Alanis, Jewel, & The Greatest Generation
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 3/19/02

  Ever just wanna haul off & slap the bejesus out of your local tv news mannekin? Y’know, those newsreaders who pretend to be journalists. Well, as ridiculous as I think those Barbie dolls & Abercrombie & Fitch clothes-displayers are, I am even more annoyed at those who never grow up. To me, the worst example of this is sexagenarian news mannekin Tom Brokaw of NBC Nightly News. Yes, I know that CBS’s Dan Rather (now a septuagenarian) is awfully wacky & prone to inappropriate homilizing, & I know that ABC's sexagenarian Canucker Peter Jennings is so laconic that mirrors must be held in front of his mouth to prove he’s not some animatronic doll- but I can handle those 2. Who’s really started to piss me off in recent years is the gallingly smug Brokaw, riding the wave of his top rated newscast. Especially with his books & reports in the last few years celebrating World War 2’s Greatest Generation. I mean, TB didn’t even hit kindergarten till after the war was over, yet here he has been celebrating the effort as if it was a fundament of his being. 1 can only guess that having to choose between the War Generation & the Baby Boomers left TB perplexed & in need of searching for identity. Don’t get me wrong- huzzahs for the boys who sent the evil Hitler, Mussolini & Tojo packing. But, didn’t the Boomers end an evil or 2 themselves? I mean, our foray into Vietnam was little more than our corporate seizure of the Rhineland. & years of protest brought an end to this. Not to mention that the Boomers also were the generation that drove a stake through Jim Crow, while the Greatest Generation turned a deaf ear to lynching & the Zoot Suit Riots. But, I don’t wanna argue relative worth; both groups- in fact all groups- have pros & cons. The fact is TB has seized upon the opportunity to toot a horn & cash in. This is America after all.
  Politics, however, is not the sole domain of generational turf wars. There have always been claimed ‘Golden Ages’- usually by aging folk trying to recapture their youth by glamorizing it. Recall tv’s ‘Golden Age’ in the 1950s? A few hit & miss live theater broadcasts, I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners, Westerns, cop & quiz shows- this was Golden? The 1st thing noticed upon rewatching this Gilt is how little of it holds up- how naïve most of it is. Except for The Honeymooners & perhaps I Love Lucy- the pickin’s be thin! Same goes for the WW2 ‘Golden Age’ of comicbooks. The higher arts are known for Golden Ages, too. While 1 can argue about the merits of the visual arts having assorted Golden Ages in Greece, Italy, Germany, England, Russia, China, Japan, Holland, etc., in my pastime- poetry- there truly has been only 1 Golden Age- where dozens of artists produced great work over an extended period. That was between the years 1910 & 1970 (roughly) in the good ol’ US of A! The 1st 2/3s of the last century were it. All arts tend to apotheosize specious samples of greatness. Another art- music- is noted for the partisanship shown towards those musicians of their own age. As a kid in early 1970s New York I remember the ‘Classic Rock’ station WPLJ (for White Port & Lemon Juice- & before the term ‘Classic Rock’ came to be) would always have its DJs rip on the ‘Golden Oldies’ stations that played swing bands, Nat King Cole, show tunes, & Frank Sinatra. Always rose the mantra- ‘Why don’t they get with it?’ Now, a few decades later, the rap & heavy metal stations’ DJs rip on the ‘Classic Rock’ stations' addictions to the tetranity of Beatles/Stones/Zeppelin/Who whilst spurning Limp Bizkit, Creed, Eminem, & the Fugees. On a similar note I have noted an equally large rift between fans of female rockers.
  OK- pop quiz: you are reading this essay in 2027. What do these names mean to you? Brandy, Pink, Shakira, Blu Cantrell, Nelly Furtado, Faith Evans, Aaliyah. If you guessed millennial names of types of liquor- WRONG! These are names of some of the hottest soul/black music pop babes of 2002. All of them are sexy & severe lookers, although little talent could be ascribed to them. Most are critically panned. Round 2: How about these names? Christina Aguilera, Mandy Moore, Britney Spears, Willa Ford, Jessica Simpson. If your 1st thought was ‘porno stars’ you are not that far off. These are the cute white versions of the aforementioned- all blond, all as talentless (or more so than their dusky counterparts), & all under 21 at the start of their careers. In order this is what they are noted for: CA’s the most talented but anorexic; MM’s cute & sweet; BS’s the biggest star & a virgin (chuckle); WF’s a dumb slut, & (for emphasis) a slut; & JS’s also a virgin who wishes she were BS. To be fair, JS is actually a very good- & healthy-looking babe & the only one who projects a non-binge & purge appearance- whether she or the others have talent- well…. In truth neither group is likely to be recalled in a quarter century.
  Already, some of the hottest female stars from the 1990s have sunk slowly out of sight. Where have Sheryl Crow, Jennifer Trynin, Natalie Merchant, Tracy Bonham, Joan Osbourne, Lisa Loeb, Gwen Stefani, Chantal Kreviazuk, Courtney Love, Sinéad O’Connor, Fiona Apple, Jennifer Paige, Björk, Tori Amos, Ani DiFranco, Michelle Branch, Natalie Imbruglia, Shawn Colvin, or that Lilith Queen Sarah McLachlan been lately? (Not to mention crossover country/pop divas Shania Twain & Faith Hill?) Chances are none of these names will mean much to you either- in 2027, especially. Only FA might survive- but as a jazz singer. But there are 2 oddly named female pop stars from the 1990s that are my bet to last- artistically & namewise- to 2027 & beyond. They are the Canadian brunet bombshell Alanis Morissette & the Alaskan blond burbler Jewel Kilcher. They have many similarities besides my picking them as being the only 1990s female pop ‘keepers’. They were born within a few days of each other: AM on 6/1/74 & JK on 5/23/74. They are both known primarily by their 1st names- Jewel is even JK’s professional name. Both released their 1st ‘mature albums’ in 1995, both albums sold over 10 million copies & made stars of both before they were 