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New Musical Express (UK)
January 27, 1996
TENSE TORI LOVE SONGS
She's Queen of The Nerds... and they're welcome to her, you may reply. However there is, contrary to popular opinion, a method to TORI AMOS' madness, a cause in her kookiness, if you will. SYLVIA PATTERSON gets to gripe with the original flakester to find the true meaning of "ratatouille strychnine" (you'll be shocked!) and the attraction to vampirism (you'll be even more shocked!!) and finds the piano-worrying Amos remarkably... sane!
"C'mere... C'mere..." The tot-sized hand of celebrated 'sensitive' flakester Tori Amos flaps up and down beckoning the NME forth.
We're in a shiny, wooden performance room at MTV where the central vision is one ruddy huge grand piano, black, lid-a-tilt, handmade in five years by dedicated Austrian craftsmen, accept no imitations, etc.
"This..." she burrs in the slowest, lowest, huskiest ooze of American accentry you ever heard, "is my baby."
Blimey. It's a thing of exquisite beauty, alright, the diamond-gleamed strings, the superbly-polished copper interior... "Stick your head in..." insists the flame-haired titan of torment.
Er, right inside?
"Yeah," she grins, "it won't bite..."
Crikey, it's really... coppery in here...
"DURRUUUNNG! Dah dah dah DAH DARRRUUNG!!"
And thus she blows the head clean off the NME with some Beethoven-esque aria in Z-minor.
"Gets you right here, doesn't it?" booms Tori over the reverberating... well, entire world right now, clutching her stomach. More like being in a cartoon featuring a pair of cymbals and the head of a car called Tom, actually, but you know what she means. This is not 'old joanna', our knees remain in the down position and Mrs. Mills won't be requiring her curlers this evening, thank you. This, laydeez'n'gentlemen of the young folk, is a musician at work.
"Oh, little fiiish tank! Purrty little fish taaaank!"
Tori Amos is singing to the fish tank. She's now doing an interview about song-writing for VH-1, the MTV off-shoot and, what with her being a Nutter of Rock 'an all, she's just been asked to make up a song about the resident fish. She obliges for three seconds and then gives up, thinking this is a stupid idea, which it is. They wouldn't ask Michael Stipe to make up a song about a fish tank even though he's probably several dimensions more Nutter of Rock than Tori.
The spookiest thing about Tori Amos today is that she bears an alarming resemblance to... Sonia. Something about the jolly cheeks, bouncy hair and permanently astonished eyes; round blue/grey, close-set and circled in luminous blue eyeshadow. She's wearing a Lurex shirt, brown trousers and wedge-heeled shoes, more Candida from Pulp than floatsome kaftaned reincarnation-obsessive pouring herbal tea with face-cream in and talking to the fairies (all of which she is famed for). Nor is she a big-cursin' boot-flailin' rawk mutha telling journos to shove their suppositories "up yo ass!" as has been her wont when accused of being a hippy elfin who lives under a lily-pad on the moon. She is, however, eerily serene, talks with a supersoft one-word-an-hour Maggie Thatcher-esque deliberation and even does that "and I know you know exactly what I mean by that" blink-free skewer-you-up-against-the-wall with a pitchfork starey thing while she's at it. Like, intense, man
As Kermit the Frog nearly once sang "It's not easy being mad" but Tori wears her legend well. She's saying, "I see myself as a tube station and the songs just come through an exit." Talking about the thrash bands in America who cover her tunes, about how she's happy to be covered by "The Kazzoo Choir", about why her new LP's called 'Boys for Pele'.
"Pele," says Tori, "is the Volcano Goddess in Hawaii and I'm fascinated by the force of her fire. I'm a bit of a pyro and all I ever do is burn myself. I needed to find my own fire without looking to the men in my life to find it."
So it's not about a footballer. Ha ha.
It's the next MTV interview slot and you have just heard more interviewer impertinence in three seconds than in the past 15 years of MTV's history.
