This starts off cutting, but I promise it gets kinder.
The first time I heard you was in my Mum’s shit hot Carona with a custom fitted bonnet to rival any street car – we were quite the envy of my peers. No we weren’t. The bonnet was white, the car – cream biscuit beige. Thankfully it was an era where even rich people had bungers, though my Dad’s bright green Kingswood was a mortifying exception and the bane of my teenage existence. Nothing dents a developing confidence like being dropped off to parties in an apple on wheels. Of the two crap choices Mum’s shitty multicoloured meep-meep and her four dollar radio was the less crapper mode of transportation. And your music was less scratchy out of her wireless than my Dad’s. They both listened to the same hits-for-the-oldies station and it was in the creamy Carona where I heard You Oughta Know and that was your first strike with me.
The second was when I saw you on Rage and things just got weird. Everything about you – was me to the point it felt like you’d stolen my identity and I sure as shit did not want to be associated with some frantic, Top 40 doppelganger being thrashed on commercial radio so often – even baby-boomers knew the words to your songs. I couldn’t align with someone that my mother would sing along too! It was all way too much for an anti-everything-too-cool-for-school-triple-J teen!
My refusal to jump on your bandwagon was not an isolated sentiment. Australians are a fairly skeptical bunch. And in an uber skeptical, all-knowing-know-all-youthy climate, it seemed like you were attempting to represent and profit off a generation of pissed off gen x girls of which I was very much a proud advocate. The war-cry of the self-centred 90’s girl:
Who the hell asked you to speak for me?
What I didn’t realise of course was you were echoing things that hadn’t happened to me yet, and by the time they did your musical penny dropped like a bomb.
But I was a confusing little contradiction. At that stage I was Sub Pop driven and wanted to be left alone and write shitty poetry and you seemed like a suspicious shade of mainstream. I didn’t need you, or your catty music to shine a light on the unchecked madness of my sex when betrayed by the opposite sex – a real and devastatingly regular reality for insecure, unlucky-in-anything-resembling-“normal”-love me.
Quick pause – I still had not listened to a damned word you were singing – which were almost the identical sentiments I was echoing a hemisphere away! Read on… it really does get better.
But people began comparing me to you almost instantly at a time I was desperate to disappear, find my way, find my people and fit in. I wanted to go under the radar, underground and wanted no association to someone I’d begun to seriously resent. Which looking back as an adult – makes stuff-all sense – you were gorgeous, brighter, prettier, smarter, thinner and way more majestic than any of my lummoxness.
But what began innocently as occasional comments of,
“Oh wow, you look like Alanis Morisette”
began to morph into a weird form of harassment. A celebrity status I didn’t earn, nor want. It was great when your fans would approach with compliments and on closer inspection realise – besides the hair & the mouth we really didn’t look much alike. Not so much for the haters, particularly those who would accost me in nightclubs, flick my hair and slur abuse like they were actually speaking to you! I even went to a tribute show and the singer who mimicked you brilliantly – couldn’t stop staring and seemed irritated I was there. It was seriously a weird time.
We were around the same age, with same hair, same smile, same false aloofness and same self-loathsome creed. An identity I had worked hard to achieve and one I could deliver confidently. Problem was everyone thought I had stolen it from you and even worse – was trying to be you.
It took me yonks to understand how cool you really were. Just a shorter, more articulately ventier, Canadian version of myself – (and from my hind-sighted adult perspective) a closeted hippy, looking for real experiences, respectful relationships, questioning the hypocrisy of the world and letting everyone hear about it. Loudly.
The difference was you had way more life experience, actual talent and the platform of fame to share those protests. I, on the other hand – had late night ramblings from a pine podium of misty carpark balustrades, in between sucking down bongs and mowing filet-o-fishes. The only fame I knew was at the Maccas drive-through.
Two random things switched my dislike to adoration.
First – in a morning-after coma – one of your songs came on Video-bloody-hits and on closer inspection it felt like I knew you. Other than encyclopedias – I have no idea how I researched anything as a kid, and it’s not like I googled you – but somehow I found out you were one of my favourite’s on You Can’t do that on television. Suddenly I looked at you differently. Yes. Weird.
Second – It wasn’t until the Greek I was in love with said I reminded him of you and that he liked you because you reminded him of me. Swoon! So I begged my parents for a birthday guitar, took out a vendetta on hairdressers, grew my locks to my arse, bought a polyester beanie from Kmart, a pair of Doc Martin boots and upped my grunge game. I memorised every song you wrote, hit every notey, screechy quiver and sung my lungs out to the dust packed stadium of my folks living room.
I never learned how to play that guitar. I did teach myself the beginning of Given to Fly by Pearl Jam and that is literally all she wrote musically. It sits in my kids playroom. I hear it twanging out of tune every now and then and hope one of them will pick it up, because quite frankly I can neither afford or be arsed taxi-ing them to another extracurricular activity – so a heavy reliance on natural talent is their only hope.
I remember counting down the months until your second album was released. I was such a scattered mung bean during that period and our mindset of escaping the wankery of the day seemed similar. You pissed off to India – I buggered off to Cairns. You found enlightenment. I found the same bullshit I tried to run away from – just a tropical version of it.
When your album finally did come out I was so broke and skinny, my girlfriend and I would scab mangoes from the council trees just so we could eat! We’d hang out in the shopping centre because we stupidly rented a unit in northern Queensland with no air conditioning. I’d loiter outside Sanity reading the song list and obsessing over owning the CD. By the time I returned home, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie was obsessively played and scratched until it was stolen from my car many moons and many me’s later.
After that I forgot all about it. About you. About the massive influence and affect you had on me in that minuscule, but pivotal point in life when I was both oozing confidence and completely clueless about my place in the world.
I recently started researching and delving into the worship of Goddess’s in ancient civilisations and bizarrely “Heart of the House” took up residency in my brain – on repeat. That was the first song I fell in love with and the first I had to etch from my mind because it made me sad. It tapped into that dream state of life as a kid in the 70s and 80s. Orange hues, hazy days as a little girl, family picnics, sucking sour grass, threading daisy chains and worshipping my own real life Goddess – my Mum.
I was so in-love with everything about Heart of the House I wanted to share its strength and the love and joy it conjured of those beautiful yester-year memories to anyone who would listen. That song was so ridiculously powerful that when I played it for my friend she made me turn it off half way through.
…You saw me, run from the house, in the snow, melodramatically…
Her mother had died when she was a child and all she wanted at that point in her life was a Mum to watch over all of her dramatic tendencies – and she had loads.
My undying love for YouTube rekindled the obsession of your song and I play it to my daughter on the school run. It’s now in her favourites playlist along with Jolene and Working 9-5. Sweet little Merida in the making.
I never realised the impact you, your songwriting, your music had on me and I feel like I abandoned and betrayed you – like those little goddess statues tucked into the walls of ancient ruins. Hidden away so that no one knew they were being worshipped.
So, modern day goddess of the feminine arts – thank you. Thank you truly for your delicate influence on who I am today and the mother I fail constantly at trying to be. My long ago doppelganger. You, me and our very…
…gypsy, garage sale ways.