home / interviews


New Musical Express (UK)
December 17, 1994



TORI SEEMS TO BE THE HARDEST NERD

Quite probably a Zippo lighter in a former life, TORI AMOS is having a whale of a time in her latest incarnation as the tough-talking, no-bullshit rock goddess. JOHNNY CIGARETTES risks the wrath of French-speaking Canadians - not to mention retribution of Bobbitt-esque proportions - for an audience with the hardest working woman in the showbusiness. Past the vision: KEVIN CUMMINS

Tori Amos, self-confessed "motherfucker", minister's daughter, Metallica fan and Queen of the nerds, cracks her biggest 'Fuck you' grin. "If you call me an airy-fairy new age hippy waif," she warns, "I will cut your penis off."

Your correspondent, a self-confessed man, crosses his legs... You know what it's like. You're about to play your 172nd gig of a ten-month sell-out world tour, solve your 7,346th fan's personal problem, squeeze your heart 'til it squeals in public, and talk about the most traumatic experience of your life on national television.

For a break, you are expected to give lucid, intelligent and revealing answers about politics, sexuality, religion, psychology, art, culture, history, philosophy and lip-gloss to strangers, while juggling the health of mind, body and public image. Meanwhile, everyone is pretending to you that they don't speak English. In Canada. You've got to laugh, and threaten to mutilate someone.

Such trifles apart, though, what's the problem? This is after all, a woman famous for performing barefoot in pastel-coloured kaften nighties, appearing on album covers in a cardboard box or on a globe of crystals, claiming to have been a dolphin/ Viking /aardvark /kitchen stool in a former life, and singing about "cornflake girls." The world rests its case.

"I really can't understand why people think of me like that," she shrugs. "Because I think I'm a motherfucker. I'll shove those crystal suppositories up your ass!"

That won't be necessary. The Tori Amos we find here in a plush Montreal hotel restaurant is a small, skinny, funny, frighteningly honest, fiercely intelligent and, er, undeniably sane. She would like it to be known that she did not order the New Age Pizza.

As the undisputed hardest working woman in showbusiness, she's also ready to drop dead after a dizzying year of success, stress, agony and ecstasy. How does it feel?

"It feels like I've said 'Fuck you' to the entire American music industry," she muses, now seated in a decadent red limo, "and to all the people who said for seven years, 'This girl and her piano is never going to happen'. That's warm milk in the kitty.

"Now I've avoided the 'sophomore slump' (the 'difficult second album' syndrome, in Anglo biz-speak) , I've been on the cover of Spin, I've had Number One records (most recently 'God', for six weeks on the American college charts) but I've got a career not based on hits, based on a body of work. I haven't compromised, I'm in a position to do things in music I thought about for years, and people still wanna hear it. Wouldn't you be stoked?

"Anyway, if it keeps me from The Marriott Hotel singing 'Send In The Clowns' six times a night, I'll be just fine..."

Moments later we pull up outside the studios of Musique Plus, French Canada's slightly obvious answer to MTV. "TOOOOOOORRI!" yelp a quivering gaggle of whey-faced young oddities.

"Awww, my people," beams Tori with a mixture of amusement and sympathy. And indeed they are. The silent majority of North America's socially disenfranchised middle-class youth, they gaze at Tori like peasants at Mother Theresa, desperately polite, waiting for a touch of her healing hand, a word of blessing or divine wisdom. Accordingly, Tori gracefully sails through their midst with a look of serene contentment and a succession of warm greetings.

These are the people from whom Tori receives scores of letters and backstage confessions about personal trauma, abuse and inadequacy. Doesn't she sometimes feel like an unpaid social worker, not to mention mother of a thousand fuck-ups?

"No! I mean, I was a nerd as a teenager, and dammit I love nerds! It's no big deal - it doesn't take much out of you to be a sympathetic ear.

"Also, you've got to understand that one in three women who comes to my shows is raped or sexually abused. Half of them by their fathers. If they get something out of my songs then that's halfway to having someone to trust in life.

