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The Washington Post (US)
June 20, 1994

Tori Amos, in the Pink

Singer Moves Beyond the Horrors of Her Past to Stardom

By Richard Harrington, Washington Post Staff Writer

Success isn't about having your latest album debut atop the British charts, as Tori Amos's "Under the Pink" did last fall. It isn't about becoming such a must-see that your three-night engagement at the Warner Theatre (tonight through Wednesday) sells out in less than 45 minutes. It's not even about inspiring a character named Delirium in Neil Gaiman's very hot underground comic book, the Sandman.

No, success is about having an embarrassing album from another life become a collector's item, fetching up to $350 a copy. That's what Amos's 1986 'Y Kant Tori Read' is selling for in Goldmine magazine, right next to Howard Stern's "50 Ways to Rank Your Mother."

"Can you believe it? Is that the world's biggest joke?"

Sitting in a Japanese restaurant during a recent visit, the 30-year-old Amos is incredulous, but able to laugh at what she calls "my hairspray era. I got it up very high, you must admit!"

The dark hair, now a radiant ruffled henna, has long since come down, just as the former Potomac resident has moved on. The increasingly famous Amos, who couldn't get airplay or attention as a rock and roll bimbo, found her voice as a bracingly emotional singer-songwriter after being, as she sang in her breakthrough hit, "Silent All These Years.'

It was Amos's courage in openly addressing her own rape in the acappella song "Me and a Gun" also from 1991's "Little Earthquakes," that earlier this month earned her the 1994 Visionary Award from the D.C. Rape Crisis Center, alongside such figures as Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders, activist Mabel Haden and actress Marlo Thomas. The center is helping Amos establish a national rape crisis hot line, which she hopes will be in place by fall. The idea for it came from the hundreds of letters Amos has received in response to 'Me and a Gun.'

Writing the song, and continuing to perform it, has allowed Amos to move past the violence, oppression and guilt of the experience, but, she acknowledges, "there were times when I couldn't really talk about it. It was humiliating ... [to be] sexually dysfunctional when you were a passionate woman on stage. I don't have any effects from 'Y Kant Tori Read,' I don't have to deal with that - I can giggle. With the rape experience, you have to deal with things every day of your life. There's just stuff that comes up all the time that you have to work through."

In the last two years, Amos has been able to rekindle trust and passion through her relationship with musician Eric Rosse, who co-produced "Under the Pink." "Eric is being very tenacious in not letting me withdraw into myself," she says. In a recent British interview, Amos even threatened to throw away her birth control pills somewhere along her current 110-city American tour.

"A lot of women come back to me after the show and say, 'I don't know how to be intimate with a man now. I want to, but at the last minute, I go into trauma shock.' How do you get over being a 'ruined woman'? Well, there are ways, and I'm learning those ways. You're changed forever, but you're not ruined, and this has been a big step for me." That's probably why Amos gets so many letters from all over the world with "one more story" from people looking for help, recognition, counsel and the connectedness of confession. They're mostly from women, but a significant number come from men.

"Guys know I'm not a man-hater, or a woman-hater," says Amos. "I go after personalities and consciousness that allows people to do [wrong] things, or I go after myself. Guys know that I'm not trying to cut them out, or make them feel like they're not a part of this at all. I get letters from guys saying I've helped them with their girlfriends, that they're at least able to understand a little more what she may be thinking, what's she's going through.... I mean, how do they know what goes on in the ladies' room? It's definitely a secret society."

Where "Little Earthquakes' was much concerned about relationships with male figures - from lovers and fathers to religious patriarchies - much of "Under the Pink"(which debuted stateside at No. 12) deals with emotional violence between women. Amos admits she's had fallings-out with some friends, particularly over the issue of post-trauma change. "Some of them wanted to stay bitter. When you don't want to and somebody with you does, what do you talk about? One person is always looking at the negative things, there's no joy, you can't have a laugh. ... Bitter women start to turn on you. They can't help you."

The song "The Waitress," for instance, is about the poisonous effects of rivalry. "Cornflake Girl" is about the betrayal of trust between women, inspired by Alice Walker's book on clitoridectomy, "Possessing the Secret of joy.'

"As a writer, my baggage is what's made me the way I am," says Amos, the most famous daughter of a Methodist minister to be working in pop right now. "All my writing springs from my religious suppression and this violence. I'm working through this violence."

She's hardly abandoned the religious themes of the past, whether in "Icicle," a sly ode to masturbation and women's reclaiming of pleasure (getting off, getting off, while they're all downstairs saying prayers'), or the controversial "God," with its irreverent invitation, "God, sometimes You just don't come through/ Do you need a woman to look after you?"

"It was a love song, a seduction for the Big Guy," Amos explains. "It was a bit like: I dealt with the Son on the last record, let's go for the Father. My feelings were really calling forth the Goddess, and I took on that energy to say, 'Come over Tuesday night, baby, I'm free. Put your feet up. You need some advice?'"

Such pointed attitudes have not endeared Amos in all quarters, of course.

"Some people want to save me from my 'pact with the Devil.' Some want to read the Bible to me for 18 hours a day.... [Others say] 'I can't believe you didn't make God a woman.' We're talking about institutionalized religion, folks. ... This world has long been run on male-dominated religions. The 12 disciples? There aren't any chicks up there!"

For three nights, however, there will be a woman on the stage at the Warner, alone with a 10-foot Bosendorfer piano and some songs that weren't quite ready for primetime when Amos last performed here just a few months ago, including the nine-minute "Anastasia." There will be a new and already much-praised light show, but Amos is still apprehensive about what might be a logical next step - working with a band. She now works with recorded backing on several songs, including "God."

"I don't know how I can do bigger venues just alone at the piano," Amos says, while insisting it's important "to keep it intimate. We could have done the sheds [like the Merriweather Post Pavilion] this time, but can you imagine me doing them, with people having potato salad and talking out there?

"... I don't think what I'm doing is right for that environment," she says. "You need to come in, shut the world off. I'm not there as a distraction."


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