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Rocky Mountain News (US)
Denver, Colorado, newspaper
November 5, 2001

'Men's songs' get the Tori Amos treatment

By Mark Brown, News Popular Music Critic

Fans and critics were surprised. Here's ultra-feminist Tori Amos with an album of songs that put women down, keep them subdued -- even songs that kill them.

"As per normal, everything is getting misinterpreted and everything is getting understood," Amos says, happy with the contradiction. "I try and put out work that creates thought and discussion. Hopefully, I do my research."

And StrangeLittleGirls is well-researched. Amos, curious about the rise of sexual rage in music she's been hearing, had a mission. She'd take songs, written by people as diverse as The Beatles and Eminem, that address women from a man's standpoint and turn them inside out.

It's an odd approach for a woman who'd always written her own songs, songs such as Cornflake Girl and God that have garnered her a strong following among women and men -- witness tonight's instantly sold-out show at the Paramount Theatre.

But to address the rage she was hearing, she had to understand it. "I always believe you have to go to the venom for the antidote," she says.

She wanted to mix those songs with other songs and put them in a woman's voice. Thus Eminem's infamous Bonnie & Clyde '97 features Amos cooing quietly to a small child as her mother's body is dumped in a lake, while 10CC's I'm Not in Love is stripped to its hateful core.

"Some of them are beautiful words. Some of them have compassion. Some of them are words of death," Amos says. "I wanted the whole gamut there."

Misogyny and brutality have been present in lyrics forever, but the rage has been more blatant in the past few years, she believes.

"It's something that's based on the last two years of what's been going on in the West," she says. "That's when I was really made aware of the seeds that have taken root, ... this sort of male hatred for women and gay men. Or I should say malice instead of hatred -- sort of a male rage that people have tapped into. I can't tell you why; I'm not a sociologist."

She's all in favor of people's right to write and sing these songs.

"You can't start a movement if it's not already potent, even if it's hiding in people's psyches," she says. "This movement wouldn't have taken root if there was nothing for it to latch onto. These artists are tapping into something that already exists."

So she got a group of male acquaintances together to run songs past them and to have them bring songs to her, any songs about men and women. Thus StrangeLittleGirls runs the gamut from Neil Young's Heart of Gold to Joe Jackson's Real Men.

"It's not just me projecting onto men what I think they listen to," Amos says. "They brought the material to me and said, 'This is what we listen to, and this is what it means to me.' "

And she found herself learning a lot, about men and about herself.

"Sometimes they'd say things to me where I was just rolling my eyes," she says. "Like the Heart of Gold discussion; men would say, 'I really love this song because I'm looking for a woman who would just understand that I'm a player.' Understand what about it? So that one was irresistible.

"On the other hand, a lot of them would say: 'Can you tell us one thing, Tori? How come women always choose the guy who's never gonna hear them, who's gonna chew them up and spit them out and leave them by the side of the road?' I needed to think about that." That's how Tom Waits' Time and Jackson's Real Men ended up on the disc -- songs of understanding to balance the rage.

"This isn't about men dominating women. It's about the question of what are powerful words and their effect," she says. "Words can wound and words can heal."

Or do both. I'm Not in Love has been cast as a song of coy flirting when its words are actually full of denial, self-aggrandizement and the groundwork for a disastrous relationship. "You wanna play this one out? It's not gonna be fun in the end. Somebody's gonna lose," Amos says.

She acknowledges that she's found herself in relationships where men tried to exert power over her; she was shocked to find herself seeking out such relationships.

"Because of our experiences or what we're brought up with, ... we all have our stuff," she says. "I don't mean to sound West Coasty, but ... I was up to no good for a while with myself, not treating myself well and getting involved in situations where I wasn't respecting myself and I let others disrespect me. I just thought that was how you operated; I thought that's how this kind of dance happened."

She was able to see that and change it. "What I consider a powerful man now isn't a guy who has power over somebody or who wants to have power over somebody," she says.

"For me now, it's somebody who's a safe place, where I'd leave my daughter. It's somebody that's a good listener. That's a powerful man. That's a core thing for this record -- how we as women have contributed to the definition of what is a powerful man."


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