Goodbye Alice in Wonderland

As a teenager, I used to frustrate my friends because in amongst all the other acceptable, cool alternative bands I liked I would have lingering love for bands and artists considered very uncool. Usually these were artists which had once been fashionable but were now considered past their used-by date. For instance, I owned Europe’s 1991 album Prisoners in Paradise, and 1927’s self-titled third album, even though everybody else had sensibly moved on several years prior.


Usually the bands that I liked that fell into this category were musically behind-the-cutting-edge, but displayed to me (at whatever age I defended them) some kind of emotional sincerity which kept me believing in them. I was, in short, a bit of a romantic idealist, and a heartfelt lyric and emotion would help me to forgive a lot, even if it had a lot of my friends shaking their heads in dismay.


It’s four in the afternoon
I’m on a flight leaving L.A.
Trying to think about my life
My youth scattered along the highway


Hotel rooms and headlights
I’ve made a living with a song
Guitar as my companion
Wanting desperately to belong


One artist who definitely falls into this category in more recent times is Jewel. While most people in my social circle loved her first two albums, which were basically ernest folk-pop, her support fell away quite alarmingly (particularly in the uni circles I moved in) when she released her pop-vehicle 0304, which attempted to recast her as a pop diva, complete with tight shorts and song titles like 2 Become 1.


Fame is filled with spoiled children
We grow fat on fantasy
I guess that’s why I’m leaving
I crave reality


So goodbye Alice in Wonderland
Goodbye yellow brick road
There is a difference between dreaming and pretending
I did not find paradise
It was only a reflection of my lonely mind wanting
What’s been missing in my life


Despite the awareness implicit in songs such as Intuition, which noted “In the world of postmodern fad/What was good, now is bad”, most of the album felt like it was lacking in such self-knowledge, and more like a genuine attempt at reaching a wider pop audience. Unfortunately (at least in that context), the tunes were not catchy enough to launch Jewel on to broader success as a pop siren. Her lyrics, meanwhile, which had felt so heartfelt, personal and thoughtful on the first two records, had largely been given a glossy makeover, the edges rounded down to generic, replaceable phrases lacking in any sort of specificity or detail.


I’m embarassed to say the rest is a rock and roll cliche
I hit the bottom when I reached the top
But I never knew it was you who was breaking my heart
I thought you had to love me
But you did not


Yes a heart can hallucinate
If it’s completely starved for love
It can even turn monsters into
Angels from above


Jewel’s next album, This Way, backpedalled a bit, and attempted to recast her in the folk rock genre, but it felt like there was still a sense that the songs were generic, as though Jewel was still thinking more about the audience than about making songs that she really felt. (Whether this is an accurate perception or not is of course not something I can say with any knowledge).  And a lot of her work since then, while it contained moments of rawness and intelligence, or emotional bravery, has been padded out by songs which feel lazy and lacking in genuine passion (with the possible exception of her latest album, perhaps her best in a decade).


You forged my love just like a weapon
And you turned it against me like a knife
You broke my last heartstring
You opened up my eyes


So goodbye Alice in Wonderland
Goodbye yellow brick road
There is a difference between dreaming and pretending
That was not love in your eyes
It was only a reflection of my lonely mind searching
For what was missing in my life


Goodbye Alice in Wonderland, the song, from the somewhat patchy album of the same name, is one of my favourite Jewel songs because it is an exception to this trend. I listen to it and it gives me chills, because it seems to come from a place of genuine growth and self-analysis. There is nothing quite as exciting, in any kind of art, as witnessing a moment where the author/artist/character grows, learns, changes before our eyes. And this song kind of felt like it captured that kind of moment.


To me the song is about this journey, about the moment when she tried to reach out to her audience, to be loved more by them, and in that moment lost them. It is a love song to her audience, in which she recognises the gap inside her and the drive to be loved that came from it. She recognises, in hindsight, the shallow nature of the fame she strove for and the realisation that “I thought you had to love me/But you did not.”


It’s a painfully honest recognition, but it’s not a despairing one. It is a journey that we all go through, maybe, as we age, and we learn that the things we craved when we were younger, particularly wealth and fame, are not exactly what we envisioned them to be. The things we define as success in our youth become empty as we age and learn, and similarly the aspects of our lives that the younger us might term as failures become successes, or at least, part of the learning experience as we unshoulder the dreams that thoughtlessly accept when we are growing up, and grasp something more genuine, more real. “You broke my last heart string,” Jewel sings. “You opened up my eyes.”


Growing up is not an absence of dreaming
It’s being able to understand the difference between the ones you can hold
And the ones that you’ve been sold
And Dreaming is a good thing cause it brings new things to life
But pretending is an ending that perpetuates a lie
Forgetting what you are
Seeing for what you’ve been told


For me, Goodbye Alice in Wonderland marked the moment that Jewel started to turn her career around, to discover an identity again. But more than that, it feels like a really honest moment captured in amber, and a reminder to all artists of the need to stay true to yourself, rather than overthinking your audience and your ambition. It is a reminder of the power of art to find the universal not in the generic but in the particular.


Truth is stranger than fiction
This is my chance to get it right
And life is much better without all of those pretty lies


Ohh So Goodbye Alice in Wonderland
And you can keep your yellow brick road
There is a difference between dreaming and pretending
These are not tears in my eyes
They are only a reflection of my lonely mind finding
They are only a reflection of my lonely mind finding
I found what’s missing in my life

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One Response to Goodbye Alice in Wonderland

  1. Thoraiya says:

    This was a good, thoughtful post.

    The Jewel-equivalent for me was and is Roxette. Their world tour this year doesn’t include Australia – because everyone else has moved on! But I did find a song or two to like in their latest album, Charm School. I don’t know about Per Gessle having transformed as an artist. Marie is the one who got cancer inside her skull, who thought she was too broken to sing again. But she isn’t the songwriter; at least, the songs she writes are in Swedish and I can’t know how they have changed from Sparvoga, which she wrote in her youth:

    Du lilla sparvöga flyg över ängarna
    Dröm dina drömmar så länge du känner liv

    You little sparrow bird fly over the meadows
    Dream your dreams as long as you know life…

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