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The Hartford Courant (US)
Friday, November 15, 2002
Amos Sees Americans Awakening
Younger Generation Seeking Answers Since Sept. 11
by Eric R. Danton, Courant Rock Critic
As she toured the United States last year after Sept. 11, Tori Amos was intrigued by what she found: a country on a collective journey of national self-discovery, seeking to define for themselves the notion of "America."
"I would say a memory, a collective memory happened, and the result of that was that people wanted to know who this being we call America really is," Amos said recently by phone from Atlanta, on a tour that stops Saturday in Wallingford. "She was just not an object anymore to be pimped out, to be used, to be excavated. So instead of just taking, people became caretakers of her in need."
Amos speaks in soft, measured tones, and it's clear she has thought deeply about what she is saying. After all, she has a different sort of connection to America than many people do. Her grandfather was Cherokee; his family escaped the Trail of Tears by fleeing into the Smoky Mountains. Hearing his stories as a child in North Carolina had a profound influence on Amos and how she views her country.
"There's a side to America with quite a shadow. All countries have a shadow; we all do. But people started to see it. This idea that we're everybody's friend - well the rest of the world doesn't see us like that," Amos said. "When we're viewed as a bully, that's like a stab to the heart, because that's not what I believe in. That's not what I believe is empowering. You don't take from others to be strong. You nurture your own garden; it's enough. So to be seen as everything I disagree with, this is not the spirit of America; this is not her soul that my grandfather would talk about."
It's that spirit and soul that Amos found people looking for last fall - a sense of searching that inspired Amos to take her own spiritual journey through America on her latest album, "Scarlet's Walk." The album, her eighth, is a sort of sonic road trip tracing the path and chronicling the activities of Scarlet, an alter-ego for Amos, as she crisscrosses the nation. As it happens, Scarlet had some of the same questions of self-identity that Amos encountered among people she met on the road.
"I didn't plan all of this; it just kind of happened. And as a writer, you write what you see," Amos said. "Whether you agree with it or not, you write it down. You're recording a time; you're like a sonic camera."
On tour, Amos observed that her audience - young people, primarily, who are drawn to her highly personal songwriting - showed signs of a political awakening by not automatically believing everything political leaders told them.
"People had questions, a lot of questions," Amos said. "This inner voice was saying, 'If you have any questions, you're betraying America.' And it's like, wait a minute. Not so fast. Last time I checked, we were a democracy. So there was a generation that has not chosen to pick up the torch quite yet, but there are rumblings."
"That's what I saw, state to state, city to farm," she continued. "It propelled my story. Scarlet had questions, too."
Giving birth to her first child in 2000 has understandably altered Amos' perspective on the notion of generational identity as well - something that comes out in the song "Gold Dust," when Scarlet contemplates parenthood. Becoming a parent, Amos said, is a watershed in one's personal history, marking the start of a new phase of life.
Before having children, "You don't have to really be a lighthouse; you don't have to pass the torch; you don't quite have one to pass yet. It's your time, right? It's your generation's time, whatever you do with it," Amos said.
After becoming a parent, "You can either hold a place for the next generation, be a night watchman, as they pick up the torch, or not. But your job is to hold a space for them to do it, and I have to believe in them, because many of them come to my shows. I'm seeing a grass-roots kind of spark."
She is also taken with the way certain groups of people deal with societal change.
"Through the ages, as you know, some generations have risen, like they did in 1968, and made a decision - they would not be marginalized by the government. They stopped a war. They shifted history," she said. "Other generations stand back and get handed history and weep and say, 'Where are we? Where were we? We were here.'"
The task facing the generation that makes up Amos' fan base, she said, is to define what it is going to be.
"It really serves those who aren't going to be so affected by the world in 20 years that this generation stays marginalized. They don't want to happen what happened in 1968," she said. "This generation can network better than any generation, but the question is, what will they network about?"
Tori Amos plays the careerbuilder.com Oakdale Theatre Saturday, Nov. 16, 2002 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $38.50 and $28.50. Information: 203-265-1501.
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