morrissette. I was in the first grade, and I heard Alanis sing “chickenshit” in “Head Over Feet.” I learned that word because of her, and that was only the first lesson Alanis gave me.
As one of the strongest female singer-songwriters of the 90s and early 00s, Alanis made a career out of raw, empowering and (sometimes) over-sharing lyrics about her life that shook up the alt-rock world. In honor of her advice column at The Guardian, we rounded up some of the best life advice we got from Alanis’ songs.
It might be trite, but in “You Learn,” Alanis is giving us an important bit of life advice: Bad or good, with every experience, you learn something. You cry, you end up with really red eyes. You drink too much on a Friday night, you get a hangover. You choke on a pretzel, you learn not to do that.
Without sounding too granola here, “Thank U” taught us to be self-aware and have gratitude for our surroundings. Alanis reflected on these notions following a trip to India and took time to examine her life. Also, the music video taught us to aspire to grow our hair long enough to cover our boobs while we’re standing naked in the wilderness. See? Alanis is just like us.
What most of us learned after hearing “it’s like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife” is that none of the lines her song are actually ironic. But most importantly, sometimes bad shit happens, and sometimes good shit happens. Life is pretty funny that way, and you just have to roll with the punches.
The most important piece of knowledge we got out of this song is that it’s probably about Dave Coulier. Aside from that, we learned that it’s okay to be confident in your sexuality and also feel your own pain. Breakups are messy, and as Alanis says, “I'm here, to remind you of the mess you left when you went away.”
One of the most powerful lessons Alanis gave us was to accept the love we are given and stop telling ourselves we don’t deserve it. Guess what? It’s okay to let someone love you. For Alanis, it’s the really simple things that won her over—even though it may have taken her a little while. “You held your breath and the door for me/Thanks for your patience.”
Alanis was really just trying to find her zen in “Hand In My Pocket.” Yes, you may have to wait 30 minutes for an L train after running through the rain with no umbrella, but at the end of the day, “What it all comes down to is that everything’s going to be fine, fine, fine.”
Self-care is one of the most important pieces of wisdom Alanis has bestowed upon us. On “Underneath,” she reminds us that saving the world won’t necessarily make you feel better about yourself: “There is no difference in what we're doing in here/That doesn't show up as bigger symptoms out there.”
As you get older, you realize that dreams are important, but sometimes there are dreams you need to let go of to get to a positive place in your life. In that contrast between reality and fantasy, Alanis parts with a figurative old friend: “But this won't work as well as the way it once did/Because I want to decide between survival and bliss.” It’s hard to let go of dreams, but sometimes your new ones can be even better.