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Magian Line (US)
Neil Gaiman newsletter
by Brian Hibbs
Singer/songwriter Tori Amos is a charm. The voice of an angel coupled with the soul of a poet, and the heart of a saint. I was first exposed to Tori when Neil raved about her at length during a phone conversation one evening. When I finally heard her music, I was floored: how does one woman tear so much passion and emotion from just a piano and her voice?
And there was this peculiar reference to "hanging out with the Dream King", and that "Neil says 'hi', by the way" in the song "Tear In Your Hand". Who was this woman? I had the honor and pleasure of interviewing the lady for the Magian Line, and if you're intrigued by her words, I urge you to expose yourself to her music: The album is Little Earthquakes (with a live concert video of the same name), and there are 3 EP's: Winter, and two versions of Crucify (one live and one studio). All are well worth searching out. Without further ado, we present Tori Amos...
Brian: Let's start with the obvious question: What's your relationship with Neil?
Tori Amos: Ummm...
Brian: Is that too hard? Do you want me to rephrase it?
Tori Amos: No, no. Ummm... I think "Dear Friends" is a good way to put it. I really love his work, and we're good eating partners. Y'know, we always have terrible meals together. Always. Horrible. I don't know what it is, but whenever we meet up to go have a little snack, it's always the worst meal of the week. And we're totally unlucky - even in good restaurants. We'll go somewhere that is supposedly half-good, and it never works. And we both try and eat the other person's food, thinking that maybe they did better, but nobody did better. So, we usually hook up in London a lot, because that's where we run into each other.
Brian: How did you first meet him?
Tori Amos: I have a really good friend named Rantz, and he is a comic freak. And he, about three years ago, turned me on to Neil's work. He turned me on to other things, too, but I was drawn to Neil's work. The first thing I ever read was Calliope (Sandman #17). And then he brought me The Doll's House. Rantz is like my adopted brother. I've known him for years, and he was an art student at Parson's, where he was...dating isn't the right word...sleeping with a girl that I used to babysit for. And so, she was at Parson's too, in her first year. He and I became really good friends, and he and she became enemies, even though I've known her since she was ten. They just couldn't get along, but I get along with both of them, so Rantz and I became like family, but y'know, families don't get along, so that's not a good...we became really dear friends.
So, Rantz, during Little Earthquakes, was crashing at my pad, which was behind a church in Hollywood, for like three months, and he kept bringing me all the Sandman stuff. He was going to that San Diego convention, and he had a...not a demo, but a finished version of the albulm, which Atlantic records kinda said forget it to. And he took it to the convention, and passed it to Neil. It said nothing on it...not "Atlantic Records". Nothing. Just this tape. With my number on it. Somehow, Neil got my flat number in London, I can't remember how he got it--'cause then I moved to London a couple of months later--and he called me up, and he goes, "I got this tape from somebody, and I don't think it's half bad. (laughter) Are you planning on doing something with your life?" (laughter) And I said, "Actually, I'm here trying to play live dates". We started meeting up for lunch and talking about stuff, and he'd come to my gigs. And that's how I met him.
Brian: What prompted you to work him into the lyrics of "Tear In Your Hand"?
Tori Amos: This was before I met him, obviously. Recorded before I even knew him. Well, you know, the comics are like nothing I ever read before. I think he has such an understanding of the...unconscious. And how...I'm choosing my words carefully, because I don't want to just say something...I also think there's another history that never gets written about--that we're never taught, or told. And, I think a lot of people don't have any idea why we're here, what our purpose is, anything like that. Why is this human experiment even happening, that kind of thing. And I think Neil has helped us get in touch with our own memories. So that your memory is different than my memory, but he opens a window for us to go in and find that ourselves. So when I read this, I felt like it had the real story that we weren't being told. Whether the names or the characters change a bit, I feel like it's the True story. It's coded, his work, if you know what I mean--there are lots of codes in it, and it affects us, I think, even if we don't think it's affecting us, because inside ourselves change when we read it.
Brian: I think all good art affects us that way.
Tori Amos: Oh, yeah, I agree with you. The thing about his work that I felt that some other works didn't have...I don't mean comics, necessarily, I mean, even great books. There's a lot of books out that are trying to get us in touch with our subconscious. What he does that they don't do, is he has a lack of Judgment--he doesn't Judge Dark or Light. I don't find that in his work, anyway. I think he takes responsibility, but that's very different than "bad" and "good". We're all made up of everything, and it becomes a choice at that point. So I felt that he was closer to the pulse than a lot of writers, because he was willing to not Judge the dark side of us. Also not to dramatize it either. His work, you see, isn't just for the sake of it. You know, like, body-scarring? If it's just for the sake of show-and-tell, it's kind of boring. If there's something behind it for someone, that it has some kind of meaning, or that they've passed through something because of it, then it makes a lot of sense for them.
Brian: Yeah, living in San Francisco I see a lot of "weekend warrior" types -- piercing and tattoos and scarification, it's a "cool" thing, rather than...
