The February 17 - March 2, 2005 issue (Volume 2, issue 4) of the Salt Lake Metro newspaper includes an article on Tori Amos. Click to read it.
This article was written by Eric Tierney.
As I've mentioned before in this space, I am what is sometimes known as a Toriphile. This is a mental illness common in adolescents and younger adults who have been relegated to outsider status--typically gays, socially awkward young women, vegetarians, Goths, Mods, and a certain variety of thirty five year old woman whose diet consists chiefly of soy, who takes summer vacations in places like Taos, and who usually holds a nondescript low-level corporate job. Presenting symptoms include an oppressive sense of loneliness, a tendency toward maudlin emotion, and a desperate need for a sense of understanding in the form of social acceptance. Toriphiles are regarded as freakish zealots who worship at the throne of a fairy-loving, sophomoric poseur. I, of course, do not find this to be true, but it begs the question: is it worse to be such a cultural oddity, or to be the acolyte of one? Tori Amos, I'm afraid, is tragically misunderstood, even by myself. Rock journalists used to covering the Good Charlottes and Vanessa Carltons of the music world are almost invariably threatened and intimidated by her singular methods of speaking and thinking, are unfamiliar with the mythological and archetypal bases of her work, and label her with unimaginative adjectives like "flaky", "weird", or "spacey". The truth is that Amos has, over the past almost thirteen years since the release of Little Earthquakes, grown considerably as a woman and an artist, and is probably just a little too sophisticated for the pop idiom in which she works.
I became a devotee because I identified with the pain and struggle so plaintively captured in the confessional style of her first three albums--my eventual estrangement came about when Amos came to terms with her life, started writing less compellingly about herself, and became something of a Joseph Campbell of pop music, doing enough research into the nature and power of myth to write and defend one hell of a dissertation for a PhD in cultural anthropology, but cramming it instead into one album after another, each more esoteric than the last.
I mention all of this because I have begun recently to resolve my love-hate feelings about Amos with the help of a book she co-authored with (good) rock journalist Ann Powers. The tome is titled Tori Amos: Piece by Piece, and it is an extraordinarily intimate gaze at her life as an artist, as a person, and as a personality. I once thought Tori's muse had been lost once she stopped singing about breakups and miscarriages, and that the sonic reimagination of her composition and production styles that took place with from the choirgirl hotel was mostly a result of the new studio she'd built for herself and her fascination with the accompanying bells and whistles. How astonishing to discover that even I, who have invested thousands of dollars in her music and have been a diligent listener for ten years, could have so misjudged her motives.
We expect very little from pop musicians: they sing chiefly about love or the lack of love, they craft memorable and unchallenging tunes which are arranged and produced in pretty much standard format, they tour around the country every summer and perform these same songs for us live, and they consent to be interviewed for publications like Rolling Stone, where they expound on their own songwriting and "artistic" abilities, arguing that they are the exception to the mass-marketing rule, making us feel better about not only purchasing, but enjoying, their music.
Tori Amos expects a lot more from us. Yes, her lyrics can seem almost nonsensical. Yes, she talks about mysticism and New Age-y topics that can make some of us uncomfortable. But she's been playing the piano now for about forty years, and has been composing for let's say thirty-five, so she is the ultimate rarity in pop music--an actual musician--and the complexity of both her writing and producing reflect as much. So what's really happening with Tori is that she's working as an artist in the altruistic sense--rather than playing down to our expectations, she's talking about what she wants to talk about, saying it how she wants to say it, and we can all de damned if it seems out there or unapproachable. She knows her audience, and knows her commercial limitations, so she doesn't care about her marketability. Besides, the fact that she's not as easy to listen to as, say, Sarah McLachlan (Tori's less talented, safer doppelganger) doesn't keep her from selling out Radio City for three nights, as she happily points out in the book.
Tori's newest album, The Beekeeper, will be released February 22. I am eagerly looking forward to it, and dreading it slightly, since the last few albums have been a little disappointing. But I'm grateful for Piece by Piece -- and I encourage both her fans and those who find her interminably annoying to read it--because whatever I think of the record, I'll at least have a little more insight into why she's done what she's done. I'm holding out, though, for one more agonized piano ballad to listen to, alone in the dark with my Tori-style pain.