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Hot Press (Ireland)
March 26, 1992
Tori Amos has rocketed to international prominence with her album Little
Earthquakes, but behind the public success story lies the private trauma of
a young woman who was raped at the age of 22. In an uncompromisingly honest
interview with Joe Jackson, Tori talks about that terrible experience, it's
lasting scars and how her music has helped to set her free again…
For many people the process of self-denial becomes most apparent when they
speak about sex. This is particularly true of Tori Amos. At the outset of this
interview, asked about the tension between the seemingly celebratory approach
to sex which defines her public persona and the layers of sexual guilt and
revenge that fire songs like "Precious Things" from her album Little
Earthquakes she responds with a strained, metaphysical explanation that
lasts at least ten minutes and has more to do with evasion than with truth.
She wouldn't deny it. The interview done, we sit talking for an hour during
which I recount the story of the 14 year-old rape victim, originally denied the
freedom to have an abortion, by the Irish state. That grim saga strikes a
chord. "Can we take a second shot at the early part of
the interview?" she asks. "I don't think we got
it right. I really do want to address that subject."
Seven hours later, after a midnight performance at Dublin's Olympia Theatre
during which she dedicated "Me and a Gun"--a song about rape--to
'one particular fourteen year old Irish girl,' Tori
Amos spoke for a further two hours, touching in the process at times on the
same kind of raw, unadorned truths that pulse at the heart of her best songs.
"I do believe that we all are, fundamentally,
divided creatures," she says picking up the thread.
"Emotions split from intellect, spirit from flesh and far
too often sexuality is disconnected from what we feel, and are, as total human
beings. But how, for example, can anyone have an understanding of the virgin if
they don't also have an understanding of the prostitute, the saint and sinner
in one body? Attempting to reconcile these opposing forces in my own nature is
my goal and what I write about in songs like "Precious Things", and all the
songs on the album."
So how true to Tori Amos' early life in Washington, DC is "Precious Things",
which tells of a young girl described as "ugly", who longs to "smash the faces
of those beautiful boys/those Christian boys"?
"I was always the girl that had friends but did boys
like me? Not the boys I liked!" she says. style='color:
red'>"They'd say 'she's really nice and she plays really good piano but she's
also Sandy Luman's friend, can we get her phone number?'"
(Laughs) "I hadn't blossomed so I was seen as a rather
nondescript nice girl, I guess."
Tori Amos' father was a Protestant minister, her grandmother a particularly
single-minded puritan. "I hated my grandmother,"
she says. "She'd pound into me the idea that only evil
women give away their virginity before marriage. If you even thought about
doing that you were 'out of the kingdom of god,' she'd say.
"And so I waited a long time before giving up my
virginity, because of this feeling: 'how can I be a nice, respectable girl and
want to do this?'. And more than anything I wanted respect from men, my father
in particular. And even at that age I felt that Jesus was a real, living
presence in my life. That can be a bit of a disadvantage. It's weird when
you're giving a guy head at 15 and you're thinking 'Jesus is looking at me!'"
Did Tori ever turn that experience around and think of Jesus as a man whom
she might have seduced?
"Doing it with a priest never got me off, they wash
it so often!" she responds, laughing almost maliciously.
"But doing it with Jesus, now that is something else! Most
Christian women would be trained to think that even this thought is
blasphemous. But I say that's a load of bollix! That's how women are paralyzed,
disconnected from the source of their own power, by religion.
"I've nearly always believed that Jesus Christ
really liked Mary Magdalene and and that if he was, as he claimed to be, a
whole man, he had to have sexual relations with her. So in my deepest, most
private moments I've wanted Christ to be the boyfriend I've been waiting for.
And a lot of Christian girls have a crush on Jesus. I may have felt guilty at
the thought of wanting to do it with Jesus but then I say why not? He was
How much is Tori Amos the slave of a patriarchal system, which begins with
the image of god the father, travels down through the image of the father on
earth and is extended through the social pressure to take a male companion?
"You are made to believe in patriarchal systems from
the start of your life," she reflects "and then
you wake up one morning and, in a rage say 'how could you use that to withhold
from me, woman, this incomparable power?' I think the need I had, and have, for
males to respect and accept me originally came from an overwhelming need for my
father to respond to me on that level. But he didn't respond to the 'bad girl'
in me, the prostitute. So I cut her out, chopped her up and that too adds to my
being disconnected from this." She presses clenched fists against her
"I meet so many people who are into their heart
energy yet disconnected from their kundalini. When you're not connected to this
you are not whole."
On a similar theme, Tori Amos answers critics who claim that the way in
which she straddles a stool on stage, legs spread a la Jerry Lee Lewis, may be
too strong an assertion of her sexuality after a period of denial.
