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Article about the book 'Piece By Piece' at
February 15, 2005

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You can find an article about the book Tori Amos: Piece By Piece posted to on February 15, 2005. This seems to have parts of a Billboard article written at the same time, but also includes some passages I have not seen before.

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Tori Amos: Two Pieces of the Same Story
February 15, 2005
By Barry A. Jeckell

As originally conceived, Tori Amos: Piece by Piece was to be a sort of journal about Amos's latest musical project. "She wanted to get to the heart of what this creative process is so that the book would kind of be a backstage pass to the current album," says Rakesh Satyal, Amos's editor at Broadway Books.

That the project would expand beyond its original frame--into a memoir that reveals the spiritual and emotional evolution of this eccentric and often misunderstood artist--seems inevitable. Amos is not a woman who thinks of the world in fragments. In her new book, as in her songs, she treats sex, Christianity, mysticism, power, violence, politics, feminism and motherhood as intrinsically linked subjects. (Click to read an excerpt.)

Similarly, Amos considers her book and her forthcoming album, The Beekeeper, as two pieces of the same story. It's an artistic sensibility that happens to serve quite well the integrated marketing strategy developed by her publisher and her record company, Sony's Epic Records. Broadway and Epic, both part of the Bertelsmann conglomerate, are collaborating on a cross-promotional campaign of live events, sponsored in-store displays, discounts and advertising packaged into the two products. The record is set to hit stores Feb. 22, trailing the book by two weeks.

It's a case of savvy corporate synergy surrounding a singer who has been often dismissed as spacey because of her talk of fairies and mythological deities--all of which reflects her penchant for studying legends, religious texts, folklore, spirituality and art, as well as a tendency to speak a bit too openly for her own good. That openness is on display in Piece by Piece.

"I felt that now would be the time, before I forget my process, to reveal some of the ways that I've been able to continue to create in the music business, not just as a musician, but as somebody who has to navigate the business side of it and as somebody who wanted to become a mom and wanted to have a relationship," Amos says.

Co-written with acclaimed rock journalist Ann Powers (Village Voice, New York Times), the book is based on conversations between the two women, as well as Amos's own writing. Readers will learn about her current life in Cornwall, England, with her husband, sound engineer Mark Hawley, and their daughter Natashya. They'll also read about her childhood growing up in Maryland as the daughter of a Methodist minister, as well as the ways she's come to interpret her experiences through voracious reading and observing the lives of people around her.

"In many respects, she's really trying to hold to the tradition of being a troubadour," Satyal says. "She's carrying stories that are coming from different disciplines and different cultures and getting them to people so that they can draw upon all of these archetypes that happen in archeology and art so that they can inform people's daily lives."

Amos' own life also provides plenty of intriguing stories. A child prodigy, she studied classical piano at Baltimore's prestigious Peabody Academy, and was wooed by the heat of rock 'n' roll. But on the way to becoming the artist she is today, she had her share of missteps and conflicts--notably with her record company of more than a decade, Atlantic. Although she writes extensively about her disputes with the label in a chapter titled, "Surviving the Music Industry," she says she tries to avoid attacking individuals.

By all accounts, Amos and her current record label are in harmony. Epic certainly plans to capitalize on the musician's new status as an author. "They're giving us a nice little start," says Epic's Sr. VP of marketing Lee Stimmel. "Obviously the fan base will be active in looking for that book, and when they're doing that, they'll have an opportunity to find out about the record."

The disc is promoted on the book's jacket and Borders is offering $2 off the book and the album for people who buy both. The book, which was advance excerpted and available for pre-order on Amos' official Web site is also mentioned on the album's liner notes.

Amos will sign copies of the book and the CD at a Feb. 23 appearance at New York's Barnes & Noble Union Square. "An Evening of Conversation" event with the artist and Powers is set for the next night at the city's 92nd St. Y. A U.S. book signing tour will start March 14 in Los Angeles and visit San Francisco, Chicago, Washington, D.C. and Boston, bringing Amos face-to face with a devoted fan base, as well as book buyers who may not know her music yet.

Major media appearances are concentrated in the last two weeks of February, when Amos is booked on CBS' The Late Show With David Letterman NBC's Weekend Today , The Carson Daly Show,, Live With Regis & Kelly CNBC's Big Idea With Donny DeutschA&E's Breakfast With the Arts.

