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A Date with Tori Amos
She's a hunter who likes to bring home the meat, as long as she can wash it down with a good Bordeaux.
Interview by Bill Dunn
Photo by Dan Burn-Forti
The scene: a restaurant in Central London.
Tori Amos: The crab tom yum - its really fresh, the crab?
Waiter: Madame, ees tom yum soup - Thailand soup, you know?
Tori: I know.
Waiter: The crab ees always fresh. Ees very very good soup, but a little spicy.
Esquire: That was very LA conversation.
Tori: The thing about LA in the 80s was that people were doing blow and talking about their charity work at the same time, which I thought was accurate. Now the vegans are running the music industry. They have no-smoking laws, everyone's drug free, going to their AA meetings. They all need glasses. And a good Bordeaux.
SQ: I got as far as Santa Barbara and I was too scared to continue.
Tori: Wise move.
SQ: Even the waiters had stage make up.
Tori: I find it hard to get an honest answer in LA. They'll say the right thing, but they'll probably slit my throat within minutes of getting back to the office.
SQ: And that doesn't happen here?
Tori: There's a cynicism in London which can be exhausting. Everyone's so clever I can barely walk into it - it's too groovy for me.
SQ: You tread a fine line between being fairly popular...
Tori: Not with the Christians!
SQ: ... and exercising a fair bit of control.
Tori: Well, it seems to work.
SQ: In the US, even 'rebellious' artistes seem willing to compromise to get on.
Tori: When I performed "Precious Things" on the David Letterman show, I couldn't say "cum." The line was, "so you can make me cum that doesn't make you Jesus." They wanted me to sing, "just 'cause you can make me hum..." I said, "I'll give it a diphthong and you won't know what it is. I'll sing it as though I've got a dick in my mouth."
SQ: You've got to keep an eye on compromises or you eventually end up looking like a dickhead.
Tori: Or you wake up and your song has been used as a commercial. You have to be able to say, "If you do this, I will kidnap your children and burn down where daddy works."
SQ: So, which do you think would be worse - a planet populated solely by men, or by women? I mean, assuming sperm banks were around.
Tori: Well, we'd have an easier time of it. You'd have to figure out a way to get a womb... And who would breast feed? You guys would be too busy playing with your new breasts to feed the baby.
SQ: What? Breast fascination is a cliche - if a man's having a relationship with someone they're not that important.
Tori: Men who look for a body part - they're Neanderthal. Mind you, women can be shockingly graphic sometimes, even as they're looking in their Prada bags. There are conversations in the ladies room that men would blush at.
SQ: Well, you can be graphic too. How about the remix of "Professional Widow" ("it's got to be big")?
Tori: Well, the lyric is "Slag pit, stag shit. Honey bring it close to my lips. Don't blow those brains yet. It's got to be big." Could be anything - death, a body part. The remix concentrated on a line. Obviously that's a place where women can really strike, though. Women can really wound a guy in that way if they want to, and that remix could prey on man's worst fears.
SQ: Used any hallucinogens recently?
Tori: Not very recently. I have Datura in my garden, but my gardener told me that some people oversteep it in water and then it's poison and you die. I did a few 18-hour trips with a Shaman in the canyons in LA in the 80s. I'm glad I did it. And I'd do extasy journeys with women friends, Things are said that I couldn't have heard or have said over a cup of coffee.
SQ: And now?
Tori: Wine is a passion of mine - that's my hallucinogen now. There's this thing in the States, that if you love alcohol or hallucinogens then you're an addict. On one hand people take guns to school and blow up kids in classrooms, and on the other people are afraid to go home and have a nice bottle of wine, because they're afraid they'll be called alcoholics.
SQ: That's just fear isnt it? The people fear being out of control, and the government fears not being able to control people. It's what William Burroughs was getting at in "Junky."
Tori: America likes to control its people.
SQ: But as soon as someone tells you not to do something, you want to do it.
Tori: Yeah, my father could've saved himself from me dating a boy for an extra 2 years if he hadn't said that I couldn't see him. I wasn't head-over-heels in love with this guy: I liked him, but I liked him a lot more after that.
SQ: Perhaps we should encourage children to do the things we don't want them to do so they wont do them...
Tori: It's a chess game. I come from very strong women on both sides. My mother's great-grandmother was a full-blooded Cherokee, and my father's mother graduated from the University of Virginia in the early 20s and became a minister. I didn't get on with her at all. She'd have burnt the witches.
SQ: Do you think strong women tend to take on male attributes?
Tori: A lot of women do take on the patriarchy, which is really different from the feminine. But a lot of men can be really in touch with that (feminine) side, just really open.
SQ: But openness isn't solely a 'feminine' quality - it's just that more women exhibit it than men.
Tori: Yeah. I think some of these terms will shift. The word 'feminism' will shift because of its associations. It needs to change 'cause it's turning people off.
SQ: 'Feminist' still sounds like some hairy chinned woman wearing dungarees. Oh, fuck - you're wearing them! Sorry!
Tori: Yeah, but can you take over the Corporation in a flowered dress? Now it's not so much about image, having to act like a man, to take over the Corporation.
SQ: A lot of women have still taken on masculine roles.
Tori: Well, go back to the animal kingdom and the female lions are the ones who hunt for the meat. No boyfriend I've had would not want to make love to me because I'd lost my job. It's scary for men, though. If a man lost his job, that would turn some women off.
SQ: But you're not that kind of woman.
Tori: Yeah, but I'm a hunter. I have meat. I can feed my tribe.
Tori Amos' new album, To Venus And Back, is released 20 September on East West records.
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