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Article on Tori in Big Issue Magazine

Updated Sat, Jun 11, 2005 - 12:41am ET

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An article on Tori appears in Big Issue magazine in Scotland. I do not know thw exact issue date of this article, but I do have the text of the article which you can now read.

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Thanks to Nienke Stadt for sending me the text of the article.

The Honey Trap

With a reputation for fierce intelligence, reticence and peculiarity, Tori Amos cuts an unusual figure in pop. Stephen Russell swallowed his nerves to talk bees Original Sin and the state of US politics.

Interviewing an artist you genuinely admire can be dangerous. The prospect of interviewing Tori Amos, not exactly renowned for her openness towards the press, adds an extra dimension of jitters. So, when more than a full minute elapses between the first question and the resulting answer, it seems like this could become one of those infamous encounters where the journalist winds up dead in the water.

The gap between second question and answer is no less extended, and a mild panic might start to set in, if it were not for Amos' sudden and impassioned turn to the debate over America's place in world affairs, and it's influence on her new album, The Beekeeper.

"I was writing this work from my perch in Cornwall, looking out across the Atlantic to my home country, America," she recalls, "I don't see myself at all as an expat. I don't know where I'd be living in the world right now had it not been a choice for love. Therefore I write a lot about the mechanism that is America. I've always done that and I think I always will."

Her pervious album, Scarlet's Way [Scarlet's walk!!!!], saw Amos turn inwards, looking at the US through the teachings of the Native American population. Having moved to Cornwall to be with her husband and raise her children, The Beekeeper still focuses on America, but from a European viewpoint.

"It made sense that the medicine man - or medicine woman - energy needed to be recognised on this continent, in a European tradition. What I found was a mirror image of the American medicine man/woman - the beekeeper - that is part of Europe's ancient tradition. As I started to research I began to see that it went back further on the continent, as part of the ancient feminine. The honey bee represents sacred sexuality."

Amos seizes upon this understanding of the feminine, and uses it as a rallying cry against what she perceives as a reassertion of the dominant white patriarchy in the US.

"It's very hard to see through a mechanism like patriarchy if you are divided within your own being. Because the Christian right has gained so much prominence in the States over the last few years, I felt that it was essential to talk about the division within the being and it brought me to the tradition of the beekeepers." She continues, obviously fired by a passionate belief that her home country is reaching a pivotal point in history. "America is at its crossroads - those who are safes and those who are wise have been saying this for the last few years, particularly with the whole shift in the world when America was outwardly attacked. American has a choice as to how it's going to move forward."

"What's been troubling me is that those who are 'they' can't seem to put their agenda in the backseat. It seems to me that unless a generation rises to put the needs of the many over the needs of the few, then people will look at us and we will be known as a generation no different than when Rome fell. There's a window of time in history - I don't claim to be a historian but I've always been fascinated by it - and my songs chronicle time as I know it. This record is very much about this crossroads."

For Amos, both The Beekeeper and Scarlet's Walk are her testimony to this historical moment.
"When you look back in 20 or 30 years time, there will be the two records that define where I felt America was, at its crossroads. From within - my Native American teachers - and without - with my Cornish teachers, the beemasters and mistresses of the European tradition of shamanism - as they were guiding me and forcing me to look at where my country was globally, and how that affected, particularly, the women within that country."

Amos is impassioned about women's rights, and while she recognises America's past strength on gender sexuality, she fears that this is being undone.

"we've been on the frontline as far as women's rights are concerned. Women in the workplace in America have benefited more than in any country in the world. What's troubling me is that in the last four, five years, some of the strides we made in equality for women are now being subjugated to the patriarchy."

The male-dominated seizure of power is no new occurrence, but it is one with which Amos, in her historical studies on the development of Christianity, has been fascinated. As she read the Gnostic Gospels and other works from the Nag Hammadi, a library of early Christian text that predate both the New and the Old Testament, her strongly held beliefs found new backing.

"It's very curious that as we have a new Pope, who you couldn't say would be warm and fuzzy towards women's rights, almost 1,500 years on since the Catholic Church really took root, we're having to revisit what's been covered up all this time: that women were prophets in the church, that Jesus sanctioned them, but that the early bishops were not ok with the role of women in the church.

