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New Musical Express (UK)
March 19, 1994
HOME ON THE DERANGED
And you thought she was just a regular, flame-haired, sexually frank, piano-thumping reincarnated dolphin? Well, here's the other side to TORI AMOS -- touring Britain, avoiding the stalkers and Hugging The Fans, and mates with Bjork and Polly. BARBARA ELLEN elbows the obsessive young boys out of the way to discover it's not just Tori who's the odd one. Hug shots: DEREK RIDGERS
It's way past the witching hour, too late, really, to be standing in the draughty lobby of Leeds Civic Hall but Tori Amos has just completed a two-hour one-woman show and now she wants to meet her diehard fans.
According to Tori, her regular audience is composed of: "Nerds -- who I worship. They are the gods and goddesses to me. Then there are the Soundgarden kids with their earrings in the eye, the deadheads, the real classical jazz freaks and the five-year-olds."
This particular scrum isn't quite as interesting or disparate as that. More than a sprinkling of pot-bellied computer engineers wait, stoic as dairy cattle, amongst wan longhairs, bashful schoolgirls and squeaking, barking boys. All clutch a plethora of CDs, posters, drawings, poems, and in one case a toffee apple, for Tori to sign or accept, and ALL tower above her. At times she resembles a Troll princess lost in a leg-sea of admirers from the World Of Giants. One guy almost treads on her.
Unabashed, our diminutive heroine commences what can only be described as a highly efficient hug-a-thon. The charm of Tori's dealings with her fans is such that each one goes away thinking they've been singled out for special treatment whereas, in fact, they've all been dealt with exactly the same way. The hug-a-thon goes like this: The Fan stumbles forth blurting out their life history and the fact that they've always liked her (no Accidental Tori-sts here), while Tori, quietish for once, listens, head cocked, beaming beatifically like a missionary sent to call the gibbering natives.
Next, she enfolds The Fan in The Hug; a gigantic, squeezing, all-encompassing motion that is not ordinarily seen outside the world of boa constrictors and their prey. Finally, she propels The Fan out of her orbit in so tender a fashion that he/she probably almost believes that they are leaving of their own accord. Moreover, Tori manages to give the impression that she actually enjoys meeting them. There's no doubt about it; this is Meet-And-Greet honed do a VERY fine art.
Chatting to the fans (some of whom try to go to every date) I keep getting the same story: Tori is "different", "special", "enchanting" even. No-one mentions madness, Kate Bush or the fact that Tori has claimed to be a dolphin and a Viking in a previous life (these being the essential facts about Tori as far as the bulk of her press coverage is concerned). One guy (Steve) has even gone to the trouble of producing Tori-zine Take To The Sky.
So, what does she think of her English fans?
"I love 'em, but they am different to, say, my American fans. People guard their privacy more here, so it's a big step for them to come up and talk to me. But they do. The other day two girls came up to me and were telling me about how since they'd been violated they were having real problems forming normal intimate relationships. I've gone through that so we talked about it."
Do female fans see you as the exotic, all-knowing older sister they never had?
"Hmmm, I think they see me more as a friend. With older sisters there's always a bit of rivalry."
Back at the hotel, Tori slumps on a sofa and muses on the relative quietness of tonight's audience. her forthcoming 240 dates and her Cherokee ancestors. Later, when his charge is safely in bed, Johnny the tour manager chats to us about her fans. "Most," he says, "are devoted, not obsessive," but some (like an American they call The Avon Lady who gave Tori a cosmetic gift, and then collapsed in hysterics when she didn't remember her name from a hug-a-thon held six months previously) he has to watch.
How can you tell the stalkers from the normal fans? we ask breathlessly Johnny ponders for a second, before stating with chilling simplicity: "It's all in the eyes."
"IT'S USUALLY the ones with the rings in every orifice, in the eyes and the ears and nostrils, who are safe. They're the ones you could leave your baby with, because it's all out there, there are no secrets. It's the ones you think you could leave your children with, the ones who look most normal, you have to worry about..."
We're in the Tori-mobile, on the way to the Cambridge show. While talking, Tori is tucking into a lunchbox that appears to, be full of beansprouts, slime and toe nail parings, slugging the evil-smelling mush back with oceans of Evian.
The Tori Amos On The Road Experience was never going top be a non-stop beer-fest, but Nanette Newman is more, rock'n'roll than this. Tori doesn't drink apart from the odd glass of good white wine (bad for the gets lots of deep and labours, over her soundchecks ("When it's just you and a piano, you gotta get the hang of the acoustics.").
Fair enough, after two successful albums and the current mega-single "Cornflake Girl" Tori is big business now with everything to lose. But she could, at least, get herself a small tour bus. Doing the interview sitting in the car jammed right next to each other, we are both forced to stand straight ahead, stealing the odd sideways furtive glance at each other like strangers in a lift. Tori gets over it quicker than I do, regaling me with nightmare tour stories: the time the Jesuit College audience walked out after one song; the wretched attempts at sexism; the cries of "Schnell, you f---ing whore!" at a German festival.
Does that sort of thing get to you?
"Viciousness always upsets me. Polly Harvey and I were having this conversation. Why do people who dislike what you do buy tickets to see you? And we realised in the end that they buy a ticket to go and be vicious. to have control over your performance. If they can throw you then they can feel they've really accomplished something."
What is your relationship with Polly Harvey and Bjork?
"We're pals. All of us are unique in our own way. That's why we respect and support each other."
