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Bay Area Musician (US)
March 11, 1994



by Kim Fowley

"So you found a girl who thinks really deep thoughts..."

The prostitutes who work at Nevada's infamous Chicken Ranch brothel, just outside of Las Vegas, once raved to me about Tori Amos's debut Atlantic LP, Little Earthquakes, and how important this artist's music was to them. That is, Tori's words and music inspired the little bit of sanity these working girls could save for themselves doing what they do every day.

In my book at least, this is just one of the things that makes Tori Amos the first Important Artist of the 1990s. To use an old cliche, Little Earthquakes actually changed my life. Selections like "Silent All These Years" and "Leather" got me through some bad times upon its 1992 release - and there have been a lot of bad times as of late. After all, with its riots, fires, floods, mud slides, and earthquakes, LA is no picnic anymore. (Could this be why Tori left these sunny shores to relocate to England three years ago?) "California Dreamin" has turned into "Where Do We Go From Here?"/ "Hit The Road, Jack" - so anything at all that offers beauty and hope is needed these days, and, when found, truly appreciated.

Of course, I'm not the only one who's reacted to Ms. Amos in this manner. It's incorrect to call her fan base a "cult," since Little Earthquakes went gold in the U.S., and sold over a million copies internationally. And Under the Pink, her highly anticipated follow-up LP, entered the Billboard charts at No. 12. But Tori's fans, for the most part, are cult-like and fanatical, hanging on every word she says, and often looking toward her and her art as a personal savior. The artist already has several fanzines dedicated exclusively to her, not to mention a huge following on the Prodigy computer network.

"I think the Good Book is missing some pages..."

Amos' personal history was printed numerous times following the release of Little Earthquakes, but to briefly recount for those of you who may have missed it: She was born Myra Ellen Amos on August 22, 1963, in North Carolina to a strict Methodist preacher father (whose own parents were also both ordained ministers). A child prodigy, she won a piano scholarship to Baltimore's prestigious Peabody Conservatory at the age of 5 (she was writing her won songs at age 4), but was expelled at age 11 for being "a rebel" (the mold was cast) and playing "by ear." As a teenager, she ended up in Washington, D.C., playing piano bars and cocktail lounges, before relocating to Los Angeles at age 21, where she joined a big hair 'n' spandex band Y Kant Tori Read? (featuring drummer Matt Sorum, now of Guns N' Roses), which released a flop album in 1988.

This failure left her free to pursue her own artistic muse, which led to the material on Little Earthquakes. To use another cliche, you know what they say about ministers' daughters - and, thanks to the religious upbringing, Tori apparently had a lot to work out in her art. Like Lou Reed (or, more apt, Axl Rose), she was growing up in public - and like Bob Dylan, she was putting blood on these tracks. In the beginning she became known as the woman who explored sex, religion, and the darker regions of everyone's psyche in her material, as well as the woman who had written a harrowing personal account of a rape in "Me And A Gun" ...not to mention the woman who humped her piano stool onstage.

Even the titles of her albums appear to have sexual connotations - and, like Liz Phair, Tori seemed set to change what she once told Billboard about "women being taught to deny our sexuality." Although she told reporters that she planned to take at least a year off following the Little Earthquakes tour, the material for Under the Pink - which might be described as Amos's "moving forward" album - just came to her when she was spending eight months last year in New Mexico, where the album was ultimately recorded. Utilizing almost Dylanesque type character (" Cornflake Girl", "Rabbit", etc.), Tori Amos has illustrated her own personal odyssey via her art. Is it any wonder that her extremely devoted fans view her as almost a John Lennon- or Jim Morrison-type figure?

It wasn't until Tori performed at the Henry Fonda Theater on Hollywood Boulevard in late summer/early fall '92, however, that this writer got the full impact of what was going on here. This wasn't just a female Lennon doing a modern-day Judy Collins. This really was like Jim Morrison...back from Paris, as she ram-jammed her piano with a full frontal assault. The angel with a broken wing was in full control...and from that point on, I was hooked.

