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October 30, 2002

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Thanks to Laura Heywood for sending me this Scarlet's Walk review.

Going on 'Scarlet's Walk'
Special to The Examiner

    All heads in the Nob Hill restaurant turn when Tori Amos strolls in, wearing stiletto heels, flared jeans and chiffon blouse, her long locks tumbling past her shoulders.

    But the singer is oblivious to the stares. She's on a mission, possibly the most important of her decade-plus career (except for the rape-victim helpline/counseling service she launched several years ago.)

    Speaking in a whisper so soft it's often inaudible, she outlines the message she's trying to convey on "Scarlet's Walk," her 17-trackCD on Epic that hits stores this week.

    It begins with great news. After three miscarriages, Amos gave birth to a daughter, Natashya, two years ago.

    And with her new role as mom, she says, "I think I left that place by the fire, the place of womanhood as 'me first, my needs, my sexuality' to begin to give back ... That's what I got out of nurturing her, realizing that you must pass the torch. What kind of world is she going to be living in if I keep my eyes closed?"

    Today, the North Carolina-born, Cherokee-blooded pianist lives in Cornwall, England. But on a bus tour of the States last year backing her all-covers album "Strange Little Girls," she started taking the pulse of her old homeland.

    She began researching how post-9/11 America was feeling, from state to state, city to city.

    On the basis of dialogue heard in roadside diners, casual conversations with strangers and old friends, and interaction with spiritual elders from disparate Native American tribes, Amos drew up maps of a crippled country, and an imaginary -- yet semi-autobiographical -- character named Scarlet to traverse it.

    It's quite a journey, from the opening chat with an aging porn star, "Amber Waves," to religious, mythological themes in "Pancake," "Mrs. Jesus" and "Wampum Prayer," to the self-explanatory "I can't see New York" and "Don't Make Me Come To Vegas."

    Amos' glissando operatic trill makes it all sound like gospel.

    The singer's' keen eyes and ears paid off. She says, "I listened while I was on tour, and I spent a lot of time observing. ... Before I realized it, the record was writing itself, the songs were coming, and the characters are based on real people, the events are based on actual events."

    The tour starts on the West Coast with the character Scarlet, who meanders and doubles back on herself sometimes.

    "She's propelled to find this being that we call America -- what her soul is -- not how she's been pimped out by her leaders over the last several years," Amos says.

    Amos, 39, says she knew she was on the right track when an older Native American woman came to see her -- not her concert.

    Amost says, "She made her way backstage and said, 'I have a message for you. You're going to tell America's history, but not his-tory, you must tell her-story. Because it's time for the people who hold the land and the people who own the land to come together for her survival.' "

    Amos wonders, "Are we, as a whole, as Americans, realizing the crossroads that we're at? ... We've been attacked. What is it going take for us to see that we have to take action and see what our leaders are doing in our name?"

    She says what she found on her travels, and what she addresses on "Wampum Prayer," is that to find America's soul, you have to go back to the Native American idea of being a caretaker of the spirit of the land.

    Amos took Dee Brown's "Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee" to the next level. Through Scarlet, she visited places where the events actually occurred and learned about them, and about all the treaties that were broken.

    She says, "My great, great grandmother escaped the Trail Of Tears and hid out in the Smoky Mountains, and the stories came down to me through her. And that really propelled me into asking questions. I needed to know what it is that I believe."

    Amos fans who haven't gotten enough of their idol in "Scarlet's Walk" will get a nice CD-ROM bonus with the disc: a way to access "Scarlet's Web," a cornucopia of photos, lyrics, videos and secret songs. A limited edition of the album will include maps, Polaroids, a special DVD and a bracelet charm.

    Today, Amos can't help but see the United States from an overseas viewpoint. When she returned to Cornwall, she says, she was stunned by how the world looks at America.

    While there was a lot of empathy after 9/11, today, she says, "America is viewed as the bully on the playground. .... it's painful to behold if you love the soul of the place, the roots of her and her essence."

    And especially if you feel like a caretaker for her.

    But Amos adds, "This is the time for the torch to be lit in the ones who are going be left with this place in 20 years. They're in universities now, but this is the time for them to ask their questions, to take their own road to see what they believe in. And Scarlet is merely a thread for them to follow. That's all she is."

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