21. AM’s was Jagged Little Pill & JK’s was Pieces Of You. Their 2nd albums were released in 1998 & sold millions more, although both sold less than their debuts, although both were far stronger albums songwise. AM’s Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie & JK’s Spirit both had monster hits: Thank U & Hands (respectively). Both pop babes are pretty, but not classically good looking. AM has mumbo lips & braids down to her knees while JK has a big nose & golden tooth. Both have had success beyond their mature albums- AM with live records, 2 juvenile pop albums in Canada (Alanis & Now Is The Time- reminiscent of 1980s pop divas Debbie Gibson & Tiffany, the forebears of the aforementioned blond bubble gummers: there is hope!), & was a Canadian tv child star. JK sold millions of books of her teenaged doggerel (A Night Without Armor) & had live & Xmas CDs that sold a few million. Both are left wing idealists- AM because of her spiritual sojourning to the Subcontinent, & JK with assorted humanitarian projects. Both have recently released their 3rd mature albums- AM a few weeks ago, JK in late 2001. Neither is as good an album as their 2nd albums, although both show some growth in songwriting, if not musically. Both women approach 30 as the only hope the 1990s pop babe phenomenon will not be recalled as another passing fancy.
  The 90s were not the 1st awakening of pop singing females. The 1st great flowering was in the 1960s- led by women who were baby boomers & are now as revered as the overrated Bob Dylan, the underrated Jim Morrison, & the forgotten 60s pop band The Zombies, as great songwriters. Of course, I’m not referring to mere singers like Janis Joplin or Karen Carpenter (despite the ferocious power & transcendent beauty of their respective pipes), but to singer/songwriter babes like Judy Collins, Joan Baez, Carole King- & especially a duo that are the near earlier twins of AM & JK- respectively Patti Smith & Joni Mitchell. The pairing of AM with PS & JK with JM is not coincidental (in fact all 4 share similarities). Like AM, PS is brunet, & was known for her youthful anger & wildness- her band is considered a seminal punk band. AM’s You Oughta Know was the 90s anthem for the Angry Young Woman. Both women are considered ‘rockers’. PS, like JK, has published her doggerel. Like JK, JM is a blond who reached fame with her folk music & tales of poverty & café life. She, too, has published doggerel- though neither hers nor PS’s has sold a fraction of JK’s. Yet, 3 decades removed from their burst into pop consciousness, the punk PS & the folky JM are revered- their classic hits considered untouchable critically. Both have adoring fansites where folk drool over their every move. While the younger AM & JK also have devoted fansites this duo often draws critical ire that the older duo do not- nor have ever received. Generally, this criticism comes from critics who grew up with PS & JM, & think it heresy to compare such toddlers to their goddesses. I’m gonna do a side-by-side comparison of some of the songwriting abilities of the quartet- + some other noted songbirds of ‘The Greatest Generation’ of musicians: in rock-n-roll the 1960-early 1970s is considered untouchable. Acts such as the Beach Boys, Beatles, Rolling Stones, Yardbirds, Cream, Supremes, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Bob Dylan, The Doors, The Byrds, Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young, Jeff Beck, The Animals, Deep Purple, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, etc. are considered as gods.
  Before I get to demolishing the myth of the superior & ‘more relevant’ lyrics of the older duo, let me state- there are things I like about PS & JM- & their music. It simply is not superior (to a discerning ear) to anything AM or JK have achieved at this stage in their careers- not to mention the music of a # of the other 90s pop babes mentioned earlier. In fact, the younger duo’s songs are the equal or superior to the older duo’s- both at similar stages of their careers & overall. Another caveat- I will analyze just the song lyrics (I am an expert with words)- I’ve not the desire nor will too argue the more nebulous & almost totally subjective debate over excellence of the music- or not. Also, let me go on record as regards this quartet’s actual singing voices: PS is easily the least good vocalist. Compared to the others her voice lacks both range & power- & is fairly indistinguishable from many other screeching punk rockers. Regardless of quality AM, doubtless, has the most powerful voice in the quartet. So much so that it may be worth comparing her to black pop divas/screechers Whitney Houston & Mariah Carey, rather than the 3 others. Against WH & MC it is notable how much more interesting AM’s song choices are in comparison- + she’s not just a singer like them. Another comparison that works is comparing her pipes’ power with Janis Joplin’s. Clearly, JM’s voice has traversed the most ground- from folk to pop to show tunes to jazz. But her years of smoking have robbed the older JM of the range & power she may have developed. The oddest, & probably most distinct, voice is JK’s. While AM’s voice is far more powerful, JK’s voice warbles & is often used as an instrument in scat-like phrasings & yodels. As far as pure vocal talent, none reaches the divine levels of a Karen Carpenter, or the pre-rock Ella Fitzgerald- however, 1 look at the lyrics of the pap those 2 often sung will show that a great voice factors only so much into being a great musician. It’s true that some of the criticisms against AM & JK are true: AM needs to get beyond writing mostly about failed relationships & JK needs to get beyond her syrupy love ballads- but, neither PS’s nor JM’s lyrics stand out as being so much more well crafted.
  Let’s start with selections from AM’s & JK’s 1st albums. I aim to demonstrate the lyric equivalence &/or superiority of the younger duo to the older duo at both the same stages in their careers, at earlier spots in their careers, & overall. I will use well-known songs from all- to alleviate charges of choosing bad songs by 1 pair vs. good songs by the other pair. Here’s a 2 verse snippet from All I Really Want, from AM’s JLP:

And I am frightened by the corrupted ways of this land
If only I could meet the Maker
And I am fascinated by the spiritual man
I am humbled by his humble nature yeah

What I wouldn't give to find a soulmate
Someone else to catch this drift
And what I wouldn't give to meet a kindred

  This is AM, at 20, politically nailing the lack of spirit in the world & then segueing into a riff on the desire for love- a classic trope. But note how she rephrases the ‘catch my drift’ cliché & then implies lack of spirit by omitting the word after ‘kindred’- very clever- even poetic in its skill. This would be so-so poetry but lyrically it- pun intended- ROCKS. Here’s a stanza from Foolish Games, from JK’s POY:

You were always brilliant in the morning
Smoking your cigarettes, talking over coffee
You philosophies on art, Baroque moved you,
You loved Mozart and you'd speak of your loved ones
As I clumsily strummed my guitar
You'd teach me of honest things
Things that were daring, things that were clean
Things that knew what an honest dollar did mean
So I hid my soiled hands behind my back
Somewhere along the line I must've gone off track with you
Excuse me, think I've mistaken you for somebody else
Somebody who gave a damn,

Somebody more like myself

  JK is generally more ‘poetic’ in her lyrics than AM- who is more prosetic; but this song, often ridiculed for its piano, title, & some phrases is quite prosey. Well, granted, as poetry it’s also so-so, but lyrically it is a nice rebuke to an ex-lover. The unique things to the relationship described- that of an artiste to an ingenue- are much more than the standard I loved you, but you wronged me tripe that fills most pop & country songs. But, surely, you say- our older ladies handle such with much more aplomb & skill. We-ell….Here’s a stanza from PS’s Free Money, from Horses (1975)- when PS was 28 (born 12/30/46):

Oh, baby, it would mean so much to me,
Oh, baby, to buy you all the things you need for free.
I'll buy you a jet plane, baby,
Get you on a higher plane to a jet stream
And take you through the stratosphere
And check out the planets there and then take you down
Deep where it's hot, hot in Arabia, babia, then cool, cold fields of snow
And we'll roll, dream, roll, dream, roll, roll, dream, dream.
When we dream it, when we dream it, when we dream it,
We'll dream it, dream it for free, free money,
Free money, free money, free money, free money, free money, free money.

  Like AM she conflates politics with spirit & love, & like JK the song is addressed to a lover- or would-be lover. This from a legend? No neat turns of phrase ala AM, nor the detail of the relationship described- ala JK. Also larded with alot more clichés. I hear you grumbling a bit. You might say, ‘Well, PS was always overrated- but JM blows them all away.’ Let us now chronicle a stanza from a JM song. This from All I Want, from Blue (1971)- when JM was on her 3rd album- & also 28!

All I really really want our love to do
Is to bring out the best in me and in you too
All I really really want our love to do
Is to bring out the best in me and in you
I want to talk to you, I want to shampoo you
I want to renew you again and again
Applause, applause - life is our cause
When I think of your kisses
My mind see-saws
Do you see - do you see - do you see
How you hurt me baby
So I hurt you too
Then we both get so blue

  Note how it mimics AM’s song’s title. Truthfully this song is larded with even more clichés. On a purely word-choice level, this stanza & song is easily the worst of the 4 seen. Yet this is from an album almost universally hailed as ‘perfect’. I detect more than a little of the generationally disproportionate affection thing going on her. Pshaw!- you cry! That’s only 1 example. True. But, let’s go with another selection of 4 stanzas from AM, JK, PS, & JM, in order & without comment.

from You Oughta Know, JLP (1995)- AM @ 20

You seem very well, things look peaceful
I'm not quite as well, I thought you should know
Did you forget about me Mr. Duplicity
I hate to but you in the middle of dinner
It was a slap in the face how quickly I was replaced
Are you thinking of me when you fuck her

from You Were Meant For Me, POY (1995)- JK @ 20

Called my momma, she was out for a walk
Consoled a cup of coffee but it didn't wanna talk
Picked up a paper, it was more bad news
More hearts being broken or people being used
Put on my coat in the pouring rain
Saw a movie it just wasn't the same
'Cause it was happy and I was sad

It made me miss you oh so bad

from Because The Night, Easter (1978)- PS @ 32

with love we sleep
with doubt the vicious circle
turn and burns
without you I cannot live
forgive, the yearning burning
I believe it's time, too real to feel
so touch me now, touch me now, touch me now
because the night belongs to lovers ...

from The Crazy Cries Of Love, Taming The Tiger (1998)- JM @ 55

It was a dark and a stormy night
Everyone was at the wing-ding
They weren't the wing-ding type
So they went up on the train bridge
Where the weather was howling
And oh, oh, my my
When that train comes rolling by
No paper thin walls, no folks above
No one else can hear
The crazy cries of love

  Even diehards of PS & JM must admit that AM & JK have chops. Again, AM subverts expectations in lines 3-6. JK’s 1st 2 lines twist the familiar. PS’s most famous song, however- again- is filled with clichés- although some stanzas are a tad stronger. But note the age difference- especially to that of the 55 year old JM- who seems to have regressed lyrically- to a senescent infantilism. Again, the cries of unfair selection are raised. After all, You Oughta Know is AM’s best song; JK’s lyrics might be ok, but the song’s music & her singing style are too Betty Boopish; PS’s song is her attempt for Top 40- so naturally it is lame; & everyone knows JM’s been coasting on reputation for the last 20 years since her failed turn to jazz.
  Perhaps- but not likely. AM was criticized for having the F-word prominent in the stanza quoted above- especially for a smash hit like that. Well, let’s see how the eternally punk PS handles offensive words. This from Rock’N’Roll Nigger- also from Easter (1978):

I was lost in a valley of pleasure.
I was lost in the infinite sea.
I was lost, and measure for measure,
love spewed from the heart of me.
I was lost, and the cost,
and the cost didn't matter to me.
I was lost, and the cost
was to be outside society.

