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Article about Ann Powers and Tori in The Seattle Times
April 22, 2005

Updated Fri, Apr 22, 2005 - 1:41pm ET

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There is an article about Ann Powers in the April 22, 2005 edition of The Seattle Times. It mainly focuses on her work with Tori with the book Tori Amos: Piece By Piece.

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EMP curator teams up with Tori Amos for revealing book about sultry singer

By Gillian G. Gaar
Special to The Seattle Times

When music journalist Ann Powers left New York City to return to her native Seattle in 200, some of her colleagues were surprised. After all, New York is the center of the publishing industry, and Powers was working at The New York Times. Why would she give it all up to work as a curator at the Experience Music Project?

As it happens, Powers' name is still in the Times -- now as a best-selling author. "Tori Amos: Piece by Piece," a memoir Powers co-wrote with singer-songwriter Amos, published in February by Broadway Books, peaked on the Times' nonfiction best-seller list at No. 2. As Powers herself says, "It's a lovely, lovely thing. ... I couldn't ask for anything more."

Amos, who appears in concert tonight at Benaroya Hall, seems pretty pleased herself. "She asks great questions, that woman," says Amos of Powers. "And we've always had a great rapport."

Powers got her start as a music journalist writing for local papers like The Rocket in the early '80s. She then moved to San Francisco, and then to New York City in '90s, writing for The Times, The Village Voice and Rolling Stone, co-editing the anthology "Rock She Wrote" and writing a memoir, "Weird Like Us: My Bohemian America."

But by the turn of the century, Powers and husband Eric Weisbard, also a music journalist, admitted they were both "really burning out on the city." Both had done consulting work for EMP, and when they were offered jobs at the museum, they leapt. As it happens, EMP is within sight of where Powers held her first job, at the old Food Circus in the Seattle Center House. "But it's just not the same without the Bubbalator," she jokes.

Powers' work as a senior curator has encompassed everything "from working on exhibits to hosting round tables with journalists to interviewing Randy Newman on stage." She helped to organize EMP's lavish disco exhibit and recently helped coordinate EMP's fourth annual Pop Conference, held last week.

Working with Amos

The past few years have also seen Powers juggling her EMP duties while working on Amos' memoir. Powers had become a fan on first seeing Amos perform in San Francisco in the early '90s.

"I've always liked tuneful, melodic pop music as much as I've liked hard rock," she says. "And Tori did a little bit of both; she could really wail, but she also had these really beautiful songs."

Singer Tori Amos will feature songs from her recent album "The Beekeeper" in tonight's show at Benaroya Hall in Seattle.

Powers went on to interview Amos a number of times.

"We don't always agree," Amos says, "but that makes for a good conversation. So when I was asked to do the book, I decided if I had an opportunity, why not write something that was creative?"

"Piece by Piece," subtitled "A Portrait of the Artist: Her Thoughts. Her Conversations," is described by Amos as "a backstage pass into the creative side of music and the strategy side of the music business."

"When Ann and I came to this project," she says, "we realized that we both were surviving the music industry, and we felt there was something to be shared from our mutual experience."

Powers agrees. "My philosophy is that music is a kind of a public conversation that goes beyond specific times and places to hit a common chord in all of us," she says, "and that's also where Tori's coming from. She thinks of her music as connecting very old stories to her own stories.

"And so the structure of the book, using different archetypes, different goddess figures to tell the story, worked very well."

By now you've probably gotten the idea that "Piece by Piece" is not your typical celeb autobiography. Amos' life story is not related in a linear fashion, but rather grouped into themed chapters relating a specific area of her life to a goddess archetype.

The "Corn Mother: Genealogies" chapter, for example, covers Amos' roots -- the daughter of a Methodist minister, but with Native American blood also part of her heritage. Born in North Carolina and raised in Maryland, Amos found that both religion and music played strong roles in her life, and the book traces their intertwining.

Subsequent chapters deal with other facets of Amos' life. "Demeter: The Journey Into Motherhood," draws a parallel between the myth of Demeter, the mother whose grief following the kidnapping of her daughter Persephone led to winter's descending upon the earth, and Amos' own struggles with pregnancy (she had three miscarriages before giving birth to a daughter in 2000).

"Venus: Creating a Public Self" examines image, something especially important for a performer. When Amos was first signed to a record label, she allowed her image to be remade as a heavy-metal "rocker chick" on her first, unsuccessful album, "Y Kant Tori Read." "When you chase somebody else's notion of success," she writes, "you're bound to fail."

But much of the book focuses on Amos' creative life, from her musical influences to how a song comes into being. "I found it very challenging to explain my songwriting process," Amos admits. "But since I was beginning to write 'The Beekeeper' [Amos' current album], I figured that I had a project in motion already and I could try and clock the process."

The collaboration

Powers spent 2 days with Amos on the road, then spent time at Amos' home in Cornwall, England. The resulting text brings together excerpts of their conversations, commentary from those who work with Amos, and linking passages by Powers. Amos and Powers e-mailed the manuscript back and forth, inspiring Amos to make more extensive contributions.

"I'd read a transcript and think, 'Wow, she asked me a great question and my answer was crap,' " she explains. "It's very hard to answer in a really clever way on the spot. But when you can think about it and it's four in the morning and you're sitting alone, sometimes you can give yourself the time and space to answer."

Powers was impressed at the extent of Amos' contributions. "I made some assumptions like, 'Well, she's a busy rock star, she'll just check this off and that'll be it,' " she says. "But ... it really became a dialogue. There's real flesh and blood in it."

Powers also found she didn't mind working in something of a secondary role.

"When I was younger I always thought, 'I would never do a project with an artist, because why would I ever want to play second banana?' " she says. "But I had been able to write my story and publish that, and this book was with Tori, someone I really identified with and enjoyed. ... And now I'm like, 'Hmm, who could I do next?' "

Powers hopes the reader comes away with "a sense of an artist's creative process," she says. "I'd also like people to realize that pop artists, particularly women pop artists, who I think are often dismissed as pretty ornaments, are actually creatures of depth and integrity. And this one artist, Tori Amos, is a great example of how rich of a life you can have as an artist and how much you can contain within your music.

"And if people also get interested in the goddess Saraswati or the story of Demeter or what's the whole thing with that crazy Dionysus, well, all the better!"

Gillian G. Garr is a freelance writer based in Seattle:

Coming up
Tori Amos

Tori Amos appears at 8 tonight at Benaroya Hall. Information:

"Tori Amos: Piece by Piece," by Tori Amos and Ann Powers (Broadway Books, 368 pages, $23.95)

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