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The Oregonian (US)
July 19, 1996

THE MANY SIDES OF TORI'S STORY

Amos Weaves Religion, Sex and Politics Into Music That Touches Her Audience

By Robin Roth, special writer, the Oregonian

Singer Tori Amos' latest release, "Boys for Pele," is a place where politics and religion converge in a cauldron of pounding piano jazz, heavy harpsichord, sinfonia strings and songs that are simultaneously smart, spiritual and sexy.

Dedicated to the Hawaiian volcano goddess Pele (not the Brazilian soccer player), the album reflects Amos' quest to find out what it is to be a woman, though the songs explore her relationships with men, from her former boyfriend and producer Eric Rosse to Jesus Christ.

With the voice of an angel, she sings of the devil and other evils, such as rape, racism, and patriarchy - and in particular, Western religion's devastating effects on women's sexuality.

From religion to rock, Amos claims women (like children) have been seen and not heard. From the loopy baroque of songs like "Professional Widow" to the gentle concertos of "Father Lucifer," "Boys for Pele" is an intoxicating whirl of extremes, moving from ecstasy to exorcism in torchy ballads that in the past would have seen her branded as heretic, witch and whore. These days, she's just called kooky, kinky and weird, though the folks in Newton, N.C., where she grew up as a minister's youngest daughter, probably call her possessed.

Talking to Amos, as her songs suggest, becomes a lesson in the interrelatedness of politics, power, religion and sex.

"Where are the women prophetesses?" she asks, mentioning Mary Magdalene, Mother Nature and Morgan le Fay with the same spasmodic breathiness in the songs she sings. "Where are the women with the ability to speak the word?"

She has been studying myths and matriarchies, she says, and speaks of a time 25,000 years before patriarchy, when women's life-giving powers were worshiped and revered in the world's oldest religion.

"My songs have always been about what's going on in my life at a particular time," Amos says. "These songs are about breaking down the hegemony of patriarchy within relationships, and women reclaiming their power."

Women's power has been stripped, she believes, by men fearful of feminine spirituality and sexuality.

"Women's mysteries have been lost," she says. "The female part of the brain has been suppressed for thousands of years in traditional religious and political institutions because of fear. 'Boys for Pele' came from a place where I said I am tired of trying to steal the fire from the men in my life, because for some reason, I felt they had access to a force that I didn't."

While her songs are all about empowerment, Amos is reluctant to align herself with what she sees as an outmoded feminist thought.

"If we were going to use a term to describe my music, it would have to be 'theology of the feminine,'" she says. "Because the word 'feminist' and the whole movement now transcends the word. It used to mean becoming totally committed to women's freedom and rights, but now it's all about being committed to males, too."

While Amos believes feminism is a term that has outlived its usefulness, except say, in countries such as Mexico or those of the Middle East, she is more than sympathetic to women's problems closer to home.

In 1994, she founded RAINN (The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network), an all-volunteer hot line that connects people to 340 rape crisis centers around the country. The project is funded in part by her record company as a byproduct of "Me and a Gun," the haunting single from Amos' first album, "Little Earthquakes," that detailed her own experience with rape.

Although Amos views change as an evolution, accomplished through direct political action and the subtle strength of her songs, her ego is detached from her ideas.

"My songs and experiences don't necessarily help somebody. I would like to think I am putting out little light bulbs. And when they go on, hopefully someone else cocks their head - and another cocks their head - on and on until I cock my head again. I do feel it's a never-ending domino game."


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