It became the soundtrack for a generation of young women.
A mix of anger, angst, heartache, and hope, the 1995 alternative rock album “Jagged Little Pill” was both a defining moment in pop music and a runaway success. It launched its creator, Canadian singer-songwriter Alanis Morissette, to stardom. This month, a musical adaptation inspired by the album and some of Morissette’s other work is premiering at the American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.).
Terrie and Bradley Bloom Artistic Director Diane Paulus will helm the production about a multigenerational family. Writer and producer Diablo Cody, who won an Academy Award for best original screenplay for the 2007 film “Juno,” wrote the show’s book and also a song for the score.
In the personal backstory below, Cody reflects on her deep early connections to the formative album, and on how she crafted a narrative from its iconic songs.
I was 16 years old the first time I heard the voice of Alanis Morissette. Well, technically that isn’t true — I grew up watching “You Can’t Do That on Television,” the Canadian kiddie show in which a young Alanis starred. But when I say “the voice of Alanis Morissette,” I’m not referring to the literal vibrations created by her laryngeal folds. I’m talking about the powerful and primal flow of essential Alanis-ness that is her legendary album “Jagged Little Pill.”
This was not just a collection of songs, you understand. This was a seismic event that shifted the plates of pop culture and redefined irony for a generation. Morissette, a rock star, was more than a voice. She was a Voice.
It was 1995, and I was hanging out in my bedroom in Lemont, Ill., a small town with nine churches and zero bookstores. I was listening to Q101, “Chicago’s Rock Alternative,” like I did every day after school. Though the grunge trend had expired like a tub of old yogurt, rock radio was still dominated by growling, lank-haired dudes with low-slung guitars and big muff distortion pedals. Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder had changed the game by championing feminist causes, but the rock scene in general still felt like the same old macho stance it had been forever. The “girl bands” that did get airplay at the time were all punk bravado and defiance — very necessary, but not always relatable to me as a vulnerable and confused Catholic girl who had so many feelings and was often afraid to express them. There was an Alanis-shaped hole in my heart; I just didn’t know it yet.
So there I was, in my bedroom, flipping through Sassy magazine and painting my nails with Wite-Out as I listened to the radio. As the song ended — let’s say it was “Cumbersome” by Seven Mary Three — the DJ broke in, sounding way more enthusiastic than usual. “I am so psyched to play this next song,” the DJ said. Again, this type of editorializing was rare on Q101, a big corporate radio station. “It’s from a new singer named Alanis Morissette, and it’s going to blow your mind. Here’s ‘You Oughta Know.’ ”