"To hell with them," she says slowly
unclenching her fist. "Passion. The kundalini. Sexual
energy is where I sing from. And being reconnected to that source of energy
after so long is what liberated me on a creative level.
"I have the right to open the door, to explore and
to report on what I find, in whatever way I see fit. And I do have a real
commitment to the female, the feminine, the goddess side of my own nature. I am
Mary, the mother of god and the Mary Magdalene figure now."
Tori Amos pauses, glances at a copy of the last issue of
style='mso-bidi-font-style:italic'>Hot Press which is spread across
her bed then says "Let's get down to truth here, if
that's what you want. I had been denying the prostitute side, which we all have
in us. But there is a part of me that understands Marilyn Monroe and what you
wrote about her in that style='mso-bidi-font-style:italic'>Hot Press
article. I understand her giving it to the Mob, hot guys in Hollywood, the
cigar-smoking fat asses. And giving it to JFK and Bobby Kennedy.
"And I understand Sam Giancana who wants to taste
her after she's been with Bobby and JFK because that's how those guys had
relationships with each other - through Marilyn Monroe's pussy. It makes me
angry but it also turns me on because I've done that, I know it so well. It was
the same when I saw Blue Velvet and saw that energy, a woman being used
yet having power--false power--in believing that she is wanted, that's
what asserting one's sexuality is all about. This is how it feels to be a
But how deeply liberated is Tori Amos? In "Crucify" from Little
Earthquakes she still sings that she's "got enough guilt to start my own
"I have that guilt still. I'm still working through
this idea of giving myself completely to this man I'm with because he is my
best friend and someone I respect. Yet he is also someone I need to slam me
against a wall and fuck me. And love me as well. The concept of both being part
of the one relationship is still hard for me to accept. Because I've been
taught that being fucked against a wall, or anywhere, is not love.
"Who the fuck thought up that idea? That
notion has kept marriages from working, people from giving to each other and
both sexes under control for centuries."
Tori Amos reveals that a large measure of the sexual guilt which enslaved
her in her mid-20's had its roots in a rape that took place when she was 22,
and which she writes about in the song "Me and a Gun".
"I sang 'holy holy' as he buttoned
down his pants/Me and a gun and a man on my back/But I haven't seen Barbados so
I must get out of this/Yes I wore a slinky red thing/Does that mean I should
spread for you, your friends, your father, Mr. Ed?"
"I wrote that song after I saw the movie Thelma and
Louise which brought back an experience I hadn't talked about for about five
years," she says. "But as I was writing the song
other voices rose, other voices that had opinions on what had happened. It was
then I realized that the biggest mistake I made was not seeking help from
people who understood.
"But then nobody was there for me on the night it
happened. I had to call the East Coast and wake people up to talk. I called 20
people. I talked about it for roughly seven days and then just cut off the
experience, not knowing that in doing that, I was letting it take control of me
How does a woman re-connect with her own body after rape and not
associate sex with violence?
"That's the core problem," she says.
"If I'd sought help that would have been different, I'm sure.
That's what a woman should do. But sexually what happened to me was that I
couldn't respond to a guy at all. I broke off the relationship I was having
with a man, the next day. I'd been with him for two and a half years yet I
started ranting and raving and telling him I didn't want him in my life. I then
turned to a male friend and though he wanted me to go to the police I said 'But
I'm never going to find that person again'.
"I also didn't think I had a case. I don't want to
go into the details but you've read my lyrics, you know I look at things from
as many angles as possible. So, even then I could see it from the other side.
Nothing would have happened to the guy! And he would have known more about me
than he did. Yes that means he's out there somewhere and yes he may do it with
another woman. But he'd have done it anyway.
"It wasn't a cut and dried case. With American law
as it is and the fact that I'm an entertainer and the kind of performer I
was--like Michelle Pfeiffer in The Fabulous Baker Boys--I knew I was going
to be set up. And I was not going to be a victim of another experience. But
what happened then was that I became a victim of myself."
Did Thelma and Louise make Tori Amos feel she would have killed the
rapist given the chance?
"You know I would have killed him if I could
have, yes. But I was busier trying not to get killed,"
style='color:black'>she says. "But sure, when
she killed him in Thelma and Louise do you think I had remorse?
Absolutely none. And if he walked into this room now, would I kill him? No.
Because I wouldn't want to make it that easy for him. But any man who gets
killed raping someone has crossed the line."
Tori pauses, sits in silence for a while then smiles.
"But I didn't kill him. I finally wrote a song about it
instead and that has given me the freedom. 'Me and a Gun' is not
about him. It's more about me forgiving myself. That's why my music now is so
therapeutic, so cathartic for me. I made a commitment not to be a victim again,
by writing and by singing as often as I can 'Me and a Gun'.
