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Nieuwe Revu (the Netherlands)
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
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
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
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 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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