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Dallas Morning News (US)
November 2, 2001

Tori Amos dresses up to personify the women men sing about

By Thor Christensen

Like any good sociologist, Tori Amos knows that you have to do your research before you conduct an experiment.

So before recording Strange Little Girls -- her feminist take on 12 songs originally sung by men -- she set out to discover what men thought of the tunes, which range from 10cc's "I'm Not in Love" to Eminem's grisly " '97 Bonnie & Clyde."

"Perspective is powerful -- it's what drew me to this project," the singer-pianist says, calling from the Detroit stop of a tour that arrives Saturday night at the Bronco Bowl Theatre.

"So I put together a little group I fondly call the Laboratory of Men, who were from different backgrounds and different sexualities, so I could see what the songs meant to them."

In some cases, she learned that if women are from Venus, then men are from some black hole a million light-years away. That's what she discovered with "Heart of Gold," Neil Young's 1972 hit about searching for the perfect woman.

"The guys described what that woman would be like by saying, 'I need a woman who understands I'm a player, that I need to be with other women.' And I'm like, 'That's your definition of a heart of gold? No, that's a woman who's gonna put up with your bull ... [expletive].'"

But the song that really made Ms. Amos cringe was "'97 Bonnie & Clyde," Eminem's tale of a psychopath who murders his ex-wife, then tosses her corpse into a lake as their young child watches.

"Some of the men had empathy for him and said, 'Look, you know she pushed him too far,' " she says. "The men said many different things about the song, but the one thing they never said is, 'What do you think ... [the ex-wife] is like? What do you think she went through?'

"With a film like the one where Michael Douglas tries to murder his wife [A Perfect Murder], you got to know Gwyneth Paltrow's character. But with a song, the songwriter chooses one point of view and doesn't give you character development.

"And that was what my research was showing: She was nameless and faceless and didn't really resonate with people. So the song was irresistible -- I had to give her a voice."

It isn't the first time the 38-year-old singer has sung about violence against women. She wrote the autobiographical 1991 song "Me and a Gun" about being raped at gunpoint.

Ms. Amos says giving birth last year to her first child, Natasha, has only strengthened her resolve to keep exploring the gender politics.

"If you asked me in 1992 if we'd be in a place where there was this kind of heterosexual rage against 'bitches' and 'faggots,' I'd have said, 'Are you kidding? We're never going to that place again. No way,' " she says.

"But as I was nursing my daughter and looking at her, I was hearing all this right-wing philosophy and this malice men have against women, this need for subservience. Just go to the mall and you see some of these 1950s roles being played out by young ... [men]. Jesse Helms is alive and well and tattooed and pierced."

Yet Ms. Amos is quick to explain that domineering men weren't the only impetus for Strange Little Girls. She recorded Joe Jackson's 1982 song "Real Men" partly as a statement about women who choose to be subservient.

"I liked the idea of a woman's voice singing, 'We wonder where the real men are,' because that question keeps coming up: 'What is a powerful man?' " she says. "I was surprised to find women who were turned on by the thought of being subservient, women who said, 'I think being dominated can be really sexy.'

"After hearing that, I just had to sit down and take an anti-inflammatory and start being a sonic archaeologist."


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