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Aloha (the Netherlands)
[translated from Dutch]
The miscarriage has been faced, but Tori still floats on lonely heights
From Venus to Tori and back
Tori Amos lives in Cornwall England: the region of gnomes, King Arthur and other mysterious men. Along with Sylvie Simmons she drove to the coast and talked about her marriage, the sorrow of her miscarriage, her never ending battle with religion and her latest record To Venus and Back.
"This place has something special," Tori Amos says. "The country has so many secrets. The trees know things." We are in Cornwall, the most southern point of England. The residence of King Arthur used to be just a few miles ahead, and currently also Tori's. We sit on a cliff and stare at the sea. And the wind tries hard to blow us into her.
"It's strange oh, hello, how are you doin?" An old man, together with some other persons are (successfully) applying for little supporting acting roles in this Aloha interview, saunters along with his dog. The little white terrier stands still, holds his head tilting to one side, and looks with surprise at Tori, a bit provocative and with a mix of confidence and curiosity. Like the way Tori observes journalists
"Years ago," she continues while she points at a beach that lies hidden between the rocks, "I recorded the video clip for China down there, in that bay. When it became high tide, I almost sat with my ass in the water. I tried to avoid that, because it was January and it was freezing. And then I slipped and fell in the sea. At that time I didn't come here that often. I had no intention at all to live here."
Last year Tori married her English sound engineer Mark Hawley. That also wasn't planned. When the little Myra Ellen Amos grew up in Maryland, she swore that she would always be single. She happened to have a major crush on Robert Plant and was realistic enough to see that her chances with him were limited. But Mark stole her heart and she fell in love and married despite her earlier promise. They moved to Cornwall, a place that is known for her gnomes (the local mascots), pies (the famous local pies in the shape of a hippie-shoe, filled with cooked vegetables and a until further notice specified animal from meatloaf), Camelot (the local legend) and tourists (the local curse). Hawley wanted to live here because he came here when he was a kid with his parents and family on holidays. The newlywed couple bought a picturesque old English house, along a winding country road, complete with cats, a source, garden walls covered with climbing roses and a paved inner courtyard. The 300-year-old barn that also belonged to the property was rebuilt to a hypermodern recording studio, baptized as "Martian Engineering."
"It would make a much nicer article if I could tell you that I personally built it with hammers and nails. But to be honest, I was sunbathing in Florida," the singer laughs, who knows better than anyone how cold it can get in Cornwall in January. "I always have a packed suitcase in the hall, in case I have to leave all of a sudden. Well, as the matter a fact, it is never unpacked, I never unpack it, although I know that those clothes should be washed. I always give them to the dry-cleaners at the next place." The last time she left, she toured with Alanis Morissette through the United States ("There's a lot of mutual respect. She has this lovely dirty laugh; I really love it.") and she left her husband in the barn to put the last hand on her new album To Venus and Back.
She never intended to come with a successor of last year's From the Choirgirl Hotel. "The original idea was to release of live recording from the Choirgirl-tour, along with an album of b-sides plus one or two new bonus tracks. But when I started writing all the new songs just came all of sudden, very quickly. It was like a herpes attack." That resulted unexpected in a new studio album, combined with the earlier referred live recordings. "The live-cd was recorded without any overdubs, completely live in the stage. The songs as it were, selected themselves. We made a sort of competition out of it, like the struggle for the World Cup - they had to compete with each other to get in the finale."
Tori got this sudden attack of creativity by different reasons: the magic of Cornwall, the blessings of marriage, the Choirgirl band, she liked that much, that she wanted to make more music with them, the quietness and peace of the countryside and considerable amount of red wine. But the most important reason the urge to throw herself completely in the music, to deal with the loss of the miscarriage, which was the red line through her previous album.
"You don't have the necessities to deal with that sort of loss. I kept thinking, if I just could have popped a cork in it." Tori stares in the distance and looks so pitiful like a little girl that accidentally stepped out of a Victorian fairy tale. "I had so many questions, I raged at every possible God I could imagine, I scolded them all. But now, I can much more easily cope with it. I learned to live with it, I think. You have to. To perform live, night in night out, the songs from Choirgirl helped me to fit it back into my life."
"That album had everything to do with a quest for the primitive woman deep in me. At the time, I really felt as if I had failed. I didn't succeed in the most normal thing women do," Tori says. "Later, I started to realize that some women are good at having babies, and that there are others who fight better, tell better stories or write songs. I have a creative uterus that gives birth to songs. When I'm feeling bad I flee to the music. If I hadn't had my songs, I really don't know if I would be mentally sane - although some people already think I've lost it."