At the end of the show, Tori came out to meet and greet her fans. I was standing there in full geek-like, Kim Fowley, off-balanced stupidity, when she approached, and taunted me with: "You don't look like a Tori Amos fan." I muttered something about prostitutes in the desert. She just smiled. It was Donna Reed meets Rhonda Fleming! I was devastated.

It seemed like centuries passed, and then BAM assigned me to interview my hero. Laura Gold, West Coast publicity queen at Atlantic Records, and her assistant, Angelica, even took me to an industry reception for Tori at the Union in West Hollywood. It was there that Tori Amos and I spoke again. I mumbled something about D.H. Lawrence living in New Mexico before her. Once again, she smiled. Once again, the impulse was received.

We later found ourselves in the Green Room at NBC studios in Burbank to watch Tori rock Jay Leno's audience on The Tonight Show. Three supermodels (the ones who appeared on the recent Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover) were also on the show to plug their product. They were all "attractive," but none seemed as majestic as Tori, who followed their spot with magic, truth... and pure sensuality.

The supermodels' "in-crowd" entourage grew restless and uneasy as they watched the Green Room monitors and saw Tori soar on national television. As the entourage's small-talk grew louder (and others in the Green Room tried to "shush" this rudeness), I grew even prouder. Tori reached for the stars, recycling the illumination of light she found back through the eye of the camera, and into America's living rooms. And I found myself in Seventh Heaven.

Right after the show, Tori's manager, Arthur Spivak and his staff were kind enough to squeeze me into their hectic LA schedule.

Kim Fowley: Do you agree that you're a woman raised by wolves? And if so, who are the known spirits of the past that have influenced you? Mary Martin? Are you a magnet for the lonely?

Tori Amos: I think I'm a magnet for people who want to be alone with themselves. It's not about being afraid to be with other people.

Do you agree that you write songs from the basis of intensity and isolation?

All the time. But it has to come naturally. I don't have, like, a disciplined schedule. it's all about observing, and I'm always open to hearing things.

Are you a reformer? Do you attack cultural corruption? Repression?

No. I cuddle it, and hold it, and nurse it.

What about the term "tender tension"?

When my legs are squeezed!

Do you resent being called the new Morrison and/or Lennon trapped in the visual package of the girl next door?

It's funny. I don't see myself like that. I see me more like Russell from Fat Albert. You know Russell? That's who I always saw myself as. I was the tagalong who always had my bubble hat. I mean, I didn't even reach puberty until seven months ago!

How about Judy Collins?

What I know about Judy Collins is that I had to sing "Send in the Clowns" seven times a night when I played the Marriott. And ya know, as lovely a song as it is, seven times a night for 14 years...

Do you admit that you're mad and obsessive?

Yes, I'm very obsessive. But who isn't obsessive? I'm compulsive about The Gap. Like when I pass The Gap, I have to get something there.

Do you like bell-bottoms? You probably wore them at one time.

Yeah, of course. I did many times. But now I have some great corduroy bell-bottoms. Brown corduroy with a big, big belt. Actually, these days, I'm into my Daisy Mae look.

So, do you celebrate ugly dreams from your one woman's Devil's Island?

Oh, my god. Are you really asking me this stuff, Kim? My one woman's Devil's Island? [pause] Ya know, I guess there's a fascination with that, isn't there? I mean, if you're really honest about it, there's a fascination there. I mean, pretty is never beautiful.

If your first album, Little Earthquakes, was "Lennon meets Morrison," do you acknowledge that the new album is "Anne Rice meets Iggy Pop"?

How can I possibly acknowledge that the first record was "Lennon meets Morrison"?

I think it was! I should know, because I was the emcee when John Lennon played Toronto in 1969. That's me on the album, The Plastic Ono Band - Live in Toronto 1969. I told everyone to light matches!