In April, Amos will begin a U.S. concert tour, appearing alone onstage with just her Bsendorfer piano and a Hammond B3 organ. A North American tour with a full band is being planned for the summer, after a string of dates in Europe, where the disc will be out Feb. 21. The book is expected to be published in several European markets this spring, just as Amos goes on her European music tour. "It takes a while to do the translations," says Amos' manager, John Witherspoon. "So it was going to be almost impossible to do a release simultaneously with the record." Instead, he says, they decided so wait and release the memoir while she was in Europe--using the concerts as a way to give the book a second wave of promotion.

The article also links to a page with excerpts from the book. Here they are:
EXCLUSIVE Excerpt from 'Tori Amos: Piece by Piece'
February 15, 2005
By Tori Amos and Ann Powers

I remember being quite young, back in Baltimore, before I was eight, in the bedroom I shared with my sister. She wasn't there. It was afternoon, because the light was coming in, and I had this afghan made of wool. And I remember lying underneath it and squeezing my legs and pretending Jesus was there. I didn't know how you had sex, but I felt this feeling at the base of the spine and inside. In the soft place. I was just squeezing, like you do, and feeling him. And it was Jesus; I was thinking of the picture they had downstairs. That's around the time my grandmother said I needed to learn to love Jesus--I just rolled my eyes at her and said, "Grandma, you have no idea."

Around that time I started to listen to Led Zeppelin, focusing mostly on Robert Plant. I would listen to the records and kind of study him. I wanted to figure out why so many Christian fathers were intimidated by him. I remember this very well; the powerful men in the Church didn't want Led Zeppelin records in the house. My father would come home from board meetings and say, "This Zeppelin thing is just a thorn in everybody's side." The girls were moving their hips in a way that was just primal, and it was something that couldn't be controlled or contained--they couldn't stop themselves. See, Robert Plant tapped into something there. The whole band was a part of this, but there was something about Robert that lifted it into a different category. Because he was part of, and continues on some level to be part of, the belief system I was trying to uncover for myself, that marriage of the sacred and the profane.

I was around fifteen when I really learned how badly what I was doing could be perceived in other's eyes. My sister came back from medical school to visit one time, and I tried to get to a place where I could talk about masturbating. And she said to me, "You've got to stop this now. Stop talking about it, and stop doing it." This is how we were brought up. My hand was going to fall off, according to her. It's right back to that shame place, because there was no initiation, no rites to aid the passage into sexuality and make it sacred. Anything you did was profane, even if it felt romantic. Everything went into the music then, after that conversation. I didn't stop masturbating, of course, but I knew I wasn't supposed to do it and that I shouldn't talk about it. We go back to hiding it in my sonic paintings.

I've had a laying-on of hands to try to rid evil from me. I was in confirmation class; my father was there. It was an extremely powerful experience. Not intimidating, but almost as if there were salvation there. In confirmation class everybody had to go through a process of kneeling at the altar, and all I remember was, at a certain point they said something to the effect of "Do you have a desire you need to confess?" and I said, "I desire to masturbate." And the hands went on and they said, "Satan will leave you now." At that point I realized that it wasn't accepted in my inner Christian circle. And you know what I also realized, though I couldn't act on it right away? I didn't need to stop masturbating; I had to change my inner circle.

Masturbation was so, so, so not publicly talked about when I was a teenager. Now, the Internet has changed things in a good way and a bad way; at least kids can find out about such things, even if they're in Bumfuck. Misinformation and exploitation can be spread, but so can people's experience. There are women talking about masturbation now. The sacred, the profane, the balance. I was never exposed to any of that in a way that said it was okay. It's definitely in the songs and will continue to be in the songs.

When I looked back and realized my first crush had been on Jesus, that alone gave me a clue to the type of relationship I wanted in real life: a relationship in which a woman is treated like an equal partner. A relationship in which a woman is respected. From the Gospel of Thomas, also known as the Secret Sayings of Jesus (another one of the manuscripts discovered at Nag Hammadi), I quote from the translation by Dr. Marvin W. Meyer from his book The Secret Teachings of Jesus: Four Gnostic Gospels. I'll set the scene for you first. At the end of the Gospel, Jesus is answering questions from the disciples and from Mary Magdalene, and the final question is an inquiry about when the Kingdom will come. And "Peter said to them, 'Let Mary leave us, because women are not worthy of life.' Jesus said, 'Behold, I shall guide her as to make her male so that she too may become a living spirit like you men. For every woman who makes herself male will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.' " Hang on a minute, all you feminists: wait for the translation. In Dr. Meyer's notes he explains, "Here Jesus' response to Peter, though shocking to modern sensitivities, is intended to be a statement of liberation. The female principle is saved when all that is earthly (that is, allied with an earth Mother) is transformed into what is heavenly (that is, allied with the heavenly Father), thus all people on the earth, whether women or men, require such a transformation."

