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Cleveland and Northeast Ohio
July 30 - August 5, 1992
singing from her heart
by Lee Barrish
When you look at the way that much of media is currently depicting singer/songwriter Tori Amos and the way they are picking apart her current chart climbing release LITTLE EARTHQUAKES, it kind of makes you wonder what kind of media fire she'll come under when she does become more of a household word.
At the moment journalists around the world are having a field day with Amos. They go after her perspective, her actutely honest lyrical style and her refusal to conform to the norm. Cutting even deeper they dig away at her past, her parents and her sexuality. Some writers have even made a big deal out of Amos' innocent affection for carrots.
In just about anything you read about Amos you're likely to find the focus of the piece is on almost anything but her brilliance as an artist and her courage as a person. A child prodigy who was sent to study music at the prestigious Peabody Institute and then got kicked out at age 11 for not conforming to the institute's standards makes for great copy. The same is true of a child performing Gershwin in gay bars at the age of 13 while being chaperoned by her minister father; or a woman having very strained relations with an allegedly guilt-inflicting grandmother; or that in a song titled "Me And A Gun" she confronts the pain of a real life sexual assault -- they're all hot copy.
All things considered it seems Amos is baring up rather well even with all the poking and prodding by the media at large. It's like she's coming to terms with them.
"You have got to remember in half of what you read you're learning just as much about the journalist as you are about me," Amos said recently. "Think about it. It has to go through [the journalists]. It has to go through their experiences. If they are afraid of looking at different sides of themselves and being open to different sides of others it can get really hard to get certain things across. OK, there are some journalists that are able to be incredibly objective, but they are very hard to find. People are gonna color something with their experiences and belief systems. So if you don't believe in fairies, it's going to be very hard to be objective about the fact that I believe in something that you cannot put under a microscope."
More often than not, under the microsope is the very place you'll find Amos' writings being put. You can hardly blame someone for being curious about the darkness of her subject matter -- she doesn't seem to find too many topics that are taboo. Death, pregnancy, jealousy, revenge, morality and victimization all find their way into her songs. Some of the morality angles are particularly intriguing, but it's the elements of struggle and victimization that seem to be the most prominent. It also seems that Amos will crack down harder on the victim than the victimizer. "Hmmm harder on the victim? Yeah, I guess I do, don't I. It's hard to say why. That doesn't mean that one is better than the other. Right now I'm not talking about the 'Me and a Gun' situation because right now I'm talking about consenting people and 'Me and a Gun' was not about consenting people."
She pauses, a nearly inaudible groan slips out, and she pauses again. "I'm not surprised that everybody keys on that song, because you don't write something like this, come to terms with it, and put it out there and not know what you're putting out. I'm aware what that song is because I lived it. I'm also aware that there are many people that have experienced something like this in some way that haven't been about to talk about it, so this is hard. I can't really talk about it and not talk about it totally, yet I have to keep my privacy. I'm singing this every night, and with that I feel I'm saying enough. It is based on a personal experience and I've been really trying to work through it so I don't stay a victim in my head."
Talking about some of her other lyrical victimizers lead to an area of slightly less sensitivity. With so much of her material presumably coming from reconstructions of personal experiences, you almost have to wonder how those victimizers from her past might react to Amos taking and washing their dirty laundry in public (and maybe extracting a wee bit of revenge). A splattering of high pitched giggles precedes her response when asked what now might be going through the minds of the real life "Christian boys" in her song "Precious Things" (from the new disc, which is actually her second release). Presumably they had taken advantage of her, as well as a tormenter from her seventh grade named Billy also depicted in the same song.
"It's an interesting thing when you know a few Billys and they all think it's them," she says with a giggle. "But I'll never tell. Let 'em guess. When I am being so personal in my songs, it's like I feel I have to spill the beans and yet have some anonymity with it, which is a very fine line to walk. But there has to be some of that for myself; there are some things that people have no idea about and it's best that way. I say just enough. Let your imagination do the rest.
"It's good when people take it into themselves. I guess it's better that people see it as they apply it to their own experience, and take what they need from it, using their imagination. I always hate it when people tell me what stuff is about, it takes away the magic of imagination.
"That's why radio shows used to be so great, because it really fed the imagination, which I think is not encouraged these days. Years ago it just wasn't given to you all predigested and everything. They knew we weren't such idiots that they didn't have to sketch it all out for you. Now, I hate these movies and these television shows that paint the whole thing out for you. I'm going, 'DON'T SAY IT, NO DON'T SAY IT, I HATE YOU IF YOU SAY IT,' but they say it anyway, well most of the time anyway. I mean, you have these stupid executives that say the public isn't bright enough to figure things out for themselves, and to that I say, 'No, Charlie -- Mr. Egghead you're not bright enough to figure it out. How do you expect people to let their imaginations grow if you don't give them a chance to?'"
When Amos takes the stage at Peabody's Down Under this Tuesday, August 4, it will be as part of the second U.S. leg of her current world tour. "I'll be coming to the States to do a two and a half month-er. It's gonna be a bit of a back breaker but I'll be finishing the tour with the States, Australia and Japan and then that's it for a while 'cause I'm burning out. You know by the time December first rolls around I'll have been on the road for 14 months, and it's been a bit nutty."
