home / interviews
Michael Jackson show (US, radio)
KABC, Los Angeles (790 AM)
February 9, 1996
Tori Amos interview
Michael Jackson is an English talk-show host
Michael Jackson: I really don't think I quite know how to introduce the next guest. We've met twice. We spoke together for an hour on the air prior to inviting her into the studio. First time, I'd never heard of her or her music. Well, I think I'd heard the name, but I never put it together with the face, the body, the person, the music. Sort of in preparing, in doing my homework, I started listening to her recordings, and found them - many of them - magical, powerful. That she is talented is so damn obvious. That she's special as a performer, that she is special as a person, isn't difficult to discern either. I can think of all manner of reasons for wanting to meet with her time and time again, and perhaps learn a little more about the woman, Tori Amos.
MJ: "Caught A Lite Sneeze." You can take the simplest ideas, and you make magic with them. But you don't sing early in the morning, obviously?
Tori: I sang this morning.
MJ: You sang this morning?
MJ: How early this morning?
Tori: Well, we were over at KROQ (L.A.'s alternative radio station) doing a little concert at House of Blues.
MJ: You mean, you've already done a concert this morning?
Tori: A little bit of a concert. A few songs and a chat. There were some wonderful guests there.
MJ: She's just out with her most musically-adventurous album yet. That comes from it. She's the singer, the songwriter, who has worked extremely hard to become the pop star that she is now. Extremely hard! I love to share you with people. Why do you crave attention to have an audience love you?
Tori: I don't know if it's about needing them to love me.
MJ: Like you?
Tori: No, it's not about that. It's about a relationship. I have a relationship with the people who come to the concerts. It's about an exchange of energy. It's almost as if we go to Alice in Wonderland together. I went to Alice in Wonderland by myself for 28 years, and once in a while, somebody would jump in and hold hands and we'd go down the rabbit hole together. But now, when I play in concert, we all go down the rabbit hole.
MJ: Okay. That first piece that I just played "Caught A Little Sneeze," I think is the number one winner from "Boys For Pele."
Tori: Umm, Michael, "Caught A LITE Sneeze."
MJ: I said little?
Tori: Yeah, different like margarine instead of butter. That he was margarine, not butter.
MJ: Oh, so the American L-I-T-E. And Pele? Not named for a soccer player, but for a Hawaiian goddess?
Tori: The volcano goddess.
MJ: Oh, really?! The goddess of destruction...
Tori: ...and creation.
MJ: Do you like men?
Tori: I like men. I'm finding a balance with men.
MJ: I was gonna say, "How can you like men if you like Pele?" Didn't they sacrifice young men?
Tori: It wasn't just about young men. I think Pele would express her anger, and I don't think it was just about a sex. It's about finding your own fire. Sometimes, you do get angry. Sometimes, someone just makes you angry. I'm learning to put my matches away. I've burned enough of them (laughs).
MJ: Do you fall in love too much?
Tori: No, I don't actually.
MJ: You were in love last time you came her, but I don't think he's around anymore.
Tori: I don't know about that. When was I here last?
MJ: A year ago.
Tori: Yes, he's around.
Tori: Yeah. Yes, he's around.
MJ: See, I thought you had had a parting of the ways but on the nicest of terms.
Tori: No, you're correct. Yes, he and I separated.
MJ: Oh, see, you do fall in love too many times.
Tori: No, that's not too many times, Michael. I mean, we were together for seven and a half years.
Tori: Eric, yes.
MJ: This new CD, "Boys For Pele," it's fourteen major songs?
Tori: 14 pieces of Osiris.
MJ: You really get deep with this stuff, don't you? This is the Egyptian goddess, Osiris. In the myth, they were collected by the goddess, Isis. Boy, are you putting me to the test! This goes back to school days.
Tori: Well, the idea being that finding the pieces, finding the fragments. That's what Osiris represented - to find the fragments that have been lost.
MJ: Are you Isis?
Tori: It's not about, "Am I Isis, Osiris, or their pet dog?" The idea is what they reflect. They reflect trying to find their pieces, and that's what I tried to do with this record - find pieces of myself.
MJ: Because if you are Isis, whose parts do you need to collect and reassemble?
Tori: Maybe we're all Isis and maybe we're all Osiris, and they're just mirrors for all of us.
["Beauty Queen" is being played in the background.]
