Friday, September 11, 2009

In search of Alanis Morissette's elusive India: the quest itself

I'm reminded here of the old Saturday morning film serials of my childhood (not those on TV, which we didn't have until I was in junior high school--my father didn't believe in television. . . .)

Cliffhanger: As we left our fearless hero, the ethnomusicologist, at last posting, he said:

"At this point, patient reader, you are almost certainly asking: What happened to Alanis???"

And he urged that you try to find the mystery song from his daughter's Father's Day mix-CD, entitled, as it turns out (as we shall discover below), "Uninvited", somewhere on the Internet:

He directed you to an official pared down (without the elaborate orchestration) video performance of the song on AOL, and numerous YouTube versions of her acoustic rendition of the song on MTV Unplugged, as well as her performance at the 1999 Grammy Awards, in which she received the "Best Rock Song" and "Best Female Rock Vocal Performance" awards for the song, in addition to a nomination for "Best Song Written for a Motion Picture, Television, or Other Visual Media".

And he urged you: "At this point I would ask YOU to characterize the performance, and identify what you find unusual in the presentation." And he hoped that some of you would respond . . . .

For the preceding background to this question--regarding the Beatles, sitars, ragas, tablas, and such matters--click here.

I'll confess that in concluding the previous post, I was dodging an analysis, partly because the first few times I heard the song the musical innovations did not strike me explicitly, and it remained for my surbahar-playing wife and fellow practitioner of Indian music Shubha to point out to me that there was indeed something quite unique in the song. I think it's important to experience the music intuitively first, and then analyze what exceptional musical characteristics contribute to that experience.

But I'll also confess that my taxonomic obsession (previously chronicled in "Who was that masked . . . musician, anyway?") stymied me in my initial explorations of the origins of the song. First of all, the version on my daughter's mix-CD had no title. Which meant that I was already handicapped in looking for the song in the VOA music library. For some reason or other I was convinced--probably because of stylistic features--that it was on her initial CD, Jagged Little Pill, (turns out that it was, after all, recorded shortly shortly after JLP) and I spent a good half hour trying, to no avail, to locate it on the copy I checked out from the library. Which drove me crazy.

Then, on sudden inspiration (this is, after all, 2009), and taking advantage of the panoply of reference options on the Web, after listening to the first few lines of the song on the mix-CD, I do a Google search for one of the exact phrases of the song, and after bouncing from one Website to another, I finally discover that the song was titled "Uninvited", and was initially not released as a single, but rather was from the soundtrack of the 1998 film City of Angels, and was not included on one of her own CD's until the 2005 Collection.

Fine. Now I can place the song in the chronology and discography of Morissette's work. But then of course I have to embark on an additional search of the Web for clues to the origins of what seems to me to be almost certainly an overall Indian mood--and the ethnomusicologist in me will not rest until I know just how the wonderful effects of that song came to be!

Well, after another half hour of ricocheting from Website to Website, I did learn that after the staggering success of Jagged Little Pill (according to Billboard Magazine, it is the 12th best-selling album in the world, at 32,200,00, and the best-selling album ever by a woman artist), Alanis Morissette went to India for six weeks in 1997--thirty years after the Beatles. I cannot resist here steering you to a Macleans' Magazine article, quoted online in the Canadian Encyclopedia, regarding the circumstances of her trip:

"Imagine. You are 23 years old and you have made the biggest-selling album ever recorded by a female singer. You have won four Grammys and six Junos [the Canadian equivalent of the Grammy Awards]. You have toured the world, and everywhere you go, from Milwaukee to Manila, you can hear echoes of your own voice raging from car radios. You are a lapsed Roman Catholic, an Ottawa girl who learned to bare her soul in Los Angeles, and who became, as you put it, Miss Thing. Now everyone wants a piece of you but you desperately want to get away. And get real. Who you gonna call? Mother Teresa?

"Well, if you're Alanis Morissette, that's exactly what you do. . . . ."

Dear reader, you'll have to read the online article in full to learn the extraordinary circumstances surrounding that call, and the eerie consequences.

But for my purposes, I could find no online references whatsoever to the relationship of "Uninvited" to her trip to India. Was it written before, during, or after the trip? Did she meet any Indian musicians? Did she hear any concerts? Not a clue. Nothing.

Which leaves me with the only option being to pursue a telephone interview with Alanis Morissette. But I am unable to find any direct link to her management to begin such a pursuit.

A Google search for Alanis' label, Maverick Records, brings up as the first entry, with the only constant piece of information being the phrase "Maverick: An Entertainment Company"-- Maverick Records' parent company, and which otherewise consists solely of what seems to be a simulated television screen with a briefly flickering and then distorted Maverick logo, then the phrase "coming soon",--accompanied by a hideous white noise hissing underneath an almost radioactive black-pixeled television "snow" seething infinitesimally within a calm, tweed-like blackish fabric border.

The telephone line of her record label, Maverick Records (which Wikipedia identifies as being in Burbank California), is out of order when I call; the supervising operator of Directory Assistance, who initially gave me the number, himself confirms this.

I go to, having found in Google search (#3) the following entry: "Contact Maverick Records - Contact information: Contact info and address to Maverick Records and all other important record labels. Submit your demos!" I am forwarded to, and click through a series of pages, only to be told "It's time to sign up! It's free, takes less than a minute and will definitely enhance your music career."

Now comes the bottom line: I'm given the option of selecting "1 ad-supported Artist Page ($0) - Free! (Does not include full access to HitQuarters)". Which presumably means no access to Alanis Moriessette's management. Otherwise it's $15. Or $25.

But I don't want to submit my demo. I want to contact Maverick Records! I want to talk to Alanis Morissette! To learn how and why she wrote "Uninvited!!

(. . . . .)

Well. I's the end of the day. The end of the week. The work week, at least. On Monday perhaps I'll try other avenues to contact the management.

Unless I send a personal e-mail tonight to Alanis on her official Website. With a link to this blog. With a request for a telephone interview.

Maybe I'll do that.

But in any case, the unfolding mystery of the origions of this wonderful song, this astonishing two-Grammy-Award-Winning masterpiece, will continue in a later installment, hopefully with some direct elucidation from Alanis Morissette herself.

In the meantime, I'll go home and watch City of Angels on the instant "play now" option of my Netflix.

I've established that at least that is possible tonight.

Happy Friday!

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