"But it can be disturbing. One night we got a note backstage from a 14-year-old girl telling how she was raped every night by her father. So you say, 'Put the kettle on, get her back here'. And you talk to her and of course this girl can't go anywhere. You try and help her see that she's got choices, and some hope. You tell her to get in touch with RAINN (Rape And Incest National Network, which Tori helped launch this year) but ultimately the best you can do is talk real late so that her father will be asleep when she gets home. Pretty useless, I know, but...

"That kind of feeling gets to you, the feeling that you can't stop something terrible from happening right before your eyes."

Another side of Tori's open-heart surgery approach to songwriting and her public is that you feel some people expect a constant emotional striptease on her part, something for their own titillation.

"Yeah. That first album ('Little Earthquakes') was very naked, it was me rationalizing my life at that point, like a diary. But to be honest I don't really wanna show the cellulite on my hip anymore. I've put some clothes on since then, and I'd rather explore that present, and what a hand in a glove can do..."

She is asked on Musique Plus, for the umpteenth time in her career, about the rape experience described in 'Me And A Gun'...

"I'm always wary about that. I've been on TV programmes where they advertise it - 'Coming next, Tori Amos talking about being raped' - like it's tantalizing for the audience, I don't want some sicko jerking off listening to my story, so I don't go in too deep in public.

"Anyway, the last thing I wanna be known as is 'The Girl Who Got Raped'. The big turnaround you make in your head is from victim to survivor. For me, 'Little Earthquakes' was the transition, and 'Under The Pink' is like, let's move on from here. You can't get attached to your Victims' Anonymous badge, because then he's won."

Move on she did, with a deeper, more complex, less introspective and claustrophobic record. The kind of emotional detritus she cleared up in 'Little Earthquakes' was examined from perspectives that were outward as well as inward looking. Sure, a difficult second album, but all the more rewarding for it.

The upshot of the broadened world view is that tonight in Montreal she can play two 90-minute shows and repeat only a couple of songs, drag our emotions breathlessly through fear, loathing, rage, hysterics, obsessive love, lust and unspeakable trauma, leaving us to hang our heads out to dry for the next week.

Quebec is undoubtedly one of the stranger corners of North America. Montreal seems desperate to prove to you at all times how unbelievably French it is, so a kind of pidgin French is spoken at all times, and any English is met with a stare marginally colder than the temperature outside.

Meanwhile there's a Dunkin' Donuts, Ed's Diners and McDonald's across the street, screaming 'Americana' to you. It's rather like going to Moscow and finding the place populated by a tribe of professional Mancunians.

As such, it can only add to the feeling of rootlessness Tori is experiencing after ten months on tour. To make matters worse, this year has been punctuated with emotional battle scars since Tori split up with Eric Rosse, producer of 'Under The Pink' and her partner of seven years' standing.

"The new songs I'm writing," explains Tori, sipping cup after cup of odd-smelling tea backstage between gigs, "are about my making a choice that I wanted to live. Maybe that's why such a long relationship ended. Because if you stop having adventures, stop growing, stop exposing yourself, then I don't think you have anything to say. Or anything to write songs about, come to that."

And expose herself she did - too much in fact...

"Since then, I've been through a number of short, weird relationships, and I ended up crawling like a wimp. I shocked myself with my behaviour.

"For example, at one point I was willing to put aside everything to chase this one boy - that's how scary it got. He adored me until I was willing to say, 'OK! Where are you? I'm coming! I've got 18 hours, I can fly and see you for an hour and get back to do my show!' It's like I needed him in my blood... I was just ravenous! Then he kicked me in the face...

Never mind, eh? At least you've got something to write songs about.

"Oh, you British guys are so cynical! I wasn't thinking about a good song...Of course, when he kicked me in the face it was like, 'You are fuckin' TUNES, man! And let's hope they're hits, you motherfucker! And by the way, you don't get a piece of the publishing you cocksucker!' Heh heh heh!"

