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Single Serving - Nickelback's "Never Again"
A psychologist looks at one of today's hottest singles and album cuts
By Dr. Bruce L. Thiessen, a.k.a. Dr. B.L.T.

Album Cut: Hands Clean
Artist: Alanis Morissette
Label: Maverick

If it weren't for your maturity none of this would have happened
If you weren't so wise beyond your years I would've been able to control myself
If it weren't for my attention you wouldn't have been successful and
If it weren't for me you would never have amounted to very much"
"Vengeance is mine," saith the Lord. But God often works in mysterious ways. Sometimes he uses the gifts of an artist to plant a seed of conviction in the heart of an unrepentant miscreant. However, God has never and will never adopt vengeance for the sake of vengeance. Redemption is his ultimate purpose. "Hands Clean" offers a nondescript perpetrator of a nondescript abuse a one-way ticket to the road to redemption in the form of an open invitation, an invitation to acknowledge what happened and to accept the artist and host's emotional portrait as valid and worthy of consideration.

"Hands Clean" sets the vulnerable, yet empowering tone for the entire album, Under Rug Swept. It rewinds and fast-forwards between yesterday's tale of innocence betrayed, and today's belated expose. This is the best musical prescription available for unresolved shame and anger since "Jagged Little Pill." It takes the listener up and down the stairs between a traumatic past and a turbulent present.

Ooh this could be messy
But you don't seem to mind
Ooh don't go telling everybody
And overlook this supposed crime
"Hands Clean," is as much a riveting, emotionally revealing poem as it is a song. Its content demands that critical attention be shifted from the audience and the work itself, to the psyche of the artist. On more than one occasion, Alanis Morissette herself has alluded to the song as an autobiographical account. The emotional paroxysms are most poignant in the music and emotional tone captured in the vocal tone of Morissette, rather than in the lyrics themselves. By allowing the facts of the case to speak for themselves, she avoids offering the public a maudlin or mawkish account of the "supposed crime." Whether the violation revealed in the song was a legal one, an ethical one, or primarily sexual in nature is not clear. What seems abundantly clear, however, is that the relationship was marked by a conspicuous disparity of power. Clearly, the victim in the song was not the one holding the cards. The power that she apparently relinquished in the past has now been reclaimed through sublimation. Sublimation, the process by which instinctual impulses are creatively channeled into socially acceptable avenues, is one of the most powerful means of coping with trauma. It invariably empowers a once powerless victim.

By musically modeling sublimation in action and by openly demonstrating an authentic willingness to become vulnerable, Morissette is providing a valuable therapeutic service to listeners. Yet sublimation is not the only way of addressing unresolved emotional baggage from the past. If the acts are illegal, they must be reported to the authorities. Reporting abuse to officials may be exceedingly anxiety-provoking, if not downright perilous for the victim. However, as exemplified in the current imbroglio involving myriad cases of unreported sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, secrets kept and "Under Rug Swept" amount to accumulated debt. The longer the burgeoning burden it is ignored, the more emotionally taxing it is on all affected parties. Eventually the emotional toll must be paid.

In addition to making an official report, the yellow pages are replete with numbers of support groups and other avenues of therapeutic support. Many psychologists and other mental health professionals are highly skilled, not only in uncovering traumatic events and their concomitant underlying emotions, but in facilitating recovery through a variety of psychotherapeutic techniques. A mental-health practitioner with a Christ-centered perspective can offer emotional support and relief from despair, resentment and rage associated with the sense of being profoundly violated. But more importantly, such a spirit-guided, scripturally sound professional can help restore spiritual as well as psychological wounds, ultimately reconnecting the patient to the divine balm of Gilead. I generally attempt this through a style of treatment I refer to as 'psychoprayerapy.' I find that "where two or three are gathered," there is unspeakable power for the implementation of constructive and dramatic change, particularly when the third, unseen participant happens to be adept at walking on water and raising the dead.

I would not hesitate to add "Hands Clean" to my doctor's bag of therapeutic power tools. With a peppy, driving beat and a pungently punchy guitar and vocal arrangement, this one goes down nice and smooth for the listener. On the other hands, it's got to be a hard pill to swallow for the music industry mogul whose secret is being vividly and agonizingly revealed. It is a sagaciously planned expose of an abuser of power who putatively toys with a young girl's fantasy of stardom while profoundly violating her.

"Hands Clean" is likely as cathartic for the artist as it is creative. It is likely as freeing for the artist (along with all those who vicariously identify with her plight) as it is burdensome (or potentially liberating) to the one who recognizes it as his story and his history.

We'll fast forward to a few years later
And no one know except the both of us
And I have honored your requests for silence
And you've washed your hands clean of this
The song flashes back and forth like furiously flung lightening rods, snugly sandwiching the listener between the starkly contrasting utterances of the perpetrator and the victim of this miscreant act. His hands are figuratively stained with blood, and his ablutionary ceremonies, replete with rationalizations, prove no match for the long arm of Morissette's poetic justice. There is treatment, healing and forgiveness available to the abuser too, but first he must face the music.
What part of your history's reinvented and under rug swept?
What part of your memory is selective and tends to forget?
What with this distance it seems so obvious
"Hands Clean" is perfect in its poignancy, perfect in its ability to engage the listener in a deeply emotional way, and perfect in its confluence of mood-specific musical elements. It makes a dramatic statement. It is poetic justice at its best. I'd like to high five Alanis on this gem. 


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 
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