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The Times-Picayune (US)
New Orleans, Louisiana
Friday, October 9, 1998

Tori Amos brings her "Plugged" tour to the UNO Lakefront Arena on Saturday

By Keith Spera
Music writer

As Tori Amos approached her wedding day last February, she drew on one woman in particular for inspiration: The late Jacqueline Onassis.

"She had a kind of grace and inner strength that few people have," Amos said during a phone interview this week. "More than anything, it was her sense of grace, which I didn't think I would have as I was coming nearer to my wedding day. A part of me really wanted to do it; another part of me could see myself in flashback to my whole life having said I would never do it, because I would never go in front of church and state and do such a thing. In the end, it didn't become about that; it became about, 'this is somebody that I love.'"

Writing "Jackie's Strength," which appears on the pianist and songwriter's recent "From the Choirgirl Hotel" CD, helped her make it through the day.

"A part of me could see myself in this wedding dress sitting at 7-Eleven on the curb, having a Slurpee and missing the whole thing," Amos said. "Not because I wanted to, but just because I'm still frozen in a piece of film somewhere when I was 18 and that was my outlook on life. So 'Jackie's Strength' was written about the girl that went to the 7-Eleven; I went and got married.

"It's a pretty sacred day, and yet it can go so horribly wrong. Mine went right, but I think because I wrote the song. I let my alter ego go exist and live and be (in the song), so she didn't have to do it in front of everybody else. That's where songs come in handy: You don't pretend that this side doesn't exist, so it doesn't have to become so vulgar, in 3-D."

Throughout her career, Amos has written and sung about major, often cataclysmic events in her life. She has chronicled being raped as a young woman, most harrowingly in "Me and a Gun," from her 1991 debut Tori Amos "Little Earthquakes." Some of "Choirgirl Hotel" was a reaction to her miscarriage following the conclusion of her last tour. In "Spark," Amos sings, "She's convinced she could hold back a glacier, but she couldn't keep Baby alive," speaking directly to the dichotomy of Amos the performer and star and Amos the human being.

"As a woman, probably the most natural thing to do is to go give birth," Amos said. "That's what's ingrained in you. Then you realize that sometimes life is a bit more fragile than that, and that it isn't always so simple. There are things that I've been able to accomplish as a woman that I didn't know I would be able to, but I have. And yet the thing that is so much a part of you, just because of your physicality, was totally out of my control. There was nothing I could do to turn that (miscarriage) around."

Such raw, autobiographical sentiments are in large part why her fans identify and sympathize with her so adamantly. "I think everything serves as a source for me, and everybody knows that. If you walk into my sphere, I'm probably clocking you. I don't hide that fact. To really be a songwriter, you have to be an observer. And sometimes you have to also observe yourself."

In keeping with that philosophy, she is a Method actor when it comes to her album artwork. The muted, otherworldly images that decorate "From the Choirgirl Hotel" were made with a special color photocopier, one that could make full-body copies. Because synthesizers and others machines played such a large role in the making of "From the Choirgirl Hotel," "I felt like there had to be some kind of contact with the machine world visually," Amos said. "So I laid down on these photocopiers, and you can't move for seven minutes. It captures every movement you make; you basically have to have a relationship with a machine. Your lips and body are pressed up against the machine."

Did she gain any insights from the experience? "Having to not move for seven minutes, and being stuck to Plexiglas, is a whole different thing than meditating. Not that I'm a big meditator, but it's a whole different thing. Your eyes are open, and the flashes are going by; you really understand that this machine is alive, and you're trying to have a conversation with it, and it's completely interrogating you."

On past tours, Amos performed alone with her piano or with a lone guitarist who supplied atmospherics. For her "Plugged" tour, which stops at the UNO Lakefront Arena on Saturday, she is accompanied by a full band. The rhythmic nature of the songs on "From the Choirgirl Hotel" necessitated that..

"This record was built around rhythm," Amos said. "Knowing that this was how we built the record, I knew that the new songs were inseparable from the rhythm, from this primal feeling. And then other songs from other records started to step up and say, 'I want that, too.'"

Amos still performs some older songs alone with her piano, but many others -- "Horses," "The Waitress," "Bells For Her" -- are fleshed out by the band. She is so pleased with the results that she plans for her next release to be a live album drawn from the current tour. Apparently, having other players onstage has not hindered her ability to convey very personal emotions and experiences.

"They know what I'm doing," Amos said. "If we didn't get along as people, it would be hard. But they're pretty sensitive to that. And their playing is underscoring what the piece is about. They know what these songs are about."


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