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Nieuwe Revu (the Netherlands)
February 1994

The Devirginizing of Tori Amos

by Serge Simonart

Her debut album of six years ago, Y Kant Tori Read, she still hates. But then she was of course a virgin - in a manner of speaking. Recently her third album was released, Under the Pink. She's more content of that one. But she has been devirginized by the music business. "My songs are more from my womb than from my heart," Tori says. An intimate conversation.

Orthodox, eccentric and openhearted is the least one can say about Tori Amos (29). And besides talented and sexy she's also not particularly prudish. She takes me to her bedroom (prohibited grounds for the press with every other artist), she doesn't really apologize for the mess (an obviously used bed, underwear and even more intimate things), and before I can even ask a question we're already sitting on the bed, her hand on my knee, halfway through a confession about good sex in bad hotel rooms.

I like her new CD Under the Pink even better than I did before now. The original, hyper-sensual songs of Tori Amos leave hardly any place left for misunderstandings: in "Me and a Gun" she describes a rape... hers. In "God" she says onto the Lord that He needs a woman to look after Him. Icicle praises the joys of masturbation. In another song the singer form North Carolina tells her lover: "So you can make me cum, that doesn't make you Jesus." Tori Amos is a Tanita Tikaram with balls, a Tracy Chapman without frustrations and scary political sorrows, a sexual Suzanne Vega and a spiritual child of the oeuvre of Joni Mitchell and Kate Bush. But those comparisons are irrelevant: Tori Amos is, most of all, Tori Amos.

Live she's totally irresistible: she's gots loads of presence, weaves sultry monologues in her songs, plays piano like an Amazon rides horsebacks. She turns on and intimidates her audience with songs of which the ashamed red in the faces of the public is at times even more fiery than her own volcano-orange hair.

Let's start talking about your debut: Y Kant Tori Read. A flat hard-rock album, complete with vulgar sleeve picture of you as a Pat Benatar-like bimbo. How can the same girl make such beautiful records like Little Earthquakes (1991) and Under the Pink?

Very simple, Tori says. That was not me. I was a virgin at that time, in a manner of speaking, and I have been devirginized by the business. That (She means her debut album, but dislikes it so much that she doesn't even want to say the title anymore) displayed me like the record company wanted me to be. That year was a good learning experience as far as how it's not done goes. I had a lot of fun as a rock-chick: you haven't lived if you've never sung bad rock with painted, sprayed hair in fake snake-leather and a wonderbra with make your brests look larger than they are. Besides, it very special to sing in the church choir one year, and the next year to learn children the ground principles of classical music in red leather pants. Those children thought it was great, their mothers were less thrilled about it...

I was amused, but I also felt very bad. As a child I was a more or less classically trained prodigy, a baby pianist who was cheered everywhere; I composed my first song when I was four, on my fifth I was sent to a music school for highly gifted children. As a thirteen year old I performed in hotels and gay bars, during receptions, at religious feats... When you make a dick out of yourself with your first album on your 23rd, that's very hard to take. I am not the only one who likes to forget the album: Guns and Roses drummer Matt Sorum also played on it, and he doesn't particularly brag about it either. Haha.

So... It was hard to change direction and be myself for a change. Walk your talk, my Indian grandpa always said, and that's exactly what I wanted to do from then on. Walk my talk: saying and doing what I believe in, singing what I am. At first the boss of my American record company hated Little Earthquakes. Half of the staff hoped I'd be a white Neneh Cherry, the other half wanted to make me into a female Elton John. It took a long time before they wanted to accept who I was, and realize I could make them money that way.

Are you aware of the fact that you're already considered a big sister for all little Tori Amos-es in the world?

