Photos by Tom Ballanco
What happens when, at the age of 21, you release an album that goes on to become the highest-selling album by a female artist ever and the third best-selling album of all time?
Well, probably you go through some changes. Monster fame tends to do that to you.
Some handle it poorly. Others learn valuable lessons as they navigate the choppy waters. Alanis Morissette is one of the latter.
Maybe we knew she would be by virtue of the smart, searing lyrics found on her historic album, Jagged Little Pill. This was a woman prone to introspection, someone not averse to digging a little deeper than the surface.
Maybe the best evidence of her penchant for dissecting illusions is her hilarious April Fool’s Day cover of “My Humps” by the Black Eyed Peas, wherein she lampoons her own distinctive singing style, drenching the song with overwrought emotionalism. This is a woman who takes life seriously – but not all that seriously.
Now 35, the Canadian-born singer has sold over 60 million albums worldwide. She’s a fine actress, too, appearing regularly in episodes of last season’s Weeds. She’s also appeared in Curb Your Enthusiasm and Sex and the City, and acted in The Vagina Monologues on Broadway. And let’s not forget her otherworldly performance as God in the film Dogma.
Apart from showbiz, Alanis has embraced her inner athlete and now trains for marathons. When Weeds ended this past fall, Alanis headed up to Northern Cali to help with harvest. She and environmental lawyer Tom Ballanco (HT interview, Aug. ’96) have been an item for nearly two years. And over the course of their relationship, her respect for cannabis has only grown. She took a break from her garden duties to talk with us.
HT: You’ve involved yourself in a variety of artistic pursuits. Does music remain important to you?
AM: It’s a life-force mover for me. If there’s not music around me, I feel that my life force is stymied a bit. It’s almost a mandatory aspect of life for me to have music around, whether the music is coming through me or swirling around me.
Were you a showbiz kid? Was it part of your family experience?
Show business itself was not a big part of our family, although my dad was always a huge fan of Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell and all of these beautiful writers. So certainly a respect for high-quality expression was a big part of living in my house. But in terms of my family being part of the entertainment industry itself, we weren’t.
I was so-called “gifted”: language, drama, science and math—kind of an across-the-board thing. I started writing as a kid. When I started, I didn’t know it would be songwriting; I was just writing. I really, actually consider myself to be a writer before anything else.
I put out my first record when I was 10 or 11, and I started a record company because, unlike today’s climate, no one at that time wanted to sign a 10-year-old. So I just did it myself with money that I’d made from having acted in a television show called You Can’t Do That on Television.
What’s with those kid shows? Is everybody on drugs or what?
[Laughing] You’d think! You’d think! That kid show was really not a kid show – I mean, half of those jokes went over my head when I was that age.
Would you recommend a career in show business to kids?
No, I think a child in the entertainment industry is a form of child abuse. For kids who have to overstay their stay, beyond the fun aspects of their career, it’s a version of abuse – absolutely.
If my kid wants to do it, there might be school activities that I would support them participating in, but in terms of becoming a workaholic at that age, I will be … disallowing. They can do whatever they want; I wouldn’t want to thwart any of their delicate, essential qualities that they need to express. But it doesn’t mean they need to be expressed in a context where they have to work so arduously for so many hours.
How do you view your career? You’ve had a lot of ups and downs – emotionally, at least. Has it been instructive?
I think I was not well prepared. I don’t know if anyone can be. Maybe they can be if their constitution is a little stronger – I was a little sensitive. I was in a world of very high stimulation, projections, assessments, judgments, and all the little versions of violence projected toward someone who is in the public eye. I insulated myself. There was a lot of conflict for me regarding the illusory aspects of the industry. All of these brass rings were put before me, and I kind of grabbed them all in one fell swoop. Then, suddenly, there’s that beautiful disillusionment that comes after having fulfilled the “American Dream.” You got it all – you’ve broken records, you’re in the Guinness Book of World Records, you’ve won every award that can be won, sold millions of records ….
