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Monsters & Faeries
Text * Sandra A. Garcia
Photos * Sandra C. Davis
"Are you the piano tuner?"
"Oh, you're not the piano tuner, I guess," sighs the small woman with the vivid red hair.
Last time I checked I knew nothing about tuning pianos. At that moment I wished I did because Tori Amos looked so sad that I didn't. "There's this clicking sound every time I hit the pedals... it's like watching TV and seeing that line that starts to go around and around..."
Luckily the soundman conquered the problem and all was well. I didn't have to be the piano tuner after all. I wouldn't have been very good at it.
Facts: Tori Amos is classically trained. Tori Amos was also a child prodigy. One should always include such basic facts in their introduction of a new artist. It's expected and that's why you read the same details over and over again.
Another fact: Tori Amos does distinct cover versions of Led Zeppelin, the Stones and Nirvana in her performances armed with only her piano and her soaring voice. When she was young wailing Robert Plant and Led Zeppelin made her realize she was a girl. Imagine that.
Tori Amos also held my rapt attention for her entire performance utilizing those two brilliant elements of voice and piano. She performed in the oddest manner, with her body swung towards the audience so she could gaze over them as her one knee often banged the floor while she drew strength from the notes. A woman and her piano, except for 'Me and a Gun': here just a woman and her voice, singing about a brutal personal experience: rape. No one wants to imagine that.
And overheard after the show: "She was great!" "Oh, she was so wonderful!" "She's one weird chick!" I was in such an up mood after her brilliant show that I left that offender still standing.
From North Carolina to California to England and at various lounges in-between, Tori Amos has just been waiting to happen. With her practically perfect Little Earthquakes lancing the unsuspecting between the heart and the mind, you have to wonder why it's taken this long for her to really arrive. She did take a little detour down the "rock chick" road in a rebellious fit tempered by bad advice, but now she's securely reunited with her piano and herself. She's not the weird bundle of angled angst that some interviews make her out to be, but a wonderfully warm, witty soul who has learned to confront her past pain through that great cleanser, music. And with a wink, no less. You don't have to imagine that, 'cause it's true.
And her understatement in describing her live performance as "different from the record" is touching. "Which I always think is good because why keep repeating yourself. I like performing that way, it gives me a lot of freedom. And if I want to slow something down I don't have to look back to the drummer!" she laughs.
Taking songs so emotionally personal before an audience night in and night out, alone with just her piano... that sounds like it ranks high on the list of things not many people would rapidly willingly choose to do by themselves. But Tori's handling it well. "I find when I don't do it for a few days, I kind of don't know what to do with myself. But when I keep doing it day after day I... go... yikes," she giggles, "because each time, I do get butterflies in my belly. And then something in me yanks my own hair and says, 'hey, get over it, babe! Because we have something to say so let's go!' I mean there's kind of a whole crew. I feel like I should have per deiums for fifty!" she laughs. "There's a lot of sides that come out. It does get a bit exhausting though because if I'm not emotionally there they don't come off. I mean it's nothing that I can fake really. Even though I am very good at faking things, cause you gotta remember I played lounges for years, it's very hard to fake this stuff, cause it's not as if you're background music or people are discussing demographics over martinis!"
Tori laughs about how her audience becomes incredibly focused on her music when she performs. "They know it better than I do! I found in England some of those people knew the words better than me! I'd go 'my God!' I started 'Happy Phantom' wrong, I used 'and' instead of 'so' or the wrong conjunction and it was just like the people in the front row just looked at me like 'hey, you can't fool me, babe, go read your lyric sheet!' Proof readers in the front row," she snickers.
That's just further evidence of the devotion Tori's newfound audience has towards her music. She's got that rare ability to touch you so hard it's frightening. And apparently she scared record company executives in America so badly they decided to first ship her to Britain to see how those wacky Brits responded to her. That would decide on what they'd do with her over on these shores. Lucky for us the Brits went over the top for her.
So Tori's one remark about the American record company executives who claimed to "hear enough to understand that they didn't understand," led me to ask: were these executives male by any chance?