I love matches. You know, I'm kind of a pyro.

And you have red hair.

I love lighting things.

You remind me of Pamela Morrison. You look like her. You have red hair. She had red hair and your skin. And Jim wrote lyrics the way you do.

Could we mix Jim Morrison with [The Little Rascals'] Alfalfa?

How about Iggy? You cut yourself and bleed in your video.

Yeah.

Iggy was the only other artist besides Tori Amos who cut himself and bled in public performance. So I figured you and Iggy Pop had something going in terms of past lives and the whole Viking thing. He's Scandinavian, you know.

So we're deciding who Iggy is gonna breed with? How about Ethel Merman. That would be interesting, wouldn't it?

Let's talk about books - the ones you're into like Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman.

Love it!

Anybody else that's following in his footsteps you want to champion?

Yes. I have it right here. Zora Neal Hurston: Their Eyes Were Watching God, a novel. [Reads from back] "There's no book more important to me," says Alice Walker, who wrote Possessing The Secret of Joy [which, ironically, is the novel that the new LP's "Cornflake Girl" is based on ]. Also, The Sandman [DC Comic's visual novel series] by Neil Gaiman [who actually turned up as a character on the first LP; as a result, some of Amos's lyrics have actually turned up as dialogue in The Sandman]. And there's one more book that is an absolute, absolute must. Bringers of the Dawn. It's a must.

Let's talk about your older sister, the scientist.

Yeah, let's talk about her.

When's her birthday?

April 23rd. She's tone deaf, and totally happy for me! Totally different. She's an internist.

Tall or short?

Tall, blonde. She's married with five kids. I was the youngest child. My brother was three years older than her. He played guitar on my first single. My sister isn't a music person. She doesn't listen to music at all. In fact, she wouldn't know I existed if I wasn't her sister. My brother would, though.

So you're real name is Myra Ellen Amos. Did you come up with the name "Tori" the same way Bob Dylan took his name from Dylan Thomas?

No. What happened was my friend, Linda McBride, came to see me when I was playing a club in D.C. I was 17 and a half, almost 18. She was 18. She came in with her new boyfriend. I think his name was Patrick. She was only with him for a week. She brought him in. She said, "Hi Ellen. This is Patrick. What's goin' on?" I said, "I'm still looking for my name." And he looks at me, and says, "Your name's Tori." And I go, "You're right."

What's your political party?

I'm a Democrat. I voted for Hillary.

What is the significance of the ring on your hand?

The Wolf gave it to me. That person will remain mysterious. [It may, however, be Eric Rosse, Amos's current boyfriend, who lives in New Mexico, and who co-produced Under The Pink.]

Did he ask for it back?

No.

Does he have a matching one?

He doesn't need one. He has my total respect. He's never disappointed me - but he's disappointed himself a few times.

Are you gonna teach him how to fall in love with himself?

He's learning.

You have 4-year-old to 60-year-old fans. Did you know that there are at least three shrinks in LA who utilized your first album to discuss their patients' problems?

There are? How do you know all this, Kim?

I did research on it. Somebody has to research this stuff. PJ Harvey and Liz Phair: Who do you like better? Or do you like them for different reasons?

Hang on. They are very, very different. I don't think they are comparable, to be honest with you. Because it's like, how do you compare cotton candy with razor blades. Or an apple with a worm? You can't compare.

The song, "Pretty Good Year." I say it's Debussy meets Phil Spector. Who is Lucy?

Who do you think Lucy is?

"Lucy in the Sky"?

I'm not telling you who Lucy is.

I think Lucy is one of your nine personalities. What I like about "Pretty Good Year" is the lilt of the music that escapes. It feels like after an orgasm. It's that afterglow time, where you don't resent anything and you don't want to fight. There are actually two orgasms on the record for me.

What's the other one?

I haven't gotten there yet! I'm going in sequence.