All of a sudden, I was left – I now see it as beautifully – with some of the bigger questions that had always been driving me the whole time anyway. It’s taken a few years for me to get my bearings. Certainly, the fame itself has fantastically calmed down a little bit, so I can actually function somewhat as a human being. [Laughing]
How’s the Weeds experience been?
I was catching up on your episodes before talking with you. I just spent all morning watching you have sex.
Oh, really? That’s great. [Laughing] Oh, God.
Are those scenes difficult to do?
Yeah! I mean, no. Not with Justin [Kirk], because Justin’s a pro. He’s the best. Working opposite Justin is a dream come true for me. He’s not only one of the most talented performers I’ve seen – having been in Angels in America and other great work – he’s so natural and so born to do it. He’s also very generous, and was very attuned to my nervousness.
I kept pulling the card of “I’m green at this, you guys.” And he’d say, “You’re going to have to stop saying that, because you’re not anymore.” He’d just tell me: “You’re doing it.”
Has there been any backlash among your fans for being in a sexy, pro-pot show like Weeds?
No, and I wouldn’t be receptive to it anyway. When I say yes to certain things, it’s just such an unequivocal yes that I’m really not open to it. I don’t really need to have anyone’s feedback other than from the people I love in my life. And they’re all celebrating it!
You’ve been romantically involved with Tom Ballanco for a couple years. Tom’s a longtime hemp and medical-marijuana advocate. Has he influenced you?
I’ve always resonated with people who are on the front lines, who are pioneers – being in virgin snow. I’ve always felt that way about Tom and about the community around him – Woody Harrelson, Alicia Silverstone. I have a lot of friends around me who are very courageous and willing to “come out” – and Tom is definitely beyond the front lines.
Any fears that I had about cannabis were quickly assuaged. Now I feel like a professional! All my friends come to me with all of these questions, and a lot of my answers are based on what I’ve learned from Tom. I feel really grateful for that.
Any good cultivation tips?
Um, let’s see: love your plants, talk to your plants – they’re listening! You might need to interview Tom for that one. I’m not the one! [Laughing]
How was the harvest season this past fall?
It’s just so beautiful. First of all, I think it’s great God work being a farmer and a gardener, period. Gardening in general, whether it’s marijuana or any crop – working that directly with the earth is God’s work.
You’ve become very serious about maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Does marijuana use fit in to it?
For me, it does. I’m all about moderation – as best as I can be. As an artist, there’s a sweet, jump-starting quality to it for me. I’ve often felt telepathic and receptive to inexplicable messages my whole life. I can stave those off when I’m not high. When I’m high – well, they come in and there’s less of a veil, so to speak. So if ever I need some clarity, or a quantum leap in my own consciousness, or a quantum leap in terms of writing something or getting an answer, it’s a quick way for me to get it.
But I have to be discerning, too. Just because the veil is removed doesn’t mean that every message coming in is an accurate one. [Laughing] Just because I’m high doesn’t mean that every message coming is the word of God. It can also be that that some of the false beliefs are a little louder as well.
I have a lot of friends who have wanted to specifically quit smoking marijuana because they felt that it was having a negative effect on their lives, and I absolutely supported them doing so. Then I have other friends who I’ve coerced into smoking because I thought it would be great for them.
It’s funny how people who believe pot is having a negative impact on their life somehow believe that, without pot, their lives will be rosy and successful.
Yes, I think it’s a good idea to distinguish between essence and form.
You’ve often spoken about some of your past body-image issues. What can you pass on to readers?
Well, I could talk for hours about it, but currently, there’s no better way for me to view my body – as an instrument rather than just as an ornament – than by really addressing athleticism. Becoming an athlete requires me to view food in a different way – to view it as medicine, to view it as fuel, rather than just as a way to comfort myself in an overwhelming life.
It’s made me find other sources of comfort, whether it’s me having the gonads to ask somebody for a hug or holding someone’s hand. Touch is such a huge thing, and I know that food replaced that a lot for me over the years. As I’ve been able to bring my body to its best – for lack of a better term – the more I’ve accepted that this is what my body is, and this is the height of where it can go in terms of stamina and endurance.
I am doing my best, as opposed to overfeeding it or overindulging it … although indulgence is really fun and important, too!
