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Well is the Best Revenge
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Tori Amos is living out the
ultimate revenge of the nerd. The self-described childhood social outcast has in the last
five years become a well-known and very respected artist. From a youth of religious
confusion brought about by her conflicting feelings about her minister father and
schoolyard taunts because of her almost crippling shyness, the ugly duckling became a swan
through her strong belief in her talents and artistic vision. And now the world has caught
onto her vision, too.
Amos first caught the public eye,
but only slightly, in 1988 when she released an album by her old band Y Kant Tori Read.
What Amos now refers to as her "rock chick" phase, Y Kant Tori Read was pushed
as a metal album and was pretty much skewered by critics and ignored by fans.
The band broke up and Tori
regrouped by writing a series of very personal songs that became her first solo album in
1992, Little Earthquakes. Amos admits the record company was a little unsure of how
to proceed with the album. They saw the artistry of this album, but they weren't quite
sure how John Q. Public in Peoria, Illinois would react to an album of beautiful, eclectic
ballads about crucifixion, sex, relationships, faeries and rape.
The suits figured this stuff would
fly better in Europe, where the people could be a little more open minded to this type of
artistry. Amos herself doesn't think her music is that hard to grasp, though, all that
anyone really needs, she says, is wine. "I'd get them all a really good bottle of red
first," Amos laughs. "I'd make it mandatory."
Little Earthquakes did very
well in Europe, so Atlantic Records -- a little tentatively at first -- let it loose in
the states. To their surprise, the album became a phenomenon. The songs "Silent All
These Years," "Crucify," "Winter" and "China" all got
significant airplay, and in an all too rare occurrence were as moving and
thought-provoking as they were popular.
In late 1994 Amos solidified her
place in the current rock pantheon with the follow-up album Under the Pink. That
album also explored her obsessions with the industrially tinged "God" and the
dance pop "Cornflake Girl" as standout tracks.
Now, this year, she has released Boys
for Pele, her third solo album. She has also embarked on a new world tour.
With 18 songs and 70 minutes, Pele
is significantly longer than the first two, but it still mines the depths of Amos' hopes
and dreams and sometimes controversial beliefs. Basically, it runs on the loose concept of
the power and pain of womanhood. From the single "Caught A Lite Sneeze," to
nostalgic beauty of "Horses," and the sadness of "Blood Roses," Amos
is inviting the audience to share her world view. "I don't think you move people when
you're a hired gun," Amos explains. "You're not going to touch people's
Boys For Pele is the first
album that Amos produced completely herself. All of her previous work had been done with
her co-producer and former boyfriend Eric Rosse. But Tori felt strongly that this album
had to be a more personal statement.
"I had to do it because of the
subject matter," Tori explains. "I really had to live what I was singing about.
Producing it on my own was a way for me to grow up and not wear little girls' clothes
anymore. Of course, they're in the wardrobe, but it's only just a part of my repertoire,
now, instead of always turning it over to other people. I was really fortunate to work
with some exciting people, Eric being one of those."
Amos admits that her songs about
relationships tend to be sad, but she explains, "It has been my experience. So,
maybe, one day I'll write from the perspective of a relationship that is not falling
apart." Also, she says, just because she tends to write serious songs, it doesn't
necessarily mean she's an unhappy person. "You can write songs that have sadness in
them and still enjoy a giggle and a margarita."
Boys For Pele is named after
children sacrificed to the Hawaiian goddess of destruction by being thrown into a live
volcano. Amos doesn't want people to think she relates to this vengeful goddess, but then
again, she doesn't feel like one of the poor village boys who meet their death, either. In
fact, Amos admits, "I relate more to the fire. The fire aspect of what Pele means.
The flames, the independence of feeling your own fire. As you walk outside that day and
you have access to this feeling, this passion, just because you're alive. Everybody has
that right, but we were never taught that."
Surprisingly, since Boys For
Pele and the rest of her music deals so strongly with the empowerment of womanhood,
Amos does admit that she thinks that feminism is dead. "Feminism was based on a
filtrating hierarchy, which it had to do. It was a hugely important step, to break this
program and pattern of male domination. However, at a certain point, the tide shifted --
once women infiltrated. In truth, in many cases it became a part of the domination. I
speak for myself as much as anybody else, because I had that experience. Therefore, the
whole concept of feminism, it was important and it should be honored, but now it's about
the feminine honoring the feminine -- in men and women. And really not wanting to be a
part of the whole domination cycle, whether that's to dominate or be dominated."
But, Amos is not controversial just
to be controversial. That is way to easy an explanation of Amos' distinctive songwriting
power. She likes to challenge preconceived notions, widen the horizons of her listeners.
"I enjoy making people kind of turn their heads to one side and look at it from a
different perspective. I don't like regimented concepts. I don't see how they help
anybody. So a lot of times I go after structured ways of thinking, with something I say or
in something I do, that pushes the regiment of structured thinking."
Beyond her own work, Amos has
started collaborating with many of her musical peers, putting together a team of all-star
collaborators wide ranging from Peter Gabriel, Michael Stipe, Robert Plant, Trent Reznor,
even Tom Jones. Amos said working with these people opened her eyes, but mostly it helped
her put it all in perspective, because they are all so human. Amos says that all with
these people you could sit down and have a cup of tea and just hang out.
"It really kind of takes the
myth away a bit, which is wonderful. Because, again we go back to this concept of
hierarchy and leverage. It's easy to put people on a pedestal, but I don't think pedestals
are healthy. Admiration is one thing, but pedestals again; it's those that have and those
that don't. I'm not finding that very interesting, and I don't think that's truthful. I
don't think there are those that have and those that don't. I think that there are those
that have developed a skill or an ability or certain traits and those that haven't. But,
everybody has the ability if they want to."
How do those kids who teased her in
school feel now that Amos has become a swan? And how does Tori Amos feel with the
directions her career has taken that her career has put her on a fast track of hit records
and sold out tours, and by the fact that people are moved by her work. "I look around
and kind of smile and say, hey, no complaints," Amos says, contentedly. After all,
living well is the best revenge.
Let us know what you think.
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