When Alanis Morissette broke big with Jagged Little Pill in 1995, the first single, “You Oughta Know” was, as my friend, writer/producer Peter Zizzo was apt to point out at the time, a “pull-your-car-over-to-the-side-of-the-road-because-who-the-fuck-is-this?” kind of song. It sounded like nothing else on the radio and announced the arrival of a major pop star—with the subtlety of a four alarm fire. Turned out that there was nothing Miss Morissette liked better than a song whose lyric was basically a list—a common lyrical device. When I heard her top-1o hit “Ironic,” the fourth single from the album, on the radio a few days ago, I was reminded of something else my friend Peter said at the time: “Most of the things she lists in the song aren’t even ironic at all,” which is actually true. Therefore, it’s list of mostly un-ironic things is, paradoxically, the most ironic thing about “Ironic.”
Now I learned what irony meant in fifth grade: “the difference between what you might expect and what actually happens.” That definition has stuck in my mind all these years. With that in top of mind, after the jump Stargayzing will break it all down for you, line by line.
By Alanis Morissette and Glen Ballard
An old man turned ninety-eight
He won the lottery and died the next day
This is little ironic, but would be a lot more ironic if it was a young man. It kind of makes sense that a 98-year-old man could die at any moment. Truth is, if you live to be 98 and you’re still well enough to go out and get a lottery ticket, you’re already a big winner.
It’s a black fly in your Chardonnay
There is nothing ironic about this, merely annoying, and aren’t all flies black?
It’s a death row pardon two minutes too late
Not nearly as ironic as it is tragic and, possibly, criminal.
It’s like rain on your wedding day
Not ironic, but disappointing.
It’s a free ride when you’ve already paid
Maybe a little ironic, but more annyoing, really.
It’s the good advice that you just didn’t take
Definitely not ironic. Depending on how important it was, this might be frustrating or just a learning opportunity.
Mr. Play It Safe was afraid to fly
He packed his suitcase and kissed his kids goodbye
He waited his whole damn life to take that flight
And as the plane crashed down he thought
“Well isn’t this nice…”
And isn’t it ironic… don’t you think
In this case I agree. I think the story about Mr. Play It Safe is a bit ironic.
A traffic jam when you’re already late
Once again, not at all ironic. Just bad time management or bad luck.
A no-smoking sign on your cigarette break
Not ironic, mildly inconvenient.
It’s like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife
Majorly irritating if we take it literally, I suppose. If we take it figuratively, it’s just mildly irritating.
It’s meeting the man of my dreams
And then meeting his beautiful wife
Sort of ironic, I guess, but how can you be sure he’s the man of your dreams if you only just met him?
You may also enjoy:
13 Songs That Should Have Been Top-Ten Hits: or, Has the Beat Killed Melody on American Radio?
The Beat: Spooky and Sue’s “Swingin’ On A Star” and the Difference Between a “Record” and a “Song”
lidorFebruary 28, 2014 at 11:02 am
hey great piece! i saw you in la on the airport shuttle! nice blog man!
David MunkMarch 1, 2014 at 10:04 pm
Thank you so much for checking it out! You should check out the pieces I wrote about Israel, especially the one about Masada. Shalom! David