A lot of people would automatically put those two together as cutting-edge musical contemporaries, but dump you in an altogether older, less fashionable bracket. "And you know why?" shrugs Tori, unfazed. "It's because I play the piano." (There then follows a list of 300 reasons as to why people don't think the piano is fashionable).
If it's that bad, why not ditch the piano?
"That's like asking Jimmy Page to ditch his guitar," Tori snarls. "It's my instrument. Besides, she adds, mischievously, "I like to think I've broadened people's horizons..."
WE STOP at a motorway service station so that Tori can have a wee. If this was a real On The Road piece this would be the time to get Tori retching into a cup of tea in Julie's Pantry or, at least, sliding in a pool of urine in the gents. Unfortunately, photographer Ridgers has to make the most of Tori standing against a wooden elephant on the way back to the car. Accepting the shortbread proferred to me by Tori. I ask whether success can ultimately be dangerous. After all, it's been known to suck all the rawness from creativity.
"I know people who AREN'T selling any records who don't have any rawness," she sneers, but concedes that her motivation has changed. "What always drove me was proving that I wasn't just a failed child prodigy to my father and myself. To do that I had to have the will of ten mothers looking for their child. Sometimes I wasn't even a human being; just will with red hair and feet. But now I've proven myself where do I go? Trying to prove you're not a failure can't be your muse forever."
Then Tori looks out of the car window for a long moment, before finally, very quietly, deciding: "I suppose, you just gotta keep digging."
WE ARRIVE at Cambridge, and after a soundcheck that's almost as long and emotional as Tori's actual shows, we all pile into her brilliantly showbiz dressing room where three Cambridge University types record an interview with her for Sebastian Flyte Radio. Tori gives them all The Hug, tells them that Bjork's voice "makes me want to jump off buildings", and goes into raptures when they sheepishly hand over a fountain pen. She also gets Derek to photograph an exquisite, knitted Tori-doll she's just received. It's ridiculous. Amos probably gets more presents in a day than Patti Smith got in her entire childhood.
After Tori has laughingly signed Ridgers' copy of the 'Y Kant Tori Read' album she's supposed to be so touchy about, Derek and I decide to kill time before the show by finding a stalker to photograph. Eventually, we pick on Norman, an odd-looking but very nice computer programmer, who only smells a rat when he's instructed by Ridgers to "give us his best psycho stare".
Tonight's show is exactly the same as the night before: long, passionate, funny. stunning. draining and paralysingly accomplished. Let us not forget that, save for her piano, Tori is on her own up there. Under such circumstances, it would be a true test of any performer just to keep their nerve, but Tori even manages to make difficult material from the new album 'Under The Pink' sound like your personal favourites from 'Little Earthquakes.'
Another thing that certainly holds our attention is the way Tori sits with her knees pointing in extremes of east and west, occasionally rising from her stool to grind her lower half against the piano. This coupled with her famously explicit sexual lyrics, not to mention 'Icicle' (a paean to masturbation, which she introduces with a little story concerning her own predilection for 'self-discovery') is surely too much for her younger male fans to bear. Some of them are poised so perilously at the brink of manhood, you can almost hear their testicles drop with a loud clunk between songs. Tori, though, is unrepentant: "YAHHH!... it's good for 'em."
But, it's like when we were talking about obsessive fans earlier. Young males are notoriously unstable. You're getting them all worked up. They may think you're talking directly to them and imagine it's their right to get all sexy with you.
"Yeah, but to some people Aladdin could have the same effect, know what I mean? Saying that being in touch with my passion is causing that person to become obsessed and hunt me down is no different from saying, 'She wore a short skirt, she was asking to be attacked'."
There follows a jumbled. heated discussion concerning the glamorisation of sex and violence in popular culture and the way some artists just cynically hide behind anti-censorship banners when the going gets rough. Ton agrees: "But," she emphasises, "I'm talking about getting in touch with the spiritual, sexual and emotional parts of yourself. That's very different to me taking young boys, sexually abusing them and cutting them up. In some of those films and songs you mentioned there's a certain lack of responsibility. They tantalise people. They get them off on sexual violence. They feed neuroses, feed the sickness. I'm trying to release the sickness."
Does it bother you that your male fans' perception of your music is probably coloured by whether or not they want to sleep with you?
"Guys would sleep with a bicycle if it had the right colour lip-gloss on. They have no shame. They're like bull elks in a field. It's a scent to them, a smell. And I don't think that's a bad thing. Women, on the other hand, get a little guilty if they want to sleep with something in a nice, wet pair of Levi's. All through the ages, they've been the ones saying. 'We're not respectable if we do that'."
If we're talking about sexual repression, surely men have been the ones saying to women 'You're not respectable if you do that'?
"Well, yes. that's the double-edged sword. They created it, now they regret it because they're having to deal with all these guilt-filled babes."
Tori pauses, choosing her words carefully: "As far as my performance goes, it's about stirring something up in a person. And if it has to start at the groin before it gets to the heart then so be it."
AFTER THE gig, we leave for London in the Tori-mobile. Most of the way back, the talk is of Kevin, a cute body-piercer who'd lent that night's hug-a-thon a certain glamour and credibility. When we get out to get a taxi the rest of the way home. Tori leaps out after us, engulfing us in The Hug: "Thanks guys," she cries, beaming through her tiredness, "it's been a blast!""
Then Tori is gone in a blur of tyres. Anybody interested in the wild and fearless and always interesting Amos Woman should check her out soon before fame, real fame, INCAPACITATING fame drags her off for a lap around the track. Soon there'll be no time for hug-a-thons.
[scans by Richard Handal]
[transcribed by jason/yessaid]
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