Jimi Hendrix was a nigger.
Jesus Christ and Grandma, too.
Jackson Pollock was a nigger.
Nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger,
nigger, nigger, nigger.

  This is not the N-word’s 1st nor last appearance in the song. Unlike AM’s singular fuck, nigger is just a chorus that drones. But, the alibiers say, it is a powerful ‘political statement’- ah, even here 1 cannot dodge the terrible conflation of art with politics, Let us go, now, to 1 of JM’s most famous ‘political’ songs. This from Big Yellow Taxi, Ladies Of The Canyon (1970)- JM @ 27:

They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique
And a swinging hot spot
Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got
Till it's gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
  No fair, they cry, the song is more about yearning & whimsy. How about her most famous song- Woodstock? (also from Ladies Of The Canyon): 

Then can I walk beside you
I have come here to lose the smog
And I feel to be a cog in something turning
Well maybe it is just the time of year
Or maybe it's the time of man
I don't know who l am
But you know life is for learning
We are stardust
We are golden
And we've got to get ourselves
Back to the garden

  Not bad-in fact- a lot better than some of the other stuff. But, is it an insurmountable hurdle for the younger duo to jump? This is from the 27 year old AM’s current album Under Rug Swept, the song 21 Things I Want in a Lover:

Do you derive joy when someone else succeeds?
Do you not play dirty when engaged in competition?
Do you have a big intellectual capacity but know that it alone does not equate wisdom?
Do you see everything as an illusion?
But enjoy it even though you are not of it?
Are you both masculine and feminine?
Politically aware?
And don't believe in capital punishment?

These are 21 things that I want in a lover
Not necessarily needs but qualities that I prefer

  Admit it- it’s not nearly what you’ve been led to believe about the old Golden Age pop divas vis-à-vis their descendants. the point I am trying to make is that the dismissal & ridicule that music critics often lob at AM & JK vs. PS or JM (or even contemporaries of the younger duo like Ani DiFranco or Natalie Merchant) does not hold up under real scrutiny. Its basis is in bias & mythologizing of a musical yore that never was- not in fact. Here’s JK getting political & personal. This from her current This Way album- the song is Serve The Ego:

Underneath the disco light
Everybody's feelin' all right
Get on your hands and knees
And praise the new deity
Serve the Ego
Serve the Ego

Two ships sailing on a neon sea
Eat the flesh, spit out the seeds
Feathered hair and lame heels
What turns me on is so surreal

  Again- this is very good lyric writing for songs. Note both AM’s & JK’s snippets are less strident politically- this due to the times they were written. But both are much more subtle (especially JK’s, which works on more than the stated level). Let’s do another comparison:
from Hands Clean, Under Rug Swept (2002)- AM @ 27 (re: statutory rape)

You're essentially an employee and I like you having to depend on me
You're kind of my protégé and one day you'll say you learned all you know from me
I know you depend on me like a young thing would to a guardian
I know you sexualize me like a young thing would and I think I like it
Ooh this could get messy
But ooh you don't seem to mind
Ooh don't go telling everybody
And overlook this supposed crime

from Hands, Spirit (1998)- JK @ 24 (re: existentialism)

I won't be made useless
I won't be idle with despair
I will gather myself around my faith
For light does the darkness most fear

My hands are small, I know
But they're not yours, they are my own
But they're not yours, they are my own
and I am never broken

from Dead City, Peace & Noise (1997)- PS @ 51 (re: social commentary)

This dead city longs to be
This dead city longs to be free
Seven screaming horses
Melt down in the sun
Building scenes on empty dreams
And smoking them one by one

from Chelsea Morning, Clouds (1969)- JM @ 26 (re: the city)

Now the curtain opens on a portrait of today
And the streets are paved with passersby
And pigeons fly
And papers lie
Waiting to blow away

Woke up, it was a Chelsea morning, and the first thing that I knew
There was milk and toast and honey and a bowl of oranges, too
And the sun poured in like butterscotch and stuck to all my senses
Oh, won't you stay
We'll put on the day
And we'll talk in present tenses

  You scream: But the songs are about different things! There’s no way to compare them! But, that just makes my argument about the unfair comparisons AM & JK get re: not living in IMPORTANT TIMES like the 60s- although only Baby Boomers see their time as epochal. Look at how AM directly addresses, then feints away from a powerful subject, & how JK inverts clichés & the expected: why would anyone question the possession of their own hands? Very sly. PS’s lyric is merely recycled Beatnik crap- this from a song on her ‘comeback’ album- the musings of someone ½ a century old- hmmm. JM fares a little better- the last line quoted is a nice inversion from another of her famous songs. Bah, you say, I don’t buy what my mind is telling me! OK. We’ve seen PS’s & JM’s take on the urban- let’s see JK’s:

from Who Will Save Your Soul?, POY (1995)- JK @ 21

Who will save your soul when it comes to the flower
Who will save your soul after all the lies that you told, boy
Who will save your soul if you won't save your own?
We try to hustle them, try to bustle them, try to cuss them
The cops want someone to bust down on Orleans Avenue
Another day, another dollar, another war, another tower
Went up to where the homeless had their homes
So we pray to as many gods are there are flowers
But we call religion our friend
We're so worried about saving our souls
Afraid that God will take His toll
That we forget to begin

from Cleveland, This Way (2001)- JK @27

I wanna tell  you everything
I wanna make your toes curl
You be my only boy
And I'll be your only girl
This much I'd like to say
But you're in Cleveland today