That Jesus stood up to Peter and elevated Mary Magdalene to the male disciples' status made me think, No wonder Mary dug this guy. Once, a while ago, I had a kind of waking dream that became a conversation while I was playing the piano. A conversation with Mary Magdalene, who, like a jazz musician, just sat in and started jamming with me. I looked at her with a guilty conscience and said, "You know, Mary Magdalene, I didn't mean to have a crush on your man." And because I didn't hear a response from her, I kept rambling. "You know, maybe it was more like James Taylor. I mean, in 1971 Jesus and James could kind of pass for brothers, and didn't Jesus have a brother named James?" And all of a sudden I heard this throaty, sexy laugh. And in my day-tripper dream world Mary Magdalene said to me, "Don't you see, you're looking for a guy that treats women a certain way--a guy who wants a complete partnership with a woman." And then she was gone.

Song Canvas : "The Power of Orange Knickers" I started to think about the word terrorist. It's a word you hear several times a day now. I started to think about what being a terrorist can mean in different situations. I wanted to explore the realm of personal invasion. Now this would be an invasion by someone you know personally, not a stranger. We all know about strangers being filled with hatred--strangers who lash out against a government or an ideal. As a result, this stranger kills innocent people, tragically, people you may know personally. But when there is an intimacy between two people and one person starts to feel invaded by the other person, that is personalized terrorism. As we all know, the battleground between two lovers, or two friends, or two coworkers can be vicious. Painful. Heartbreaking. And bloody. I started to think about the weapons that might be used in this kind of battle, and as I kept digging for an answer, I stumbled into the Realm of Assonance. I started to think, Okay, what is the paradox of terrorist? And Assonance, that beautiful creature, came to my aid and whispered, "Kiss." And sure enough, we have all felt invaded by a lingering kiss, for good or ill. But I had to find terrorism not just in a relationship of a couple--representing two divided Beings--but within one Being. After all, isn't that the ultimate discovery, the ultimate pain--division within the self, the soul from the body, the mind from the heart, wisdom from consciousness, the addiction from the cure, the two Marys... divided? The lyrics started to come to me quickly...

The Power of Orange Knickers, under my petty coat. The power of listening to what, you don't want me to know. Can somebody tell me now, who is this terrorist? Those girls that smile kindly, then rip your life to pieces. Can somebody tell me now, am I alone with this--this little pill in my hand and with this secret kiss. Am I alone in this?

Conversation Between Tori And Ann
I am a songwriter twenty-four hours a day. I'm not a performer twenty-four hours a day. I'm not a wife twenty-four hours a day. Even Mommy--to be honest, when I'm on that stage and channeling, Mommy's taking a break. But the writer in me is always present.

As a songwriter, I'm gathering clues and possibilities all the time, whether I see a piano that day or not. I've tried to explain to people how I collect these dispatches, because I think anybody can do what I'm talking about. Once I do plug in, I might get only one line and two bar phrases of the melody. I always have elements of songs around that may never ever get recorded. As far back as Little Earthquakes, I began to realize that I needed to have a library of notes, phrases, words, things that might prove useful at any given time. Within a few months' time I'll gather hundreds of those fragments. Half won't be used. And then the craft comes in, the part that is about painting a world. You want listeners to smell the lavender, to feel the point of those knitting needles in a handbag of the granny who happens to harbor a loyalty to Madame Defarge. You want the listener to know the wood's burning in the stove when they walk into the song with me. Music is about all of your senses, not just hearing.

I think of the structure of any particular song as a house. The bathroom is the bathroom, and you have to understand the shape of the bathroom and its needs. The kitchen's the kitchen. Sometimes you want the chorus to be the kitchen in a song. Sometimes you want the chorus to be the shower, very cleansing. Sometimes it's the bedroom. Or sometimes the chorus is that shower, but instead it's about being naked and soap and it's sexy--or it's not sexy at all, but an eradication of someone or something. It could even be akin to "I've gotta wash that God right outta my hair," depending on what sticky archetypes have been prodding through the night. The point is, even in terms of the emotion expressed, the shape matters before the story does. Without the structure, there's nowhere for the story to live.