"It's like I refuse now to be a victim of my own
guilt. I refuse to be a victim of not having a wonderful sexual experience
again. And you are a victim when you can't allow yourself to have sexual
pleasure again. I refuse to put all men in the same category, as I was doing.
When something like that happens you do want to punish men, punish the ones
that crushed the flower. But no one should choose to hold onto that hatred. It
"Sexually, I feel I won't be able to give completely
and love to the extent, say, that I will want to have kids with him, for quite
some time yet. I couldn't even consider that for a few years. I'm only
beginning to fulfill myself now because I'm beginning to accept, and love, the
parts of me, of woman, that I was trained to hate all my life. Particularly the
bad girl I still can be."
In the meantime attempting to re-connect with the child in herself is a primary
concern for Tori Amos. It's also a motif running through the album and a
metaphor used in the video for "Silent All These Years". Not surprisingly, in
this context, she empathises with the recent plight of Ireland's
fourteen-year-old rape victim.
"The greater rape is what the State did to that
girl. She is defiled by a man sexually and then, having suffered the original
experience, she is defiled again by the State. And you know why? Because the
Church and the State are so afraid that if they acknowledge the truth a hundred
doors will burst open and they will lose control. But they are choking
themselves to death. Because Divine Law is being broken here.
"First that girl's choice was taken away in rape and
then it was taken away, to begin with, by the State. That is the sickness that
cripples women, male energy at its worst. And if we, as women, don't rebel
against the way in which the Church and State have conspired to control our
sexuality we'll never reach a point of self-evolvement. And evolution, in any
sense, has nothing to do with enforcing guilt, with this horrific cross they
have stuck between that girl's legs.
"Jesus Christ has nothing to do with that and it has
nothing to do with Jesus Christ and don't let anyone tell me that it has. The
cross has been used as a weapon, as it has been used against all women
throughout the ages. And that's the greatest evil of all."
But wouldn't the so-called Pro-Life groups suggest that the State's original
decision to block an abortion has everything to do with Jesus Christ?
"It has nothing to do with a core concept of
Christianity," argues Tori Amos. "And it has
nothing at all to do with the children, in the broadest sense. If it does why
don't those people go down to the back-streets of Dublin where children really
need their help. Or go down to Colombia where children live in sewers? There
are millions of children who need help. So this is the greatest abuse of
the words 'pro-life', they are not for life. This is about control of a
woman's sexuality because they can't stand the idea that we are saying we are not
just incubators anymore. And we're not even going to pretend that we are. We're
not breeding farms.
"Many men, even some women, might like to think we
are. But their misguided, misdirected energy is probably based more on their
own guilt. Yet when somebody tries to have that kind of control over another
person's conscience, we're talking about concentration camps here. There's no
greater enslavement. So anyone who looks at that position closely must see it's
not about the children at all, and it's more often anti-life than pro-life."
One can tell from the cheers Tori Amos receives during her concerts that she
is undoubtedly articulating what many women are feeling on this subject right now.
"I hope so," she says, smiling,
"although a lot of the rage I perceive, say, in some women
writers often seems to stem from self-loathing. I write from that point of view
at times. It angers us all that we were all victims for so long. But the point
is that only ourselves can claim back the power. Let's forget all this talk
about men giving it back to us. We have to give it to ourselves. And the men
that respect this will be in our lives, those that don't will be out."
Tori Amos laughs. "Your first question was, in part,
about my 'celebratory' approach to sexuality," she says.
"Well Little Earthquakes is all about celebration.
Celebrating the ability to laugh, weep, and scream, particularly if you have
been silent for years. And so it's about celebrating sexuality in the widest
sense, including the elements of revenge. As in 'Precious Things' where I say
to the guy 'So you can make me cum/that doesn't make you Jesus'.
"Just because I'm with a man and because I'm
creaming for a man doesn't make him a master, doesn't even necessarily make him
worthy of love, of my love. And I now realize, maybe for the first time
in my life, that my capacity for love is incredibly deep and that for me to
give this to a man he has to fully understand, and respect what that means.
"Too few do. They're into pillaging, rummaging
around, doing a little Viking stuff! But most women these days realize that's
not enough, boys! And if some women don't then I hope songs like 'Precious
Things' will help open their eyes. And, just as importantly, help open the eyes
of some men.
"I'd be quite happy, as an artist, if I knew that a
verse, even a line in one of my songs could do for people what Thelma and
Louise did for me, liberate them in some way, particularly from a fear of the
darker side of their own nature. What is any art form worth if it doesn't do
that? Isn't that what all great art is all about?"
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