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Buffalo News (US)
Buffalo, New York
Sunday, August 29, 1999

FAMOUS AMOS;
TORI ON MYTHS, MUSIC AND ALANIS MORISSETTE


By Nicole Peradotto; News Staff Reporter

"I was very much Demeter last night...."

Tori Amos is on the phone.

It's the morning of her 36th birthday, and she celebrated with a mug of green tea and a call to a 70-year-old friend who revealed that she last cried about age when she turned 30...

But back to Amos' ancient incarnation.

Ah, yes. Demeter:

Greek mythology's mother earth, whose daughter was spirited to the underworld, causing the matriarch to unleash a drought the likes of which make the summer of '99 seem lush by comparison.

So Tori Amos morphed into Demeter while playing Atlanta. So Tori Amos is never alone. What of it? At some gigs, Demeter's daughter, Persephone, consumes her. Depending on the city, the sunset and the frequencies in the land the Celtic fairy queen Mab may channel through for a ditty or two.

These are welcome additions to her inner pantheon, particularly considering some of Amos' earlier embodiments. Before finding her voice, she fronted a spandex 'n' big hair band, crooned "Feelings" as a lounge lizard and -- given her misfit appeal, weirdest of all -- reigned as prom queen.

But get this. The adventures of Amos and her beloved Bosendorfer turn trippier still. For the first time on a tour, the platinum-selling pianist is sharing a bill.

With no less a mainstream-radio monarch than Alanis Morissette.

Named "5 1/2 Weeks" -- "Tori is from Venus, Alanis is from Nickelodeon" apparently didn't make the cut -- the tour hits Darien Lake Sept. 3.

"She's got a naughty giggle, and I love that in someone," Amos says of her co-headliner.

"The thing you really have to understand about her is that she had no idea that when she wrote that record" -- Amos refers to Morissette's 28-million-copy-selling debut -- "that it was going to become something everyone has in their home, sort of like cable.

"But then what happens when everyone gets cable is that, just because you're used to cable, it doesn't mean there isn't more to discover. She never has to work again, do you know what I mean? But she's out here because she wants to exchange with people."


Though both singers have staked their claim on womanly woe, you wouldn't mistake one's diary entry for the other's. A former cast member of Nickelodeon's "You Can't Do That on Television," Morissette swallows her jagged little pill dry, purging her angst and leaving no verse to guesswork.

A classical piano prodigy, the former Myra Ellen Amos treads over the little earthquakes of her personal life, letting the most intimate revelations bubble up through her mystical, tangential lyrics.

If Morissette has become as ubiquitous as cable, then Amos is pop music's ham radio: worshiped by a fervent cult; a little oddball for the masses.

"I think years ago, when I was about 8, I cared about (celebrity)," Amos says.

"I think you really learn when you start to make a choice: Why am I doing this?

"There is a tradition of musicians committed to being pioneers, and you know if you're doing that or not.

"Can people walk away with their spirits moved by the music? That's why you do it. That's why you serve the muse.

"And sometimes you don't serve the muse. Sometimes you're a bit of a hooker, and you do a bit of both, and you have a hangover in the morning."


Devoted fans

Known alternately as Toriphiles or Ears With Feet, Amos' followers spend hours on the Internet decoding her every syllable, discoursing on her favorite wines -- heck, they even know what house her moon is in.

"She's one of the few artists we always plan on doing midnight sales of a new album because her fans are just so devoted to her," notices Marty Boratin of New World Records.

"The Tori Amos fans are always going to go out and buy the 7-inch if we have it. They'll buy anything they can."

Toriphiles may have elevated Amos to goddess status, but they relate to her mortal yearnings and earthbound experiences.

You wanna talk intimate?

In "Icicle" she reflects back to sexually experimenting upstairs while her Methodist minister father read from the good book downstairs.

"Spark" touches on the trauma of miscarrying the baby she was carrying by her then-boyfriend -- now husband -- Mark Hawley.

"She's convinced she could hold back a glacier/but she couldn't keep Baby alive."

Fans have reacted passionately to one of Amos' most straightforward songs, "Me and a Gun," an a cappella recount of being raped. Its 1991 release triggered a torrent of letters from women detailing their own sexual assaults. In turn, that propelled Amos to found RAINN -- the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network -- which connects victims to rape crisis counseling centers in their area.

Eight years later, the mail hasn't stopped.

"I read a letter before (the Atlanta) show that blew my mind," Amos nearly whispers.

"A young girl was playing at a neighbor's and the family was staunchly religious. I won't name the religious group 'cause I'm not here to attack any religious group. But for two years, she allowed herself -- and she blames herself constantly -- to be continuously 'purified' was the word used -sexually molested by two of the men, the older brother and a friend."

When she heard about the sexual assaults at Woodstock, Amos was mixing her fifth CD, "to venus and back," scheduled for a Sept. 21 release.

"You have to look at the time you're in," she says of the festival.

"This is not 1969, and there's a lot of hate music out there.

"How can you have the summer of love with hate music? This is simple mathematics, duh."


But enough about Woodstock.

Out of nowhere, she launches into the chorus of a song by resident "Friends" kook, Phoebe.

"Smelly cat, Smelly cat . . ."

Ecstasy on the bench

Amos plays piano like no one else. And we're not talking technique.

When her hips writhe and her head falls back, when she shakes those bottle-fed red tresses and ushers forth a low moan from those fully glossed lips, you'd think her piano bench was equipped with magic fingers.

Has Demeter left the building?

Is Eros is in the house?

"What people misread is that it's about fornicating," Amos says.

"For me there has to be a place where the emotional, mental, physical and spiritual are in direct communicado with me. There has to be a sonic shake that's happening -- almost sonic architecture.

"When you perform live,"
she adds, "you must surrender to the muse and yet be able to contain it at the same time."

So the muse makes her do it. She declined to join the Lilith lineup for other reasons.

"You don't share a bill with Lilith. Sarah (McLachlan) is a good acquaintance, but you don't bring your own production to Lilith.

"We are on two separate pirate ships that are going into a cove together. It's like the European festivals I did. I enjoyed them, but I couldn't do my own thing. And at the time (of Lilith) I was developing with my band.

"If you go and do Lilith, you must be respectful that this is a Sarah production, and if you're not, you're being tacky.

"And I can be tacky."


Perhaps. Veteran music writer Alan Cross sees her current tour marriage with Morissette as anything but. "My guess is that this is their counterattack against Lilith Fair," speculates Cross, host of CFNY's "The Ongoing History of New Music."

"On paper, it looks interesting: (Warner Brothers') two most powerful female solo performers on one bill for one price. What's more, it's a 'you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours' kind of thing: Tori's new album may be of interest to Alanis fans. Tori fans might help jump-start sales of the Alanis album."

"Most of (Amos') albums break the million mark, although that still leaves her well shy of any sales figures that Sarah McLachlan generates," Cross adds. "Sarah has had a series of format-crossing hit singles while Tori has not."

Imagine Tori Amos crossing over -- Tori Amos on Q102, home to all the cornflake girls.

Stranger things have happened. She did, remember, tease her hair and shred her jeans during her first foray into pop music.

Among the least surprising events in Amos' career: Spin magazine recently ranked "Little Earthquakes" among its "90 Greatest Albums of the '90s" list, at 31. She earned four Grammy nominations but has yet to win a phonograph statuette.

Now, granted, Tori Amos is known to digress when answering questions. She peppers her speech with so many Ancient World figures and so much New Age lingo that interviewers who think kundalini is a pasta noodle should consider themselves forewarned.

On this subject, however, she responds directly -- without pause, even.

"Milli Vanilli won a Grammy."


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