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On the Street (US)
January 29, 1996

The Way To a Young Girl's Heart

by Mike Gee

Guacamole and chips. That's the way to Tori Amos' heart. But don't forget the tomato sauce and mayonnaise.

About 15 minutes into an astonishingly untaxing, mercurial, spontaneous, flirtatious and ecstatic wax and wane of the verbals, the Alice in an ever developing wonderland whose ceaseless personal development over three razorblade sharp, angst strewn, soul searching albums has restated the notion of growing up in public, makes a very lateral leap from an allegorical, between the lines, conversation and words and their place in her landscape to condiments.

That it actually fits the day and way the interview has been is typical of the many levels of Myra Ellen Amos that come to the party when she plays the question and answer game. In 1992, she irradiated a flamed-as-her-hair anger, mixed with a vast confusion that splattered identity crisis in all directions: rape, religious suppression, father/preacher fixation, childhood catharsis and a swarm of deep scars opened by a personal crisis bared for all. Little Earthquakes shuddered through the interview as she railed, almost toxically at a past painted window by window in painstaking and painful detail.

Two years later and Tori Amos was in the Valhalla Hotel in Canada, two hours after a gig, spun and golden, unraveling Under the Pink as a different challenge, night by night, to each audience that came to listen - and left knowing they had become part of the Amos spiritual web.

She still seemed confused - though less so, talked in riddles and wistful words of metaphysics, the thin veil between life and death, parallel universes, the intense religious condemnation and self-crucifixion which dominated her second and less accessible parable: Oh God why did thou desert me, she cried, over and over again, and sought and expressed answers clawed from the personal inner self. So strong, yet so frail, she bled her self-sacrifice.

Now is the Amos of Boys for Pele, an 18-track deliverance that she confirms, satisfied, has already caused the most extreme reactions.

"What kind of excites me is that people either love it or hate it," she says with breathless joy. "I feel like that if a work has any meat to it the people have strong reactions to it and that's an interesting place for me to be, third record down, getting that sort of reaction."

At 32, the North Carolinian who first released a single "Baltimore" as a quixotic, on the run, 18-year-old, has found the artist with and on Boys for Pele raises a formidable canvas. Filed previously under pounding piano and tremulour voice, Amos has skipped several notes and embraced an almost avant grade disregard for formula singer/songwriter pop. Then she was probably always going to. It was just a matter of when.

Recorded in rural Ireland and a Louisiana church which aren't as for apart as they might at first glance seem, the swamp of religion and cloistered pin-drop atmosphere echo in a work that strays perilously close to nerves-as-highly-strung- keys-at-the-point-of-breaking yet holds a resonant beauty of a women proudly in search of her (women) hood.

Subterranean blues mix earthiness with torch ballads, badlamesque dissonance dances with twisted jazzology, chorus and verse are buried in freeform brush strokes of sheer unbridled inspiration and risk-taking. Yet in the midst of this extreme fluctuation, melody still hangs el flagrante delecto often on the frail - and fitting - notes of her newly- conquered instrumental passion, the harpsichord.

That too she is breathlessly happy about. "Oh God, it's completely changed me as a player. My approach to the piano now is totally different because of what the harpsichord has brought and taught me. Harpsichord represents a time that holds secrets." It, like the piano, is now treated as a living being. Her third skin.

Uncontainable, undaunted by the notion that she has several other interviews warming up their psyche probes in anticipation of literal cornucopia, she gurgles merrily about her visions of record company executives sitting unhappily waiting for choruses that never come, the placing of music in the public domain and how if it is going to be free then people must be able to take it and make of it whatever they want - which means all reactions and interpretations are valid. Balance seems to have been achieved - nearly.

This brings us to boys, or men, if you prefer. Boys for Pele, despite its connotations of a Hawaiian mountain and human sacrifice, finds Amos probing the conduits of womenhood as reflected in the men she has known (in the biblical sense). The women begat by the interpersonal.

Here then is the core enunciation: "For me it is a novel, it is a journey - albeit some redhead's journey, fake red- haired at that, but it was really about finding those places of womenhood and I tried to find in the men in my life."

"Funny that - but true. Not that those men don't have places of their own womenhood but that is something that is theirs and not mine to go taste." She rolls 'taste' off the tip of her tongue. "I have my own and needed ways to find it and I had no idea how to do it. So until I cut off from the boy zone I wasn't going to the girl zone."

The neverending life search for our feminine and/or masculine side/s. "Yeah, and it seems so much through other people instead of kind of like reflecting things to each other. That was never enough, it was like 'Oooh, you've got something I want' and instead of 'Well, Tori, everybody can explore anything they want emotionally or intellectually or spiritually or physically', it's like 'no', I thought I had to get it, use it, shall I say, through them."

"The mountain and sacrifice allusion is partially true in that it was going to be my own little marshmallow roast but I decided I didn't want to roast them anymore in the end, that I didn't want the karma." And she chimes a cascading peal of infectious laughter.

"Okay, look it is a bit sharp-edged. Yes, there is a little bit of... you know I have to get a little of my... (deliberate pause) digs in there. But for the most part the ideas are the gift the men in my life brought me was what they gave or, in some cases, didn't give, thank God, because they couldn't. Nobody can give another person their own soul, their own worth."

"These songs are about the realisation that you and the person you're with are talking different languages. They're about recognising than an extreme kind of viciousness if being played out even as you exchange honeysuckle. They're about the hidden things that go on in a women's heart - the things that are expressed and the things that have to remain hidden. They're about the breaking down of the patriarchy within relationships and the idea of women claiming their own power."

So then are you "this little masochist" who's "ready to confess" in "Hey Jupiter"? Silence. Long silence.

Bigger than a pause silence. "Tuesdays and Thurdays are my masochist days." More rich and vibrant peals. "Now I beg of you no exclamation marks anywhere. Those exclamation points are just urgh."

And that is how words were scripted into this conversation. The fact that music is her first language and without it she, "can't find my way around the barn," how it has become the tone and rhythm of 80 per cent of the story, and the music in the rhythm of 80 per sent of the story, and the music taste of the songs. "The words are calling it minestrone but it's the garlic, it's the kidney beans, it's all that stuff that is nurturing the minestrone."

Quite a potpourri, really. Condiments, then. The ink is obvious, just "I am so into them right now, it's getting dangerous," her lips smack "I was pocketing Heinz ketchup and mayonnaise sachets on the flight here and my manager was going, 'Tori, this is embarrassing, we're in first class' and I'm like. 'I know but when we get off and if we go somewhere that has french fries and they don't have mayonnaise I'm going to be wrecked."

She blames her crew for this obsession and nearly oozes all the way to Sydney at the mention of a Mexican cafe (Cafe Mejico in Potts Point) where the Mexican chef, rightly miffed at the lack of the real Mexican thing, has come up with a guacamole so right, so individual, so spiced yet palate perfect it begs addition. "Oh God, can I go like worship," she swallows in anticipation of her mooted August tour.

Meanwhile, Tori Amos, begs your ear for just a second: don't buy the copy of her 1988 rock album Y Kant Tori Read currently hanging proudly on the wall of an inner city record shop with a $350 collector's price tag on it. Her hips were so much smaller then, and definitely wouldn't fit into the snake pants now.

And that's a bit of womanhood, too.


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