Yes, and I have mixed feelings about that. I like it a lot when girls and young women see me and hear me, and think, Hey, what an independent, uncomplicated, emancipated type! That's what I want to be like: she is it, so it can be done. I notice that in the letters and fans I meet. I think it's fantastic when my voice helps them find their own. Their personality is still asleep, and I feel like a princess kissing them awake. Because it is about their voice. When you pierce your nipples or your penis when you think it's hip, or wear a type of jeans because Lenny Kravitz does that, okey. As long as you speak out. That's also the strength of New Age or The new Order or whatever you want to call the new consciousness: young people are finally searching in themselves for values; they don't want the outside world as reference for their acts and principles. When all young people would start listening to their own voice instead of saying what adults say or whatever MTV dictates, this would be a whole different planet. On the other hand for example the commercial world has found the Big Sister Tori Amos concept already. They think: Aha! Through the Amos-woman we can reach the young, independent girls and influence them! They want to use my music and personality -- image is such a dirty word -- like the Trojan Horse with which they can reach the hearts, heads and purses of young girls. In America they wanted to use Silent all these years for a beer commercial. How absurd! That can only happen in America! It's a very sensitive song, but that's how it goes: when they can bottle something in booze or sex, they won't leave it lying there. It strikes me, because I, more than others, sing openly about sex. All subtleties get lost. I can sing about the color of the skin of my lover in the morning after I've waked him with an intimate -- present, and all that gets across in the media is... (Makes the up your ass gesture)

Artists in other music genres quickly form groups: R.E.M. become part of the Neil Young clan, Soundgarden are friends of Pearl Jam, Guns And Roses tries to get chummy with the Stones... but you're from nowhere, seem an outsider.

I kick on people, and I don't care what they do. I don't have to be a friend with well-known rock 'n' rollers to work myself up. I force no contacts, and my manager doesn't have to arrange so-called spontaneous jam sessions, or domething like that. But recently I met Bjork, and she's exactly how I picture my best friend of the future. She's so free and full of wild ideas and without pose or false pretences. Also, she doesn't have this cramped rock and roll habit to wake all sorts of demons in herself. She sees creativity wider than that. A wonderful person. I don't see her as a musician, rather like the phenomenon Bjork. I had the same feeling with Evan Dando of the Lemonheads. In my songs I am open, but I am still fighting with all sorts of problems. Bjork and Evan seem to have passed that stage. Their work is pure life's joy and childish openness. I have thought a lot about that lately: why am I still in the cellar groveling between the rats, whereas Bjork and Evan are upstairs cooking? And it smells so darn good there... I still need my songs to cope with my double cursing of feelings of religious and sexual guilt. And I would like by now to peek in the kitchen upstairs...

You beam out total freedom on record and in real life; you seem to me one of the most natural, complexless, doubt- and pose-free women I've ever met.

Yes! Well, the good thing about it is that I've never had to work for it. I mean: I didn't study for it. I think that's strange: I have talked with people who've read all the books of Jung and Freud and Shere Hite, and the Kamasutra and those things, and "discover yourself" courses, and they could all explain it thoroughly, but they didn't beam it out. It fascinated me how some people can be so intelligent and culturally educated, while their emotions are from the stone age. Those people can talk about your shadow side for hours, and then finish with: I am not violent myself, but I do think that we should shoot all violent people. I've had to fight to win back the primitive energy I once owned. I only had it when I played the piano; in daily life she was suppressed by all the Christian principles of my childhood education.

My father is a minister, and the difference between love and lust was pumped into me from really early. My grandmother is the prototype of the a-sexual mother who has denied her hate all her life. For a while that seemed to become my fate: grandma made God look like an inexorable, hard-hearted judge who looked sternly upon we when touching myself. A voyeur, sort of. But now I can't and won't live dryly, dry like my grandmother, who sacrificed every tendency toward sexuality in her body to the Virgin Maria. I was thinking about sex as early as since my sixth. I looked in my record collection, had some doubts as to whom I'd sacrifice my virginity - David Bowie or Robert Plant? I had it all figured out.

The openness in your lyrics may shock sometimes, it all seems a little too openhearted, almost neurotic. Maybe because we're not used to openheartedness.