Tori Amos: ...Than what it means to them. I think it comes down to is whether it's dread's, whether whatever it is, is: what does it mean to me. And that's the only thing you have to answer, is to yourself. I think that Neil's characters, particularly his female characters, I can relate to them, because I think he has a lot of respect for women. And he doesn't put them on a pedestal, and he doesn't abuse them either. I think he gives it a fair reading. And it deserves that. We deserve that. Because when you put someone on a pedestal that means you don't respect them enough to tell them the truth. Nobody should be on a pedestal. No one. So, I think he does that. "Tear In Your Hand"...I think that, because all of the things I just told you, those stories meant a lot to me, and I made a reference to him, because of that.
Brian: What piece of Neil's work has had the most resonance for you, specifically?
Tori Amos: "Calliope" Being somebody's muse. That kind of hit home for me. I understood what it was like for the guy, not being able to write. And how he would do anything to be able to write again. And yet, at the same time, what is your work worth when you have no honor as a person anymore? It has to come back to honor, I think, if you work as a writer - nothing is worth losing that. It's very easy to make excuses, when fame starts coming your way. And I won't mention names, but I've seen it left and right, how people manipulate their settings...and I've done it myself...how you can manipulate a situation all in the name of shunning publicity, shunning this, when all it gets them is more publicity. And don't think for one minute that most of them don't know what they're doing, I think it's a load of shit. But I see it a lot of time, and I think the "Calliope" piece... I reread it a lot, and it makes me remember about where I stand with myself, and why I do certain things.
It's real easy to lie to people. It can get very easy. Because you can justify it in so many ways: You know, "This just upsets me as an artist to do this." Well then, why the fuck are you making records, you lying sack of shit? I just get tired of it. Because it's just a lie. Anyway, that piece puts me in line, because it makes me look at when I'm manipulating, when I'm playing that game, y'know? I have to go, "Just be real honest about why you're doing this thing, or that thing, or the other thing, and cop to it." If you can admit it, you can look at yourself in the mirror, but if you can't, don't start making excuses. And then getting it, right? But you get it through the back door, saying "Oh, I'm so noble." Puke. (laughter) It's O.K. if we do something really stupid, and it's O.K. if lie to ourselves, as long as we can look at that. Because if you do lie to yourself, and I did it for like 10 years straight, actually longer, and what happened was I became a non-person. I don't think that's what anybody, if you care about humans on the planet, we want everybody to be all they are. And if you're lying to yourself, you can't be all you are. Then you have to ask questions like, "Why do I feel the need to lie to myself? Who is going to spank me?". So I think that Neil's work really encourages you not to lie to yourself. I mean the guy... I don't remember his name off the top of my head, from "Calliope"...
Brian: Richard Maddoc.
Tori Amos: Richard Maddoc. It's not like he's a bad guy. He just bought into something, like I have, like we all have. And it's understanding what these choices cost, and then are we willing to take responsibility when we do something to somebody else? That's the big one. And then I've got to ask myself, why did I need to do that to this person? You don't need to be viscous to somebody when you're dealing with your own stuff. Neil gives me feedback quite a bit. I don't know if I give him much feedback, but I feel like it comes from a very kind place, and supportive place. For those writers out there reading this, if someone makes you feel rotten about their stuff, then you should throw out everything that person says. If someone can't be honest with you and say, "Well, this didn't speak to me, but I appreciate the fact that you needed to write this.", if you can't get some kind of balance, then I think you should throw both of them out. The adoring press, and the vicious press all end up in the trash can. The bottom line, is if someone needs to be vicious to you, Brian, something is really wrong. This is not about, they didn't like my record, and I know that. If they can be clear about their observations, and really go after certain points, then I can grow from it, and learn from it. When it comes down to a vicious thing, it's like, "Since when did I spend a week in the bathtub with this person and we know each other to be this viscous?"
Brian: I've always thought it was central in criticism to separate your personal feelings from the work.
Tori Amos: But that's hard to do for most people. So for those writers out there they need to remember that if critics can't do it, most people can't separate their own thing, whether they got fired that day, or nobody's given them any encouragement, it might be hard for them to give you any. I think...well, I'll tell you, I've just had a falling out with a girlfriend of mine--you're going to hear a lot about this on the next record, she was very close to me--I loved her with all my heart. Anyway, if you had asked me if we could've worked it out, I would've bet one of my hands on it. Well, I'd be missing a hand right now. I won't go into the details of what it was, and of course, there's both sides to it and everything, but she was never able to be supportive, ever. I'm usually able to be supportive, because I feel pretty good about myself, most of the time. It just got to the point of, when somebody makes you feel bad about yourself all the time, why am I there?
Why? We go back to Neil's characters again. I really relate to Delirium a lot, because I think she's a part of all of us--that childlike quality that got really hurt, and checks out sometimes to her own world, so she doesn't have to be hurt again. And I don't want to keep checking out, right? So I had to change some things in my life, and it was really painful. But for those writers out there, and those people: if you don't get support from your friends, or your lovers, or whatever then something is really, really wrong. And we're just in whole society that is like that--it's very unsupportive, for the most part. So, as much as I can these days, I'm trying to encourage writers to be able to honest with themselves. You know when it's not right. You know. You just want it to be right so bad because you've spent six months on it (laughter).
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the World of Tori Amos