"Well," retorts Tori coolly, "depends what your needs are."
MTV: "You've been described as a child prodigy, playing piano from two and a half."
MTV: "So are you?"
Tori: "Well... yeah."
MTV: "A lot of people say you're weird."
Tori: "That's fair. I'm the aunt to the young kids who drag things in through the back door and everybody cocks their eyebrows because it upsets Sunday lunch."
MTV: "But... weird?"
Tori: "If that's what one considers weird, then yes."
MTV: "You're part of this new wave of intelligent, literate women, Bjork..."
Tori: "She's my buddy. Same with Polly Harvey."
MTV: "Do you influence each other?"
Tori: "No. You get inspired by anybody that's claiming their own turf, and doing it their way, not anybody else's way."
MTV: "Have you had to kowtow to a lot of people?"
Tori: "No. I've been in this business a very, very long time and I'm quite capable of drawing lines with the corporate patriarchy."
MTV: "Tori Amos, thank you very much!"
Imagine the above, say, nine times a day over 12 months in ten countries over three continents where you will play eight two-hour shows a week, on your own, be called on to fix, face-to-face, the broken lives of your emotionally-bludgeoned fans the year after your own relationship of eight years "fell apart" and you will realise that it is, in fact, a lot easier being mad than it is being Tori Amos. She will do this, however, because she would, quite literally, be dead if she didn't.
The 31-year old million-selling self-confessed Queen Of The Nerds roundly ignores the avocado, tomato and mozzarella salad placed before her in the swish Camden eaterie (like Britpop never happened) and contemplates... ratatouille strychnine. "When I say 'ratatouille strychnine, sometimes she's a friend of mine'," she muses in her huuuuugely drawn-out phraseology (we have 51 minutes, that's about seven of them), "that's the part of me that could probably enjoy poisoning someone once in a while."
Such are the themes on 'Boys for Pele', Tori's third, most lyrically-beserk, musically complex LP, the Kate Bush/Patti Smith comparisons spinning straight back into her orbit; in equal parts beautiful and terrifying. There's harpsichords and, erm, bagpipes. There's songs about drinking blood and trouplets such as "tuna blubber in my igloo/the weasel squeaks faster than a seven day week/I said Timmy and that purple monkey are all down". Tori Amos you are the new Beck and I claim my cockroach on a turtle's neck.
"A fair observation," she smiles, and requests the ice to be removed from her glass.
What's all this desire to have men drinking your blood...
"And really tasting it..."she pervs. "The character in 'Blood Roses' really wants her blood drunk, it's about how people want to be consumed, not just..."
Ooer, I quite fancy you?
"Yeah," she nods, the pitchfork in her eyeballs careering out the barn door, "it's about merging. I'm not attracted to a lot of men. I find them interesting but when I smell that smell... (twitches nose, eyes the room like a heat-seeking missile on alert) I'm like a wolverine. (sniffs air) I turn my head and I... smell them. And that's why I write in metaphor because things aren't linear. You can't explain when someone walks in the room and you know you know them, that's something... beyond physics."
Ah, that's the magic, isn't it?
"Yes," says Tori with an audible hiss, "you're a Celt and the Celts understand that magic is not... a pejorative. People immediately roll their eyes because a lot of people are just... plasma. There's nothing going on there, they're just there to host organisms that walk in and out of their flesh and take over and leave. They decided it was too dangerous, it was (pitchfork) unsafe, to let themselves remember that they felt that magic once in their lives, because everyone's felt it at least once, that moment where you feel, 'Hang on a minute, there aren't definitive answers for there isn't a period at the end of the sentence', just that sense of... thank God it's not that simple."
Swift lie down, anyone? Tori Amos is not mad, you see, she just feels things on a different scale: a you/ant, she/Saturn scale, in fact, and where she's a metaphorically bewildering conversationalist she's also, frankly, mesmerising.
