Issue #24 of Music Channel Magazine in Manila, Philippines includes a Tori article. Click to read it.
Thanks to Hoochie for sending this to the Dent.
TORI AMOS: A Portrait of an Artist as a Piano Goddess By Alden Copuyoc
(A Toriphile traces the Sprite Queen's journey as a great musician.)
According to the critically acclaimed novel White Oleander, nobody becomes an artist unless one has to. Apparently, things were different for Piano Goddess Tori Amos.
Picture this: A redheaded porcelain beauty slouched on a piano stool, left hand on a harpsichord, right on a grand piano. Then the drums begin. She lets out a haunting voice and eventually shifts from a grand shout to a wail. As she reaches for the song's highest note, her eyeballs disappear. With the retina overexposed, she wiggles on the piano stool as her fingers hit complex chords on both instruments -- no wonder it was believed that Tori never stops playing without hearing a lachrymal applause from the audience.
The Piano Prodigy. Tori Amos was born Myra Ellen Amos on 22 August 1963 at Newton, North Carolina, USA but was raised in suburban Maryland after her family migrated a year after her birth. Her father was a minister of a Methodist church.
Her journey as a musical virtuoso started when at the tender age of 2 _, she began playing the piano. At age 4, she already was singing and playing the piano at church and began writing musical scores. A year later, she could play anything on the piano after hearing it once. Much to her father's shock, there was an event that cemented Amos's future as a musician: After they came home from a musical they had watched, the young Amos played the whole score on the piano. This instinctive gift of composing and playing the piano was not only acknowledged by her family and local churchgoers. At age 5, her astonishing penchant for the piano got her an admission to the prestigious Peabody Institute at Baltimore's John Hopkins University making her the youngest student ever admitted there.
The institute's plan was to hone Amos to be a future classical concert pianist so they insisted on sheet music while Amos opted "to play by ear." She fell in love with rock music and preferred the songs of John Lennon, The Doors and Led Zeppelin to classical pieces of Beethoven, Mozart and Bach. After six years of study, the eccentric Myra Ellen composed a sheet that was deemed too radical for the standards of Peabody. This non-adherence to the orthodox of classical music led the faculty not to renew her scholarship. The unscathed Amos left the conservatory and for a brief period gave up playing the piano.
The Pubescent Struggle. At age 13, her desire to make music resurfaced. She sat on her piano stool again, wrote pop ballads and performed in local bars in Washington DC and Baltimore. Four years later, she released her first single entitled "Baltimore" under her own MEA label (named after her own initials) which bestowed a citation from the Mayor of Baltimore. During this time, she decided to adopt the first name Tori when a friend's friend told her that she is "more like a Tori than an Ellen" after watching her perform live.
After being hailed as "homecoming queen" and "most likely to succeed," Tori got her high school diploma at Rockville, Maryland. She scampered off to LA in 1983 to become a pop icon. During this trip, she saw her singing prowess as a more effective weapon; she veered away from the piano and concentrated on singing. She recorded a mother lode of demo tapes and sent them to various record labels but was ignored.
The Not-So Big Picture. Finally, Atlantic Records signed her in 1987 and produced a wishy-washy pop metal album called Y KANT TORI READ. Initially envisioned to sound like a more metallic Pat Benatar, critically and commercially, the record screamed F-L-O-P in big bold red letters. Fortunately, Billboard magazine published an article about it. Unfortunately, in the article, Tori was called a "bimbo" after the critics saw her stint in her "The Big Picture" music video. Tori, then aged 24, had gone from prodigy to a frustrated musician. Good thing, she did not lose her record contract.
Finding Her True Voice. At last. In 1990, Tori found her true voice in an entirely different approach: composing and singing solely haunting, confessional ballads that combined the vocal stylistics of Kate Bush and the melodies and literariness of Joni Mitchell.
Although Atlantic acknowledged Tori's genius, they deemed her sound not apt for the taste of American listeners at that time. So, they sponsored a trip to England so she may gain better attention under East West Records. She did smalltime gigs that were acclaimed by both new fans and critics. Then she released an EP, ME AND A GUN, which also sold well. The song "Me and a Gun" is an autobiographical a cappella tale that tackled the emotional and harrowing details of her own rape by an armed fan as she hitched him after a performance. It gained positive reviews and became the anthem of rape-prevention advocates in America. Tori even co-founded RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.) and made headlines in January 1997 as she put up a benefit concert for the organization.
Been There and Silent All Those Years Dancing in Graveyards. Tori's first solo album, LITTLE EARTHQUAKES, was released in late 1991. It sold well in the US and the UK. The album went double platinum and highlighted her signature style: a conglomerate of confessional, whimsical and haunting ballads back dropped by emotive and complex piano gymnastics. It etched Tori a space in the musical map.
Never Coming Back to Crucify Herself. In 1992, Tori released CRUCIFY EP which featured three covers including Led Zep's "Thank You" and Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit." This gave a peek of what Tori would sound like in her sophomore album.
