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The Providence Journal (US)
November 14, 2002
Music scene by Vaughn Watson
Songs as road signs for America
In the most striking musical responses to Sept. 11, Bruce Springsteen and
Steve Earle dwelled on human interactions in a changed America after the
Add Tori Amos to that list. Amos's expression of patriotism in her latest,
Scarlet's Walk, doesn't break down to boisterous flag waving or zealous
namecalling. Rampant patriotism, Amos said in a phone interview -- "that
comes from a political agenda, and it also comes from a different place
Amos is one of our most sterling songwriters. She has courageously written
about her own rape. She's tackled domestic abuse in songs. In Scarlet's
Walk, she portrays the America she loves with nuance and grace, urging
listeners -- inside and outside the United States -- to not see America as
a monolithic body.
Her storytelling is, as always, reflective and confrontational when she
needs it to be. Amos titles one song "Amber Waves." It is about a porn star
who goes by that name, but it's also a commentary on America's obsession
with celebrity and media culture. "Into every young man's bedroom, you gave
it up on DVD and magazine," Amos sings.
Elsewhere on the album, a wanderer named Scarlet travels America,
reflecting on its heartbeat.
Scarlet "meets people from all different cultures and walks of life --
Native Americans, right-wing truck drivers, cowboys, porn stars,
librarians," says Amos, who performs a sold-out show on Sunday at the
Providence Performing Arts Center.
Scarlet, Amos said, is "developing a relationship with America, with her
soul, not with the people who pimp her out or misrepresent this America."
Hints of songs
Like Scarlet, who travels from Las Vegas to Fairbanks, Ala., to Montana and
Tennessee, crisscrossing the 50 states like a stump-speech politician (or a
nationally touring musician), the songwriting "didn't all happen in a
linear fashion," Amos says.
"Segments of the songs were only coming in snippets. I was getting maybe
hints of what [a song] was about. I didn't understand that it was going to
be a sonic narrative. I had no idea that Scarlet was going to become my
Amos began writing the songs after Sept. 11, during her tour for her last
album (Strange Little Girls), which tackled social issues through the eyes
of several women.
"This story came quite rapidly. People were coming to the shows. These were
troubling times. People were writing letters and talking about, 'If
tomorrow doesn't come, what will I do today?' They were questioning what
they believe in, what they stood for. As you know, certain leaders were
trying to dampen these questions and make people feel like they aren't
behind the country if they are questioning policy on anything.
"I feel like our leaders have hijacked [America's] personality, and taken
her to personality plastic surgery school. And they decided this is who she is.
"But this is a minority of people who don't represent the collective of
this country. We are made up of every culture that exists on the globe now,
and our roots are the Native American people who welcomed people to come,
then were taken from, taken from, taken from, and circumcised out of the
history books. We are going back, [traveling] the world to find out where
our roots are from, but we don't know our American roots.
"Our mythology is made up of immigrants, but that is not our land's
mythology. We don't know the song lines of our own land. We don't know the
stories that were told here for hundreds and hundreds of years. How can you
be caretakers of a land if you don't even know?"
Voices of dissent
Amos says that after Sept. 11, in a rising voice of dissent, "I began to
see a fire take hold of people.
"I saw it in their hearts. I saw it as the only way you could really go
forward, and not have this happen again, is to not let people be
emotionally blackmailed, so that we can have these questions.
"I saw the generation coming out of the universities now, they took a step
[back] and said, 'We are a part of this country. We won't be marginalized
anymore.' This generation has chosen to harness the power and make a
difference. All they have to do is vote."
A final point: Even if Scarlet's Walk is a record to get you thinking,
"this is not a teaching record," Amos says. "I am a student."
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