Peter Gabriel taught me, when I worked with him a bit in the early 1990s, that attention to structure is what you have to develop if you're going to be a composer/songwriter generating effective work throughout your life. He said to me in 1995, "Look around you--you have these engineers. You could build a studio, a workshop. Tori, you never know: your workshop studio may be the only way you can keep your art from being tampered with if you are at war with your label but they still want product." (Little did I know that he was reading my tea leaves, forewarning me of an ominous battle that was yet to ensue, but we're not there in the story yet.) Everybody's got one good record in them if they're half decent. But then once you've done that, you've used the best of your picks. That's your style. People know your style after the first time and then you have to develop skill as a songwriter. Do I write a lot? Yeah, I write a lot. I write hundreds of songs for an album. Fifteen or twenty get chosen. I have hundreds I've forgotten now. I have at least 150 that are complete but just didn't quite work.

There are times when I'm doing lots and lots of research, and I'll start gathering words and phrases from various sources--books, conversations, visual art. I'll start pulling my references out, and I have no idea which ones will prove useful. I'll just start jotting down ideas. I can do that for hours, but a lot of it is a load of crap. I can play piano for myself for hours. It's nonsense, most of it. It's like doodling or doing a puzzle. Exercising. And I just enjoy playing sometimes. But that's not composition. Within a few hours, maybe a rhythm pattern will arise, and I'll write it down in my script, or usually I have a little tape recorder and just put my ideas into that. Then I'll listen to that tape when I'm driving. And I'll go, "Oh, okay, stop the tape, rewind--now that is not a load of crap." I'll jot it down in some kind of musical handwriting so I don't forget it and notate where to reference this catchy motif. That's how I found "a sorta fairytale." "On my way up north, up on the Ventura"--I had that on tape, and then I went into a whole other load of crap. But when I heard that line months later, when I was pulling songs together for Scarlet's Walk, I thought, I know that line. I knew it was potentially a good song because foundationally I was working with marble, not linoleum. I like linoleum, but you have to be a little bit more selective, because linoleum can be a completely bad idea in a lot of structures, whereas marble, if it's good-quality marble, is always useful somewhere, even if only as the kitchen worktop.

It still took me months to develop "fairytale's" musical theme, because it was such an involved theme and I had to build it around a traditional fairy-tale form, to make it a modern rendition of what is known as a folktale. Matt and I recorded it a few times to get it right. Polly Anthony, who was president of Epic at the time, had an instant flirtation with the song, so when it came time to pick a single she was adamant that it be the one for America. My first single for Scarlet's Walk was being released in early September 2002, and she felt the nation could use a dose of whimsy, as there would be many heavy hearts still working through the grief from September 11. She called Mark and Marcel, asking them to pull together an edit from the almost five-minute-and-fifty-second "fairytale" to a four-minute version without losing too much of the story line and its sentiment. Tricky, but they did it.

Tapes upon tapes upon tapes of ideas sit on the Bsendorfer. I find that this part of the songwriting process takes the most discipline. Playing every day at the piano or the Hammond or whatever keyboard is fun, I get whipped into a frenzy of playing, and of course I tape most of it when I'm in composing mode. I tape it on my little crap tape recorder (the boys are trying to get me to go digital). Anyway, at some stage I have to sit down and listen to the hours and hours of jamming on tapes to find the nectar, the sweet--jeez... it can be painful. I have art canvas books set aside, in which I record the building and development of the motif. A motif is a recurring melody. Sometimes I'll have more than a hundred different motifs going--a motif can last anywhere from a single bar to maybe a sixteen-bar phrase.