Another mysterious man passes, this time with a dog under his arm. Tori's look brightens up. The dog barks, the man concentrates his look forward and just passes through.
"You know what this environment reminds me of? The X-Files. You're just talking to someone who's born here and ask, 'Have you ever experienced something unusual here?' And then they say, 'Well, there happened once this really strange thing.' But in the next breath they ask, 'You think Arsenal is winning the cup?' That's why I take the people here so seriously. There is no frill around their stories. The mystic and the common go hand in hand." Has Tori, who dedicated her last album to the fairies, ever had a mystical experience? "When I'm driving here with you in a Land-rover, we might not meet some ghosts, but the place definitely has some mysticism. It may be intangible, but if you look with your ghost-eye, you will see. I would like to say to all the cynics who read this: everything you want to believe in is here if you want to believe it."
Tori, who claims to be Sven the Viking in one of her past lives, married Mark in a church built on a place in a small English village where pagan rituals used to take place. Her father, a Methodist minister, flew in from America with her half Indian mother to attend the ceremony. To say that Tori has an ambivalent vision on religion is euphemistic. That's because she was raised under the guidance of her grandparents, also ministers, in a fundamentalist cult. "Instead of following the usual baptism rituals of sprinkling a couple of drops of water on my head," Tori once said, "they held my head under water for thirteen God-forsaken years." It was this way that she met the dark side of Christianity. "With two minister grandparents and a father with the same profession, I became a rebel against all of that," Tori says. "That had been there, deep in my, as long as I can remember, in every cell of my body. Especially my grandmother was a very dangerous woman. My grandmother was considered by everyone to be holy, but did not have one good word for anybody. She found that you have to remain a virgin until your marriage. Then you grant your body to your husband and your soul to God. In fact, you've got nothing, nothing that is considered to be for yourself. She was the enemy and I knew that already when I was a child."
It's hardly surprising then, that God is regularly performing as a guest in Tori's songs. Her struggle with religion has lead to a whole new vision on it: "What makes me horny lately, is the thought of melting the two Marys - Mary Magdalene and Mary, the Holy Mother of God. I refuse to call her the Virgin Mary. The Christian Church has raised many questions by disowning Magdalene all the wisdoms and Mother Mary all her sexuality [something once referred to as the hot pussy versus holy being-dilemma]. Well, there will always remain things that I cannot change and don't want to change." Tori smiles and says, "And that is not good, nor bad."
Still, she likes to call her creativity a gift from God. It was in any case her father who gave her the push for her career: by the age of five, minister Edison Amos send her to the famous Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, to study classical piano. When she got kicked out, five years later, he took her to bars to play Gershwin for homosexual customers. "I knew very early that I would never become a classical pianist. I heard Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, and took him with me to let it play for my teachers. I said, 'That's it! This is it!' And they listened to it and said, 'No, this is not it at all! Take it back and go study Mozart.' And I said, 'No, no, no, you don't understand, this is Mozart if he had lived now. They are exactly the same.' And they said, 'No, they are not. Go back to that stool.' Since that day, it was war between us. From that moment on the enemy consisted of my grandmother and the people of the conservatory."
"My father always loved everything that had something to do with entertainment. When he was a little kid, he once ran away from home for three days. He hitchhiked some twenty miles to a movie theatre to see Gone With the Wind. And so he was beaten with the belt, because he stole a chicken from a farm to see Vivien Leigh."
Tori's father is now taking care of her daughter's copyrights. She's clearly very fond of her old man. "You know, sometimes I sit with my father on the fishing pier, with dangling legs above the water… We now have a much better relationship than we used to have, and I say, 'I know that you have dreamed of things that had nothing to do with the function of a minister.' And then he says, 'I have never had anything to complain about.' And then again I say, 'I know that you've never complained, but you actually wanted to become a scriptwriter, you wanted to go in the entertainment industry.' And he again, 'Well, I do your copyright business now, don't I?' And he's right, because he finally found something that he enjoys doing, so... I think he had a great deal of respect for the fact that I'm so dedicated to my music."
At home, in the parsonage, Tori cherished a secret obsession for John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. "I was totally freaked by Led Zeppelin. I wasn't allowed to have posters on the wall, because we didn't own the house and the walls had to stay clean. But all over those album covers were my sticky fingers." She imitated Pat Benatar in front of a mirror. Easy enough, you only need to swing with your hips. So she knew already some things when she went to Los Angeles to make her rock record Y Kant Tori Read.
