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Knoxville News-Sentinel (US)
Friday, August 14, 1998

Tori Amos remains true to herself

By Wayne Bledsoe, News-Sentinel entertainment writer

Tori Amos' press kit is as big as a book.

Just about every entertainment magazine has spent days with the singer-songwriter, digging out the details of her childhood, checking out her flopped first career as a rocker, her recent marriage to sound engineer Mark Hawley, and expounding on her spiritual beliefs.

"Don't believe most of it," says a yawning Amos in a phone call from a soundcheck at an Albany, N.Y., venue.

The 34-year-old Amos has been called everything from a "24-karat fruit loop" to "the Anne Rice of rock." Her penchant for provocative statements catches eyes and raises ire on a regular basis.

"If I spend three days with a journalist and I read something I go 'That isn't the three days I remember,'" says Amos. "It becomes very sensational. Say we talked about many, many things for hours. We might talk about spirituality for 30 minutes and if they ask me about 'Do I believe in a spiritual world that isn't in the physical body?' Well, of course, I was brought up with that. My grandfather was part Cherokee. Of course I believe in the spiritual world and that's the end of it. It's very basic. It's like putting ketchup on your fries -- How you believe."

Amos was born in North Carolina and grew up in Maryland. Her father, Edison Amos, is a Methodist minister. But it was Amos' homemaker mother, the Chattanooga-born Mary Ellen Amos, who probably stirred Amos' interest in writing.

"She had a library and every night she would pull out a book from her library and read to me," says Amos.

And, it wasn't just "Curious George" that came off the bookshelf. Among the authors on the nightly list were Dickens, Poe, Hemingway and even Faulkner.

There's no doubt that Myra Ellen Amos (Tori's given name) was precocious. At 5, she was the youngest student admitted to Baltimore's Peabody Conservatory. With her precociousness, though, came a fiery independence. At 11, she was expelled from Peabody Conservatory for "musical insubordination." Amos wanted to work on her own compositions, instead of the classical program.

Amos' free-thinking was also an affront to some members of her family. Early on, her views went against those of her conservative home.

"My father was a real follower of Billy Graham," says Amos. "He was a Bible-to-the-morning-noon-and-night kind of guy. Very Victorian. So was his mother. She was an ordained minister, as was his father. They believed that you would get married and turn your body over to your husband and turn your soul over to God. And that's what you did. The passionate side of woman, the Mary Magdalene, that never came into play. That didn't exist."

Oddly, Amos refers to it as "the dark side" of womanhood.

"In Christian households this is the dark side," says Amos. "A woman aligned with her spirituality and her sexuality was a very threatening thing. It was choose one or the other. So my whole life has really been about integrating those."

The subject has become a favorite topic in her writing.

Regardless that Amos' father may have had views opposite to those of his daughter, the Rev. Amos did drive his daughter to performances at bars during the girl's adolescence -- including gay bars. And, she says, in the past few years her father has become a liberal.

At 21, Tori moved to Los Angeles in search of a career in music. She had taken the name "Tori" after a friend had said, she looked "like a Tori."

In the late '80s, Amos formed the hard rock group Y Kant Tori Read, signed with Atlantic Records and released one album.

The disc stiffed and Amos returned to playing the piano at bars.

Yet, Atlantic remained interested in Amos. In 1991, the label released Amos' solo album "Little Earthquakes" -- a disc that helped usher in a new era of female singer-songwriters. Amos has followed with "Under the Pink," "Boys for Pele" and 1998's "From the Choirgirl Hotel."

While Amos' work has been filled with personal revelations (including accounts of a rape and her recent miscarriage), not all of her songs are specifically about her.

"I see that my life is woven into the music," says Amos. "I do think as a writer there is so much of you in everything anyway . . . So I do think that a writer can't really remove him or herself from the work. But a lot of different characters pass through my work."

While Amos says she doesn't worry about how her songs are interpreted by fans and critics, she does seem irritated over articles that make light of her spiritual interests and beliefs.

"It does really dilute it into some kind of Tinkerbell belief system," says Amos. She says that the fairies and other Celtic creatures that she's often quoted about are right in line with elements of more recognized religions.

"It's no different than animal medicine to the Native Americans, or angels to the Christians, or demons to the Christians," says Amos. "I think when I'm having these conversations, the mythology gets urinated on and I have a problem with that . . . I have a lot of respect for what this mythology means to those people (in the British Isles), so yes, those things put in a white-bread sort of context takes the history away from it."

Amos is very aware that her image is that she's a sort of space cadet.

"And I am aware of that and I know that it takes away from the power of the performances," says Amos. "It takes away from the strength. Look, if I read some of this stuff I wouldn't have a drink with me. But I'm aware of what they're doing. It is sensational and it does make you not take me or the work seriously. Believe me, I've clocked it. I get it. But I can't control it."

" . . . I'm really a nuts-and-bolts kind of girl -- one that likes to have a margarita and hang out with my crew."

GRAPHIC: Tori Amos says you can't believe many things you read about her.

Copyright 1998 Knoxville News-Sentinel Co.

Interview conducted on August 5, 1998.


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