OK.

Actually, it's "Cloud On My Tongue." So, the song "God." It sounds like seagulls playing guitars. Or the Blessed Virgin becoming Jezebel. That's what it sounded like on my MTV. So God is imperfect like the rest of us! And I like that "Tobacco Road" like Christianity segment in the video with the snakes. That was very encouraging to my type of male!

Yeah.

Be careful in the South, though, when you play there again.

Yes. The thing about the South, though, is, being born in the South, I have rights. I'm a Tarheel [from North Carolina].

A Tarheel on helium.

Exactly.

So, Tori, who is your god?

The big G. Not the little g.

"Bells for Her" is like funeral music for a friend. Which I think is nice. It's a really good goodbye song. Are you "her"?

Well, it's funny you're asking me that. I didn't think I was her, but now I may be wondering if I am.

Who's the man in prison in "Past the Mission"?

The man who dies.

Are you the "hot girl" in that song?

Yeah, but also wondering, how do you get that back again? That part of you that hid in the holly bushes as your father walked by after church. It's finding it - the "hot girl" - in you.

Do you have time to rescue us, Tori?

No. I'm makin' toffee apples.

The top gun in my emotional hit parade is "Baker Baker." It's the song none of our past girlfriends ever sang for us. The words mean one thing, and the music another. It works. My favorite song on the record. This song will age well.

Do you think so?

Andy Williams will cut it soon.

We kinda love Andy Williams. I was fascinated years and years ago when his ex-wife, Claudine Longet, shot Spyder Savich.

Sorta like Lorena Bobbitt?

You know, I love Lorena Bobbitt. Do you know why? In a sense, we all have to understand why. What she did is representative of what women have wanted to do for 2500 years. Not to all men, please understand.

His name is John Wayne Bobbitt. That's the middle name.

That's very funny, because I used to call penises "John Waynes." I would always say, "He's got to tuck in his John Wayne." But, you know, the thing is, it had to be done. It had to be somebody.

You could cover Cat Stevens' "The First Cut Is The Deepest."

I'd do it on the Hammond organ. No... [laughs]

"The Wrong Band." Is this the song that gives hope to all male romantic dreamers? Is this Tori's Bob Dylan song?

This is for all my friends who are whores.

Well, we all have a price.

And sometimes we get in over our heads.

Who is "the Senator" in that song?

Well, this is a true story. When I worked in clubs in D.C., I became friends with a whore. And she'd come in a few times a week for a few years. She was a hooker, but you wouldn't know. She looked like an assistant to somebody on Capitol Hill. That's what all the good ones look like. Anyway, she was involved with a Congressman. And she got in over her head, and she knew too much, and she had to flee. The hooker had to leave. She was, let's say, rescued by a big Japanese underworld magnate. She fled, and he protected her, and I never heard from her again.


"The Waitress." I kinda thought it was about the famous Jack Nicholson scene in Five Easy Pieces. That's not what this is about, though.

No.

Who are the "sky boys" in that song? How do you join?

Oh, God, Kim. Let me sing the song. [Sings]

"There are too many stars and not enough sky. [Pause] Boys..."

"Cornflake Girl." I like that "Ghost Riders in the Sky/ High Plains Drifter"-whistling part. Who did that?

Me. I didn't whistle, though. We found it in an Apple computer.

Who's "Rabbit" in that song?

Rabbit is a Deadhead, who lives in Northern California. Rabbit is a girl. She lives in the forest, and makes beads, and she lives with Fox... I wished I cold have been Rabbit!

Tell me about "the man with the golden gun." Is he a wolf?

No. Never. He is dreams. He was never a contender, nor did he ever want to be. He is someone who you know; he is just someone who...

Tune in to the next album to find out!

Yeah.

Do you agree that your piano playing on "Cornflake Girl" sounds like a drunken sailor in a seaside bar?

I agree.