Yes, in most people's songs men are always potent, women never have their period, rapes unexistant and orgasm vaginal or faked. They're Barbie-doll-songs, songs without pubic hair or obvious genitals; they don't fit anatomically. My songs come rather from my womb than from the heart. You know, there's some fucking going on in other people's songs, but no-one ever gets into an unwanted pregnancy. I sing: Boy you best pray that I bleed real soon (in "Silent All These Years"). In other songs a rape -- if there's even sung about it -- gets a happy ending. In America some radio stations didn't want to play "Me and a Gun" because of too feministic and too realistic. I sing: "Yes, I wore a slinky red thing. Does that mean I should spread for you?" That's the way it is, yes? But mister judge, she was hitch-hiking in a mini-skirt! Bullshit!

On one hand you're interested in things like hypnosis, meditation and psychoanalysis, but you seem so independent that I can imagine the tables being turned at the psychiatrist: after 10 minutes you're asking the shrink about his problems...

That has already happened. Haha. Well, I have a rather good radar for ulterior motives of swindlers. So I won't search for fortune tellers in every city. I know an older woman at home who's a medium -- dependable, so not someone who won't seek publicity or who wants your house or your firstborn child as collateral -- and I ask her for advice at times. She immediately gets to the bottom of things.

I am fascinated by things that are beyond us, but I don't feel obliged to call myself the new New Age Princess. But when I visited Avebury, I felt an undenible energy. Also when I was in Idstein visiting the Witch Tower. Yes, I think I was burned as a witch in a former life. No big deal. By the way: witches have nothing to do with hocus-pocus: the witches were midwives, the doctors saw unfair competition in them. Witch hunt was historically nothing more than a gossip campaign.

In Cornflake Girl you make a difference between cornflake girls and raisin girls. what's the difference?

It's like in Possessing the secret of joy, that novel by Alice Walker: cornflake girls are prudish, unconformistic and obedient to authority, whereas raisin girls are original, willful and sexual. A cornflake girl is wonderbread, whereas a raisin girl is wholewheat bread. In an American perspective the cornflake girl comes from a redneck-family from the midwest and the raisin girl would be the product of a multi-racial circle of friends from the big city. It's of course, like all previous generalizations, a black/white picture. And the whole idea of good girls and bad girls is of course relative. That's why I like Trading Places, with the homeless moron Eddie Murphy temporarily takeing the place of a manager. So much depends on the way you're living... I must admit, by the way, that long ago, I played the role of a bar pianist in an add for Cornflakes. I flattered myself with the thought I was the Trojan Horse there: a raisin girl amid cornflake girls.

When you take the difference to popular music, you and Madonna are both raisin girls, whereas you both have not much in common. I mean, I would imagine your coffee table book about sex would be more original and subtle than hers...

Haha. You know what I thought of that book? Madonna never seemed to enjoy herself much on any page of that book. Good sex would give you a big happy smile on the face, wouldn't you think? But it was all so serious with her, so cold, so calculated. Okay, there were some daring pictures in it, when you define daring as something with handcuffs and pierced nipples... Haha. But I think daring would be: photos in which you would see lust or enjoyment, on which you can read from someone's face a just-had-an-orgasm-and-already-craving-for-the-next-one expression. Madonna doesn't understand the dripping mango concept.

The what?

The dripping mango concept, Amos repeats. She takes an orange -- a mango can't be found easily - and bites in it repeatedly, until the juice drips over her chin and throat. Madonna is like the shadow side of the Virgin Mary, and as such I appreciate her. Christian bred girls still get that totally asexual picture of Mary. Okay, Mary had a child with Joseph, but it's never mentioned that she enjoyed the deed, or if she had pleasure from whatever form of sex. No dripping mangos in the bible. Haha. The importance of Madonna is that she used her energy to sexualize it, that she showed her fans they could also see themselves like that -- like sexual beings. I only fear that Madonna has gotten so addicted to the commotion she caused in the outside world, that she has been scandalized her inner self, and has no more pleasure out of it anymore. Only pride and power and a sort of sense of superiority, but no pleasure. She should eat more mangos... Gee, now I want one myself...


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