MJ: She's a beauty queen, Tori Amos. When we continue, let's take a look at the things they have called Tori Amos: a champion of female independence, a pretentious New-Age babbler, a sexual healer, a twisted mystic. Who is she, Tori Amos?
[break to commercials]
MJ: She is Tori Amos. She's absolutely smashing. But is she a champion of female independence? Is she a pretentious New-Age babbler? Is she a sexual healer? Is she a twisted mystic? Well, she's just a damn good artist. I just thought of a ridiculous question. You're on a deserted island. You have a choice of a man or a grand piano.
Tori: (long pause) Is the man a chef? (Both of them burst into laughter.)
MJ: Amos, one. Jackson, zip. But you didn't really make it big as a classical musician?
Tori: No, not even small.
MJ: And you didn't do all that well as a metal tart?
Tori: No, didn't do well.
MJ: Are you now who you wish to be, doing what you want to do now you're known and heard all over the world?
Tori: I like telling stories. My grandfather - my mother's father, Poppa - was probably my favorite person forever. He's gone now. He was part Cherokee. He would tell me stories everyday. We would take a walk and he would say, "What do you see in that clump of dirt?" And I'd say, "Just a bunch of dirt." And he would say, "You're not my granddaughter." It became a walk where we would see an object and tell a story about it. So I just love telling stories.
MJ: I think your music always does. It is big. It must be considered a new category of rock. You managed to translate, to inculcate, the most intimate emotional feelings from spirituality to sexuality, Tori Amos.
[Plays "Little Amsterdam"]
MJ: Be a storyteller. What's this about?
Tori: The South represents so much that is hidden. This record is about the fragments that have been hidden. So naturally, I had to follow that (?) and go after that frequency. There is a lot of domination in this song. The idea that you don't follow your heart because you're afraid that if you do that you can't have your family or you can't have your friends or that you'll be outcast. That's very much what the South has been about for me - speaking about that which was hidden could get you really ostracized.
MJ: Let's take some of the calls for you. Our guest is Tori Amos. Hi Debbie.
Caller: Hi Tori.
Tori: Hi Debbie.
Caller: I just want to let you know that my dad told me you were on, and he loves your music.
MJ: Your dad loves her music? How old are you then?
Caller: I'm 20. My dad's in his early 50s.
MJ: Isn't that you want someone like Poppa?
Tori: No, grandpa was grandpa. Nobody can replace Poppa. I don't want anybody to. But I've been inspired by some wonderful, wonderful men, and this is one of those songs.
Caller: Hi, I was first introduced to Tori Amos about a year ago, so I missed the opportunity to see her in concert. I'm just so in love with the early stuff from "Little Earthquakes" and from "Under the Pink." I was wondering if she's going to be playing that in her upcoming tour, if she would still be playing the older material?
MJ: Are you a teenager?
Caller: Yes, I'm 19.
MJ: Why do you like her work?
Caller: It's not the typical stuff you hear on the radio. You don't just hear a bunch of cheap guitar chords and people just saying words because they rhyme. You really are hearing what's in her soul, and so much of what she says, especially "Crucify," which is still my favorite song to this day, it really reaches out to everyone deep inside. She's talking about her own emotions instead of just lyrics that rhyme.
Caller: "Crucify" is from the first album, "Little Earthquakes."
MJ: Did it sound like this?
Caller: Oh, yes, that's my favorite song.
MJ: It builds. Beautiful! Pretty powerful stuff, isn't it?
Caller: Wonderful! Is she there? Would I be able to say something to her?
Tori: Hi, I'm right here.
Caller: Oh my God! I can't believe I'm talking to Tori Amos right now.
Tori: To answer your question, when we go on the road, each concert is different, but I invite all the songs to come. It's not about just doing one album. It's about having different songs from each album show up. No two shows are ever alike. There will probably be more of the new material than the others because that's just where I am. But the others, there'll be plenty there.
Caller: Okay, do you know when you'll be in the Los Angeles area?
Tori: I think in June at some point. We begin the tour in the U.K. February 23, and we make our way. The trucks roll.
MJ: Thank you. I hope that helps. You still live in London?
MJ: Can you sound cockney?
Tori: No, I can't. I can't do it.
MJ: Isn't that funny? I can't do American.
Tori: No, I think you can actually.
MJ: I can't.
Tori: You're putting it on, Michael. I think you can do both. I've heard you.
MJ: I can do cockney, mate. That's easy. I have a theory about cockneys. You know, they drop their H's. When they get money, they put the "H" back, but they put it in the wrong place, actually (laughs). Our guest is Tori Amos.