It wasn't a big success, but then again, it was a very moderate album. She didn't lose her faith and went back to her piano to compose the songs that became the American double platinum album Little Earthquakes. "My diary," was the name she gave to the record. The following CD Under the Pink sold one and a half times that much. Not bad for something that Tori described as "an impressionist painting." Boys for Pele became the ordeal, while the next album From the Choirgirl Hotel - "my song-babies" - was a reaction to the biggest test in her life.
Her new album is all about passion. "About the power that flows from the passion," she explains. "Power that you can use for the best or the worse. Like the evil in the song Juarez, which deals with the monsters we turn into when our hearts are broken. It's about the murder of two hundred women in a small town at the border of Mexico. When I was touring through Texas, I was really near it, and the story grabbed me. I immediately wrote the song, on the bus. The song gives you a different look on the things I wrote years ago in Me and a Gun. But both songs are about the things you can do, when your heart thinks there is no other choice. There's a line in 1000 oceans: 'I've cried a thousand oceans and I would cry a thousand more / If that's what it takes to sail you home.' If you know you're capable of feeling that for somebody you know that the bodysnatchers don't have you yet."
According to her experiences throughout the years, dealt with in her songs, then passion wasn't that nice all the time for Tori. What again did she say in the period of Boys for Pele about the men in her life? "I realized that I sometimes crawled on my hands to the phone. That I humiliated myself. One moment I was signing a million dollar deal, the other moment I led me beat into the dirt by some fellow."
Are those thing left behind now when you got married? "I didn't used to know that passion could grow to friendship and love, she says after a long pause. I had the feeling that it might be possible, but I wasn't sure. I once wrote a song with the lines: I've got 50 hearts in 50 different drawers. Somebody can not welt these different parts, in all these different drawers. You are the only one that had to do it. In fact, I think that's reason I became a songwriter."
"Gee, I haven't thought about that song for a long time. You know, I probably use too much deodorant: my head starts to leak as a sieve. I don't believe that song ended up on one of the albums, did it? I will have to check it with the kids on the internet, perhaps they know what happened with that song. The thing I also learned was that something always can happen. The people in your life come and they go. Mark has lost his father this year and you know what the strange thing is? I found it very difficult to help him. Sometimes, there's just nothing to say. You can not just take away someone's pain." Tori stares pondering in the distance and then follows a mind-twister she's famous for. Inimitable, as the matter a fact completely incomprehensible, but at the same time you get the impressionist idea of what she had in mind: "To be the flame that warms the both of you, to be capable of loving someone that much I think that is the reason that this record finally became the Venus record. It's about all these aspects of the heart. Here, in the country, where you don't have those lights that distract you, I begin noticing the rise of that planet to the sky. And it seemed appropriate to make a trip to Venus, in this stage of my life, wherever it may be. You understand?"
The fact that she considers her songs as her children, makes that she guards them as if she was the mother. Her co-musicians also don't have to come near to the children and try to abuse them. "I work most of the time with men, whether you like it or not: most of the big musicians are men. They love their instrument and always want to jam. Most women can't jam, they don't have something like: The hell with everything, everybody can drop dead for five minutes, were gonna play Black Dog. Anyway, I love to tour with men, but once in a while my nails appear of a sudden. I then become some sort of a women-beast that wants to protect her song-children. And then I get really from these guys with their comments as: Are you having your period or something? And then I reply: No, if there is any blood in the picture, it's the blood that I scratch out of your throat. Because these songs are like living creatures for me."
By the way, not only for Tori. On the internet for example, there is an unhealthy doses of attention to the person Tori Amos and her songs. Fanatic American Tori fans appear to build out the whole internet with discussion forums on her lyrics and her references to food, sex, literature and so on.
"It turns out that there are people who have a much closer relation with the songs than I do. That's so strange," Tori says. "Some of them are explaining the songs in a way I never imagined, and that's needful. With others you get the feeling of: If I start thinking in that direction, I'm never gonna play that song again."
She moves aside to clear the way for the two men passing through. Surprise: they also have a dog with them. As the sun slowly goes down, she looks around her, searches the horizon with her eyes and says, "You know, space is a common good. Although I think the city has a certain richness of experiences. If you look long enough around you, there are always characters you can write about. But cities are also choking. Sooner, you will find the self-side of existence. When you are not packed on each other, like here, you have the space to think. In the city, someone trashed your idea through the toilet even before you have had the time to play with it."
"You know the children's tale about the Grinch who stole Christmas? How his heart turned 70 times the original size that same day? That is the same feeling I get with living here. And when I'm touring through the south of America where you are humming Deliverance, because you know uncle Billy is doing something really odd with little Tommy, I think of this place. And then you can deal with things for a while, in the knowledge that you always can come back here."
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the World of Tori Amos