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Iowa State Daily (US)
July 16, 1998

Cornflake Girl Tori Amos overcomes the odds

By Greg Jerrett (Daily Staff Writer)

Tori Amos has always served up her own brand of feminine mystique, lovingly garnished with her own pain and sexual self-discovery.

And fans devour her every thought and action like soul-starved direwolves. Take a look at her presence on the Web, for example. Every food she has sung about and every interview she has done is there, and for good reason.

In a world where female musicians experience feast or famine but never arrive anywhere in between, Amos has performed a miracle by turning a loaf of bread and a few fish into something resembling the fixin's bar at the 'Tater Hut.

She has become the "hostess with the mostess" of the next millennium.

Before Amos burst onto the scene, record companies just assumed that girls wanted records by boys and left it at that.

They would have never believed that women of all ages would shell out big bucks for one woman with no gimmicks, her piano and all of her emotional baggage.

But they do. And the reasons are as clear as the glass ceiling at a Fortune 500 company.

Amos's albums go gold with virtually no air play. Far from being force-fed, her fans (she lovingly refers to them as "ears with feet") wait to meet her after shows just hoping to give her letters of gratitude for her honesty, congratulations for her recent marriage and to offer their sincerest commissaries over her miscarriage.

She has made a connection with women, through her passionate, personal performances, that is deeper and more meaningful than any heartthrob band of boy toys could ever hope to achieve.

Yet, her reputation for sharp, stream-of-consciousness-style discourse and her impatience with journalists who ask stupid questions precedes her.

But that reputation is largely unfounded. She's as down-to-Earth as anybody else, even though she does give credit to faeries for helping her on all her various projects.

She speaks slowly, with measured care, weighing her words as if each one had the potential to come into existence simply by their utterance. Not exactly the uninhibited "kook" so many other articles have painted her to be.

She enjoys speaking about her current release, "From the Choirgirl Hotel," because it represents a turning point in her life, both personally and professionally.

"Some people say motherhood changes you," she explained, "and for me, non-motherhood really changed me. After 'Boys for Pele,' and after the tour, I was quite excited because I was gonna be a mom. Then I miscarried about three months in, and it was a shock.

"You can't go back to being the woman you were," she added, "and yet you're not a mother, either. It was really one of those things where the days seemed like years. It was at Christmas, and it was really a devastating time for [my husband and I]. The songs started to come soon after that."

In past efforts, Amos maintained strict creative control over style and content. This time out, she took a different direction by letting her band help with the details, a move which she believes is a positive step forward in her evolution.

"I was ready to look at these players as brothers and relinquish some control here and let the drummer decide what the tempo is," she said. "That was a huge thing for me. It takes trust and confidence, and I didn't have the kind of trust and confidence in my laying to kind of go 'Okay, between the two of us, we'll work it.'

"It doesn't have to be about who's on top all the time," she continued. "I've had these boys in the missionary position for years. I've got to stop playing this male role."

Being denied motherhood by the Fates spawned an existential crisis in a life marked by vigorous religious inquiry. She has always landed left of center.

This is due in large part to her Cherokee grandfather who taught her a fundamentally different way of looking at the universe than her Methodist parents.

"I have always believed that the Spirit is in all things," she stated. "So it's sort of like wiping my ass. It's just something you wake up and do. I've always believed that, and I was really brought up by my grandfather until he died when I was nine and a half. It was a real natural way of looking at things."

Amos' views on sex and Christianity have always hung around her in a cloud of controversy. She has always felt that the doctrines of organized Christianity have been a stranglehold on true spiritual development because of the religion's insistence on placing human sexuality on the banned list.

In spite of the public's perception of her as an "anti-Christian," Amos still believes in the potential of Christian belief to provide true spiritual guidance and growth to its followers.

"[Christianity] has got to own its dark side," she explained. "The only way you grow is if you say 'Hey, this is my past.' For 34 years I believed in this stuff, I did this stuff.

"I made 'Y Kant Tori Read,'" she continued, "but the main thing is that I grew so much from that experience. I think that the greatest thing that the Christians could do is say, 'We cut out sexuality, we made it a bad thing, and we divided the Marys.'

"We have to honor both of them," she added, "the Magdalene and the Mother Mary. The Mother Mary was a sexual being; she had children through sex. Mary Magdalene had great wisdom. She wasn't just the 'Whore of Babylon.'

"I think that if they could do that," she said, "they would realize that they made men feel guilty about having sexual desires and a penis. Because all the guys who could talk to God were supposedly celibate, although they were sleeping with everybody's little children.

"The thing that people have a hard time seeing is that they used the sword as their penetration weapon," she continued. "They kept conquering through the sword in the name of the Lord and all this just not to get a good shag."

Of course, her criticisms of mainstream religion and her belief in the Invisible World have created more than a few critics whose potshots have not gone unnoticed by this perceptive performer.

"You use a different mythic word and all of a sudden you have committed media suicide," she stated. "I know the media has to be cynical so they can convince everybody that their penis is bigger than everyone else's.

"It's a real natural way of looking at things," she concluded. "I've come to realize that some people don't see it that way. So all of a sudden you become the odd one. But I'm not the one who gets to write the article."

One subject which chafes Amos is Lilith Fair. She is often asked by journalists why she chooses not to be on the tour, even though she is, unofficially, the tour's inspiration.

"Probably 500 journalists have asked me why I'm not doing Lilith Fair," she said, "and it's obvious that I have a really successful tour of my own.

"I adore Sarah [McLachlan, Lilith Tour's creator]," she said. "She's come up with a genius idea, but I really want to do my own tour and that should be really simple to understand."

In spite of the connection between Amos and the many performers who might not even be playing today without her musical impact, she feels that there are too many stylistic differences between her and the music festival scene.

"A lot of people who are doing Lilith don't want to do their own tour or can't do their own tour," she explained. "My style is very theatrical, and I really can't do what I do in a festival setting. You go and you put up the Metallica sign and you go 'Let's rock!' But it's not the same as a theater piece, it's about vignettes."

Amos feels that many journalists are looking to create a spectacle about her non-involvement with Lilith Fair from subject matter which doesn't exist.

She says journalists are always trying to pry into her soul to find some sort of deep-seated conflict or resentment that the right question might uncover.

"I think the media are looking for a catfight and there isn't any," she said. "Nobody's asking Dave Matthews why he's not doing Ozzfest.

"I don't think women and music are going to take the next step if it's got to be a constant comparison," she said. "It's hard to be individuals when you're grouped together all the time, and it bugs me that there's so much comparison going on."

Tori Amos performs in Ames July 18 at Stephens auditorium on her "From the Choirgirl Hotel" tour.

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