Stewardesses like Cosmo magazine
Vogue makes me nervous, I feel so plain
But I could face the world fearlessly
If you would face it here with me
With just our four hands and four eyes
Traffic cops would compromise
  I know- you’re getting more & more frustrated with how you bought in to the BS your elders foisted on you. Take heart- it was the same way when their parents told them that Dylan & The Beatles could not compare to Sinatra & the Dorsey Brothers. Still not convinced? Perhaps, you say, you are right about the dissing heaped on AM & JK- it’s unfair. & perhaps PS & JM are very overrated- but there are other female singer/songwriters to contend with. True- let’s look at some. Here’s Judy Collins’ song Who Knows Where The Time Goes (in toto):

Across the morning sky,
All the birds are leaving,
Ah, how can they know it's time to go?
Before the winter fire,
We'll still be dreaming.
I do not count the time
Who knows where the time goes?
Who knows where the time goes?

Sad deserted shore,
Your fickle friends are leaving,
Ah, but then you know it's time for them to go,
But I will still be here,
I have no thought of leaving.
I do not count the time
Who knows where the time goes?
Who knows where the time goes?

And I'm not alone,
When my love is near me,
And I know,it will be so,till it's time to go,
So come the storms of winter,
and then the birds of spring again.
I do not feel the time
Who knows how my love grows?
Who knows where the time goes?

La la la la la la......
Um um um um ........
Du du du du du.........
Ah ah ah ah ah......
Um um um um.......

  Astonishing depth, eh? How about JC’s most famous tune Send In The Clowns (in toto)?

Isn’t it rich
Are we a pair
Me here at last on the ground
You in mid-air
Where are the clowns

Isn’t it bliss
Don’t you approve
One who keeps tearing around
One who can’t move
Where are the clowns
Send in the clowns 


Just when I’d stopped opening doors
Finally knowing the one that I wanted was yours
Making my entrance again with my usual flair
Sure of my lines
No one is there

Don’t you love farce
My fault, I fear
I thought that you’d want what I want
Sorry, my dear
But where are the clowns
Send in the clowns
Don’t bother, they’re here

(Instrumental break) 

Isn’t it rich
Isn’t it queer
Losing my timing this late in my career
But where are the clowns
There ought to be clowns
Well, maybe next year...

  An improvement, yes? Guess what? It was written by-   you got it- Stephen Sondheim for his Broadway musical A Little Night Music. & the previous song? It was also not penned by JS- but by a Sandy Denny in 1967. Starting to sweat? How about Carole King (neé Klein)- she actually wrote & sung (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman (although covered by Aretha Franklin & others):

Looking out on the morning rain
I used to feel uninspired
And when I knew I had to face another day
Lord, it made me feel so tired
Before the day I met you, life was so unkind
but your love was the key to my peace of mind

cause you make me feel
you make me feel
you make me feel
like a natural woman

And when my soul was in the lost-and-found
You came along to claim it
I didn't know just what was wrong with me
till your kiss helped me name it

now I'm no longer doubtful
of what I'm living for
cause if I make you happy I don't need to do more

you make me feel
you make me feel
you make me feel
like a natural woman

oh baby what you've done to me (what you've done to me)
you make me feel so good inside (good inside)
and I just wanna be (wanna be)
close to you you make me feel so alive

you make me feel
you make me feel
you make me feel
like a natural, natural woman

you make me feel
you know you make me feel
you make me feel
like a natural woman

you know you
you make me feel
you make me feel
you make me feel
like a natural woman

natural woman

  Such pro-femina self-affirmation. Now, really compare those lyrics in toto with AM’s Thank U (SFIJ- 1998):

How 'bout getting off these antibiotics
How 'bout stopping eating when I'm full up
How 'bout them transparent dangling carrots
How 'bout that ever elusive kudo

Thank you india
Thank you terror
Thank you disillusionment
Thank you frailty
Thank you consequence
Thank you thank you silence 

How 'bout me not blaming you for everything
How 'bout me enjoying the moment for once
How 'bout how good it feels to finally forgive you
How 'bout grieving it all one at a time 

Thank you india
Thank you terror
Thank you disillusionment
Thank you frailty
Thank you consequence
Thank you thank you silence 

The moment I let go of it was the moment
I got more than I could handle
The moment I jumped off of it
Was the moment I touched down 

How 'bout no longer being masochistic
How 'bout remembering your divinity
How 'bout unabashedly bawling your eyes out
How 'bout not equating death with stopping 

Thank you india
Thank you providence
Thank you disillusionment
Thank you nothingness
Thank you clarity
Thank you thank you silence

  Is there really any doubt that AM’s lyrics are far superior? Believe me, I like Carole King & think she has a great voice. But it is the voice- not the lyrics- which make or break that song, & most songs. Here’s another snippet from the CK classic You’ve Got A Friend:

When you're down and troubled
and you need a helping hand
and nothing, whoa nothing is going right.
Close your eyes and think of me
and soon I will be there
to brighten up even your darkest nights.


