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Alanis Morissette Reaps 'Havoc' ... and Happiness

Once anxious, now secure, a '90s icon mulls motherhood, changing gender roles and touring family-style

By Litsa Dremousis
Special to MSN Music

Alanis Morissette (©Williams & Hirakawa)

When Alanis Morissette discusses "harmony," "wholeness" and "self-knowledge" during a recent phone conversation, one might be tempted to smirk if the Grammy-winning songstress weren't so straightforward. It is perhaps ironic that Morissette, whose smash "Ironic" is among her numerous hits that helped define the '90s and propel her worldwide album sales past 60 million, is almost achingly sincere. Morissette's enthusiasm for discussing the human condition while promoting her new album, "Havoc and Bright Lights," is refreshingly kinetic rather than cloying, though. The woman who once famously embodied the scorned ex-girlfriend in her searing "You Oughta Know" might be a new mom with a loving husband now, but one still detects a healthy combustion when she discusses the evolving roles of women and men.

As she prepared to tour across North America and through Brazil, Morissette discussed how her marriage to hip-hop artist MC Souleye, who will open for her at each stop, enriches rather than stunts her music, why she would want to have dinner with John Lennon, and the importance of allowing alpha women and beta men to circumvent traditional expectations. She seemed at ease throughout and was quite kind when she heard one's dog bark through the receiver.

MSN Music: "Guardian," the first single and video off "Havoc and Bright Lights," seems very much about protecting the vulnerable, particularly as a mother does for her child. You seem to embrace the changes motherhood brings. Is that true?

Alanis Morissette: Um, "embrace" might be a little bit of a feisty word [laughs]. Maybe "taken along with the storm"? Yeah, sometimes "embrace" and sometimes I feel like I'm on top of the wave, in the middle of the crest, and other times, it just depends when you catch me.

If you'd said, "Oh, I love the smell of dirty diapers!" I would have been skeptical [laughs].

I was so ready to become a mom. Actually, I was ready secondarily to become a mom. I was so ready to have the intimacy and commitment of marriage. Because intellectually, I really grokked what it was to have this partnership and this feeling where you can help each other out, after that whole power struggle phase. Now to be able to experience it, even when it's really hard, I feel like I'm in the game now. I'm not just standing on the sidelines.

Bing: More on Alanis Morissette 

A number of your peers, in terms of chronology and success and/or notoriety, wrote about how motherhood changed them: Madonna, Lauryn Hill, Liz Phair, Courtney Love. But the only male artist of renown I can think of who wrote about the way fatherhood changed him is John Lennon. Why do you think that is?

The feminine. It's the feminine. When people ask me who I'd want to have dinner with, dead or alive, I always say, "John Lennon." I just feel that he was an artist who was, in his own way, committed to wholeness and authenticity in a not dissimilar way that I am years later. For him to embrace the beta role with Yoko, I think that's the new model. He was ahead of his time. The new paradigm is that the alpha woman is embraced and celebrated and championed, versus being burned at the stake and having her head chopped off.

Yoko made that same point recently, that he was the first househusband and now we're seeing everyone catch up 30 years later.

Right. Frankly, a lot of men were already doing it, but they were doing it in great shame. And now men are being thanked. Instead of having to provide the proverbial bacon -- they're still providing the veggie bacon [laughs] -- but it's showing up in different forms. It's not just cash. I couldn't be touring unless my husband was on the road with me, taking care of our son while I'm onstage and doing interviews. I couldn't be doing what I'm doing right now without my husband, so if he were to have the old mindset that he could only contribute by putting cash in my pocket, then I'd be screwed.

From what I read on your blog, your enthusiasm for touring doesn't seem to have dampened. Is it because, at this stage, you can take a few years off in between so there's not that constant grind of the road anymore?

Yup. There are more breaks, so there's more recharging of batteries. I'm actually better at being out on the road and taking my 11 minutes here and my six minutes there. I'm better at self-care. And the most important part, I think, is I always wanted to get off the road so I could tend to my personal life, the small, little pieces that remained [laughs]. Now, my family comes with me, so I'm invigorated and have this huge passion again for touring because my life comes with me and I don't need to run home as much as perhaps I used to.

Your husband sounds wonderful. And by the way, I realize it's a little ridiculous to congratulate men for doing the same stuff women have done forever, but it is great that he does it.

I think what we want to congratulate women for is not being apologetic for being alpha. We're not getting killed for being alpha anymore. And we want to congratulate men for being beta and not being ashamed of it. Men got their asses kicked in much similar ways for being who they were. They were called p--sies and bullied and pushed around and made fun of. I think where the bad rep came from is alpha men did not want to deal with alpha women in the professional context. Alpha men are very turned on by the alpha woman, really high chemistry, really fun to work with, probably really fun to have affairs with, but there's not sustainable harmony in that lack of complement. There can only be one person in the driver's seat.

Now, in the new era, you can flip it, but there's an understanding of who's going to be alpha and who's going to be beta in general. So I think the problem was women were sold a bill of goods and told we had to be beta, even if we were alpha. I would wear my little beta outfit [laughs] and try to do it, and then every relationship would wither and die because I couldn't stay in my alpha. I think the alpha men wanted to kill the alpha women because they were threatened, but it's funny because there are beta women out there that kick ass at supporting their man's mission. It's about more self-knowledge. That's why I'm obsessed with entering into conversation with people where we have to inquire about who we really, authentically are, because it will set us up for life.

Litsa Dremousis' work also appears in The Believer, Esquire, Jezebel, Huffington Post, McSweeney's, New York Magazine, The Onion's A.V. Club, Slate on KUOW, NPR, and in sundry other venues. She is completing her first novel. On Twitter: @LitsaDremousis

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Sep 2, 2012 6:17AM
She "grokked"!  I love her music more than ever now!
Aug 29, 2012 7:02AM
A has been of the 90's ! why bring her back up from the grave, has to be something better to write in the news about.....
Aug 28, 2012 9:34PM
I like Morissette but don't necessarily agree with her point of view of marriage.  Everyone, especially women, get into these battles about there role as  a parent (alpha versus beta).  That works for couples who can afford to have a spouse stay at home.  But there are a lot of couples where they both must work to make ends meet and work together to be there for the kids and bring home the bacon regardless of their gender.  For these couples gender roles are not even a valid discussion.
Aug 28, 2012 9:21PM
John Lennon had already made enough money for him and Yoko to live comfortably for the rest of their lives. He might've let Yoko sit in the driver's seat, but it was HIS car. The only reason anyone paid attention to her was because of her relationship with John. It's not as though she was ever successful on her own. At that point he was just basically semi-retired. 
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