"they did not honour the teachings of Jesus, which is no different from the leaders in America not honouring Jesus' teachings as they were hijacking them to garner the mass vote, to sanction a war that didn't necessarily paint an accurate picture."

Amos used The Beekeeper to reclaim that feminine voice. In this retelling of Genesis, it's the woman who has the balls.

"For thousands of years this woman called Eve has really held the blame for the reason we are not in Paradise. In the beginning, a woman's curiosity, because she listened and wanted knowledge, got us kicked out of Paradise."

"Any way you look at it, the chick is minus 10 here. Any way you look at it we got kicked out of the garden because of things that are natural, things that we should do, which are to question, to desire."

"It seemed to me that we needed another garden allegory that challenged this theory - that's really what The Beekeeper is. It's the garden allegory, but going back to God's mother, Sofia, so it precedes the Genesis story. So this woman goes to Sofia and says 'how am I going to be useful in this day and age to my friends and my family, and how am I going to combat this incredible authority that seems to be sweeping the planet?' Sofia says basically that she must eat of the fruit and so it goes against everything that the Judaeo/Christian God says."

Amos' writing has greatly benefited from her ability to take on personas and speak with those voices, with the ease of an actor.

"When you are able to allow archetypes to crawl into your skin and you can see through the eyes of another piece of yourself that you are maybe aren't able to claim, then your writer self can traverse certain subjects that your personal self might want to, but needs a key to get in there. We put a lot of rules on our personal self, and sometimes they can become stagnant and almost because so much a part of structured life just in order to exist in society that the writer's self is no longer able to be allowed out."

"I think that's why in the past you've had a lot of songwriters and poets who haven't lasted very long and have had very tragic lives - because they weren't able to walk that tightrope. I think the only way to walk it is to be able to move in and out of archetypes and make it a mosaic - to the point where my husband doesn't even know sometimes what the songs are about, or which part of Tori this is. I think I married the right man because he doesn't want to know. He looks at me and says 'anybody else who's ever touched it, you seem to have left, so I'm not completely stupid.'"

Amos is fully aware that, in her own rewriting of the story of Original Sin, she has edited the narrative, and that the process of editing itself has the ability to subjugate, to seer a power over the text by assuming the dominant voice.

"As I was tracing the myth back, I stopped to say 'hang on a minute, some scribe wrote this story'. It was like the biblical Guardian, or the Telegraph - probably the Telegraph. This was a human being who decided to put this down. Human beings edited the Bible that we take as the gospel truth."

Bringing the idea of patriarchal editing right back to home, Amos recalls her own father, a Methodist minister, editing lyrics from her Anthology, a sheet music collection of her songs.

"He edited out 'crucify', 'God', and 'father Lucifer'. I began to realise that, in a tiny little way, this is no different than the guys who edited the New Testament or the Old Testament. You have a bunch of 'God's army' who decides what is sanctioned by God. My dad decided that 'crucify' shouldn't be in my anthology because he doesn't agree with it."

One of the most rousing tracks on the new album, the oddly titled 'The Power of Orange Knickers'. is a collaboration with fellow singer-songwriter Damien Rice. His subdued yet heartfelt delivery perfectly compliments the soaring and vaguely maniacal talent of Amos. Amos immediately found common ground with Rice.

"He is very much of the earth - there's just no airs and graces to him. He came down by himself and he hung out all day with the crew. And I think that what I got from him is that he's really committed to the craft of songwriting and making good music."

"Sometimes, when you get a bit of notoriety, especially in the early days, and it's new to you, you can really get sucked into it. Because don't think it's not seductive. It's very seductive. Anybody who tells you it's not is lying. If it wasn't you wouldn't have left your living room and you would just be signing your songs to yourself."

Thankfully, Amos was seduced, and was savvy enough with it not to be sucked in. So, the story so far goes.... Amos because Eve, faced with knowledge and desire, but with the teachings of Sofia in mind. Confronted with the apple, her choice is unflinching: "Yeah, every time honey. You give me an apple and it's gonna be on my lips."

Posted by: Mikewhy

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