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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
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 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
"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
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
"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
"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,
"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
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
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
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,
"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
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
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
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
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
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.
[pages 10 and 11]
t o r i p h o r i a
the World of Tori Amos