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November 13, 2002

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A really good interview with Tori appeared in the November 13, 2002 edition of the Windy City Times, a gay-lesbian-bi-trans paper in Chicago, IL. Thanks to Josepj J. Finn for sending this to The Dent.

Walking & Talking with Tori Amos
Tori Amos performs on Nov. 27 & 29 @ Chicago Theater (312/559-1212)

By Gregg Shapiro

After stepping in and out of the multiple personalities of the Strange Little Girls on her 2001 album of cover tunes, Tori Amos continues her exploration of characters on Scarlet's Walk (Epic), an album of all original material. Written in response to attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the 18 songs follow a woman named Scarlet on her cross-country trek, where she encounters a variety of people and she experiences enlightenment via her contact with Native Americans, a group of people mourning the death of a gay friend, and "Mrs. Jesus," among others. The album sounds a lot like her breakthrough domestic debut Little Earthquakes, and that is sure to please many of her longtime fans.

Gregg Shapiro: As the mother of a daughter, the songs "Don't Make Me Come To Vegas" and "Amber Waves," about young women on the edge and in trouble, resonate with a mother's protective and nurturing voice. Do you find that motherhood works its way into your creative voice and artistic outlook?

Tori Amos: I guess so. More than I even thought. Some of the questions that you're bringing up--maybe I didn't think about it until somebody asks me. I think the songs usually give a clue of where I am at the time. Whether they're shrouded in Scarlet or this one or that one. I usually get a read of where I am. Maybe being more of a nurturing force, instead of a ship that can't quite find its bearings in the middle of the ocean. I'm feeling a lot more comfortable being on the shore, lighting a candle in the window, and bringing the ships in.

GS: That's kind of a mothering thing, isn't it?

TA: I think so. I think that maybe being a mom has effected me in ways that you don't even think about.

GS: Is there a specific meaning to the names of the women--Scarlet, Amber Waves and Carbon--in the songs?

TA: Always. Symbolism is important in all the work, but word association is where your alchemy happens. The core of this record is threads. Scarlet was a thread, a fabric, before she was a color. From her word history. I like the idea of shape-shifting in the Native American tradition. America comes alive in this, she becomes personified in different women. Amber Waves the porn-star, Carbon the manic-depressive, Wampum Prayer the old Apache woman by the fire telling the story. I like the idea that the land takes hold of these human women and speaks through them. Scarlet is any woman, she bleeds, she's a thread. The men, of course, are always there, they're terra firma in this. They're real, they're flesh and blood. Scarlet sees them, she laughs with them, she (pauses) gets turned upside down by some of them (laughs) and she turns a few upside down herself.

GS: In the song "Taxi Ride," which takes place in Chicago, there is the line that goes "Just another Dead fag/to you that's all/Just another Light missing/on a long taxi ride." I know that the song is supposed to be about a group of friends getting together to mourn the death of a gay friend, but is it in reference to anyone in particular?

TA: For those of you who knew him, this is really for (the late make-up artist) Kevyn Aucoin. I think his death brought up a lot in a lot of people. He would hear me working on it (this song, which I'd been working on, on and off for years) and he would come up to me and say, "Who's the fag who's dying?" He'd call me "Toricalamicus" (laughs, and he'd ask) "Who's the fag that's dying?" I would look at him and I would say, "Well, today (I) don't know." I did not know that it would embody him. Maybe life reflected art at the time as the story was being written and people were gathering for this personal death, after the death happens in "I Can't See New York." Scarlet goes to the Boston airport and the thread leaves her there and goes into this other woman who's going on another plane. Scarlet makes it to New York City in that little plane that always makes it to New York--I've taken it a hundred times. She's in the city and this other plane doesn't make it down. The thread comes back to her as she sees the explosion in the sky. For whatever reason, she's able to hear the last thoughts that this woman had before she died. This woman who's dead comes alive in her. Her physical body isn't permanent, but her voice is now in Scarlet's head. That's how the thread works. She leaves the city eventually, when she feels she can. She hitches a ride with "Mrs. Jesus," in these troubling times. She goes to this gathering, where there is an inner betrayal. A gay friend has died and what his death has brought up is that maybe we weren't really there for him. Maybe we weren't the friends that we thought we were when he really needed us.

GS: There is a brilliant play on words in the song "Scarlet's Walk," with the line about "leaving terra"--which makes reference to both leaving the ground of a place and also to the "Tara" (T-A-R-A) of Gone With The Wind

TA: and also the horrifying "terror" of t-e-r-r-o-r.

GS: That adds a whole other dimension. Why did you choose that particular word play?