  Let me pull a trick from the basket of the PC Elitists & contrast this rather bland sentimental snippet from an OK song with what is probably the best song (lyrically & musically) on AM’s last album Under Rug Swept, Precious Illusions:

You'll rescue me right? in the exact same way they never did.
I'll be happy right? when your healing powers kick in 

You'll complete me right? then my life can finally begin
I'll be worthy right? only when you realize the gem I am? 

But this won't work now the way it once did
And I won't keep it up even though I would love to
Once I know who I'm not then I'll know who I am
But I know I won't keep on playing the victim 

These precious illusions in my head did not let me down when I was defenseless
And parting with them is like parting with invisible best friends 

This ring will me yet as will you knight in shining armor
This pill will help me yet as will these boys gone through like water 

But this won't work as well as the way it once did
'Cause I want to decide between survival and bliss
And though I know who I'm not I still don't know who I am
But I know I won't keep on playing the victim 

These precious illusions in my head did not let me down when I was a kid
And parting with them is like parting with a childhood best friend 

I've spent so long firmly looking outside me
I've spent so much time living in survival mode
But this won't work now the way it once did
'Cause I want to decide between survival and bliss
And though I know who I'm not I still don't know who I am
But I know I won't keep on playing the victim 

These precious illusions in my head did not let me down when I was defenseless
And parting with them is like parting with invisible best friends
These precious illusions in my head did not let me down when I was a kid
And parting with them is like parting with a childhood best friend

  OK, CK’s song encourages dependence of the worst sort- a cardinal sin amongst the PC, while AM’s is a song about discovering independence; always a boon- especially if about women. But, really look at the lyrics in any of these stanzas vis-à-vis CK’s snippet or the full (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman. Be honest- there’s no comparison. Perhaps you can retort that CK was always a Top 40 pop act- how about a real ‘Folky’? OK, let’s take a gander at this folk classic:


Honest  Lullaby


Early early in the game
I taught myself to sing and play
And use a little trickery
On kids who never favored me
Those were years of crinoline slips
And cotton skirts and swinging hips
And dangerously painted lips
And stars of stage and screen
Pedal pushers, ankle socks
Padded bras and campus jocks
Who hid their vernal equinox
In pairs of faded jeans
And slept at home resentfully
Coveting their dreams


And often have I wondered
How the years and I survived
I had a mother who sang to me
An honest lullaby


Yellow, brown, and black and white
Our Father bless us all tonight
I bowed my head at the football games
And closed the prayer in Jesus' name
Lusting after football heroes
tough Pachuco, little Neroes
Forfeiting my A's for zeroes
Futures unforeseen
Spending all my energy
In keeping my virginity
And living in a fantasy
In love with Jimmy Dean
If you will be my king, Jimmy, Jimmy,
I will be your queen


And often have I wondered
How the years and I survived
I had a mother who sang to me
An honest lullaby


I travelled all around the world
And knew more than the other girls
Of foreign languages and schools
Paris, Rome and Istanbul
But those things never worked for me
The town was much too small you see
And people have a way of being
Even smaller yet
But all the same though life is hard
And no one promised me a garden
Of roses, so I did okay
I took what I could get
And did the things that I might do
For those less fortunate


And often have I wondered
How the years and I survived
I had a mother who sang to me
An honest lullaby


Now look at you, you must be growing
A quarter of an inch a day
You've already lived near half the years
You'll be when you go away
With your teddy bears and alligators
Enterprise communicators
All the tiny aviators head into the sky
And while the others play with you
I hope to find a way with you
And sometimes spend a day with you
I'll catch you as you fly
Or if I'm worth a mother's salt
I'll wave as you go by


And if you should ever wonder
How the years and you'll survive
Honey, you've got a mother who sings to you
Dances on the strings for you
Opens her heart and brings to you
An honest lullaby

  OK, this is better than CK’s lyrics- AHA!, you shout- but there are any # of clichés- go ahead & count them yourself. Who is it? None other than Folky extraordinaire Joan Baez! Compare that to this bit from JK’s song Innocence Maintained, Spirit (1998):

ophelia drowned in the water
crushed by her own weight
hitler loved little blue-eyed boys
and it drove him to hate
birds always grow silent before the night descends
'cause nature has a funny way of breaking what does not bend

