Once, while on a visit to a zoo, I saw a jaguar. This shiny black animal was pacing back and forth in front of his cage, eyes intent on the direction he was headed, muscles rippling with the potential of all the things muscles can do.
I could not stop watching this pent up animal. He was caged, yes, but he also seemed pent inside himself. I wanted to catch his eye to see what he was feeling. Of course, he never looked at me. He was single-minded in his purposeful prowl.
I could not help remembering that magnificent beast when I saw Alanis Morrisette explode onto the stage at the Greek Theatre last Saturday. Her skin-tight black leather pants helped the illusion, but she had the same barely contained pacing that the jaguar had. She loped across the stage in strides that were far longer than most people would take. She stretched her legs, and her voice and her heart out as far as she could.
Her songs have always hit me like a Mack truck. When she sings about love and faith and pain she takes the lid off the things I’ve “kept bubbling under,” and makes me feel the need to move, to act, or to speak.
Her songs, no matter which one, express her spirit. She is not comfortable, she is not complacent. When I saw her relentless pacing onstage, I was not surprised. I feel like pacing too, when I hear her songs.
I am grateful to her, because she grapples with ideas and issues that many people grapple with. Most people, however, give up in exhaustion, willing to believe that answers or even questions are beyond their capacity. Alanis does not give up on them. After seeing her perform in person, I can see that she cannot. The person she is finds it physically impossible to back off.
She engages her experiences and her questions as if in battle. She finds a way to express them, and behind every single song is a harmonic drone, like a bagpipe, of “Why?” She dares to take it on.
And I, along with many others, am very much the richer for it. She’s given a voice to many of us, because she was able to express herself, She did not hold back and say, “that’s too personal, I’d better just be quiet about that.” It’s in the personal, in the subjective, that the universal human experience can be understood.
I appreciate her bravery, and I am so glad I saw her in concert. I really need to buy her latest album.