TA: I made a choice of "terra firma" on the written page because it is the land. The terror that forced them to leave terra firma is alluded to and it is hopefully in the voice. The idea that this story of a heroine, from Jonesboro, that loved the land and it was taken from her. She was an immigrant. She is just down the road from the people who were forced to march on the Trail of Tears in our own history. Many people know the mythic story much more than they know the real story of the native people who had to leave terra firma. But this parallel, this thread of terra and the Red Road and Scarlet O'Hara and the immigrant and the native people. There must be an integration at some point. Here, in the story, is where they come together for her, across time lines, and are a part of her body map.

GS: I'm glad that you mentioned the references to Native American culture, because the album is so full of them. Is there a thread, in your mind, between the early settlers' slaughter of Native Americans and the slaughter that took place Sept. 11?

TA: I think that a window of collective memory was opened on that day. It lines up and falls like dominoes across consciousness. I think we're wired that way and the vortexes of our body maps hit that way, so that when there is an invasion within the heart, we feel it. There was, many years ago, a different timeline, (when) the native people were invaded. Not visited and honored, but invaded. There was an intrusion. It's this feeling that was resonating through a lot of people. That's where the window started to open and these experiences started to align. When there's alignment in that way, there's always a chance for healing. Different Native Americans came to me at different times and said, "The white brother that owns the land and the people that hold the land must come together for the sake of her survival." I looked at one of these people and I said, "But so much has been taken from you." And this woman said to me, "Unfortunately, the white brother only took the land. We are ready for him to take more." It was in this desire and humility to still give more, so that we can care for our true mother properly, I was Godsmacked, as they say. Being a bit jaded as I can be, and with a giggle, I said, these are the real warriors here. This peaceful warrior--they're tenacious and they're looking after their great mother and they're worried about the hands that she's in at this time.

GS: A couple of the songs have unusual pop culture references. In "Gold Dust," you refer to seeing in the dark through "The Eyes Of Laura Mars" and in "Wednesday" you mention that Scarlet is "humming 'When Doves Cry'." Is it important to be able to call upon popular culture in your work?

TA: Maybe there's a part of me that is so driven to the visual arts, where I get my palette from. I love watching all those old movies, although I don't have as much time as I used to. I pick up a lot of photography and art books. The work of Manuel Alvarez Bravo was a huge touchstone for me on this record. The revolutionary time in Mexico, the '30s. Tracy Moffatt's series "Scarred For Life." The effect that one event can have and how you can change what you become. A stranger says something to you and decide, "OK, I'm going to be Tori now." Or, "I'm not going to be a business major. I love plants. There's a way to do this. I don't have to throw it all away. I can put this into something that works for me."

Sometimes, when you see a photograph or a movie, when you talk about pop culture, as a storyteller you're weaving references that bring sensation to someone.

GS: It makes things universal, because as some point someone has heard that song or seen that movie.

TA: And it's all about word association. If you bring different archetypes to the table, just because of the polarity sitting there, it changes what it could become. In other words, if you only have Aphrodite sitting at the table, it's not that exciting. For some person, it might be. But I love the idea that you might also have Persephone at the table with her. You have polarity there with the Queen of the Underworld. Or you have the Crones at the table. People that are striving for Aphrodite are always afraid of the Crones and the death. When you add these symbols into the story, people have places to go back to those places in themselves. Word association is a big part of my work.

GS: On the subject of word association, the song "Pancake" has the line "It seems in vogue/to be a closet/misogynist homophobe." What are you trying to communicate with that line?

TA: For a while, we realized that that's just not what you do. Then it seemed OK to do that, to become a leader and be that.

GS: So, this is in reference to the current political leadership.

TA: It's across the board. It's a way of thinking, whether you're a president or a pop star. We move into the next century and yet we always have to have someone to objectify. There's always a judgment on somebody's lifestyle. People talk about their religions and I see a lot of hatred in those religions.

GS: It's a misuse and misrepresentation of the language in their bibles or holy books.

TA: What's sad is that you can have a nice kind of person who has judged someone harshly because of their lifestyle. The teaching is "love thy neighbor as thyself." Where is the compassion in this?

GS: It's definitely missing. As an artist on Atlantic Records, you released a series of extraordinary CD singles that included non-LP tracks and your singular cover versions of other people's songs. Will you be doing the same with Epic Records?

TA: The industry's different now. With (the Web site) Scarlet's Web, we're releasing tracks on the web (that can be accessed) through your key that you can put in your computer. That's where you'll be able to get a lot of these things. The market's changed so much. We're trying to find ways for these songs to live.



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