MJ: A Los Angeles Times headline story described you, Tori Amos, as brazen, poetic, precious and profane. You know what? They're right. She's all this and more.
[plays "Professional Widow"]
MJ: Our guest, Tori Amos, whose songs have sold. They are bold. They are intensely personal. They're very different, and if you don't like rock music, this is really confusing to you, I suppose.
Tori: Well, I must admit, Michael, you have balls because nobody at alternative radio has anything on you. They don't have the guts to play that song.
[This is where I'm confused. Jackson thought that a caller accused him of being "a starfucker" but soon realized that he was wrong. I believe that's what happened.]
Caller: Is this Tori?
Caller: Hey you!
Tori: Hey you!
Caller: Oh my God, you're my favorite musician in the whole wide world. You are my idol, my goddess...
Tori: Okay, Donald. So I think the whole thing was alternative radio won't play this song because they don't have a problem with violence. They don't have a problem with talking about, "You know, I'm gonna kill you. I'm gonna do this to you. I'm gonna do that to you." But when you're going after something that's an emotional raw nerve, and you use language and that language is the only way to express it, they have a hard time with it.
MJ: If you looked at Donald or you looked at me and you said that (referring to the starfucker incident) to either of us, that's an insult and one that I'd cut off, if you were accusing us of being that, as I purposely reacted to Donald. But you're not doing that. You're telling a story.
Tori: I'm definitely telling a story because I'm talking about me. That's what I was. That's what I did. I did that. I was that person. I crawled. I allowed myself to be defecated on.
MJ: Until very recently, I think popular music very seldomly asked questions, for example, of Providence. But I remember fully, a couple of years ago, this woman singing, "God, sometimes you just don't come through. Do you need a woman to look after you?" You're a manly guy in his 20s, I would imagine. How does that line strike you?
Caller: Personally, it was very comforting. I don't know. It's kind of in a motherly sense or something like that. It's from the heart. All of your music is so beautiful and six hundred years before. I told my dad that and he said, "Well, maybe you have." As we were leaving, the man said, "You know, there's a group of warlocks in the village." The legend is that if you take a four-leaf clover and enter the faerie ring, you can make a wish. So he said, "Wait here." He went and he found in a book a four-leaf clover that he'd gotten and he gave it to me.
MJ: And how old are you?
Caller: I'm 18. I got to go into the faerie ring, and the faeries really brightened my day. I was very moody the last time I was in England. They kind of brightened my trip. It was their gift to me.
Tori: It's really magical over there. I think people who have had the experience to be with the people who live on the land and are about the land. For me, anyway. I go away feeling like I can breathe again because these people are so connected to the land and connected to the spirit life and the land. The Native-Americans had that. The aborigines have that. Many different people have that, and when we go traveling, it's fascinating how many people believe in the spirit life.
Caller: I agree. I was in a little village in Wales for about a week, and they thought, "What are we gonna do for a girl from California? How are we going to entertain her?" I had the most wonderful time just taking long walks through the woods and being on the land. It was wonderful. My question for you, Tori, is: I was at your concert at the Pantages last year, and being in the audience, it was like being in a room with you except we couldn't talk to you. You were so open and so honest with everyone. I wanted to know if being so accessible, does that ever create problems for you?
MJ: Is it dangerous, you mean, if you let people get too close? What a lovely question. How do you answer Anne?
Tori: I don't feel in danger. I feel like it's just about having a conversation. I don't know. I just don't think it's interesting to keep a distance and a detachment from an audience.
MJ: Or a facade.
Tori: It's about an exchange.
MJ: I know what Anne. Let's pretend it's a June night and you're at the Greek Theatre, and you might well hear this from Tori.
[plays "Muhammed My Friend"]
MJ: Our guest, Ellen Amos. When were you last called Ellen?
Tori: My mother.
MJ: Your mother. What were your parents like?
Tori: My parents are a hoot. They come to the concerts. If you go to some of the ones on the East Coast, my parents usually cruise through. You'll know who they are. It's hard to miss them (laughs).
MJ: Come on, tell us what was dad like?
Tori: Dad is different than what he used to be. Dad is very much, now, more open than he used to be. They come to the shows. They just like being around, to be honest, they like being around the youthful energy.
MJ: I must tell you about that youthful energy. Some will tell you that talk radio does not attract a young audience. The oldest caller on our board is 25-years-old. Most of them are between 18 and 23, and there ain't no room to get through unless you're name is Monique. Good morning, how old are you?