  Both songs are about breaks with the past & a yearn for return to it. While JB’s is good, I think JK’s is better & is more sweeping- in just this stanza vs. the whole JB song. Over & again, I maintain that all of the so-called excellence & ‘Golden Age’ of female musicianship of the 60s is merely the predictable product of a generational need to justify its place in history. Just as Tom Brokaw’s Greatest Generation of WW2 MUST BE greater than the slaggards from the 60s Free Love Generation, so does that generation stake its claim by overinflating its (especially female) musicians’ relevance & excellence vis-à-vis the 90s-00s generation of songstresses. This is due to the relative paucity of feminine influence on rock-n-roll (& pop) music in general, no doubt.
  Note, too, how often the older generation’s defenders (& critics of the younger generation) often resort to diminishing the musician’s bios. Now, I think such has a dubious relevance to any artist’s art- & truthfully almost all musicians like to exploit their ‘struggles’ & exploits. This quartet is no different. PS’s pre-rock bio is common knowledge: She was born on December 30, 1946 in Chicago, & raised in New Jersey. She is an icon for that state’s ‘Working Class’ persona- ala Bruce Springsteen & Jon Bon Jovi. Her mom was a waitress & jazz chanteuse, while her dad was a corporate drone. She took early refuge in the rebellious personae of queer poetic badboy Arthur Rimbaud, Bob Dylan, & the Rolling Stones (PS is often referred to as ‘Mick Jagger with tits’). Before turning to poetry & music she moved to New York City & shacked up with infamous pedophilic photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. This association with ‘the dark side’- of course, lends PS relevance, & makes her ‘streetwise’, even though (ala her Beatnik heroes) she was a suburban middle class brat growing up.
  Equally iconized are the roots of JM: born Roberta Joan Anderson on November 7, 1943, in Fort Macleod, Alberta, Canada. Her parents were a grocer (Bill) & teacher  (Myrtle). They moved to North Battleford, Saskatchewan after the end of World War 2, then to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan when she was a child. This non-Americanism allowed Joni to claim the mantel of nature-lover, earth-goddess, etc. more easily than her urban American counterparts: Judy Collins, Joan Baez, Carole King, PS, etc. Paradoxically, this ideal as a nature-lover allowed her to claim to be a truthteller, just as PS’s urban Americanism allowed her- or so their backers believe.
  This contrasts mightily with the younger duo’s well-known bios. AM (born 6/1/74) is dismissed as an ‘angry young woman’ with nothing to be angry about- all she writes about is failed relationships, etc. Well, we’ve seen that that is not true. Also, being a child tv star, & dance diva is so ‘artificial’. Although Canadian, she is not ‘real’- she grew up in Ottawa, after all! & all that spiritualism is a blatant attempt to cozy up to impressionable youngsters. Huh?
  JK’s past is even more well known (via JK): Born on May 23, 1974, to parents Atz Kilcher & Lenedra Carroll (now her business manager), in Payson, Utah, & moved to Anchorage, Alaska, where JK grew up on an 800+ acre farm tending to horses, haying, working in the family's garden, & traveling across the state singing with her father & siblings (her parents divorced when JK was young & her dad got custody). JK then hit the road to tour, was very poor, & lived in a van- this being the touchstone moment that makes her detractors gag. Oddly, all of this does not give JK the credence to be a Mitchellian earth-mother, nor the street smarts so Smithian- odd!
  PS- so sassy & streetsmart- must have depths to tell about love- no? Again, from her most famous tune- Because The Night

have I doubt when I'm alone
love is a ring, the telephone
love is an angel disguised as lust
here in our bed until the morning comes
come on now try and understand
the way I feel under your command
take my hand as the sun descends
they can't touch you now,
can't touch you now, can't touch you now
because the night belongs to lovers ...

  Surely, the callow AM & JK cannot say anything so ‘raw’. Here’s a snip from JK’s Jupiter, from Spirit:
my hands are two travelers they've crossed oceans and lands 
yet they are too small on the continent of your skin 
wandering, wandering 
i could spend my life 
traveling the length of your body each night 

  Or, from Cleveland, from This Way:


From the air things look so ridiculous
Our fears so small our fights so vain
I want to pilot a plane with you
So all our problems look small too
It's just an inch from me to you
Depending on what map you use  

  Are not JK’s descriptions of love & lust much more poetically conceited (in the best sense of the term?). Let’s see some snips from some AM love songs. This from You Oughta Know, from JLP:

'Cause the joke that you laid in the bed that was me
And I'm not gonna fade
As soon as you close your eyes and you know it
And every time I scratch my nails down someone else's back
I hope you feel it...well can you feel it

And I'm here to remind you
Of the mess you left when you went away
It's not fair to deny me
Of the cross I bear that you gave to me
You, you, you oughta know

  Or, from Your House, JLP:

I burned your incense
I ran a bath
I noticed a letter than sat on your desk
It said "Hello love,
I love you so, love,
Meet me at midnight"
And no, it wasn't my writing
I better go soon
It wasn't my writing

So forgive me love
If I cry in your shower
So forgive me love
For the salt in your bed
So forgive me love
If I cry all afternoon
  Or from So Unsexy, URS:

Oh these little projections, how they keep springing from me
I jump my ship as I take it personally
Oh these little rejections how they disappear quickly
The moment I decide not to abandon me


I can feel so unsexy for someone so beautiful 
So unlov-ed for someone so fine
I can feel so boring for someone so interesting 
So ignorant for someone of sound mind


  Now, let’s get political with 2 snippets from 2 of JM’s most famous songs. This from Big Yellow Taxi:
They took all the trees
Put 'em in a tree museum
And they charged the people
A dollar and a half just to see 'em
Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got
Till it's gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

  This from Woodstock:

By the time we got to Woodstock
We were half a million strong
And everywhere there was song and celebration
And I dreamed I saw the bombers
Riding shotgun in the sky
And they were turning into butterflies
Above our nation
We are stardust
Billion year old carbon
We are golden
Caught in the devil's bargain
And we've got to get ourselves
Back to the garden

  Let us now turn to JK. From Innocence Maintained, from Spirit:

a hero's torso built of steel and novocain 
his heart a bitter beat inside a bloodless frame 
there was a hole inside his soul a manicure could not fill 
so he found himself a whore to love 
while daisies choked in the window sill

  How about AM? From Hands Clean, from URS (in a pedophile’s voice):      
If it weren't for your maturity none of this would have happened
If you weren't so wise beyond your years I would've been able to control myself
If it weren't for my attention you wouldn't have been successful and
If it weren't for me you would never have amounted to very much 

Ooh this could get messy
But ooh you don't seem to mind
Ooh don't go telling everybody
And overlook this supposed crime

