home / interviews
Nieuwe Revu (the Netherlands)
April 8, 1998
Tori Amos - Out of her Mind
translated by Ruud van MelickAdded
Her new single Spark will be released April 17th. Her new album, From The Choirgirl Hotel, two weeks later. Since her miscarriage such things command the life of Tori Amos. Furthermore there is her complicated relationship with God, she says she gave Him a blowjob. "What's so awful about the thought that God could have a sexual relationship with a woman? A blowjob is a blowjob." A conversation with a musician who is always on the road.
By Bambi Bogert
She's small and sinewy. With feminine curves, crimson hair and eye-catching elephant ears. Dressed in some old jeans, a white T-shirt and ditto sneakers, she nearly sinks in the huge lounge chair in her hotel room. But her keen look and fierce argument make her keep our attention from the beginning till the end. Tori Amos is a weirdo. Those who weren't convinced of this after listening to her music, will know for sure after a conversation with the singer/pianist. In which she says things like: "I gave God a blowjob, now I'm interested in other things." and: "My miscarriage was the germ for my new album."
Quite a few things happened in Amos' life (born 34 years ago in the American state North Carolina as a minister's daughter) during the last years. First of all she got pregnant unexpectedly near the end of her last tour, next she miscarried three months later and finally she married her sound-engineer Mark Hawley last February. In between she also recorded a new album, From The Choirgirl Hotel, with meaningful titles like She's Your Cocaine, Playboy Mommy and iieee. Good times, bad times for Tori, but the many events didn't leave any visible remnants. On the contrary, she seems to be relaxed and talks passionately.
Where do you live now? "I'm often in London. And I've just spent a long time at the English west coast, in a studio in Cornwall. The album was recorded there. But I don't have a steady place [to live]."
You must have a house somewhere? "Sometimes I live in a house and sometimes in studios or hotels. I don't like being in the same place all the time. But I'd prefer not to talk about this subject at all. I'm very open about some things, but I'd like to keep my places to myself. They are sacred to me. As far as that's concerned I'm really sort of a hermit. I want to have the possibility to, if I feel the need, go somewhere where nobody can find me. If I'm sitting behind the piano, that changes. Then I'm more at ease. I enter a completely different personality, then I'm no longer Tori Amos, the bookworm."
But you're not a bookworm anyhow? "I'm crazy about books! I own a lot of books. I collect them and talk to the paper and make sure every book is in the right place. When I feel lonely, I can touch my books and read them."
So you do have a home. Because that's where these book are. Or do you subscribe to libraries all over the world? "No, of course not. I have different places, hideouts where I keep my books."
But don't you have a place where you can always come back to? Where you can be yourself, with friends nearby? "It's not that simple. I have friends. Some live in New York. I fly there once in a while. Or we go on holiday together. I've got friends all over the world. And I can't expect them all to live in a place that suits me. So I visit them. I'm tremendously mobile. I'm truly a traveler, some kind of passer-by."
But do you enjoy that? Do you like living in hotels? Or would you rather be in a secret place with your books? "I prefer to be in a secret place with my books. But as soon as I'm going on a trip, I turn the bus into a mini-library. I bring some parchment aboard. To be able to survive a tour, you have to be resourceful. You devise ways to add some magic to the places you're going. You have to. Otherwise you'd drown in the negative very quickly. It's so easy to say the glass is half empty. You have to force yourself to say: no, wait a minute, there's a few more sips in there! And all the time you have to think up ways to fill the glass again. Preferably champagne! But that can be pretty hard. Unless your name is Jesus Christ. He could conjure wine from nothing and could sleep with Mary Magdalene as well, haha. But who would want to be Jesus?!"
You've made some bold statements about religion and God. You often say things that could hurt people immensely. Not really nice things. "Yeah, well hello! What do you mean: not really nice?! The Christians conquering three quarters of the world, that wasn't very nice, killing half the human race and forcing the other half to believe in their God. Religions should teach mankind awareness, lift it to a higher level. But in reality, all these years, in so many religions, it all revolved around guilt and penance. And around power instead of virtue."
But you've been immensely fascinated by religion. "Because it holds so much power over mankind. It shaped a large part of my life. And I enjoy learning as much as possible about different religions, because you can't really understand people unless you have studied their cultural mythologies. I approach religion in a more holistic way. I only use the elements that make sense to me. I don't want to oppress anyone or bring shame onto them. I mean, I don't believe in the teachings of Jesus like they are told nowadays. We all know that people, through the years, have distorted and rewritten things for their own purposes. That's why I question many elements in the Christian religion. And I've got a right to do that, because I was raised with Christianity."
You also say: I gave God a blowjob. That is offensive to many Christians, isn't it? "But suppose God isn't offended by that. Think about that. If God is what he claims to be, then he wouldn't mind at all."
But what are you trying to achieve when you make such a statement?
"Gee... I'm gonna place a sticker on your forehead with the letters PC: Politically Correct."
But you don't say these things just like that. "What's so awful about the thought that God could have a sexual relationship with a woman? That could just be something magnificent?"
Yeah, right. I don't think that's what you really meant. "A blowjob is a blowjob. Why is that a bad thing? If a man gets a good blowjob, you won't hear him complain. Ask any man."
