By ELENA FALCON
Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill album came out when I was in high school, and was popular all the way through my early college days. Nearly each song from that phenomenal album formed the anthems of my youth—a teen girl-self whose barkada meant everything, who had no other experience beyond the juvenile concerns of school and the shelter of home, whose only window to the wide world and its unfathomable turmoil were TV, movies, and music. Mostly music. Because back then there was no internet, and local TV shows were unappealing to our burgeoning middle class sensibilities, even though only a few of us had families who could actually afford cable TV.
Back then, nothing channeled pop culture more efficiently than music—delivered on those 90s relics called cassette tapes, no less. I remember playing Jagged Little Pill over and over again (Side A, then Side B) during a 3-day SuperFerry trip that my family took from Manila to Cebu & Bohol. This was before the era of cheap plane tickets. Back then, climate change was not yet a threat that was real, Philippine beaches were pristine, corals were surreal underwater explosions of color, and time was not yet too much of the luxury that it is today.
When I mentioned to my HS friends that I was going to Alanis’s concert, one of them said: “I think that back then, we just liked the idea of being angry. Not that we ever knew what it really felt like,” referring to how we loved belting out You Oughta Know at the top of our lungs. That was true. None of us had also yet met the man of our dreams and his beautiful wife, nor gotten on too many plane rides to understand how it feels like to worry if it will crash.
Fast forward to 2023. By now, we had experienced being stuck on countless traffic jams when we were already late. It HAD rained on my wedding day (which was not so bad, actually). And certainly, all of us had been frustrated enough to imagine how it is to hold ten thousand spoons, when all we needed was a single knife to cut through the vagaries of life.
I took a half day off on the day of the concert. With the torrential rains in Metro Manila, I wanted to make sure I didn’t end up in an ironic situation where I would miss it. Together with my best friend, we went to MOA the broke-but-happy way: MRT and a jeep. Arriving hours too early, we killed time at IKEA, that strange maze filled with the manufactured delights of a transnational empire, an amorphous one-stop-shop unthinkable during the days of the reign of Harrison Plaza and University Mall, where we would sneak out in our uniforms to try that illicit cigarette stick or check out the latest college fashion displayed in small boutique shops. At the IKEA restaurant, we already spotted our fellow tita concertgoers—middle aged women in boots and black Alanis tshirts. Our excitement started to mount while wolfing down plant-based meatballs and sipping P50 sparkling Nordic drinks. I escalated further when, walking towards the concert entrance we were approached by a gaggle of boys selling light sticks imprinted with the words “Alanis Morissette Jagged Little Pill Concert 2023.” We had started to ignore them when one of them called out, “For the EXPERIENCE!” This astute selling point stopped us dead in our tracks. Weren’t we there for the experience, after all? So we bought one each. Blinking pink and white in our hands, we felt like schoolgirls once again.
The concert itself was as great as you can imagine it to be. Dressed in jeans, sneakers and a flannel shirt, Alanis was simple and regal and rocked. Her voice could still conquer the Sierra Madre. As to be expected, certain popular songs turned into a stadium-sized karaoke session which Filipino audiences are famous for. Even though more than two decades have passed, most of us had the lyrics still memorized, the metaphors emblazoned in our minds like those of the national anthem.
Once, when Alanis Morrissette was brought up in a conversation at work, a younger colleague had asked, “Who is Alanis? Is she like Taylor Swift?” This of course bowled us over. First, because we couldn’t believe he didn’t know who Alanis was, and second, because he compared her to Taylor Swift. The former, I have come to accept as part of the constantly amusing “generation gap”—recently, I found that another younger colleague didn’t even know the song “Dancing Queen” (okay, so that colleague is Malaysian, NOT Filipino. LOL.) But the latter is like comparing buko pie to apple pie. While waiting for Alanis to show up, my best friend and I discussed how Taylor declined to perform in the Philippines despite her legions of fans because of a lack of a suitable venue. She confessed: “I don’t get Taylor Swift. I tried to listen to her songs, but I still don’t get what’s so special about them.” Sympathetically, in similar clueless-on-what-ticks-the-younger-generation-tita fashion, I surmised that perhaps it’s not the songs per se, but the performance and spectacle that attracts the younger generation to Taylor. Like how we were attracted to Alanis’s authenticity and unabashed emotion at that time. And perhaps, each generation is just defined by vastly different things that represent particular socio-political, cultural, and technological moments. I just feel lucky that before there was the K-pop industry and artists coming out of silver balls, before there was shoegaze and wireless earplugs and algorithms, I was there when all you needed to be happy was a good album and a cassette player with its rewarding rewind or fast-forward button.
I’m happy that except for walking around naked in my living room, I’ve done pretty much everything that Alanis had recommended to live and learn. Had my heart trampled on. Swallowed a jagged little pill (yup, it’s still swimming in my stomach). Bit more than I could chew. Threw caution to the wind. Grieved. Wore it out. Held my intentions up to the rays of the sun. Chose. Choked. Prayed. Asked. Lost. Laughed (a lot). Cried (a lot, as well). Waited until the dust settled.
I have a college friend who watched the concert twice from the best seats. She had saved up for it because Alanis had that of a big influence in her life. I wouldn’t say it’s the same for me. But I will always cherish how, aboard the SuperFerry, while looking out at the ocean and the endless possibilities of my early life, Alanis’ songs made me feel both above but also inescapably part of the teeming mass in that economy class of a giant ship reeking of oil, salt, and people that were poor but kind. Such contradictions would continue on throughout life—feeling high but grounded, brave but chickenshit, caring but restless, here but really gone. Cause like probably many people, at 40, everything is just fine, fine, fine. Except that no one’s really got it all figured out just yet. I’ve got one hand in my pocket, and the other one is booking a Grab.