Her history precedes her: the sexually repressed Methodist preacher's daughter from North Carolina ("usually they sprinkle a few drops of water on your head, in my case they held my head under for 13 fucking years"), she's played the piano since aged two and a half, composed scores at four, wanted to ride horses with Jim Morrison at seven, wanted to give Robert Plant her virginity at ten, was kicked out of music school at 11 for being an individual, basically, played in bars from age 13 where gay waiters would teach her how to give blow jobs with a cucumber, left home at 21, invented the Y Kant Tori Read 'rock chick' outfit in the 80s, failed, sat on her kichen floor for six months before a friend reminded her the piano was her vocation, was raped by "a maniac who wanted to cut women up" in her early twenties, slowly came to accept her own passion again through the wisdom of her "soulmate", Eric, wrote songs about rape/masturbation/the spectrum of sexuality itself, became "the girl who has tea with the Devil" and achieved fame in 1991 with 'Little Earthquakes', followed by 'Under the Pink' and settled in her role as avant-garde uberkook who was Sven the Viking in a previous life, something she now plays down seeing as it came from "a very heavy conversation about compartmentalizing yourself to survive a violent attack". And today she's talking about having her heart pummelled to a husk, the theme, if you're at all adept at cryptic code, of her new LP.
"It's not that I don't love Eric anymore," she's saying, "it was that we couldn't go any further."
Eight years. The whole of your twenties.
"Yeah," she nods, "and we were inseparable. And your soulmate is not supposed to go away. I'm at a place now where I don't believe there's only one soulmate. But for awhile I was watching myself crawling to get to the telephone. That wasn't ringing. Having sold out shows all through America, (Absolutely enormous starey-eyed pitchfork pause) and doing six shows a week. Pouring myself into my shoes. It's like... thank God you're eating lots of butter because it's the fat that's getting your liquid back into a solid form. And you get yourself onstage and you live for a few minutes and you escape. And then you walk off that stage and you have no life. I'm talking about... grieving. Grieving. For a lost love."
Tori is now visibly quaking. Her head's shaking, her eyes misting.
"Y'see," she says, sipping some water, "I love deeply. I don't love a lot, but I love deeply when I do. Afterwards, I went through a couple of experiences fast and furiously, to try and fill that ache, and I degraded myself."
"Oh, y'know," says Tori, the impish grin finally returning to her face, "a girl's gotta have a little excitement, right? So I found myself like some hound dog sniffing for meat, just... bring me your son. Which isn't sharing, which is not feeding yourself emotionally, which is what we have to do. So y'know... But I know when I'm ready to slit a vein."
Slit a vein?!
"I get the signs," says Tori and you realise you do not have the faintest notion what could be coming next, "before half my blood would be over some guy's Stussy shirt. And then he would look at me going, 'Why? I had so much respect for you before you did this', and I'm going, 'Oh, shut up, I could negotiate your deal for you in a minute honey'."
Are you talking about literally spilling your veins all over someone's shirt here?
Bloody hell, woman! It's very difficult to tell with you, y'know.
Hihihih," gurgles Tori into her tomato. "Well... fair enough."
There's a song on 'Boys for Pele', it's called 'Professional Widow', it goes, "Starfucker, just like my daddy/just give me peace, love and a hard cock". It's been presumed to be about Courtney Love.
"It has, hasn't it?" says Tori, "And it's not. It's about my own experience."
Er, of being a starfucker?
"Being a child prodigy," she states, unfeasibly, "is a double-edged sword. It's about my father, the teachers, the father figures, where y'know, I was only as good as..."
It's happening again. The quake, the shake, the mist...
"Where I was only as good as the recitals I played," concludes Tori, who shows no signs whatsoever of self-pity here, this is just someone with an alarmingly profound need to get the truth out there.
You felt you stood as a human being on the outside of your talent?