Do you think women are more irrational, being led by their emotions when it comes to a relationships?

"Well, I'm irrational. And very emotional. Virtually all the guys I've slept with I've had pretty deep feelings for."

"OK, a few of them I thought 'Cute piece of ass' and just sucked 'em off, but if I don't have that level of trust, I can't let them inside of me. Whereas with guys it can just be a slam, a physical function."

Hmmm. Letters to the usual address then, 'sensitive' chaps. But this girl has never been scared to show claws in the direction of her own sex - on 'Under The Pink', one song in particular, 'Waitress' pulls no punches: "I want to kill this waitress... and is her power all in her club sandwich... but I believe in peace, bitch..."

Explain, gender traitor!

"I just get frustrated at how competitive women can be. Throughout history we've been dependant on men to get what we want, so now a guy will look at some chick in a hot dress and the girl he's with will look and say, 'Yeah, she got it at Harvey Nichols, third floor...tacky shit, bitch!'

"I'll tell you now that there has not been one woman from a band who's turned up at my gigs. Polly Harvey and Bjork are the only women I know in the music business. I know hundreds of men in bands. And not because they wanna get with me. There just ain't that kind of supportiveness among women in rock."

Perhaps they just don't like her music. But you can't fault her on supportiveness and generosity of spirit. As well as the RAINN project she worked setting up this year, she spoke out for a certain Kurt Cobain after a knee-jerk reaction from rape pressure groups to the song 'Rape Me', which refused to accept a donation from the songs royalties.

"I spoke publicly about that because I though it was very clear what it was about. It was like 'Go on, hit me! Rape me! You cross this line motherfucker and I'll kill you...you'll never break my spirit.'

"It's a defiant song. But the scariest thing to a rape victim are the words 'rape me'. When I first heard it I broke out in a cold sweat, but when you get over that you realize he's turning it back on people."

Are situations like this the instances when political correctness and censorship get dangerous?

"Yeah, I'm totally and utterly against censorship. I could sit there and argue for days with gangsta rappers about what they say, but I don't think for one second that they don't have the right to speak their mind. They have to be responsible for what they say, so if I see one of them in the street and beat up on him that's his problem."

So d'you reckon the likes of Luther Cambell (2 Live Crew), or the Geto Boys are going to explain themselves or get beat up for telling 50,000 kids it's cool to put women down?

"Maybe not, but if he can put it out there, I can put it out there. What's come out of the gangsta rap thing is that the women rappers are reacting against it, it's all coming out from the home and getting discussed, taboos are being broken, which can only be good in the long term. Women have been kicked around since the beginning of time. These guys have got rid of the silly hypocrisy and secrecy, so now it can be sorted out. Progress comes from confronting the unthinkable and unsavoury. Widespread child abuse would never have been known if terrible things were never allowed in the open."

So if someone made a record celebrating the pleasures of sex with their children, it shouldn't be banned?

"No, it shouldn't. Let it out and let him deal with the consequences. You've got to bring the skeletons out. Just like the Bobbitt thing had to happen. And all the men who defended him are having to back down because he's been caught beating another woman."

After the second show tonight, and the obligatory 30-minute chat-athons Tori conducts with the fans, Lord Cummins and I are on the look-out for an innocent late night drinking establishment, joking dryly about how we'll probably unwittingly end up in a hostess bar, getting charged L385 for a pint. Tori's somewhat irony-challenged manager eagerly offers a suggestion.

"I know some really great titty bars! They got some really hot student chick there - big tits, shaved pussies, the whole bit..."

We glance at Tori, a well-known victim of certain unsavoury male attitudes towards women, anticipating an incident involving a can of paraffin, his head, and horrific injuries. But such lad talk is well below her tolerance threshold, and she just twitches in mild distaste. Well, er, at least it's out in the open now, eh?

