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Susan Wise Bauer

Corporate-sponsored Spontaneity

The marketing of Alanis Morissette.

I listen to alternative rock when I get the chance. I'm not a CD buyer, so I mostly listen in the car. And now I have kids, so my radio time has been severely curtailed. ("Mommy, what does 'I was afraid of your seduction' mean?" "Hush up and eat your Chicken McNuggets.")

I know two Alanis Morissette songs, though, so when BOOKS & CULTURE asks me to watch her HBO concert, an hour-long promotion for her latest album, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, I say yes. When I get the tape, I curl up on the sofa to watch it. I have the words to the new album so that I can follow along (not the typical Alanis-concert experience). My husband wanders in, so I watch Alanis with someone who loves me (also not ideal).

Alanis is chattering to a video DJ in a preshow interview, and the talk is vacuous, personal, simpering, and inarticulate; all gestures, facial expressions, and body movements. She's playing God, I discover, in Kevin Smith's forthcoming movie Dogma. The movie is a comedy of sorts, and she treats her appearance lightly. The camera cuts to her fans, waiting in line. "We're all a family!" shrieks one girl, before others jostle her aside to get on camera.

The camera shifts to the Rosemont ballroom in New York. Alanis is pacing up and down just offstage while the band whips the crowd into screaming, standing chaos. When she's ready, she charges into a roar of approval and band noise, checkered by flashing strobes and constantly moving spots. I don't catch any words to the song until halfway though the first verse. "I've watched them leave their families in pursuit of your nirvana," Alanis sings, walking backwards, bent double. "How much will this cost, guru? How much longer 'til you completely absolve me?"

I find this song on page 2 of my lyrics. Alanis is dissing Eastern mysticism, which is a nice departure from the alternative standard. "I've heard them rotely repeat your teachings with elitism," she bellows, still walking backwards. "I've seen their upward glances in hopes ...

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