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The Guardian (UK)
Tori Amos was a musical prodigy who dropped out. Andy Darling charts her fight back
Victim in search of her true voice
photo caption: Tori Amos: 'You can't blame everybody, you have to change it.'
When Tori Amos was two-and-a-half, she played piano and composed music.
At 11, she was kicked out of the prestigious Peabody Institute in
Baltimore after several years spent training to be a concert pianist. For
the authorities, her unsuitability was clear: she listened to Jimi Hendrix
and played by ear.
"I failed badly in the child prodigy stakes," she says. "I didn't follow
through the expectations. You're six or seven and you think 'I'm not
digging this, I'm doing it because it's my job.' You're aware of the
expectations and you know it's no fun anymore."
The burned-out whiz-kid is currently in London, being hailed as the next
Kate Bush or Patti Smith. Proving the old adage that learning a musical
instrument will always come in handy in later life, she's been making
low-key club appearances playing piano and singing her songs. Eyes
half-closed, she smiles conspiratorially, but as the songs soon show this
is no cod-seduction routine.
Taken from her debut EP, Me And A Gun, and forthcoming LP, Little
Earthquakes (on the EastWest label), they deal with what she calls "all
the different selves" that constitute Tori Amos. Fairy tales, child abuse,
rape and rites of passage are among the themes, but there are no
straightforward conclusions or moral judgments. In Leather, she laments
the lack of love in the world: "Look I'm standing naked before you/Don't
you want more than my sex? Oh God, why am I here?" But every time we
expect elegies and wistful valedictions, a knife suddenly flicks open. In
Silent All These Years she says goodbye to a boyfriend who's found someone
new, "a girl who thinks really deep thoughts" and then throws in the
showstopper: "Boy you'd best pray that I bleed real soon, how's that
thought for you?"
If Tori Amos heralds a return to the days of fans deciphering lyrics in
search of leitmotifs, a couple of themes will consistently crop up. Her
father is a Methodist preacher, her mother part Cherokee Indian. "I wish
we could go in a time capsule to a Sunday dinner at my home. You'd think
these people are so warm, but boy do you disagree with them. When I was
very little I got into trouble for wondering if Jesus had a thing going
with Mary Magdalene. My father was real supportive, though, and he took me
round when I was starting out. The first place I played was a gay club,
and I think most of the guys were more interested in him standing there in
his dog collar."
School, at the Peabody and elsewhere, was no picnic. "We're taught which
sides of our personalities are acceptable and which aren't. The magical
side, the naive side, the side that believes in possibilities other than
you grow up, take a job, form a place in society and then go to heaven,
except for mean old Hitler, no one wants to talk about that."
Tori anaesthetised her magical side, moved to LA and had "not quite a
clinical nervous breakdown" at 20. "Then I faced up to the fact that since
the age of seven or whatever all I'd been doing was trying to please other
people rather than myself. I love what I'm doing now, it's all about free
Though she proclaims herself "the president of Victims Anonymous", straightforward revenge isn't part of her methodology. "You can't blame
everybody, you have to change it. To work through a victim situation, it's
about facing the attacker in yourself, tearing away all the layers and
wondering if you could have made other choices there. Other women who've
been attacked will argue, but I have to look at all sides of it, and
t o r i p h o r i a
the World of Tori Amos