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From "USA Today"

Taming Morissette's restless spirit

By Edna Gundersen

LOS ANGELES: After denying it, fearing it and rejecting it, Alanis Morissette has made peace with fame.

"There was a time when I didn't think I was going to be able to live a normal life again," she says. "Now I realize that being in the public eye doesn't have to be a hindrance. It's something I consciously choose. It enables me to connect with people."

The singer, 24, crept into the spotlight with her first record at age 10 and spent her teens as a dance-pop queen in her native Canada. But even a decade in show business couldn't prepare her for the media blitzkrieg that followed 1995's U.S. breakthrough. Jagged Little Pill, the biggest selling debut ever by a solo artist, spent 12 weeks at No. 1 in Billboard, won four Grammys and sold a whopping 28 million copies worldwide.

Initially overwhelmed by public scrutiny, Morissette adjusted by accepting it as part of the creative process.

"I express myself, and people love it or hate it or are excited or inspired or repulsed," she says. "I think there is an opportunity for listeners to define who they are, even in the 12 seconds that they hear the song. That's what's amazing about art."

The aggression and bitterness in her You Oughta Know hit inaccurately defined Morissette as the alpha bitch in a new breed of Angry Young Women. That image bears no resemblance to the vision of Morissette perched on her hotel-suite sofa. Smiling beatifically and waxing rhapsodic on spiritual contentment, she seems more saint than she-devil.

"I appreciate Jagged Little Pill for what it was and what it is, but there's a lot of it that I can't relate to anymore," she says, describing the album as a snapshot of a specific phase. "I don't entirely have a sense of what people think of me, but there was definitely a view of me as an artist who's very one-dimensional, whether it be angry or sexual or in pain."

That is not the impression she leaves on fellow artists.

"Alanis is a beautiful, soulful human being and a true artist," gushes Ringo Starr, who persuaded her to sing on his Vertical Man album.

Nor is that fabled volatile nature dominant on Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, an unorthodox, exotic pop record rife with Morissette's self-lacerating candor and probing insights on relationships and the quest for inner peace. After entering Billboard at No. 1 in November, it has sold 1.9 million copies and now rests at No. 35, falling short of Pill's history-making pace.

But who's counting?

Almost everyone. Junkie arrived amid preposterous expectations. Neither Morissette nor co-producer Glen Ballard aimed to follow Pill's commercial or artistic trajectory.

"The simple and safe thing to do was come up with Jagged Little Pill Refill, but that was never what we wanted," Ballard says. "She had one mandate: 'Let's not write the same record sideways.' She wanted to stretch and smudge the boundaries.

"Nothing she does surprises me," he adds. "She's a seeker, somebody that is not comfortable with letting the world go by. She's so engaged, and it's reflected in her art."

Junkie's spiritual tones sprang from a post-Pill hiatus that took Morissette to India and Cuba with friends and family. For 18 months, "I don't think I had even one encounter with anyone from the industry," she says with some awe.

Escaping the pressure cooker reignited creative fires and gave her the self-confidence to bare her soul in stunningly blunt songs and to bare her body in the strategically blurred Thank U video.

"The idea came to me in the shower," she says of the nude clip, shot in public settings over two nights. "I had moments of wondering how I'd feel doing it, but I felt really amazing and liberated and beautiful. It was positive and fun, but I couldn't have done that a year ago."

When she penned her brazen confessions on Pill, Morissette had no inkling she'd be sharing her musical diary with a global audience. The peering masses did not deter her from revealing struggles with men, fame and self-esteem on Junkie.

"I don't hide much," she says. "I did have reservations about writing about other people and invading their privacy. It's one thing for me to express vulnerability or sadness or confusion; it's another thing to write about someone else."

Names were changed. She called subjects of certain songs and gave them the option of nixing lyrics. None did. "I didn't get a negative reaction," she says. "I got a kind of bittersweet closure."

The romantic calamities detailed in Pill are behind her. For the past year, she's been involved in a "very healthy, very exciting" relationship with an unnamed suitor (reported to be actor Dash Mihok of The Thin Red Line and TV's Felicity).

"I had no idea what intimacy really meant until about ayear ago," she says. "A year ago, I would have said I prefer being single because it was really horrible and distracting being in a relationship. But now it's great. It's healing."

But can you mine grist for songs from a stable union? She retorts, "Happy, healthy relationships aren't always stable."

The wisdom and self-possession in Morissette's songs and personality stem from a childhood immersed in grown-up pursuits. She was reared in Ottawa by educators: her father is a teacher and ex-principal; her mother taught for 18 years.

"I spent so much time with adults when I was younger," she says. "My parents were very analytical about human nature. Every conversation around the kitchen table included some sort of analysis."

Her parents supported her ambitions and early entry into the recording business. By 16, she was a national dance-pop star, but she barely acknowledged her past after relocating to Hollywood to embark on the harder-to-swallow Pill.

"I distanced myself from it," she says, admitting she quashed attempts to re-release her earlier records during Pill's chart reign. "That would have confused people. But at some point, I'd love to put out a record of songs I've done since I was 10."

Even back then, the rebellion behind Pill and Junkie was incubating in her curious head.

"I had a voracious appetite for self-knowledge from the time I started reading," she says. "I picked up my first book on psychology when I was 13, because I was curious about pain, and I tried to understand the concept of suffering. It was confusing."

Adding to that confusion were growing doubts about religion. Raised in Catholicism, she began to question its tenets while recording an album with an avowed atheist. She was 11.

"He was the antithesis of me," she says. "I respected him, and it blew me away that we had such different views of God. So I asked him a million questions, and I started doubting that Adam and Eve really existed. Then I questioned everything: the fear, the idea that you're bad. It just didn't make sense."

Consequently, she rejected not only the dogma but also her need for a sacred bond.

"Eventually, I felt that void of not being connected to God," she says. "I had thrown the baby out with the bathwater. That is where the core of my suffering came from. But that changed over the last couple of years."

The transfigured Morissette is spiritually grounded, psychologically sound and physically fit (she completed three triathlons during her furlough and now makes time for cycling, yoga, tennis and swimming).

Though she negotiated hard for balance in her life, Morissette does not duck career challenges. Her global tour continues through 1999. She's open to outside projects like Uninvited, the Grammy-nominated tune she contributed to the hot City of Angels soundtrack. Her role as God in Kevin Smith's upcoming Dogma sparked a desire to act and direct. Also on the drawing board: a quasi-autobiography, a novel, a screenplay, painting, traveling and having babies.

A self-described recovering perfectionist, Morissette insists that her full plate has less to do with ambition and ego than a hunger for experience.

"Being a perfectionist was destructive and sad, really," she says. "It wasn't very nurturing of my free spirit. I still discover moments of my perfectionism now and again, but what often looks like perfectionism is really my attempt to be completely honest. A lot of people misunderstand that."