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The New York Times (US)
February 3, 1994

Women Off the Pedestal

By Stephen Holden, New York Times

When Tori Amos was writing the songs for her second album, "Under the Pink," her biggest inspiration was Alice Walker's novel "Possessing the Secret of Joy."

She was particularly disturbed, she said, by the author's description of the way women in certain cultures have enforced the ritual genital mutilation of young girls. It gave her a theme -- women betraying women -- that runs through many of the songs on the record.

"The fact that in some cultures women take their 8-year-old daughters for clitorectomies isn't talked about much in women's circles, because it's such a painful issue," she said in a recent telephone interview from Boston, where she was promoting the album.

"I realized I had always put women on a pedestal and believed that only men did these kinds of things. The book opened up a door for me. The songs take the theme of betrayal from the most personal to the most general situations."

The most crucial song, she said, is "Cornflake Girl," on which the lyrics divide women into two categories: narrow-minded "cornflakes" and open-minded "raisins." The angriest song, "The Waitress," describes a personal fantasy of murder.

Amos said she is still an avowed feminist, but one, she added, "who believes in men's rights and children's rights and even the rights of rats."

Outspoken rebellion is nothing new for the 30-year-old singer and songwriter, whose father is a Methodist minister in North Carolina.

A child piano prodigy, she was thrown out of the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore at the age of 11 for refusing to follow the musical rules and "was a disappointment to everyone," she recalled.

Although she writes and performs all her songs on the piano, the musician she claims as her biggest influence is Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page.

Religious imagery runs through many of her songs, but it is scarcely conventional and often confused with sexual passion. In "God," the first single to be released from "Under the Pink," Amos berates the deity for "not coming through."

"Being a minister's daughter, I had theology for breakfast, lunch and dinner," she said. "This song goes after the institutional, patriarchal God in whose name cultures have been wiped out."

[This interview also appeared in the Fresno Bee on February 6, 1994]


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