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Boston Globe (US)
April 24, 1998
Once Again, Tori Amos Finds Healing Through Music
by Steve Morse
Tori Amos is as unorthodox a singer as one can find. She recorded her last album in a church in Ireland, and the new one in a barn in Cornwall. She doesn't do things the traditional way, yet when she married last month, her role model was none other than Jackie Kennedy Onassis, a bastion of traditional elegance.
"Getting married was not something in my line of vision," says Amos, a minister's daughter who has challenged many conventions in the past. "But then I was in an airport, contemplating all these things in my head and I saw this little paperback book about Jackie. I picked it up and got on the plane and I turned to the picture section and it was her wedding day and she was in her bridal dress. . . . And I wondered if I could have just one second of her elegance."
Right then and there on the plane, Amos started writing "Jackie's Strength," a cornerstone tune on her new album, "From the Choirgirl Hotel," which comes out May 8 and will be preceded by a club tour that visits Avalon tomorrow.
In the song, Amos declares, "I pray for Jackie's strength." She also recalls being only 3 months old when Jackie's husband, President John F. Kennedy, was killed in Dallas. She sings: "Shots rang out / The police came / Mama layed me on the front lawn and prayed for Jackie's strength."
Amos recently married her sound engineer, an Englishman named Mark Hawley. It was a bold new step for Amos, but illustrates a search for stability and strength that is also the theme of the new album. It's a search that has been played out publicly since the release of her first CD, "Little Earthquakes," six years ago. On that disc, she discussed being raped, and on the new album she's trying to make sense of another tragic event -- a miscarriage suffered after a recent three-month pregnancy.
On "Playboy Mommy," a mid-tempo tune with jazz sax and pedal steel guitar, she sings in an almost primal voice: "In my platforms I fell face down / Didn't help my brain out / Then the baby came before I found the magic how to keep her happy ... Don't judge me so harsh little girl."
"It's hard to talk about that experience," says Amos. "And people don't know what to say to you. They say things like 'I guess it's God's will' or 'It's all for the best, something was wrong.' Those things just don't make it OK .... But that's how the music started to be created. I guess the seed from the miscarriage became the seed for the record."
In another song, "Spark," the album's first single, Amos addresses the issue again: "She's convinced she could hold back a glacier / But she couldn't keep Baby alive." The song is typically autobiographical, despite the third-person reference, and prompts Amos to say of her character: "She's very close to the edge, but she's not over the edge yet."
The new "Choirgirl Hotel" album is fraught with the doubts that accompany such self-examination, but ultimately, one senses that Amos will find the strength she's praying for. It's not a depressing record. Rather, she's moved from her onetime sparse piano pop to a fuller band sound and a richer spirituality than before.
"I felt a love I hadn't felt before for another being and that didn't go away. It's changed me. It's made me different," she says. "There's a real sense of strength and sensuality and magic and passion and a love for the life force on this record."
To experience that life force, Amos, a prodigy who first attended Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore at age 5 (nearly 30 years ago) moved to Florida to be by the ocean and re-discover the healing effect of the sea.
"I was trying to find strength as a woman somewhere -- and it became this primal call, if you will, to the water. And to rhythm. It started to give the woman in me some kind of confidence, some kind of reason for being.
"I couldn't be a woman who was a mother," she adds. "But I could be a woman who could hold a space for the songs. So that's what I chose to do at this time."
[transcribed by Nick Raafe]
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