"Yes," is the simple reply.
I thought so. "But they understand now so I'm really happy!" she quickly adds with a laugh. "Because you need your record company to understand or it becomes hell. And so... everyone was willing to admit there was a point where they didn't get it, and those people who didn't are now able to say they can tell me the point where they got it. 'What song, where I was, and I get it now.' And it's like 'wow, glad we got to that point!'" she exclaims in relief.
One song in particular seemed to clue listeners into Tori's character, that being the first single 'Silent All These Years.' "I think there was something... I think somebody told me they were listening to the second verse and it just clicked. It got to that point, and wherever they were that day, he was in his car, and it was just a turnaround. Another one was it clicked on 'Winter.' So it's different songs for different people that I work with," she described.
Tori supposes that the songs must touch various people on that special level to suddently make them truly hear what she is saying through her music. "I think it's circumstances that happen to them during that day, which made them say 'now this can apply to me.' And it's just one of those... I'm having such an interesting time of it, because I'm watching people. Some people come and hear me play live and still haven't gotten it. I usually think that after they actually hear it live they understand it more than they did. If they're gonna get it at all, the last straw is to get it live. Because it's much more intimate, I'm there and it's me and the piano and you hear how the songs were written and where they came from. And you're watching me express them. So you're getting all these senses going on except maybe smell. Because I think you can actually taste them. But there are people who have come who say 'well, you know, there's something but I dunno.' It's true! And I'll go 'well, each to his own!' Everybody has things that speak to them differently," as she gives a verbal shrug.
We discuss the fact that surely most women get what Tori's saying if they have ever felt like their life and their minds were being taken away from them. And what woman hasn't honestly felt that in this world? Tori remarks, "In this country the women... women are more aggressive and open in this country than in any other country. And I say aggressive like I would use for a mother wolf which is like my favorite animal. And a mother lion. I think that women, American women, are pretty independent on the whole. On the whole, you know what I'm saying," she sighs. Yes, there's still a long, long way to go... "And... that excites me. I'm finding though that men are surprising; the men come up to me and really talk about things, all over the world. Not just male journalists. Males have insights and really tell me things about it that sometimes are more perceptive than the women, I'll be totally honest with you! I think that it's great because I don't know if we've been giving them enough credit!" she openly admits. That's very true because I'm as quick as anyone to go "men!" in that exasperated voice on reserves for children and pets. It's often based on the frustration encountered during that particular day, cause I don't hate men. They can make life amusing. "I think men get a lot of that 'oh, it must be cause they're men.' I think they're sick of it, and I can understand that. I think I might get sick of it. So I'm just being shown a different side of things just by what the men are saying to me when they talk to me. And it's like..." as she pauses, admitting, "I have a really incredibly perceptive boyfriend. So, I'm very lucky in that way, because I have a very healthy view of men, I think... now," she emphasizes with a small chuckle, "more than I did. And he's helped me to do that. I'm finding that I have an incredible partner who is just as sensitive as I am, and just as strong as I am, but in different ways. And we express it differently, and it doesn't fit into stereotypes. We bust each other when we get into that! That's not acceptable when we start doing that," she describes.
I would think that any man involved in Tori's life would have to be very strong, lest she write a lyric or two about him. Or else they might have a huge ego and think they're all the good bits in her songs! Tori laughs, musing, "He's really accepting. And he also figures, and my parents are also like this, they figure that my songwriting is my own personal space and they don't really go into that area. It's not like we analyze everything together."
That would be hard as the people closest to you think they know you really well and are often surprised to discover they don't. At all. "Exactly. They know a side to me really well, but there's a side to me that... I think there's a side to all of us that maybe only we can know really well, and can maybe share it with somebody else if they..." as she sighs, seeking that word, "are ready. Because it takes a lot of trust, I think, for you to share certain things. There are just certain things that you want to. Not with the people that catalyze it. There are some people that catalyze things who have no idea that they did. They have no idea who they are. And also on the record there are people who don't know that certain things are about them, which is how it should be," she cautiously laughs.
