Thursday, November 16

Is it ironic?

Exhibit A in the great Americans Don't Get Irony debate has, for over ten years now, been the hit song Ironic by Alanis Morissette, who is Canadian and therefore about as American as anyone need be for the purposes of your average whinging Pom with a Yankee stereotype to prove true. It is generally understood that not a single one of the things listed in the song is actually ironic — rather, they are examples of Sod's Law.

It has always struck me, however, that the events in the song are potentially ironic. What is lacking is not so much an understanding of irony but more some context, some background. Is rain on your wedding day ironic? Well, it could be; it rather depends. And so I was very pleased to be proven right, yet again, when I found the following draft version of the lyrics scrawled on a selection of napkins and envelopes stuffed down the back of a second-hand sofa that was definitely once owned by Ms Morissette and was on sale for a mere twenty quid in a bric-a-brac sale in Donaghadee for some reason. I have had the ink carbon-dated, and can confirm that the following was definitely written on November the 13th, 1994, at about 2:30am, in a pub in Toronto.

An old man turned ninety-eight
He won the lottery and died the next day
He had spent his life leading an unsuccessful campaign to ban gambling
On the grounds that God disapproved of it
It's a black fly in your Chardonnay
Which you are drinking to celebrate winning your bet
That you could eat a kilo of insects
It's a death row pardon two minutes too late
Because the Governor couldn't get through due to a telecomms problem
The condemned man's victim was the state's chief telephone engineer
He was very good at his job
This sort of problem never occurred when he was in charge
The new guy's shite
And isn't it ironic
Don't you think

It's like rayiyai-ain on your wedding day
As predicted by the weather forecast
Which has been consistently wrong about the weather every single bloody day for weeks
It's a free ride when you've already paid
For once
'Cause usually you fare-dodge
It's the good advice that you just didn't take
Coming, as it did, from the same guy whose advice you had been following for quite some time
Which had led to your financial ruination and the break-up of your family
Who would've thought it figures, eh?

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"
Because the bomb he'd managed to smuggle on board wasn't due to detonate for another half-hour
And isn't it ironic
Don't you think

It's like rayiyai-ain on your wedding day
When you're marrying the man you met when he rescued you from dying of thirst in the Outback
It's a free ride when you've already paid
To have your car professionally valeted
After you picked up a hitchhiker and they threw up all over the upholstery
And you've therefore vowed never to give anyone a free ride ever again
It's the good advice that you just didn't take
Because it happened to be in a horoscope
And you had taken the other good advice to ignore superstitious claptrap
Which, mind you, didn't stop you refusing to let your child be vaccinated
Who would've thought it figures, eh?

Well life has a funny way of sneaking up on you
When you think everything's okay and everything's going right
And life has a funny way of helping you out when
You think everything's gone wrong and everything blows up
In your face

A traffic jam when you're already late
For your job as the town's chief designer of roads
A no-smoking sign on your cigarette break
When you've just invented the cure for emphysema
It's like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife
But, funnily enough, you did need a spoon ten minutes ago
But couldn't find one
So, improvising, performed the task with a knife instead
Which you have now mislaid
It's meeting the man of my dreams
Who's been after me for years
But I'd always turned him down before because I thought I was a lesbian and I was in love with this woman
Who wasn't interested in me
But now I've finally decided that actally I should get together with him cause he is wonderful
And then meeting his beautiful wife
And it's her
Damn
And isn't it ironic
Don't you think
A little too ironic
And yeah I really do think

It's like rayiyai-ain on your wedding day
If you're marrying a famous meteorologist
It's a free ride when you've already paid
For your shiny new car
Which you bought so that you wouldn't have to rely on other people for lifts any more
It's the good advice that you just didn't take
Because you knew damn well that the guy giving you the advice hates your guts and was trying to give you bad advice
But it turned out he was wrong
And his advice, though it was meant to screw up your life, was actually, unintentionally on his part, rather good
Who would've thought it figures, eh?

Life has a funny way of sneaking up on you
Life has a funny, funny way of helping you out
Helping you out


As you can see, Morissette's original lyrics make the various cases of irony clearer, but arguably don't scan as well as the final version. The reputation of the people of an entire continent has therefore been needlessly damaged by the mere rhythmic requirements of the pop music form. A form that was made ubiquitous by the denizens of that very continent, I might add. Ironically.

No, the problem with Ironic is not the lack of irony in its lyrics. It's the fact that it's turgid insipid tripe.

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