Did you drink beer when you recorded this?

I can't play if I drink beer.

"Yes, Anastasia." Is that a memo to a previous self, or an ode to a forgotten relative? It has a Susan B. Anthony ambience to it. Is this "tragedy" pop?

Well, it's always sweet to pop out of it.

Anastasia? Want to identify her?

Anastasia Romanoff [the last Czar's daughter].

Russian reality. How about "Space Dog"?

Space dog is one groovy cat.

"The Colonel"?

"The Colonel." These are all friends of mine.

So, are you a new kind of female energy?

I'm an old kind, recycled.

Do you run naked through a modern universe?

As long as I have bug spray on me.

Do you think you've reinvented sexual desire as an erotic voice? Please ...I'm just talking about getting in touch with a part of yourself.

Everybody has to have that with themselves. Aren't you gonna ask me who "Poppy" is?

OK, who's "Poppy"?

Poppy is the little girl who was in "Silent All These Years" [from Little Earthquakes].

By sheer necessity, you have become your own savior. Do you agree with that?

Yes.

Frank Sinatra started singing on records at 19. He's 79 now. A 60-year run, and he basically sang the same song the whole time. Think about it. Hopefully, you'll be out there cranking in the trenches as a 79-year-old. Do you want to project into the future?

Well, there's only 12 notes.

No, I mean lyrically, not musically. What are your next concerns going to be?

I don't know what I'm gonna be thinkin' about.

To the tormented, and the little people who will be reading this in their rooms, or wherever, what bit of encouragement or discouragement, or warning do you have for those who are taking the same lonely walk that you've taken down the boulevard of broken dreams?

My grandfather used to say this to me: He said, "You can't judge another person until you've walked a day in their moccasins."

Who do you listen to now? The Tori Amos Hit Parade?

Billie Holliday. Nine Inch Nails - the new record. Trent [Reznor] actually sang on [the new LP's] "Past the Mission." Patti Smith's Horses . The Jungle Book. The Beatles' "A Day in the Life." That's my favorite of all time. Oh! And Zeppelin I, II, III, and IV!

If you were backstage, about to go on, and someone told you that this artist was in the audience and they love you, and wanted to see your show - who would you want it to be?

Jimmy Page.

Would he make you want to put on the best show of your life?

I don't know if he'd make me put on my best show. I might be too nervous to play. But I know you'd get a response from me!

If or when you have children, what will your boy be called?

I don't know yet.

What will your girl be called?

Raven.

And if your boy or girl says, "Mommy, what is music?" What song would you play for them?

"A Day in the Life."

Who's gonna play you in your life story?

Cast it now. Tonya Harding!

Interview over. Everyone packed up. Good-byes were exchanged. Then the bubble burst. Time to get back to the rest of the human racers... and then the pain set in.

My friend and I went to a semi-politically correct restaurant, where there was an alleged "in-crowd" party going on... but nothing equaled nothing. We went to see Melissa Etheridge at the Lingerie. Too late. Concert over. Back to the Union. No Tori or Tori's people. Then onto the Rainbow and On the Rox. Still no Tori vibe...

LA producer/writer Harvey Kubernik was on the street. He yelled, "I just interviewed Ice Cube!" I yelled back, "I just saw the future of 21st century music, and it is Tori Amos!" Finally, I ended up alone at home, putting up Tori Amos's Under The Pink poster on my bedroom wall.

I feel both joy and loss. Tori is by now flying back to London, and I feel like Lyle Lovett or the Everly Brothers, crying in the rain... even though its not raining.

I can't sleep, but I don't care. I've got this album to get me through.

All of Tori's musical children - "Cornflake Girl," "Icicle," "Baker Baker," and the rest of her family of songs - will keep me company until the middle of March, when she returns to play California.

I'll be there. It will be like Christmas! Like the 4th of July! Stop, look, and listen to Tori Amos. She's gonna save your life.


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