A rather terrible article on Tori appeared in the August 2005 (#30) issue of Word Magazine in the U.K. I actually received this article a few weeks ago, but found it rather distasteful and delayed placing it on The Dent. Here it is for those who may want to read it.
Thanks to the many people who told me about it and to Mike Gray who first sent me the article text.
Will The Real Tori Amos Ever Shut Up?
In a world of sponsor-friendly, media-trained automatons, Tori Amos remains reassuringly zany. Jude Rogers talks to her about her book - and witnesses a never-to-be-repeated chorus line.
It's a hot, sticky Saturday in June and I'm off to meet Tori Amos. I'm concerned that it might be a peculiar experience - and with good reason.
Here's a few of the disconcerting things I've known about her for years. She had a crush on Jesus as a child. She's suckled a pig on an album cover, dressed in a skimpy Civil War chic. She has a song called The Power Of Orange Knickers. She straddles a piano in a way that makes me fear for her husband's genitalia.
Also, I've just finished reading her "first autobiography", Piece By Piece, and, as a result, have learnt some uncomplicated facts. Tori was born Myra Ellen Amos, her parents a minister father and his homemaker wife. She is part-Irish and part-Cherokee.
She recorded the demo for Show Me Heaven, which became a massive hit for Maria McKee, before she found fame in 1992 with her Little Earthquakes LP. She had three miscarriages before having her first child, Natashya. She now lives in Cornwall with her child and her husband, live sound engineer, Mark Hawley.
But then there's the other stuff. Her evangelical minister father, once primed to be the next Billy Graham, got his daughter gigs at gay piano bars, where she learnt - I assume without his knowledge - "to give blow jobs on cucumbers". She's spoken "to the Dark Prince in ceremony". As a teenager, she hid the fact that she masturbated in her "sonic paintings". She sees herself as "Mommy and the Sacred Prostitute". She's jammed with Mary Magdalene and told her "Mary, I didn't mean to have a crush on your man."
I mean, honestly. Should I interview her or give her a slap?
And then there's her fans. I was a big one as a teenager and liked a lot of her songs, but I was never too extreme. But have a rummage online. There's fans who offer quirky interpretations of her songs on a site called "The Interactive Tori Amos Lyrics Solving Quest". There's messageboards galore, one with a thread about whether their "healer" has resorted to Botox. There's a Torifest in North Texas. And there's no end of conspiracy theories. On her official messageboard, one 'Stenshi Starhealer' says "I belive she is strangely connected to Marilyn Monroe... in her past life she knew and was associated with her. This life she is living is her sin."
I'm saying : someone order up a job-lot of straitjackets.
We were meant to meet at 2:45pm in London's Soho Hotel. IMagine how Lawrence Llewellyn-Bowen would decorate a hotel built on the remains of a car park - African trinkets? Cream and orange armchairs? Red plastic furniture? In the same room? - and you're pretty much there. But there's no sign of Ms Amos. It's nearly four o'clock.
This hasn't been an easy interview to organise. We were told it wasn't possible, initially, because of Tori's punishing schedule. Then it was on. Then off. We were asked to travel to Newcastle, then Brussels, where Tori was touring her latest album, The Beekeeper. But then we were told she couldn't possibly speak on concert days because it might damage her voice. Then we were told we could go after all, but only if we researched transport costs ourselves. A return by Eurostar costs 79 but this, apparently was too much. Finally we were offered 20 minutes face-to-face on the afternoon of Tori's appearance atPatti Smith's Meltdown festival, alongside Patti herself, Yoko Ono, Sinead O'Connor, Kristin Hersh and other finely-balanced first ladies of rock (of which more later), though she came back to announce that she wouldn't appear if the photographer her PR had agreed to ever turned up. Her biggest gig then, for some time. One at which I assumed she'd be singing. Her tour manager says, for the third time, that she'll be down in two minutes.
I remember a bit from her book. When Tori meets journalists, she likes to ask them questions. Apparently they "either cream in their pants or run out of the room". At least I'd like the chance to decide.
At three minutes past four, in walks a tiny little creature. You could pop her in your top pocket. Her face is must smoother than my 27-year-old one, possibly a product of that bracing Cornish air, possibly not. It's a friendly face, with impishly big ears on its sides, but its expressions are a little strained. "i'm soooo sorry I'm late." We sit facing each other on a big, squishy sofa and I try desperately to adopt some blase body language. We have twenty minutes.
So. Your book. It's.... unusual. Tori's eyes narrow a little. It's a manifesto... about who you are. You've got your "sonic children" (as she calls her songs). Why write a book?