"I was not a human being. I became... the piano iteself. I was nothing without it. You have to remember I've been doing this since before I could talk. I never got a boy without it, either. That piano, I have not accomplished anything without that piano. Nothing."
You don't feel there's anything fabulous about you apart from your talent? That's preposterous.
"I've never met one human being," she declares, "without them knowing what I did."
I think you should bugger off to Rio in disguise for a year and pretend you're called June Whitfield or something.
"I've felt like that," she agrees, "but you get to a point when you feel, 'but you are a part of the piano, Tori, that isn't all you are, but...' (triple-pronged pitchfork with a BMW motor attached) without music I would die. I could not survive. I wouldn't want to. I don't call it dependent, I call it breath."
Triple gin on the rocks, barman, puh-lease. Not surprisingly, Tori is the kind of woman who attracts fans who border on the obsessive and beyond and she's watched the Madonna Stalked Saga with deep affinity. Tori refuses to discuss her own experiences of stalkerdom in case the nuts in question are spurred on by the publicity.
She'll tell you, however, "The FBI has been involved, people threatening to kill people in the government, ridiculous, insane, stuff. People inspired to make shrines because some lyric told them to (rolls eyes). And I have a lot of trouble from right-wing Christians. I just give 'em a wave and say, 'No we haven't forgotten you, bless you'.
"People have no idea how religious America is unless they've lived there. And there I will talk about theological ideas of the Mary Magdalene being pregnant with Jesus' child, which I believe to be the blueprint of women's sexual culture; the Magdalene was a sensual, passionate woman, an idea that was circumcised from Christianity and all religions. Historically, women who are praised are virgins, large over-sexed cunts, dead under a horse or insane.
"There are few who have had all of the sensuality, the strength, the intelligence, the passion and the respect. A conspiracy? Yes. Men's and women's because some men are more feminine than some women. I'm not talking about 'poof', everyone loves the queens, I'm talking about femininity as nurturing, vulnerability, openness."
Which makes Tori a Daughter of Darkness, similar to Madonna in the sense she claims her right to be openly explicitly sexual. And they both fancied Jesus as nippers, and they've both been raped.
Did you know Madonna was raped?
"No," says Tori, blankly, "I didn't know that. Right. I don't know anyone that hasn't been abused in some way. No-one. It's not always physical."
Bleak, isn't it, reality. Can people change?
"Awareness will change us," she attests, "it will change when a generation rises up and says, 'We're not gonna pass it down, it's gonna stop right here'."
Tori, part Scottish, now talks about something else, something beautiful: the Scottish Highlands.
"I've been," she sparkles, "I went looking for the warriors. Where are all the warriors?"
You won't find any warriors up there anymore, only alcoholics, Russians. And midges.
And she's up and off, darting across a rain-slewed Camden High Street, where she's almost killed by a Vauxhall Cavalier, into a cab bound eventually for Milan where she will doubtless be asked to sing to Italian fish and present herself inside-out in the flash-bulb glare of the entire globe. But not before she's stood, quite calmly, in the rain for ten minutes and completed the "Just How Mad/Pervy/Religiously Unhinged Is Tori Amos, really?" Word Association Survey.
Your reaction, if you please, Mrs. Alleged Sven The Crystal Dolphin On Fire Having Sex With Jesus On Jupiter, to the following words...
Sin: "Oh boy. That's my answer"
Fuck: "Fair enough"
Free: "Formula One"
Knob: "Hell's Angel"
Sore: "My butt"
Pop: "Goes the weasel"
Hope: "High heels"
Skewer: "Filet mignon"
Boy: "Peanut butter"
Hell: "More ice cream"
Life: "A serial"
Heaven: "Ice cream"
So, she's not quite mad after all, then, just a self-expressing, justice-seeking, truth exposing passionately bamboozling emotional activist with an imagination the size of the sky - a Formula One braveheart herself. May her wildest balloons come true.
t o r i p h o r i a
the World of Tori Amos