If you want to keep talking to them at all... you can still really like or even love that person but perhaps there's that one thing you wish they could chase from their own life. But it's so integral to their personality you just have to deal with it if you want to have any connection with them.
"I'm finding that... whew!" she exclaims. "It's amazing what's really going on inside the mind, and then inside the heart. There's things that are going inside of mine that I won't really talk about except in a song, as it's too much for my brain. And I say there is a limit to how open I can be in one day. And it does get to that point... let's see an old movie, please!"
One just has to read the lyrics and truly listen, along, to the many inflections crowding Tori's music to get the whole. It's already there in capital letters. "Yeah! When somebody says, 'so, you know, is there any dirt we could dig up?' I'm like what do you mean! I already gave you the dirt! I gave you the low down, man! So if you want names and numbers why? That's really petty," she exclaims in sheer annoyance. "What can we drag out from my experimental phase that can be more revealing than when you put all sides of yourself on the table, glazed!"
There also could be an element in those people who want more as they can't accept the honest intimacy that you've already offered. If they can't express themselves to another person, how can we expect them to deal with a woman who puts it all on an album? That's probably frightening to those emotionally castrated people. Tori lets go one of her delightful laughs, exclaiming, "That's pretty funny! I think that some people get very intimidated by real truthfulness. I know I've been intimidated, I've been intimidated by people who lay it on the line. It's 'uh-oh, now I have to maybe!'"
When I note that Tori's a mighty brave woman, she easily replies, "I don't really think about it in that way. When people come to see you and it's crowded and they're all sitting there and it's quiet, that's when I have to summon courage inside myself and say 'hey, you wanted to do this, you wanted to sing these songs in front of people. You really wanted to, so just cop to that and stop being all this drama!' Hand to head, oh no!
"With my stuff it's not about the groove, so I can't really hide in that one!"
One has to wonder if Tori's going to get a different reaction to her music from region to region. "Oh, I don't know, culturally, this country is made up of different countries. And I've been told that some of the guys in the South have just been a little resistant to playing this more so than in other places. And you know, I was born in the South! And I think that once they get into it and open up to it, it's not about attacking anybody. It's about revealing yourself. And I hope to play down there. And when I do, and they hear it live, they might hear it from another side. Because yeah, so what, it's intimate, so what, we're talking about stuff... so what! And I think it's funny that it's threatening, it's a bit more threatening than needles in my nipples. But it shouldn't be. Cause all it is is saying 'no games, let's just explore all these sides.' And some are monsters, and some of them are fairies who like to wee on people, and have a really good time! And wink, and sing a little whistling dixie, and add a little of this and that! There are a lot of different parts to explore, and there's a lot of fun to it too."
Most definitely. Even in the midst of some of those deeply moving lyrics, there's that wink, that verbal nudge, that fairy weeing on all our heads. Those playful nudges and precious winks make the album such a wonderful whole, taking it beyond the painful honesty that often is revealed. Tori's been giggling and agreeing, musing, "I think when people give something a little bit of time you can hear it differently on the third listen. Cause just sometimes you're getting your bearings on something. I know I do with stuff. The first time through you're reading your magazine..."
But when a song like 'Silent All These Years' makes you cry (real tears folks, in public in the ninth row) you know there's something being done right here. "I cry on that one too. And 'Winter' gets me, because of my relationship with my dad."
But we both agree that 'Silent' isn't an oh boo-hoo hoo outing, but more of a "yes, Yes, YES!" of finally finding your identity. "Yea, yeah, yeah, yeah!" crows Tori in chorus. We sound like a couple of cheerleaders. "Well, I'm glad that's the one out that's introducing me, cause I feel it's really representative of how I wanna come out. It was what came out in England, and with a little nuuudgggeee here and there," she giggles.
From child prodigy to lounge singer to rock chick to a stunning talented artist with the ability to make audiences cry real tears. It's enough to make you want to learn how to tune pianos, in case of emergencies, because you never want to let Tori down even if it's by mistaken identity. Imagine that.
[transcribed by jason/yessaid]
[scans provided by Richard Handal]
t o r i p h o r i a
the World of Tori Amos