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The Inside Connection (US)
Men, Women, and Tori Amos
A Strange Little Girl Indeed
by Lydia DeFretos
Tori Amos has just released her sixth album, Strange Little Girls, on Atlantic Records. Even for the provocative singer/songwriter/keyboardist, it is something of a departure.
All of the songs on the disc were written by men, but are performed here by Amos from the perspective of the diverse cast of female characters in the songs. Neil Young's "Heart of Gold," the first single, the Stranglers' "Strange Little Girl," Eminem's "97' Bonnie and Clyde," Depeche Mode's "Enjoy the Silence," Slayer's "Raining Blood," the Boomtown Rats' "I Don't Like Mondays," Lennon/McCartney's "Happiness is a Warm Gun" and others are taken apart and put back together darkly, gently and in an uncompromising fashion.
In crafting the new album, Amos wanted to talk about men--how men see women, how men see themselves, and how the view changes depending on where you are standing. She also wanted to talk about violence and identity. She turned to the words of the men themselves to do it. "I have always found it fascinating how men say things and women hear them," she says during an exclusive interview at the New York offices of her label.
As Amos explains, "Each woman approached me and said, 'I have a point of view on this song that you may want to know, that may change how you hear its meaning.'" To reinforce the identity and reflect the essence of each woman, noted photographer Thomas Schenk has photographed Amos in the character of each of these strikingly different, equally captivating personalities. A composite of four of these women makes up the cover of the album.
Amos did this disc to expose what she has described as "music's pervasive misogyny." She further explains how the underlying tone of the recent record is really about the ongoing gender war. "I've been listening to some pretty astute women and even some men--like Robert Johnson, the Jungian, whose books are a huge influence on me," she says. "Some of the women that I have been speaking with and listening to have said that the gender war is a very real thing. If we pull back and look at it, it is also within right now. A lot of men are incredibly petrified of their feminine side."
One of the many highlights on the album is Joe Jackson's "Real Men," from Night and Day. "Doing that song brought up a lot of questions in me," Amos elaborates. "In the past, what have I considered a powerful man? The word 'power' has to be redefined for me. It has really started to shift since I became a mother. The definition of a powerful man now is someone that I would leave my daughter with and be able to turn my back on for a minute. And there are men that I know that I would not leave her with. Not because they are child molestors. It is just that they are not psychically safe."
Although she knew she wanted to do this particular kind of concept album, she initially had a hard time finding her way into this project. "With my own songs I have the key to get in the door, I have the DNA, it is going to match up," she says. "With these I clearly did not have it. I could not find it at first."
"Happiness is a Warm Gun" had been "circling around" Amos for a long time. The male musicians that she worked with while making the album found out additional information about this specific tune that proved helpful. First, they discovered that Lennon had seen an ad for guns years before that upset him, never knowing that one would ultimately kill him.
What also came to light was the fact that in the early morning hours of the same day that Mark David Chapman killed Lennon, he phoned for a call girl. The service that he asked her to perform proved to be Amos' entry point into the album. "He asked her to just be silent as his psyche was exploding and detonating," she says. "That took me to 'Enjoy the Silence,' but it took me back to a further bloodline, which was 'Silent All These Years.' I immediately had my entry point. I thought of 'Happiness is a Warm Gun' as the call girl on the record."
"Happiness is a Warm Gun" and "I Don't Like Mondays" both focus on guns, and in the case of the latter song, school shootings, which are becoming more commonplace. "There is no question that kids are killing each other," Amos says. "But there are actually two bigger questions. One is access. In some states you can get a gun easier than you can get a driver's license. That is what has to be looked at. I do not believe that we should not have the right to bear arms. That is what the whole Second Amendment is about. But it is just to the point where what is it going to take, the blood of the children of the guys in the gun lobby? That will happen. It is just mathematics."
Amos, who has never shied away from controversy or confrontation of any sort, is still actively involved in RAINN, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Netword she founded in 1994. These days she feels her contribution to the cause is as a spokesperson, someone to "keep the awareness up out there, to let people know that RAINN does exist." She stresses the fact that, as a former rape victim herself, one can "move from victim consciousness to healing consciousness." But, as she quickly adds, "You have to walk the walk, and it is a walk."
"There are defining moments where someone will say something, you are having a conversation and light does come through the wall. You can see the light and it is a tangible thing. As you are healing from any kind of an invasion, you do not want to be invaded again. I do find a lot of people -- sometimes in their walk to try and claim slices of themselves -- that they run into different groups or whatever that almost assault them again. For the people out there who have not done the work themselves it can all become a little bit of a muddle of the blind leading the blind." In her own life Amos made the choice to get help. Over the years she had "some pretty extensive therapy" in order to help her heal. She believes it has made a huge difference in the way she sees herself.
Just the way that Tori Amos' music and message continue to have a profound impact on her fans all around the world.
[transcribed by jason/yessaid]
t o r i p h o r i a
the World of Tori Amos