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In Broadway musical, Alanis Morissette’s ‘Jagged Little Pill’ becomes modern-day metaphor
Judy Woodruff: "Jagged Little Pill," Alanis Morissette's Grammy Award-winning album released in 1995, became the angry and raw soundtrack of a generation.
Today, it is the basis of a musical that has just opened on Broadway.
Special correspondent Jared Bowen of WGBH caught up with the show as it made its pre-Broadway run in Boston.
The story is part of our ongoing arts and culture series, Canvas.
Jared Bowen: It came out of nowhere. Released just before summer in 1995, the album "Jagged Little Pill" tore into culture with all the ferocity its title would suggest.
The lyrics were all those of a teenager, Alanis Morissette, who had been a purveyor of pop in her native Canada. Today, she remembers she suddenly had something altogether different to say.
Alanis Morissette: I was giving myself permission to express exactly what was going on without sugarcoating it.
Jared Bowen: Over the next year came a flood of singles that burned through the sheen of life. It was the anti-pop.
And writing was producer Glen Ballard, Morissette got real and raw.
Alanis Morissette: There was an urgency to the writing, definitely.
It was -- it was almost manic in a way, a very channeled experience, super exhausting, but really, really gratifying. And we got all the vocals on tape one or two takes 80 percent of the record or the original demos. So it was a very sacred experience, certainly.
Jared Bowen: The record won five Grammys, went on to sell 33 million copies and is now among the bestselling albums of all time.
Do you look back at it now and -- what happened? What the heck happened?
Alanis Morissette: Good question.
You know, I mean, I make funny guesses at this, but some of it was that there was a movement, whether it was the feminist movement or consciousness evolution movement. And the wave was happening, and I feel as though I put my hand up and volunteered to be on the front top of the wave with my surfboard.
And I became a spokesperson of a kind for this emergence of an authentic experience of what it is to be human, what it was to be a woman in those times.
Jared Bowen: Today, under the direction of Tony winner Diane Paulus, "Jagged Little Pill" is taking on a new life.
Alanis Morissette: The running joke became, you know, there was a circumstance in this story that was emerging, and I would say, I have a song for that. And they would say, of course you do.
Jared Bowen: The musical centers on a middle-class family in Connecticut. Picture-perfect on the outside, they're unraveling from within, beset by a host of issues plaguing families today, from opioid addiction to sexual assault.
Alanis Morissette: I was up for it out of the gate. You know, I didn't want the songs to lead, as such. I wanted the songs to support the story, if that makes sense.
Diablo Cody: The songs do an incredible amount of heavy lifting.
Jared Bowen: Academy Award winning screenwriter Diablo Cody makes her theatrical debut with "Jagged Little Pill," writing the show's book.
With myriad projects in the works, Cody says she didn't have time for the show. But as someone whose adolescence was shaped by Morissette, she couldn't say no either.
Diablo Cody: I couldn't not do it. Those are the projects that you can't walk away from, when you think to yourself, I will be consumed with jealousy and rage if somebody else gets to do this.
Diablo Cody: Like, the ones where you just -- you can just see future you regretting not doing this.
Jared Bowen: Here, Cody has created the family, and all the issues drowning them, as a metaphor for society, writ large, addiction chief among them, apt, she says, for a show called "Jagged Little Pill."
Diablo Cody: Right now, we are in a place as a society where a lot of people are in desperate need of comfort and are feeling just kind of disenfranchised.
And so it honestly doesn't surprise me to see this, the crisis -- the opiate crisis. It just doesn't -- it feels sort of grotesquely appropriate to the times.
Jared Bowen: As does Morissette's music, even though it's now more than 20 years old.
Diablo Cody: It's crazy to me how well it holds up. There's no song that I hear and think, oh, that's juvenile, or, oh, I can't believe I thought this was profound when I was 16. If anything, it's more profound to me now.
Alanis Morissette: I can still sing it with as much conviction, perhaps even more, based on the fact that I think there's more receptivity to some of the topics that I dive into when I write.
Jared Bowen: Including anger, a label that's always been synonymous with her work and which defines some of the show's younger characters.
Alanis Morissette: I love anger. You know, and if I'm going to be one-dimensionalized as anything, I will take anger. I think it's a gorgeous life force.
I think it gets a bad rap because of how it shows up destructively in the world. The actings out of anger in destructive ways is a big boo for me. But the actual life force itself, in the sense and the body of what anger is, and the heat, and the jaw clench, and the forward movement, I mean, it helps me, and others, I'm assuming, set boundaries, speak up for oneself, say no.
Jared Bowen: Morissette says, when she finished the album, she had no idea it would be so successful.
Alanis Morissette: My dad said when I was younger, he goes: "Sweetheart, people are going to love you, people are going to hate you, and most people won't give a (EXPLETIVE DELETED)."
You know? And I said, OK, well, if that's the case, you know, I'm left with just defining myself, and trying things on for size, and seeing if they fit, and defining what my value system is, and how I want to show up, and how I don't want to show up.
And that's all I can continue to do.
Jared Bowen: Morissette's intention has always been to make the music matter, a philosophy she now carries to the musical.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Jared Bowen of WGBH in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Judy Woodruff: "Jagged Little Pill" now a show.
WGBH is a public media station located in Boston, Massachusetts.