As has been the case with the whole tour, for the Peabody's Down Under show, it will be Tori performing alone at the piano, but not at her piano. For this tour the instrument is provided by the promoter or the venue. "Basically the piano shows up at the gig. I don't know what it is before it shows up. Well, I have requests, but every piano is different. Steinway, Yamaha, Bosendorfer, they are all different. Even beyond that every individual piano is different. It's like just because a girl is named let's say Louise doesn't mean they are all going to be like Louise Snodgrass. So each one shows up and you kind of have to take what you get, and you have to hope you can make some magic with it."
"Usually, technically they are on a decent level, but sometimes I'll get a piano where we'll have no vibe together, or very little, or there is no relationship. It might be dead. It might be like mooshy peas in the middle -- that's the sonics of it. Then you have the relationship, there's always a relationship with your instrument -- there just is. It's a real energy and the reason for it or should I say my outlook on it is that it is a living thing. It doesn't matter it isn't made out of flesh, it's real, it's made out of wood. Oh, you'd almost have to be a musician to understand. Then there is the man who made it -- there is so much about the individual who made the instrument that has to do with what it is, what it's like. It's really hard to put it into words. And when a piano is a certain way, sometimes I just start writing songs on it, sometimes it's incredible where you can go when you're connected with your instrument and when you're not you just have to find some kind of middle ground with it to play your show."
"They won't know as they have never seen me before. Now let's say if the Cleveland audience saw where everything really wasn't working, and then I return a year later and it is really working, they will know something is different. They might think I've gotten better or reverse it. Maybe this time I get a magical piano where this is a great relationship and next time, a year later, I don't.
"In a year later hopefully I will be touring around with a piano I select, but I'm not on that level yet. I just can't take around a baby grand that I could put up in a truck. And you know when you're hauling a Steinway you have to have two guys to haul it and put it in the truck. Right now I can only afford two people on the road. I don't even break even on these shows, even with it being just me and the piano, but I have to have my sound man and my tour manager so I can't afford to haul a piano on the road right now. This way, using what they have provided for me on the stage, it kind of makes it a surprise every night, an adventure. It really is because it's a completely new relationship, and that's always exciting. There is always something exciting in that even if we don't get along it's still interesting to watch two individuals who have just met each other try and communicate."
"Well, obviously I really like those artists that I've covered and the songs that I've done or I wouldn't have done them. Well that's not totally true -- sometimes I hate them. I either have to really love something or hate something to do it. There are things I hate that I do and that's always fun, but it's gotta be all the way one way or the other because otherwise it wouldn't be very challenging to try to make something new out of something you just kinda like. What good is that?
"The other thing about the covers is that I'm into breaking concepts. People have real concepts of what that is, that meaning Zeppelin, Nirvana and the Rolling Stones. What is exciting in music is when you can take a different perspective about something. With me, I brought them to the piano because that is my medium; not to take away from the originals but more like pay homage to them saying I think enough of this tune to bring it to a medium that I understand and just show a different side to it that's when a song's great, when you can do that with it.
"The reason I did The Stones' 'Angie' is I love 'Angie.' You know it's like all of us grew up making out to 'Angie' no matter who you were. Then there is the concept-breaking feeling of a woman singing about another woman. People have a problem with that, and they shouldn't. Whatever your sexual preferences are, those are your sexual preferences. People get so nervous about that because they really have to think where they stand sexually. A woman singing about another woman is a beautiful thing, whether they are having a thing sexually or not. What does that have to do with it?"
"That's just because there are 12 songs on the new record, and there have been nine on the EPs recently and then there are the covers I do. I mean, there is so much that is more current and I'm going to stick to that for now."
"That's because [the joirnalists] have to have good copy for their story, because I was always willing to talk about it. There were times that I'd just get harassed about it, and when I got harassed about it, I'd just want to spit in their jello, and say, 'All you want is a story. I know where you're coming from.'
"There are things about that record that are beyond the music. It was where I was personally at that time. I was not doing things the same. I was doing things because I wanted approval, and that was the basis of all my moves that I made. So what I would do vocally, what I would do production wise; what I was doing wasn't just about instinct. That record dealt quite a bit with where I was personally and why I was doing it. There were a lot of things I wasn't willing to look at at that point. That record is a great gift because it was the turning point for me to deal with some stuff when that record bombed. To deal with some stuff that I had covered up.
"Truly there are things I like about that record and there are things that I don't. But more of it's in my intention; why I did stuff, why I would write a certain line. A lot of times I would look outside of myself instead of going with my instinct on something. It's a real different kind of life when you live in the space of 'what d'ya think, well what do you think, well what do you think' instead of what do I think. It was just that I was coming from a different place, so it's not that I treat it like an ugly stepchild. Other people treat it like an ugly stepchild. That record was bashed quite a bit. Oh, how do I explain this... I was so needy and yet I wasn't going into my music with my need like I did on the current record. I was going there to hide, that's what I did. I hid so that I didn't have to deal with stuff, with a lot of musicians that are needy. For example Janis Joplin, very needy, she wanted to be loved, but she went into her music and was very honest, whereas I was avoiding stuff. That doesn't mean there aren't moments where what I was really feeling slipped through, yeah because it did. It was just the way I was working personally in my life, it was everything from the outside and none from the inside which was a painful place to be in.
"That album is a part of me. You wouldn't find me dismissing it like that. Dismissing it like that is like saying your first marriage was toast, done and gone. You are the way you are because of your experiences, and you can't cover them up. At least that's not what I'm about."
[transcribed by jason/yessaid]
t o r i p h o r i a
the World of Tori Amos