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Melody Maker (UK)
February 5, 1994

Her Life's Tori

Tori Amos' intimate confessional style is not restricted to her music -- here she speaks revealingly to THE STUD BROTHERS about taking revenge on men, women's violence towards women and coping with sex after rape.
Pic: TOM SHEEHAN

WE'RE talking with Tori Amos about Lorena Bobbitt.

Lorena Bobbitt, the woman who hacked off her husband's dick and chucked it into a field, walked free from a Virginian courthouse last week.

Apparently, she wasn't guilty of maliciously wounding her husband, John Wayne. Had she been jailed one particularly batty bond of radical feminists had threatened to cut the penises off 10 American men for every year of her prison term. Emasculation terrorism.

Now Bobbitt begins a new and highly lucrative career as a screenwriter and icon of the feminist fightback. Things are pretty bad out there.

TORI Amos, presently in the Top Five with her single, "Cornflake Girl", has been following the Bobbitt trial on TV, reading every gory feature and high-minded overview. She says she's thrilled by the verdict. She looks less than thrilled, more grimly satisfied.

"You see," says Tori, "I'm coming from a different place to you. I'm coming from . . . I'm mad, mad at myself to this day that I didn't kill the man who raped me that night."

Tori was raped in her early twenties. The song, "Me And A Gun", on her 1992 debut solo LP, "Little Earthquakes", describes the incident in fractured, surrealist detail ("I sang 'holy holy' as he buttoned down his pants/Me and a gun and a man on my back/But I haven't seen BARBADOS so I must get out of this").

Other songs allude to that night still more confront the issue of men's violence against women and do so without the spitting peroxide dramatics that have, in the minds of most, come to characterise fem-rock. Tori Amos, like Cohen, Joplin and Bush before her, manages to be both chilling and sublime.

A YEAR ago, when Oliver Stone was pre-producing his forthcoming movie, the Quentin Tarantino-penned "Natural Born Killers", the tale of a female revenge killer who dispatches no less than 47 men, he heard Tori's Little Earthquakes and decided he wanted to use three songs, including "Me And A Gun", on the soundtrack. They met for dinner and Stone explained the plot. Tori, a long-time fan of the director, was keen to be involved, particularly when she heard that her heroine, Patti Smith, was to make an appearance in the movie, eventually to turn him down.

"He said the song was supposed to represent Peace in the movie," recalls Tori. "I said, 'Well, if I represent Peace then I'm not doing a hell of a good job am I? Because this woman kills 47 men.' See, it's always been difficult for me to sing 'Me And A Gun'. And when I sing, 'I must get out of this', I don't mean go kill 47 people.

"Like, you know, the Bobbitt thing, the wanting revenge," she continues. "I can understand all of that, the way the experience of rape is so totally life-changing, totally incapacitating, the way you want to show them what it's like. But the answer isn't go kill. Eventually I couldn't have any of my songs associated with the movie. There are layers to my songs. I didn't know if there were any layers to his film."

FOR some time after the rape, Tori says she took solace in the status of victim. ("It simplifies the world, makes you superior, reduces everyone else's problems to a big nothing. Like, what do you know?") Being a victim was something she was not entirely unfamiliar with. Tori had seen aspirations thwarted and ambitions mocked since she was old enough to walk.

Things began well, all too well. Born in North Carolina, the daughter of a strict Methodist preacher, she was playing piano by the age of two and composing musical scores by the age of four. From five to 11, she was trained at the prestigious Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. Teachers, parents and friends queued up to take credit for her achievements.

Then she f***ed up, let them down. She got expelled from the conservatory for playing by ear, discovered rock'n'roll, discovered boys. She spent most of her teens playing bars and hotels from Washington to Los Angeles, convinced that fate had robbed her of a better future.

After the rape, she hit rock bottom and joined an LA rock band called Y Kant Tori Read. ("I was a real sleazy, big hair rock chick. Real distant, look-but-don't-touch. I wore my war medals with pride, but none of the songs were about me.")

The image and the bond were another reassuring failure, except failure didn't feel that good anymore. She returned to her piano in the hope of confronting what she had become and what had been forced upon her. She wrote Little Earthquakes. Ironically, although the album was a ferocious indictment of men, it was around this time that Tori started, slowly, to trust them again. She met Eric Rosse.

"For a long time, I had real difficulty having an intimate relationship with anyone," she tells us. "Every time I saw someone who looked like that guy I relived that night, every time I read about rape I relived that night. Whenever I was being intimate with somebody, it was like these veils came down. I couldn't see that men's physicality and strength could tender. I had to pretend I was a whore in my mind, thinking I was gonna get paid so that I could be detached and stay in control. I had so many schemes going on, and I kept 'em going for a while."

"But now, with Eric, my boyfriend, it's changing. He's relentless in making me present. Now I'm lucky I can't pretend anymore, he doesn't allow me to pretend. He makes me say his name, we keep the lights on and really have to take responsibility for what we're doing there. He'll ask me what he's doing, he'll say, What am I doing? I'm f***ing you. Say it. And I love you. Say it'. We go through this and it's healing, it takes away the idea that you can't have passion without violence and that love is only about being held. Before, all my passion was put into my piano, and you can't live like that."

TORI Amos' new album, Under The Pink, an eerie, exquisite, eccentric and often deeply unsettling piece of work, deals perhaps even more controversially, with women's violence towards women, albeit from a highly personal point of view. Its release is especially timely given the publicity generated by Naomi Wolf's "Fire With fire", [sic] an attack on victim feminism, and Kate Roiphe's "The Morning After", a gutsy rejoinder to accepted American feminist wisdom on rape.

"For a while," says Tori, "to survive the whole rape thing, I looked at women as incapable of that kind of viciousness. I put them on a pedestal, they could do no wrong. I had this idyllic view of the Sisterhood. In my mind I needed to create a safety group, a camaraderie group, a place where everything was OK. I thought that women could never be as cruel as men. But they can, it's just that women's viciousness is a little different. For the most part, women get at each other in a totally emotional way."

Tori came to this conclusion after parting company with several close friends who spent their time complacently bitching about one another, their men and their lot. And doing nothing about it.

"I kinda realised," says Tori, "that the whole thing's not just about sex, it's about individuals. Through some friends, I came into contact with the Native American Pueblos [Tori herself is part-Cherokee] and their matriarchs believe that women will only resolve their problems with men once they've taken action to resolve their problems with themselves and one another. You need to love life, you know? You need to love men, and you need to love women. And I think I'm getting there . . ."

Under The Pink is out now on east west


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