Care to elaborate?
On one side of the fence, you have the recreational usage, the fun, the mind cracking open, affording a beautiful experience. But on the other side of the fence, there’s that slippery slope – the addiction aspect. It all depends upon whose hand it’s in and for what reasons it’s being used. A lot of drugs, when used for the purposes that I’m describing, can be incredibly beautiful. But I can appreciate that they can turn into some people’s worst nightmare.
I feel every addiction that humans have speaks directly to some need that wasn’t fulfilled when we were really little. I literally want to write a chart that says things like “Marijuana soothes this particular thing” and “Food soothes that.” We can serve a great purpose if we can get to what’s going on underneath.
You’re in the midst of writing a book.
Yeah, I’m finally doing it. I have a deadline that will ultimately bring me to the end of the year – I’m in the middle of it right now. It’s not a memoir; it’s a combination of philosophy, anecdotes and essays, tons of Q&A, photographs – you can read it in a very linear way, or you can open it up anywhere and kinda go to town.
Why are you writing it now?
Because I feel very much as though every tentacle of what I need to do in order to feel really aligned, or what I need to express in order to feel super-inspired, or who I need to be around in order to feel really happy, seems to be in place. And it only took 35 years [laughing] … pretty good.
Often, mathematicians and musicians say their thoughts are very structured. How is it for you?
I think very categorically, so I compartmentalize things. Everything is in charts – flow charts. Everything is very categorized in my brain, so it makes for great organization in my life. [Laughing] I also think in terms of color. When I meet people or I’m in a circumstance, I can describe it best though color.
You mean you see auras?
I wouldn’t take it that far. I think seeing other people’s auras is a little invasive. I could conjure it up, I’m sure – I feel psychic and telepathic and tuned in to all of that, but I have great internal boundaries. I don’t tell people what color their aura is [laughing] – unless they really want to know!
What I do see, for example, is, if somebody is in a particularly difficult time, I’ll see darker, denser browns, blacks, red and blue colors. People’s energy translates to color for me.
Has this always been with you?
It’s always been there. I had a shame about being really telepathic. There are a lot of different monikers for my archetype – or temperament. I had a lot of shame around it because I felt like a freak. Now, as an artist in Los Angeles, I guess I’m a good fit.
How’s do you approach life now?
Well, I’m a risk taker. But I’m constantly counter-phobic – I’m constantly gripped by terror! [Laughing] But I’m always taking risks anyway. I just learned how to kite-surf in Maui. I’m constantly doing things that are terrifying; it’s kind of been my way of life.
You were on the stage at Woodstock 1999. How was that for “terrifying”?
It was pretty intense playing that show. I remember having to duck about every 30 seconds because there was an incoming glass bottle filled with mud being hurled toward my head. It was a very aggressive environment. I’m a huge fan of people moving the life force through them – my only objection would be a glass bottle hurtling toward my face. Then I might step off the stage.
Did you feel that the aggression was personal in any way, or was it just off-the-hook craziness?
Well, no – on a whole-life level, I don’t think anything is ever personal, to be totally honest.
I did feel there was a lot of aggression, a lot of anger that needed to be expressed. I think we live in a society where we’re not taught how to express those huge life-force emotions. We’re taught to sublimate them, and they can show up in some very toxic ways. We’re not taught how to channel that shit.
What insight can you impart about encountering the “life force”?
Spirituality isn’t like a purse – it’s not something you buy. It’s not something you do on Sunday mornings. It’s that whole, sweet thing of “We’re not human beings having a spiritual experience; we’re spiritual beings having a human experience.” That’s how I see it.
I think, when it comes to God, it’s the one force or source that is not subject to duality. Everything’s dualistic in this particular realm, and the life that animates it all is the one thing that is not subject to all of the dualism that makes this playground so interesting.
[link|http://www.zinio.com/browse/issues/index.jsp?skuId=416106285&pss=1|THIS INTERVIEW WAS FEATURED IN THE JANUARY 2010 ISSUE OF HIGH TIMES]
Land of Alanis
Photos by Tom Ballanco