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Hot Tickets (UK)
supplement to The Evening Standard, London newspaper
November 29, 2001
Rock Goddess and Warrior Mom
Off the Wall
Motherhood has had little impact
on Tori Amos's attitude
by Colin Irwin
Tori Amos, the newly self-styled 'warrior mom' has arrived in downtown Seattle late after last night's gig in Vancouver with several axes to grind. She's still wound up after an altercation with border guards. Natashya Lorien, the 16-month-old child who's transformed her life, was blissfully asleep in the back of the tour bus when the guys with uniforms and guns boarded... 'I mean, she's got Big Bird back there with her and the last thing she's expecting is a misplaced Napoleon complex,' Tori says, green eyes blazing. 'She's clearly not a threat but you do need to be worried, however, if you wake her up. Truly. It's like 118 decibels of wail. It got very difficult. I don't want to stop them doing their jobs and I don't take issue if they go through my bag, I've got nothing to hide. If you're armed and you're an enforcement officer then little ol' me isn't a problem. "Make sure you're behind me and point a gun at my head, I'll show you the baby, and if I do something weird you can blow my head off and it'll all be OK, right?"'
The Tori tour arrives at Hammersmith Apollo next week. Americans have been cancelling UK shows left, right and centre, but 38-year-old Amos is made of sterner stuff. A rebel who reacted, not only against her fierce religious upbringing, but her own status as a child prodigy classical pianist in Baltimore, she had come to the UK to be taken seriously, and avoid the Eighties rock-chick cliches the Americans earmarked for her. Yet here, her crusading sense of independence, fearless songwriting and full-blooded individuality have inspired their own cartoon legend and music journalists, bless 'em, seem to have an unwritten agreement never to write about Tori Amos without using the words 'kooky' or 'flame-haired' (there you go, that's my part of the deal fulfilled).
For years she lived in London, 'I loved it - I used to play along with all the reggae, it influenced me a lot'. She now has a house in Cornwall, though for the past three months she's been living on the road. That's quite a production number with a small child (who gets bored on long bus journeys, while aeroplanes have a bad effect on her ears) yet her tightly knit touring crew seem to make it work. 'Home is where your love is and we travel as a family,' she says simply.
She was in New York when the Twin Towers were hit. 'You can feel it in your stomach. You can walk down Fifth Avenue and smell it. Your senses are filled and the emotion is so raw you have no delusions. I do believe in non-violence... but I became a warrior mother. How can you be rational with the irrational? You want to see fury? Just wait till the soccer moms start marching. Once the body bags for the children are brought up it's game over. If you come after my cubs you give up your rights...'
The various traumas of Tori Amos's life are graphically documented in her music. Personal violation on 'Little earthquakes' (1992), break-up of her seven-year relationship with producer Eric Rosse on 'Boys for Pele' (1996) and a series of miscarriages on 'From the Choirgirl Hotel' (1998). She's finally found happiness with her laid-back English sound engineer, Mark Hawley, whom she married in West Wycombe in 1998 and rather endearingly calls 'Husband'. But if angst is the fuel of the sensitive artist, Amos has found a dangerous way of deflecting the potentially damaging artistic effects of her private contentment.
Her new album 'Strange Little Girls' controversially re-interprets, from a female point of view, a series of well-known songs written by men about women. These include The Beatles' 'Happiness Is A Warm Gun' and Bob Geldof's 'I Don't Like Mondays', turned into cold assaults on America's gun culture (including samples from both George Bushes and Amos's preacher man dad), 10cc's 'I'm Not In Love' transformed from male emotional denial into a strident demonstration of female strength, and Neil Young's 'Heart of Gold' re-worked into a bitter, discordant rebuttal of male infidelity. Yet her most radical reassessment comes as she coldly assumes the role of the trussed-up wife being delivered to her death in the boot of a car in Eminem's gruesome ''97 Bonnie & Clyde'. 'I saw all this brutality and glamorisation of rape against women and gay men. When people - even women - are dancing to words about wanting to cut women up, something needs to be said.'
Eminem's fans aren't too thrilled with her version of '97 Bonnie & Clyde', apparently, but Amos says the original artists are irrelevant. 'Apart from the fact that they wrote these songs they have nothing to do with it. It's me saying, "OK, guys, you wanna play?"'
A large, surprisingly youthful crowd, including a fervent Goth following, scream and cheer as Tori Amos arrives at the Seattle Paramount. She pauses for autographs and photos, dutifully writing requests on her hand, though she will ultimately address none of them at tonight's gig. Relaxed backstage shortly before showtime, she introduces daughter Tash, a cute blonde kid who's already made her mark by smearing chocolate over the walls of one of Seattle's swankiest hotels. 'I usually only get nervous in London, New York or LA,' says Amos, but there's nothing mechanical about this woman on stage. On this tour she's deliberately performing solo to allow for spontaneity ('when you're on your own you can spin on a dime') basing not only the set list, but what she will wear, on the 'feel' of the venue and her perception of the mood of those coming to see her.
In the home city of her friend Kurt Cobain (she has recorded Nirvana's 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' and wrote her only UK No 1 'Professional Widow' about Courtney Love) she judges a passionate mood. Her own image in the guise of white-trash wife is projected above the stage while her version of Eminem's 'Bonnie & Clyde' reverberates around the hall. The, in a striking scarlet suit, Tori stands astride her stool, provocatively facing the audience, pounding pianos on either side of her, and confirms her reputation as the sexiest pianist in Christendom. And yet... when she delivers her stark, unaccompanied account of her own rape on 'Me and A Gun' the transfixing drama is almost bearable. Then, unpredictable as ever, she launches into a reverential version of Elton John's 'Daniel'. Seattle goes bonkers.
The emotional thrall of the concert has been so great you imagine you'll find her in a quivering heap at the end of it, but she emerges half an hour later, bright-eyed to welcome her guests from RAINN, the rape victim helpline and counselling service she has set up. 'Daniel'? I say quizzically, where did that come from? 'Oh I dunno, just something I plucked from the air,' she says and giggles in that delicious way that sends you away entirely satisfied yet tells you nothing. The enigma has landed.
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