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The Drum Media (Australia)
A free music/gig guide available in Sydney
May 19, 1992 (Issue 87)
Moving Heaven on Earth
by Mark Mordue
TORI Amos has trouble in mind: a crazy cosmic passion mixed with an almost
traumatic exploration of memory. She sings and writes like a cross between Kate
Bush and Joni Mitchell, the eccentric as offbeat princess of her own destiny,
which might begin to explain at least some of the odd hooks that catch and stay
when you listen to her album, Little Earthquakes.
THE classically-trained pianist who dolphin dives through FM pop, then jars you
with icy off-key minimalism. The sexy '90s hippie woman who expresses pure hate;
the love-child that got raped and managed to write Me And A Gun about the
experience, telling the story in a raw acappella crack-up that's so technically
wrong it hurts.
THERE are plenty of thorns in Amos' songs For some that's just pop as a therapy
for 'deep' problems: claustrophobia, madness, love, sexual oppression, a
psychoanalytical song impressionism that's painfully American, emotions for the
grandstand smoothed of danger with a little mainstream syrup.
AMOS does it beter than that. But it's interesting to contemplate why musical
fashion has turned against women who look to an interior life. Why the heroes
and sometime heroines are in the realms of dance, aggressive guitar-pop
abstraction and rap's sassier, or brutally sexist, reportage. It seems that
exhilaration, assertion and anthems of pleasure dominate the codes of styilsh
pop taste: reflection is treated like a disease of indulgence and weakness, a
YEAH, Amos makes me think of Kate Bush, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Nicks, Pati Smith,
Toni Childs, Tracey Chapman ... confessional, commercial, radical, astral,
angry, Amos, she keeps me hanging on, finding true violence of spirit in
arrangements that threaten saccharine resolutions, turning American pop into
something more restlessly bohemian than a singalong. Is it any wonder her
confused American record company passed her over to their English compatriots to
'sell' to the public, and for the time being the cloudy isle is home?
AMOS' mother is a part-Cherokee Indian. Her father is a Methodist preacher. They
lived and she was born, in North Carolina. An already brilliant pianist by age
five, she could play Leonard Bernstein musicals and West Side Story by ear. A
scholarship to a conservatory that tried to break her spirit and drive formalism
home mattered less in the long, hard run than being just out of infancy with a
generation ot teenagers in the late 60's when Hendrix, The Doors and The Beatles
mattered as much as composers trom the last century.
"SEE, I had ear ability. I couldn't read music. I was all hearing. Naturally.
And the conservatory tried to break my ear. That means I was not allowed to play
by ear. Which is kinda like having your feet tied it you're a swimmer. So I got
really frustrated because they were trying to teach me Hot Cross Buns and here I
was being able to play all this other music by ear. By the time I was about
seven I was getting really bitter. But I liked the kids there and learnt a lot
from them. It was during those real volatile 60's years— '68, '69, '70. I kinda
got the subculture.
"THAT was the main reason I kept on with the charade. It really was a charade.
And the bottom line of it all was I was a disappointment, I didn't come through.
I just didn't come through. All the teachers looked at me, basically, like 'God,
she had something so amazing and she just really petered out. She doesn't really
"I KNEW what they were thinking. But I kept on believing in my own work and my
LOSING her scholarship at age 11, Amos spent a year "doing absolutely nothing.
You have to remember when all your life you've done one thing - which I did -
and that's play, then when you don't do anything and you're 12 years old and
you're growing from a girl into that puberty stage, all your confidence is gone.
"SO my father was very concerned about me. And we were having incredible fights.
I mean ... just ... ferocious. And then there was the religious upbringing going
on the whoie time: I wanted to be approved. You don't want to be an outcast. You
don't want to be thought of as disrespected ... It was weird. Being really
rebellious, and then being completely accommodating. Such strange opposites.
AMOS recalls the influence ot her father in the song Winter, when he asks her,
"When you gonna love you as much as I do?" And intense, damagingly free
conversationalist with a sensual humour to balance her, Amos breathes out a
thought - "My father, yeah ... My dad ... is an interesting one. I think a lot
of daughters and fathers have this relationship. Not all. But a lot of daughters
have a real special thing for their dad. And my dad is like that.
"I ALWAYS wanted to achieve whatever he wanted me to, because I wanted to please
him. And he was a real super-achiever, my father. He's still alive, but ...
things have changed. I think when you get older and you move out and you get
your own life, then you're not around them all the time so it doesn't affect you
as much as when you're growing up."
IT was Amos' father who drove her to the conservatory as a young girl and waited
all day while she had her lessons. When it all fell through and she told him she
wanted to do her own music, he drove around to the local clubs and acted as
chaperone for the underaged prodigy.
BY the time she finished high school though, Amos had "ditched the piano, got a
synthesizer, I was seeing this older guy, I was beginning the rock-chick phase ... And I had all these romantic notions love and passion. And they got all screwed up through the years because I started to separate them
- - lust means one thing: how can that be with your best friend?
"I REMEMBER ending up in LA. I was 22, and I acted really tough. I was into
being Miss Invincible. But you know, when you're in bands with guys and they're
tough, and they're strong, you become a wise-ass sailor. Underneath I was
"ON stage I have a bit of what the French, I guess, would call 'whore'. She's
really wonderful, that side of me. It feels very comfortable. But back then I
was not looking at the vulnerable side of myself. I was squashing her. So when I
put my self in situations and I'd push it to the limit, then she would resurge,
she would find some way to go, 'Oh my God, I'm going to wee my pants if you
don't get me out of here!'
"I JUST found I was'nt talking about anything. Not talking about my fears. Not
talking about my feelings about religion. Not talking about
what happened with Me And A Gun. Not talking about anything!
"THAT'S such an incredible separation of yourself. Like your shadow side and
your light side. You have to be able to call all parts of yourself back
together, or you're not whole, you're not complete - and you re always trying to
find something to complete you: a job, a relationship, anything ... And its not
going to happen. The only thing that can complete you is you.
"THERE'S parts of you that are really childlike, there is a part that is really
passionate, and then there's that part that is really domestic, really motherly or fatherly,
protective ... And why can't the motherly be passionate? Why can't the one who
wants to hold the baby also throw her man up against a wall and lick him head to
toe? I mean, why not?! And then want to go and feed the chickens ..."
TORI Amos plays the Rose Shamrock & Thistle on Monday 25th
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