Now what happens, do you think, if you keep your tapes in order? Then you can see how a motif develops. I, on the other hand--D'oh (that was my Homer Simpson who just showed up for a minute)--clearly don't keep my tapes in order. So wherever I start, I start, but thank God I'm into drawing these silly little maps, sorta like a Yellow Pages, of where the song motifs live. Yes, I make twice the amount of work for myself because I don't keep my tapes in order, but eventually I memorize where everything is. If you do it in order, however, like a clever person would, you can observe how the original motif will change in the hours and hours of tape. Instead of spending days trying to find a sliver of a bass line that's God-knows-where amid fifteen tapes...yikes. While you are writing many songs, writing many motifs, naturally some keep coming back, refusing to be forgotten. Sometimes they will change in a way that isn't good for the motif--it weakens it. So you go back to the part of the tape where it came together, and this may be for only ten seconds. I transcribe this onto a canvas, catalog it, and keep mining. I call this mining for songs.

But hey, I never wanted to be Snow White, more like Glinda the Good Witch mining ancient stones with Grumpy. The motifs begin to have many variations as the weeks go by, but the most powerful ones tend to keep creeping up. There are those treasures that happen only once, only for a moment, and if I lose that tape it's gone forever, because I can't remember thirty seconds of music I played hours and hours ago. I've spoken about when the songs come and the euphoria of that, but the truth is, if I don't go through this painstaking cataloging process, then these pieces of music are just ideas that never become tangible. It will all sort of fade into a hallucination experience that becomes like an ecstasy trip unexplainable to everyone, even yourself. So, I will spend two hours a day just notating what is on the tapes, weaving them together, tracking them down. You see, as I get further into the developing of the song, sometimes I choose the original seed idea and sometimes I find that the motif has improved a few stages in. This might take weeks to decipher, but if you as the songwriter keep a mental file of all of the song Beings, even if you have to associate these new creatures with key words that make them more tangible, you will be able to track those songs down. Track them like a lioness tracks dinner for the whole pride. This is what I call hunting for song frequency.

Mark Hawley
I think it's quite easy for Tori to come up with little melodies and little bits of music. As with a lot of musicians, the hard work is in finishing ideas. Eventually a song reaches a certain stage and comes out and it's beautiful. But beforehand, whether it's one line of a lyric or a middle-eight section, that's what she works on for hours and hours.

Certain songs, like "Marianne" from Boys for Pele, were written, performed, and recorded spontaneously. How long is that song, five minutes? That was how long it took her to write it. She went into the church, played it, wrote the lyrics, and recorded it on the spot. When that stuff happens--well, you know I don't believe in magic, but that's it. That's when somebody out there is telling her how to play a song. I would never believe it unless I'd seen it. I've seen that happen maybe five or six times. But I've also seen the hard work, when she's had a song idea and it takes years. She started a song called "Lady Jane" in 1994 and she hasn't finished it yet. She's still working on it.

I'm recording today once Hayley, Tash's beloved nanny, who is our resident Mary Poppins, takes her on her playdate. Strangely I'm not recording the first piece for the new album but for the rare B-side portion of the Live DVD Welcome to Sunny Florida. Because the Live DVD package will be released soon after Mother's Day in the United States, the song "Ruby through the Looking-Glass," which I started writing for Scarlet's Walk, has signaled to me that her time has come to enter into the mass consciousness. Ruby is in utero, hearing her mother trying to protect her in the womb while her mother is clearly in a fight. Not only is the mother having to defend herself, but by addressing certain things that were done to her as a child, she makes a decision. She at all costs makes a vow to Ruby to be aware as a mother, and promises her a different way of communicating, instead of fighting. It will be almost two years since I began writing "Ruby"...

Do I think songs have a time line? Can a song's meaning and the response by a listener change because of when it's presented? Well, obviously. "I can't see New York" was perceived and will always be related to the September 11 plane crashes, even though it was written in May 2001. When "I can't see New York" walked into the room, slid into the wood through the strings, claiming the keys, which in turn played me, I did not choose to project actual events onto the song creature herself; otherwise I would probably have superimposed my perception of the TWA800 disaster of 1996. Sometimes you have to order your own pictures to leave your mind, knowing that they are a tainting influence on the translation--talk about being lost in translation. This is a focus, a skill, a meditation of sorts, to keep a clean slate, to keep Tori Ellen's opinions out of the way when a song walks in full force, almost completely intact--this is definitely about taking dictation. These songs happen rarely for me, hearing one pretty much as a finished song for the first time, and hearing it very much how the public will hear it for the first time in a completed form. Only when I was walking down Fifth Avenue on the afternoon of September 11 did I understand--in song language--the subtexts and energy of death and loss from the point of view of a plane victim. As the song played over in my head, I kept walking toward the burning.

Posted by: Mikewhy

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