ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
The Guardian's weekend magazine has a new advice columnist answering readers' dilemmas on life and love. She just started on the job last weekend, and she joins us now from NPR West.
Would you mind introducing yourself?
ALANIS MORISSETTE: My name's Alanis Morissette, advice columnist, et cetera. (Laughter).
SHAPIRO: Et cetera as in Grammy award-winning singer-songwriter.
MORISSETTE: (Laughter). Yes, but I'm Canadian. I'm far too humble to extol my own virtues here. (Laughter).
SHAPIRO: How'd you become an advice columnist?
MORISSETTE: I think I was born into this one. Every, you know, family has their roles, and my role was of family therapist, peacekeeper, as far back as I can remember. Pre-verbally.
SHAPIRO: Like, with siblings and parents and everything.
MORISSETTE: Yes, I was probably the toddler before I could even speak just holding everyone's hands and bringing them into the circle, you know? And then after a while, just this sort of natural inborn kind of intuition and empathy and the capacity to really get inside people's experiences and have a sense of their perspectives and then, you know, I'd like to think some hard-won wisdom over the years and some humor, which is always huge.
SHAPIRO: The Guardian is a British paper, and my understanding is that the Brits refer to an advice columnist as an...
MORISSETTE: Agony aunt.
SHAPIRO: Agony aunt. How do you feel about that title?
MORISSETTE: I'll take agony. I mean, I'll take anything, you know? I think the planet in general, especially with women, they basically have these prohibited feelings. Like, you can't be angry, you can't be sad and you can't be afraid. Those were the big three for me. And so I'm constantly saying to people, why can't I be sad? (Laughter). And my songs, I think, evidenced that. So for me agony aunt is a compliment, really.
SHAPIRO: When did you first hear the phrase? What was your initial reaction to it?
MORISSETTE: My first interview with the Guardian, they said, so you're the new agony aunt? And I said, I'm sorry, what? I'm a what? What's the new label of the week for me (laughter)? I've had a lot of them ascribed to me so they're always fascinating. Yeah, that's a new one for sure.
SHAPIRO: What kind of job interview is involved in being an advice columnist?
MORISSETTE: I think it might've been a case of my having slowly come out of the proverbial closet, so to speak, around the more sort of psychotherapeutic, academic part of me. And 20 years ago, people were a little less open around the idea of a rock star being psychotherapeutically inclined so there was a lot of shaming about it. I remember a bunch of magazines used to say, you know, Alanis Morissette and her psychobabble, or Alanis Morissette's stadium therapy. And over the last few years, people have just gotten to a point where it's actually kind of a boon, it's kind of exciting for me to have this other part.
SHAPIRO: Did they give you test questions to hear what your advice would be?
MORISSETTE: They didn't. I think they trusted me, which is so lovely.
SHAPIRO: Do you mind if we give you some test questions?
MORISSETTE: Sure, I'd love to be put on the spot. As long as they're real. If they're kind of made up then it's odd.
SHAPIRO: This is real. Actually this first one comes from our ALL THINGS CONSIDERED intern, Greg Molle, who I should mention is French. So we asked him to record his question. You'll hear he has a bit of an accent. But he promises us this is real. Let's listen.
GREG MOLLE: So my roommate keeps watching "The Dark Knight," the Batman movie, like, in a loop. When I come back from work, he's watching it. When I go to work in the morning, he's watching it. And he keeps laughing at very awful moments when the Joker is doing bad stuff like killing people, and it kind of freaks me out. What do I do?
SHAPIRO: Alanis Morissette, what advice do you have for our intern, Greg?
MORISSETTE: I would have a heart-to-heart conversation with him because there's some shadow stuff likely going on. It could be that he's - as a kid, he was told he couldn't express anger so then when he sees it on a television and he sees it anywhere, he gets really excited about a part of him that's been prohibited. So talking about it is nice, and you can also make a request to your roommate. So you can say, do you mind watching it after I leave? It kind of freaks me out and puts me in a weird mode all day.
SHAPIRO: Greg is sitting on the other side of the glass here, and he's nodding his head and raising his eyebrows and looking like, yeah, OK, I buy that. So I think...
MORISSETTE: Ding, ding, ding. You can stay, Alanis.
SHAPIRO: We also asked on Twitter and we got a question from someone named Timmy Metzner, and he said his father recently died, his sister is pregnant and the question is, should my younger sister or I have the rights to namesake?
MORISSETTE: Are they fighting over the name?
SHAPIRO: I think the question is which one of them should have the right to name their child after the recently deceased father.
MORISSETTE: Well, Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote that beautiful book, "One Hundred Years Of Solitude," and if you look at the family map, there was the same name that showed up for 15 people (laughter), and it always kind of broke my heart in a stunning way. So I would say have at the name if the name really resonates with you and it really speaks to you emotionally, everyone should have access to it if it's part of your family lineage.
SHAPIRO: Nice. There must be a weird tightrope between trying to answer a specific question and also trying to write a column that'll be read by how ever many people and relevant to as many of them as possible.
MORISSETTE: Yeah, there's some element of leaning toward wanting it to be as universal as possible, but at the same time, if I just really focus on the question and really focus on the details that are given - and there's enough details, thankfully, that I can have an opinion. 'Cause if it were too vague I don't think I could give a sort of broad stroke answer. It wouldn't be applicable. But I just go for it with the actual question and I just, you know, say a little prayer that it'll apply to someone else, if it can.
SHAPIRO: That's Alanis Morissette, Grammy award-winning musician, now a podcaster and also the newest advice columnist for The Guardian's weekend magazine. Alanis, it's been great talking with you. Thank you.
MORISSETTE: You too, thank you.
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