"I was approached to write a book," she pauses, a little smugly, "but I realised that they didn't need me to write a book about ... me." Strange that, for an autobiography. She speaks slowly, languidly, like a toy that needs winding up. Her eyes don't move from mine. " you get an oppor-tun-ity, not all the time, to do something like thi. Instead of people using you as a canvas, I decided to use myself." She gesticulates wildly. "I should say utilise. Why not give people a backstage pass to my creative process while I still remember it?"
Tori's creative process is broken down into chapter headings. They're a little demanding. Chaper One - Corn Mother: Genealogies. Chapter Four - Demeter : The Journey Into Motherhood. And my favourite, Chapter Six : Sane Satyrs and Balanced Bacchantes: The Touring Life's Gypsy Caravan. I tell her that this stuff's pretty impenetrable. How would you explain it to somoene who doesn't understand?
"They're archetypes. It's the power of myth in our everyday life.It's not drummed into you as a kid like the George W Bush gospel is. It doesn't mean it isn't out there." What myths, I start to wonder, but she cuts me off. "Yes but however. John Lennon did too. And Jim Morrison was channeling Dionysus." She looks deeper into my eyes. I'm a little bit scared. "You're made up of a confluence of these beings too. You transcend just this person that is 'Jude'"
She then speaks about an 18-hour journey she had with Lucifer ("the Dark Prince, not a Satanic beast who eats women"), medicine men and women, and the quest we all go through when we reach our late-twenties. It's all a bit hard to take in with the clock ticking.
"You know what I mean by this because I see it in your eyes." It's like I'm in therapy with a demonic Clair Rayner. With dyed hair. On drugs.
What does your minister Dad think of all this? Tori smiles, naughtily. "He doesn't agree that I have Kali in me." (I look up Kali later : a blood-soaked skull-adorned mother who destroys as much as she creates, apparently). "I've learned how to hold Kali's energy. That's one reaons why I'm a powerful force on stage." How very humble of her to say so. And what did Dad think of you suckling the pig? Her hands uncoil in front of her. "When I suckled it, I was very clear what I was doing. That was my Madonna and child."
Some people, I tentatively suggest, might think that's just nonsense.
The temperature cools instantly. "Well, do you know what? That's just the way it is. I'm on the road less travelled. I'm not here to give you the Jackie Collins story, God bless her, that's not what I do." I try and speak. Not a chance. "Hey - let's face it. I go after some pretty uncomfortable subjects. I go after being empowered with force and not feeling that I need to justify myself to a male authority." I flinch, and she calms down a little. "What I'm saying to you, Jude, is that you can't have it all ways if you're going to go after some heavy subjects. You can't also be..." - she puts on a baby voice - "there for dreeeenks and cocktaiiils. 'Cos I'm not that kind of person." She smiles. "But hey, I like a giggle too. I like baby-making music. I'm Mrs Hawley sometimes. I can let things go." She smiles and lays a hand near me. "I've learned to say Tori Amos has left the building."
To London's South Bank for the day's crazy climax: a night dedicated to William Blake's "Songs Of Innocence". There's a lot of cropped hair, stern lipstick, kaftans and wooden jewellery in the auditorium. Patti Smith open with Birdland. She hollers a lot and, at one point, spits on the Festival Hall floor. Marianne Faithfull delivers a throaty edition of God Bless The Child. Yoko Ono dances like a mad granny, and howls a bit. Sinead O'Connor swears mildly and ponders, out loud, whether she's being controversial. Kristin Hersh plays songs her Dad sung to her as a child to get her to sleep. They're all about murder and wife-beating.
And then there's Tori. She charges on stage like a woman possessed ina pink, trailing poncho. A dramatic yoga move - hands clasped in prayer, legs bent, head to the floor - is offered to the audience. She springs up, vaults the stool, and starts - immediately - playing SIlent All These Years from Little Earthquakes. It's a song about her childhood. She strings out the end of every li-iiiiiiine as if her life depended on it. She turns occasionally, seductively, to the crowd, and people holler. They love the mad old mare. Although it's hard to silng along when she's being so theatrical, I enjoy her too. It's quite a relief to hear some madness, I realise, a nice change from usual musical beige.
The night ends with everyone together on stage, with a riot of freeform poetry and chanting. Smith rants about fast food restaurants. Faithfull honks. Ono and O'Connor gaze at each other and hug, swaying gently from side to side. The rest sing something about four and four making eight. A woman behind me whoops. A woman in front of me puts her head in her hands.
Tori's singing and swinging gently next to Miranda Richardson, blending into the crowd. But when it's finished - the audience have gone wild, the performers having snuggled and bowed - she hangs around as long as she can. One of her hands holds Sinead O'Connor's , the other's waving to the audience. Only when they wave back does Tori Amos leave the building.