In case you were wondering, the second show tonight (the hardest working woman in showbiz insists on doing two 1,500 capacity gigs rather than one hollow arena charade) was slightly less intense, more musically eclectic affair that its predecessor, but memorable moments were desperately sensual versions of Springsteen's 'I'm On Fire' and Led Zep's 'Whole Lotta Love', perfectly tailored to her reel-you-in sexuality and cat-with-bird plucking of our heart strings. At first glance, though, with that fluttering voice and all the other superficial image baggage, she would still appear to be the catharsis-seeking victim icon wallowing in corny self-analysis.

And indeed, in conversation she'll often exemplify that dodgy West Coast tendency for self-obsessive cod-psychoanalysis. Her saving grace is a well-oiled and irony-fuelled bullshit detector, plus a keen sense of detached perspective on the ludicrous parallel rock star universe she's often thrown into.

It's way too much for some poor souls. 1994, as well as being a whirlwind year for Ms Amos, was officially the year that rock cracked up in public. Tori recently said, "Our generation loves its pain, it's marketing and selling it." And hasn't she done the same?

"Yeah, sure, I've been a part of that whether I like it or not. But I'm into digging into people's minds. I am not saying 'We're all fucked, I'm a victim.' My message is: Be your own master, and you can get a grip.

"I mean, however much personal pain an artist feels, for Christ's sake, this is not Rwanda. I honestly believe that for a lot of the boys who sing about pain, it's a choice. They get attached to it, and become powerful as kings of pain.

"Say I went to them and said, 'OK, you talk about your loneliness, you talk about your isolation as if you don't have a choice...Here I am, take me, you lying motherfucker. Let's run off to Venice together and do stuff'. They wouldn't have it. There are certain artists who depend on their audience not getting self-respect and empowerment."

It's a pretty sweeping indictment, and not all of the accused are still here to answer back, are they?

"Well, obviously I'm not talking about people like Kurt Cobain, who was obviously genuinely ill, a manic depressive. I'm not qualified to talk about what happened with him. I'm talking about the cult of the fuckup, the way pain has become cool in rock."

Perhaps Tori will sympathize more with the schizophrenic nature of fatal fame by the time you read this article. As we speak, she is recording in LA with Michael Stipe (one of the many rock star 'good friends' she mentions innocently in passing, including Jimmy Page and Eddie Van Halen - whoooarrgh!) for the soundtrack to Johnny Depp and Marlon Brando's forthcoming film 'Don Juan And The Centrefold'.

According to reports, tight security has been brought in as the studio has been besieged by deranged REM obsessives desperate to get a glimpse (or a chunk of flesh) of their mysterious hero. Oo-er. Back in Montreal, it is the morning after and Tori is in a park, shivering to death in front of a graffiti-splattered marble lion in the name of art. Initially she inexplicably insists on wearing specs to "hide my filth," and then excitedly drags over a white-haired goth girl sitting nearby to pose for photos - "because I'd like to start a band with her." Mad? Moi?

No, for 'mad', read 'ridiculously intelligent woman who never takes the consensus opinion, doesn't give a shit about how she's supposed to express herself as a "woman in rock", has an endearingly daft sense of humour and semi-tragic lack of pretensions'. Convinced?

Oh well, I doubt she cares anyway. Photos complete, we must leave her to enjoy the freedom of Montreal and the freedom of having no more gigs to do for, ooh, at least a month. She plans to sleep, perchance to dream. Perchance to get up again two hours later, do a quick seven hours piano practice, throw herself into a few more 'character-building' relationship adventures, answer some mind-fucking fan trauma letters, rant continually about anything that springs to mind to anyone who'll listen, then write another gobsmackingly brilliant Number One album about it all, do another 300 gigs or so, and, if she's got the time, change a few lives and become very very famous indeed. But hell, this ain't Rwanda. Yet.


original article


[pages 10 and 11]


t o r i p h o r i a
the World of Tori Amos
www.yessaid.com