  Or, from, Narcissus, URS:

Dear egotist boy you've never really had to suffer any consequence
You've never stayed with anyone longer than ten minutes
You'd never understand anyone showing resistance
Dear popular boy I know you're used to getting everything so easily
A stranger to the concept of reciprocity
People honor boys like you in this society

  Or, from All I Really Want, JLP:

Enough about me, let's talk about you for a minute
Enough about you, let's talk about life for a while
The conflicts, the craziness and the sound of pretenses
Falling all around...all around

Why are you so petrified of silence
Here can you handle this? Did you think about your bills, your ex, your deadlines
Or when you think you're gonna die
Or did you long for the next distraction

  The case seems pretty much well made. B-b-b-but, say detractors, didn’t AM’s 1st 2 albums make use of musician/songwriter Glen Ballard? Well, yes- but as a producer & polisher of the songs- the lyrics are quintessentially Alanis. Besides, all of the other females mentioned have used collaborators in many of their songs- some even covering songs. No matter how you approach the matter, the single biggest defining issue regarding the old vs. new wave of female singer/songwriters is the pernicious ‘My Generation’ pap. AM’s lyrics have even gotten her a parody site from the Brunching Shuttlecocks, called the Alanis Morissette Random Lyric Generator: http://www.brunching.com/toys/toy-alanislyrics.html . The formula is this: Enter 1 thing you hate, 6 plural nouns associate with that thing, your favorite color & poet, the name of an ex-lover, then choose a title from: I Think; Will To Live; or Why; press the button You Oughta Submit, & voila! It’s a funny site, but truthfully makes use of only 2 or 3 songs from AM’s 1st album. Similar games could be run on JM &- especially- PS or Carole King, to much greater success. But, that’s part of the fun Baby Boomers like to inflict on their younger footstep followers.
  Music critics are notoriously bad- rivaling even poetry critics in their uselessness- although, music- really- could do without critics far more than poetry. Poetry’s critics suck ass to an Academic & Outsider elite who represent a very marginalized core. Music critics have almost ZERO effect on honorifics, & even less on sales. Perhaps the only arts where criticism has a relevance is the visual arts- both painting, & especially film- which (surprise, surprise) is the easiest (for its accessibility) of the arts to criticize. But music- people like what they like & don’t give a damn that the critics stroke themselves over the awful alternadronings of an Ani DiFranco or Björk. Even the lay ear knows bad when it hears it- in fact, most music critics are so out of touch with the masses that they cannot face the fact that the reason most ‘alternative’ music acts do not get airplay (even admitting that various forms of payola still exist) nor become million-sellers, is that their music plain old sucks! Despite how the critics rave about it!
  I’ve heard & read the lyrics to songs by Ani DiFranco & I can tell you- she can’t hold a candle to AM or JK- lyrically or musically. Part of her appeal- &, indeed, of all the 90s pop babes- was that after years of testosteronic hard rock, heavy metal, & rap she/they were a breath of newness. Especially coming on the heels of early 90s grunge. But, in 20 years she will be long forgotten- can anyone say Jessica Simpson (with body piercings)? AM & JK, meanwhile, will be far more appreciated, & hold spots right next to- or above- PS & JM. The reason is simple- they are the cream of the 1990s pop babe crop- mixing occasional depth with mass appeal. Both could be pretty good poets if they were to abandon music. Lyrically, AM brings to mind the old Lizard King- Jim Morrison- 1 of the few songwriters not welded to rhyming every lyric, as is AM. & JK- despite her childhood doggerel book of verse- could be a better poet than 90% of the published poets out there. Comparing her lyrics to JM’s books of lyrics & poems makes my claim for JK ring even truer. That said, some of the demerits in their music that critics point to is true. & their latest albums are a bit of a comedown from their 2nd albums. AM’s URS relies too heavily on shiny, spangly, synthesized sounds where alternating harder & softer (a capella) approaches would have heightened some of the stellar lyrics. Without her longtime producer Ballard, AM seems to have chosen the insistently safe middle ground- musically. She also needs to let her musical chops strut their stuff more- this last album is too soft & subdued. Lyrically, AM also needs to put her Confessionalism under wraps- she needs to explore more diverse themes- lest risk resembling the tripe PS has churned out the last 2 decades. JK also played it much safer on her last album. Lyrically she needs to dash her relentless PC & obsessions with God, ‘fragile flames’, & sappy love ballads. She does unleash a bit more throatiness at times, but she did not push herself musically the way she needed to- or at least equal to the growth she showed lyrically. Again, the lack of musical growth that JM has shown the last quarter century should provide ample warning for JK. Yet, in truth- these flaws pale in contrast to the overall quality of both CDs. Both AM & JK can hold their own- & then some- with their lionized predecessors, PS & JM- both of whom I could nitpick apart more easily; not to mention any of the other female musicians I’ve mentioned in this essay. In short, don’t let me, vapid stoned out music critics stuck in their teen obsessions, assorted PR, etc. sway you from forming your own opinions regarding music. Often, as I’ve demonstrated, the ‘purported’ common sense is flat-out wrong. Usually its error is the product of political bias, or more likely the green-eyed war of the generations. The aging always fear acknowledging a younger person’s superiority will cast them into irrelevance. This is nonsense, of course- but it is the motivation: be it when discussing the rock era’s songstresses or the import to world history of assorted generations. So, the next time you wanna vomit being told that your posse can’t compare to your daddy’s or your granddaddy’s, don’t feel bad about it. You’re right! Now, will someone go & slap the smirk off of Tom Brokaw’s mug for me?!

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