The Cornflake Girl. Probably because of the faeries and sun gods whom Tori believes in and thanked for in her albums, she survived the jinx. Her follow-up album, UNDER THE PINK, was released in early 1994. If its predecessor was a journal-type of a record, this one is an abstract painting. It engraved Tori's name, along with Bjrk and PJ Harvey, as one of the intellectual literate female songwriters at that time. Topping the UK Charts, it also proved Tori's commercial viability when it sold over a million copies. Tori's musical experimentation and creativity was highlighted by her most daring piece at that point: The single "God" was embroidered by a peculiarly metered rhythmic pattern and was opened by a weird squeaking guitar lead that gives the impression of a crow being bombarded by the doors of an elevator. This oddity had not commensurate the creative force that was the third record: BOYS FOR PELE.
Love, Peace and a Piglet? Perhaps Tori's most difficult and ambitious album, PELE propelled the Sprite Queen's sound and imagination to full blast, discussing relationships with higher intensity and profundity. The harsh themes that peppered the sexually-charged PELE was a product of Tori's broken love affair with longtime partner Eric Rosse who also happened to be a co-producer of her earlier albums. Having a piglet suckling on her breast on the cover alone which Tori interprets as "feeding what does not suffice" suggests a sort of rebellion and acknowledgement of pain that borders on melancholy and struggle. PELE contained most of Tori's gems such "Caught a Lite Sneeze" and "Hey Jupiter." The remix of "Professional Widow" secured Tori a UK no. 1 hit. As an album, BOYS FOR PELE is Tori's best work so far: integrating a material akin to a novel and presenting it in a more digestible form as music.
The Playboy Mommy. At the latter part of the tour for PELE, Tori announced that she was pregnant. She lost the baby after bearing it for only three months. This became cathartic not only to Tori's personal life but also to her music. This event became a pallet of dark colors that had yet to be smudged on the canvass that is Tori's fourth offering: FORM THE CHOIRGIRL HOTEL.
Cathedral Screams. Not even her marriage with her sound engineer Mark Hawley in a medieval castle in England invited a flicker of light in making CHOIRGIRL. Inspired by her miscarriage, it was her "darkest" record. Dubbed as Tori's rock album, it was released in 1998 and debuted no. 5 at the Billboard album charts. It was her first time to record with a full band.
In order to accustom herself with the album's accompanying tour and be acclimatized with this new approach in her music, she compelled herself to hold mini-concert gigs in small venues exclusively for fans. The result was the successful "Plugged" world tour that brought Tori from Europe and North America.
Taking a Taxi from L.A. to Venus. After the tour, possibly out of exhaustion, Tori decided to take the next project to be a collection of B-Sides and rarities and release it as an album. Apparently, new "girls" (she calls her songs "girls") came to visit her and many brand new materials poured in enough for an album. And the result: TO VENUS AND BACK, a two-disk set composed of mostly electronica-inspired tracks in one disk and a conglomerate of her best live performances from the "Plugged" tour.
That Strange Little Girl. Marking her last release for Atlantic Records is a covers album entitled STRANGE LITTLE GIRLS. It is a record of songs previously written and performed by men (The Beatles, Depeche Mode, Eminem, etc.) to give a female perspective in each song. Expectedly, Tori transformed the songs in a pained tone, well punching on the lyrics with heavy emotion. The simplistic attacks in the songs amid her piano gymnastics and experimentation proved the belief of Toriphiles (her fans, but she prefers to call them "Ears With Feet") that each time Tori does a cover version of a song, at that point, she owns the song.
A New Home and the 09/11 Opera. Tori found a new home in Epic Records and launched SCARLET'S WALK in 2002 that debuted no. 7 at the Billboard 200. This album, written while she was in a cross-country tour after the September 11 attacks, dwells mostly on issues - the rape of America, pornography, death of a homosexual friend and points in history a country suddenly searching for an identity after one of the most disturbing episodes in the history of America. Of course her usual topics concerning love and bitterness, outpoured as well but this time in a distilled manner. Her songs "A Sorta Fairytale" and "Taxi Ride" received lots of airplays even here in the Philippines.
DVD... She gave it up. Because of her constant use of poetic techniques in her songs, every Tori song paints itself an image as one listener processes it. Many have been said about how prolific Tori is as a performer. Rumors have it that she was hospitalized for a vocal chord-related disease and the doctor told her to rest and lessen the intensity of her performance. Then at 40, Tori managed to give the astounding performance that she is known for as she released a DVD entitled Welcome to Sunny Florida that the critics referred to as the best musical film of 2004.
The Seated Woman with a Parasol. 2005 is definitely not Tori-less. With the release of an autobiographical book with music critique Ann Powers entitled "Piece by Piece" and a new album, THE BEEKEEPER, Tori is very much still with us and hopefully for the years to come. As a Toriphile, I have learned to love Tori's music not only because of her musical virtuosity but I understand her, I get her and her music and poetry make me strong. Tori will always be the water in the rain and I will imbue myself with her as I go on with life: amidst poetry, amidst barriers and amidst a great love lolloping from Manila, the cyberspace to Venus and finally to Los Baos. I am beginning to sound like Tori herself and it does not scare me. With her, I know I am safe.