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Tori Amos talks to James McNair
How did you choose the tracks?
"I got a laboratory of guys together to nominate songs that had meant something to them. I wanted to explore how women hear what men say, but I needed to hear how a man heard it first. The obvious one is '97 Bonnie & Clyde. Some of the men in my laboratory didn't want to turn over that stone, but one very intelligent guy said he had empathy for the character in '97 Bonnie & Clyde because of what the bitch had put him through. I said, 'So you know that she's a bitch, then? You're sure about that?' Nobody was intrigued to hear her side of things. But when she [the victim in Eminem's song] took me to one side, what she heard was that her daughter was being made an accomplice in her murder?"
Do you await Eminem's reaction?
"Absolutely not. I don't wait for any of their reactions. To me, these male songwriters are the parents of these strange little song children, and I'm having a relationship with their daughters, not them. The intriguing thing is that the song can contain all that, and Eminem created the opportunity for the little girl in the song to have a voice. I've acknowledged that all these men are great wordsmiths, but words can wound and words can heal."
Did you record other songs which didn't make the album?
"David Bowie's After All, and a version of Iggy Pop's Sick of You which is just vocal and harpsichord. I might use them as B-sides."
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'Last Night A Record Changed My Life'
Zep, the flesh and the devil
From lemon candy to kitten heels, how Led Zeppelin helped Tori Amos to love her kundalini
I first heard Led Zeppelin II when I was eight or nine. My dad had the pastor's house next to the Good Shepard United Methodist Church. This was in Silver Spring, Maryland. I was downstairs in the rec room‚ television, record-player, shag-pile rug. My friend Linda Yon had lent me the album, and when I put it on my whole body started shaking. Initially, it was Robert's voice. I knew I needed it in my life, and quick.
Up until then, I'd never understood what the men in my father's church were trying to keep me away from. I didn't get why they'd want to shield me from The Beatles or even the Stones, but as a little girl going into adolescence, I knew exactly why they wanted to keep me away from this record. Moral judgments was very much a part of my surroundings ‚ and with Zeppelin, The Word was made flesh.
There were always cute boys in church, and we'd go up into the steeple, smoke pot and play Spin The Bottle. With Zeppelin, though, there was more life below the navel and my femininity was awakened. Words and concepts get thrown around, but you don't necessarily understand until Oreo cookies starts happening in your own Wrangler jeans.
I'd been playing piano since I was tow-and-a-half, but now I realized the importance of passion. John Bonham! Man, that guy could fuck to a metronome. The Beatles and Joni Mitchell had already taught me about structure and shape, but Zeppelin were evoking God knows what. And as much as Robert (Plant) might like to think he was in league with Valhalla, I'm convinced it was The Goddess who inhabited him. There was a Pacific Island goddess who would expose her internal parts in order to shatter this 'shame of the body' thing, and Robert could contain a woman like that. Yes, there was no question that he could penetrate, but he was also awaking the kundalini.
Some of the men whose songs I've done on my new record are known for their misogyny, but to me, Zeppelin were never like that.
Even at 10, I knew that I wanted to share peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with Robert. I was gonna make 'em and take 'em and play some piano so we could do some songs together. Have I met him since? Oh, yeah. He's a wonderful mentor and he always seems to turn up at my shows.
Then there's the melodic side of the album ‚ the Jimmy of it. I didn't want to steal from other piano-players, so I studied guitarists like Jimmy instead. I'd take his riffs to the piano and try to jam with him. Later on, Zeppelin as a whole influenced my sense of melody. (She sings a phrase from Led Zeppelin IV's Going To California, whereupon MOJO suggests Tori's Tear In Your Hand sounds a little similar.) Does it? Well, that's good. It's not a rip, though, it's a variation. Zeppelin are embedded in my cell structure, so it had to come out somewhere.
One of the first things that drew me to the album was the song titles. With The Lemon Song, I didn't understand the sexual innuendo. I was just thinking lemon-drop candy. I do remember that when I was 13, a junior high school friend filled me in on what it was really about. At first I thought, I don't really want to know this, but I turned it around in about five minutes.
Other tracks? Well, Thank You is a wonderful song. I covered it a while back. I think Robert wrote it for his partner, and I remember thinking, I wish I could write something like that. My favorite has to be Whole Lotta Love, though. When I first met my husband (recording engineer Mark Hawley), that song took on a new significance. Suddenly it was Oreo cookies again. Whole Lotta Love is an aphrodisiac, and it makes you want to put on your kitten-heel boots.
In my later teens, I went off the album for a little while, but it was just a phase. It's become a part of me, so I don't ever feel segregated from it. Even now, I can go and find that little girl I was when I first heard the record. And now that I'm starting to deal with my various nieces' musical awakenings, that could be useful."
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