Caller: I'm 20-years-old. Tori, oh, I have never thought in my entire life that I would be talking to you. It is so good to be talking to you right now. I just wanted to tell you how much strength you have brought me in my life. The words of your songs have brought me so much strength and comfort. A lot of women I know have found the same, as well as men, which is an amazing thing.
MJ: Would you be a storyteller on "Me and a Gun"? Why don't I have Tori help you? What's it about Tori?
Tori: I saw "Thelma and Louise" in London. When I saw this film, memories came flooding back. I wrote the song that afternoon, and I wrote part of it on the Bakerloo Line going to North London. I went to the Mean Fiddler that night and I sang it and I've been singing it ever since.
MJ: Monique, can I make a suggestion?
MJ: Let's have her sing it for you.
[clip of album version of Me And A Gun]
MJ: Tori Amos. I hope that satisfies you. Monique, thank you for your call. Bill, you're on KABC talk radio.
Caller: Hi Tori.
Tori: Hi Bill.
Caller: I'm 37-years-old so I've ruined your record. I listen to some of your stories about your family life and that kind of thing, and I'm just amazed by you and by your music. It's beautiful and sensitive. I was calling just to ask you how you feel about the problem of homelessness in our society, and do you have solutions for that?
Tori: We've been to different places, specifically in Europe, where the homeless problem is looked at differently. They take care of people differently. Yet, it's still another socialist society, so I don't see why it can't be done here (in America). This is supposedly the greatest country in the world, and yet so many services just are not there for people.
MJ: They should be and can be. Monica, how old are you?
Caller: I'm 15. I just heard Tori on KROQ and I was really amazed by how open she is with her audience and how she's not afraid to say what she feels. I feel that she is so real, and she's not fake. I really appreciate her music.
MJ: Do you think your parents understand her music?
MJ: That's good (laughs).
Caller: But I have older sisters who love her music.
MJ: That's funny because you've got an older sister, haven't you?
Tori: I do.
MJ: Married with five children?
MJ: Who in the eyes of your parents is more successful then?
Tori: I don't think you can do that.
MJ: I won't do that.
Tori: Marie and Michael are special people. They're in the medical field. I was kind of the black sheep just because I was kicked out of the conservatory, and my father desperately wanted me to get my doctorate in music. After I signed my first record deal, he was still trying to get me to go to night classes so I could get my doctorate. Everybody in the family had to have a doctorate.
MJ: It didn't work out that way.
Caller: Hi, I have a question for Tori. I'm 52-years-old, but I have a niece who is a fan of yours. I honestly don't remember the context of the conversation, and it kind of went over my head. It's regarding a photograph.
MJ: Could it be a photograph of Tori nursing a piglet?
Caller: I'm curious to know what she was trying to convey by that. Does it have a meaning, or was it just for shock value?
MJ: Alright, let her answer.
Tori: The picture represents that which is hidden, that which we're ashamed of, the non-kosher. To bring it back home, to nurse it, to nurture it. There's so much shame. There's so much that's hidden about our feelings that makes us crazy, that make us do things to ourselves and other people which causes all this pain. So this is about freeing that and acknowledging it.
MJ: It's this.
[plays snippet of "Mr. Zebra"]
MJ: Tori Amos on 790 KABC talk radio.
[cuts to commercials]
["Cornflake Girl" snippet]
MJ: Is this "Cornflake Girl"?
Tori: Uh humm.
MJ: Remember this? Tori Amos. We've got to the end of our time together, you know that?
Tori: But I get to eat now, Michael.
MJ: You get to eat. Feed me! Remember, wasn't that Suddenly Seymour from "Little Shop of Horrors"? You've worked hard today. You've already done a concert.
Tori: Yeah, we're off to London tonight. We're getting ready for the tour. We begin rehearsals tomorrow.
MJ: That's grueling isn't it?
Tori: February 23.
MJ: How many towns? How many days?
Tori: Almost 200 cities.
Tori: So we're ready to get rolling. I love it out there, Michael. Don't feel sorry for me. I'm a road dog and I love it.
MJ: A road dog?!
Tori: That's right.
MJ: Please, road dog, come back this way.
Tori: I'll be back.
MJ: Anytime June at the Greek Theatre. "Boys For Pele". Watch it go right to the top, I tell you.
["Cornflake Girl" fades out]
t o r i p h o r i a
the World of Tori Amos