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Rollingstone.com (US, www)
October 4, 2001
Strange Little Tori
By Adam Falik
Tori Amos has put a lot of thought into this. Her new album, Strange Little Girls, is an album of covers: twelve songs, all written by men, spanning thirty years of rock history. The oeuvre of male songwriters covered is diverse. From Eminem to Lou Reed; from Slayer to Joe Jackson. But Amos goes further than just covering the songs. Each are "told" by a diverse cast of female personalities, each with a particular perspective into the lyrics and mood of the song. In Eminem's "'97 Bonnie & Clyde," for instance, the point of view is from a murdered mother listening to her husband make an accomplice of their daughter. There are harrowing stories here. The album itself provides the songs. The CD liner-notes provides the pictures of the thirteen women (there are twins for "Heart of Gold") that Amos created. What only an interview, Amos' unaccompanied voice, provides, is the deeply constructed method by which these characters were created.
Why was it important for you to create characters for each of these songs?
As I started to get deeper and deeper into the project I started meeting these women. Are they the anima of the writers, I don't know. Are they the girls themselves personified? Not in all cases. Each woman has a very different relationship to her song. Some women are implied, some women are clearly there, written into the song by the male writer. And some, like in "Time," Death, the essence if Death, who was a woman in white, just waltzed into the room. There was no way of me getting around this essence. Part of it might have been because the man who brought that song forth had just experienced the death of his best friend in the whole world. That was kind of a subtext of what was happening when I heard the song. And then the character appeared as Death herself.
So there was no conscious intention in creating the characters? They came to you on a subconscious level?
There's many paths up the mountains, you know, there is the double-black-diamond run, as well as the green run and the blue run. Yes, there is a song [each] written by a different man that spans thirty years. For just one woman to sing this, and I didn't feel like it was just me as Tori walking in and singing this, I felt as if I were being taken over, sometimes by these archetypes, these personified beings. I don't know what to call them really. The anima stepping in to flesh. I don't know exactly if they're all of the above or different for each song. But I did know that as I began to deconstruct each male song, a different woman seemed to have access to me. There was a trade, there was an exchange. If I were going to take this on board and deconstruct it, and get into these men and hang in their heads, then a woman had access to me, and that really surprised me.
Has this ever happened in your own music, or was it something in the nature of re-creating someone else's song?
I think because I'm not the songwriter here, as a composer, the writing will probably show itself somewhere. When they're my songs, when they're my girls, the girls themselves are the characters. Like Leather is definitely a being that comes to visit me on stage. I know when her presence has shown up in Chicago and her presence says 'I'm here, smell me, taste me I'm going to be on this stage with you tonight.' There's some that are more subtle, but my songs themselves are personified. Because these are not my songs I'm not the mother of them. So the characters I guess were my way of taking an existing metaphor that I have in my work and applying it, but in a different way.
What particular songs are resonating now for you?
For me, in my life, "Rattlesnakes" had never been a touchstone when it came out. I remember hearing it when it came out, but that song has just become this knowing look into a woman's life. This man was able to write something that had a knowing of a woman, that sometimes I haven't even been able to capture myself as a woman songwriter. But others are having a real impact on me. I said in an article a couple of months ago that "Raining Blood" was not about Satan for me when I first heard it. It was really about seeing this big vagina in the sky raining over Afghanistan, and this was before all this madness on September 11th. This was knowing that the reports in The Guardian, the paper in England, were talking about some of the atrocities that happened to the women, all over the world. So I saw "Raining Blood" as something that has been shamed within us, which is the blood. And as we know it's the blood that doesn't come from violence, it's blood that bleed for purifying and healing, and I really saw it as a very different call than for Satan.
I remember Jimmy Scott said there wasn't any song that he couldn't cover. Do you feel that way now?
Oh no. Very dangerous thing. You have to know when you don't have it. I mean "Happiness is a Warm Gun" is very much this Frank Zappa-inspired, nine-minute sort of a back-drop for the Second Amendment argument, a song written by a man who was later killed by a gun. It was just something that I thought needed to be talked about especially after the San Diego shooting happened earlier this spring. And there's a thread between "I Don't Like Mondays" and "Happiness is a Warm Gun." There are many songs however that I looked at that I just couldn't contain, couldn't hold, couldn't find my way in.
Have you heard from any of the artists whose songs you've covered?
Well, Slayer sent T-shirts, which was really appreciated by the crew, and they sent a small one so that there's no way of me getting out of wearing one. Other artists have sent messages. I did not choose to court their response because that's not what this was about. My loyalty was to their song-children. I call my songs "the girls," so these were strange ones. I see them as girls, as women/girls, and my relationship was with these male mother's daughters, not with them. I had to be very clear as to what my loyalty was and my loyalty was to a premise, and the secretes and the shadows that the songs held.
Did you receive any objections?
Not at this time, I haven't. But it's early.
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