But you have to admit: you're trying to shock people on purpose by saying these things. "I don't have to try in the least to shock people. My beliefs are sufficiently shocking to most people. Because we live in a culture where passion and sexuality have been replaced by shame. We are miles away from our hearts, our feelings. In Greek mythology the gods were sleeping with humans all the time. But the Christians claim Jesus was fathered without a single drop of sperm. There wasn't even a penis involved. It's a religion without penetration. And subsequently the same believers take their swords and chop the non-believers to pieces, stab babies to death and burn witches at the stake. And you think I'm shocking when I say I gave God a blowjob? Give me a fucking break!"
I'm only trying to understand why you would say such a thing. While you come from a strict religious family. "Maybe that's what caused it. My father is a minister. So was my grandfather. And my grandmother was a very religious woman. If she for instance knew you had had sex before marriage, she would have done anything to discredit you. She could turn your life into living hell, she would burn you mentally. My grandmother hurt a tremendous amount of people. When you're talking about cruelty, you're perhaps thinking blood and torture etc. But there are other ways of cruelty. And I'm not saying you should be kind all the time, but you could just sympathize with others? I do realize I sometimes say things that hurt other people. But I don't do that to be mean. I do it because I hope to wake people up. So they will look at things from a different side."
You just got married, but you were pregnant last year. The miscarriage that followed, you call it the germ for the new album. "I was sitting on a small landing stage and I was watching the river, the rhythm of the water. That was right after the miscarriage when I was most depressed. And that rhythm urged me to make the new album. The songs were flowing into me. I had to do something with it. At the time I hardly felt connected to my womanhood. Because you can't go back to the feeling how-it-was-before-you-miscarried. I couldn't anyhow. You have very strong feelings for that being which is no longer there. You have to do something to make the pain go away. You can try to build a wall around you, but there comes a moment when you realize: Tori, this can't go on any longer."
And then you went into the studio. "Yes. Because beings with songs were coming to visit me and I was allowed to help and make them. I would be walking in the vegetable section of the supermarket and suddenly feel the muse somewhere between the cucumbers."
So you're choosing a suitable cucumber and suddenly a tune comes to you? "Something like that, yes. That's how it always happened. You have to open yourself to this energy. You have to learn how to tune your feelers. So, when you feel the muse coming, you can do something with it. It's kind of like tracking. Except you're hunting for something without a physical shape. It's located somewhere in the ether. And the trick is recognizing it. For that you have to learn to trust your feelings."
On your new album rhythm plays a large role. "That's also related to my miscarriage. I experienced the concept of rhythm totally different at the time. Rhythm as a primitive fact. The rhythm of life; of water and Earth. I realized for the first time that Earth is so much bigger than a human. And that it really is a gigantic living organism. An organism experiencing terrible things and very beautiful things: birth and death, turbulence and peace... And I felt like a small part in that big whole. I saw life force in a way I had never seen it before. But at the same time I had questions. I'd go to the shopping centre and see parents slap their kids. And you wonder why some people get children they don't care about. And why I... I started asking God questions. To any God that could make 10 minutes of his time for me. I just had to understand."
That happens often, people turning to religion in times of distress. "Yes, but I wasn't looking for: this is how it should be, it's the will of God. Do you understand? That wasn't good enough for me. I saw more in a comparison with Earth, which also has to deal with ups and downs. That's a rhythm too. Furthermore I refuse to accept God's will unthinkingly. I get a lot of letters from women writing they were raped by their father, since they were little children. Don't insult these women -and certainly not in my presence!- by saying that this is the will of God. And don't tell me it's karma either."
Do you know what exactly caused the miscarriage? "I think so. But I'm not going to tell you during this interview. If we were drinking a cup of coffee, it would be totally different. But this is very personal."
I think it's a rather personal subject anyhow. "Yes, but I have to talk about it. I can't pretend nothing happened. That's not who I am. And if you don't know it, you can't understand the album. Besides it made me grow and I've learned a lot from it."
What do you mean? "I have never had as much respect for life as I do now. I listen more closely to my friends than I used to. If someone is in pain, I hear it in a different way. I'm more susceptible to it now. Sometimes people tell me, when they hear I had a miscarry: ‘Oh, that's nothing. Someone losing a two year old child, that's terrible.' Then I think: OK. But I can think of seventy other things you could have said. You don't have to belittle other people, just because you can't put yourself in someone else's shoes. Everyone experiences things differently. And pain shouldn't be a competition, like: you were raped seven times, but I was raped seventy times! Maybe someone was only harassed by a man in the park, but that affected that person in a certain way. That should still be enough?"
Are you happy now in your life? You could have been a mother by now. "My life is very different now from what I had though it would be. I'm looking forward to my tour. And I try to be satisfied with that for the moment. This is my destiny. I'm not a mother right now. That strange little being which stayed with me for a while and is now gone again, gave me a lot. And I will never even know his name. But there is a life force that goes so far beyond faith. You can call it spirituality, or whatever. I mean: there is no war raging in Tori's world. Not even with the Christian God. On the contrary: I have a date with him next week. We'll have some drinks together."
t o r i p h o r i a
the World of Tori Amos