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In NewsWeekly (US, www)
innewsweekly.com
November 20, 2002

'Scarlet' fever

Tori Amos walks a new path on latest disc


by Lawrence Ferber, correspondent

Perhaps taking a cue from Jack Keroauc, fire-haired myth-loving songstress Tori Amos hit the road for her latest album, "Scarlet's Walk" (Epic). Through the experiences of an everywoman alter-ego, Scarlet, Amos traipses cross-country, touching upon every state in the nation and connecting with people and the land itself. Boasting Cherokee blood (from mom's side), Amos' journey is both spiritual and physical, and Scarlet takes part in soul-searching episodes with young porn stars ("Amber Waves"), manic depressives ("Carbon"), a September 11th-inspired plane crash ("I Can't See New York"), and a recently deceased gay friend ("Taxi Ride"). That lattermost song touches upon the loss of Amos' real-life gay friend, acclaimed author/makeup artist Kevyn Aucoin.

It's a dense album - 18 songs - and possibly her best, a melodic and passionate kiss to the USA. Coming off a painful dental procedure ("ice cream sundae and percocet," she recommends as post-op treatment), Amos made a speaking appearance at New York's annual CMJ Music Fest on November 1st. Later that day, I spoke with her via telephone about Scarlet, Aucoin, and how queerness fits into her - and everyone's - USA. Incidentally, more songs from Scarlet's extensive travels can be found on the album's website, Scarlet's Web (accessed through toriamos.com with a "key" found on the CD).

I love your new album, Tori.

"Thank you, honey."

And so big, so many songs.

"Yeah - it's a big country.... and there are more songs [that aren't on the album], different roads off the path and that will be on Scarlet's Web. On Scarlet's Web now, 'Tombigbee' is up, and that takes place in Mississippi, Alabama territory. Then we've got 'Seaside' [which is not up yet] that happens over on Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard. 'Operation Peter Pan' made it on the European B-side [of 'A Sorta Faiytale' single], that occurs in Miami. Between 1960 and 1962, I think it was, a lot of children were sent from Cuba in this Operation Peter Pan experiment. And a lot of people were separated from their families, a lot of children. That's explored in that song."

I notice that Scarlet doesn't go to Puerto Rico, a commonwealth.

"I don't go to any commonwealths."

Puerto Ricans are going to hate you for that.

"I love them. It's in my curl, sweetie. It's in my curl and in my heel. Always."

This is the first album of yours, that I've been aware, in which you openly address gay people and gay matters.

"I don't know - I think over the years there have been references to all kinds of sexuality, but on this record there are characters that Scarlet runs into. Her friend, Taxi, is gay and he dies. I think a core theme running through [the album], though, is the outer betrayal versus the inner betrayal. The polarity of that, so in 'I Can't See New York' [in which Scarlet witnesses a plane crash in midair] we see the culmination of outer betrayal that may have stemmed from some kind of inner betrayal. But then in 'Taxi Ride' the inner betrayal is taken to friendship where, at his death, Scarlet's having to look at everybody that's there and question, 'were we really a good friend to him when he was in need?'"

Do you feel you were a good friend to Kevyn when he was in need?

"I question myself every day."

I reckon that Kevyn's friends, by virtue of who they are, pretty much have to be self involved -- they're artists and in the entertainment industry. And I think that in a way it's almost harder to maintain that kind of I'm-there-for-you friendship, don't you think?

"Yes. I think that is true. And I think that's a fair point. I also think, however, that what's being addressed in the song is that only you can look at your relationship with a friend and know if you could show up. The thing about Kevyn is he always showed up when you needed him. Sometimes I think the question with us as 'celebrity' friends, the beauty icon, if he could make you beautiful, great. But if he couldn't were you really there for him? And that is the question that Scarlet and I are asking ourselves. Talking to you on a personal level, Kevyn is the inspiration [for "Taxi Ride"], but this is the story of someone Scarlet meets. There's more than one gay friend that has died that brings up things in people. Death always brings up questions. This is the result."

With these songs you're taking a trip to figure out what many kinds of people mean in relation to America, and the land. What we give, what the earth gives us. How do gays fit into America?

"I think it's something that's being redefined right now. You all suffered quite a loss of a lot of people in the 80s, as you know. A wealth of intelligencia, artists, that were core, part of your fabric. And now the next crop is stepping to this metaphorical fire to plant the seeds, to hold spaces for others to come. It seems to me anyway, from the outside, it is about community now and networking. Because those making choices for our world are networking just fine. And making decisions we may not agree with and may not be good for our true mother, our earth, or us. It seems to me that sometimes in name only we're the land of the free and this is something the gay community... it's feet to the fire time. There must be a stepping forward about what you all feel. How you penetrate, say, the culture."

Do you feel that right now gays give something to the culture?

"Yes I do, but I think there can be more. I think it's time to stop shying away from your place at the fire of wisdom. I think gays have been very shamed and I know you all feel you can give in fashion and art, but it's time now for perspective. But you all have to do that work."

Do you mean on an ecological level? Political?

"I mean every level. But that comes from thought, not just from style. Maybe the thought has to be put forth with a bit of style!"

Did you see Kevyn making a difference?

"Absolutely I saw him making a difference. He inspires me every day."

How did he make a difference?

"He wanted to see someone's goals. Each individual has goals, he believed that, and beauty. He would find the beauty in someone who couldn't find any in themselves and then show it for them to look at."

In a superficial, external way?

"But don't you see, it might have been the way that they giggled that he was able... he was a painter, one of the master painters of this generation. He painted faces, but he could've painted something on a rhino's butt and it would have been beautiful. He could do that in his sleep. That's not what I'm talking about. What I'm suggesting is perhaps Kevyn found that nugget, that element, that real treasure someone had and found a way to paint it. By the eye, a glitter, so when they looked it was metaphorical. It was symbolic and they knew what it meant. That was his gift."

Have you ever inhabited a gay persona or character, Tori?

"That's a good question. I think some of the Strange Little Girls are."

Which ones?

"I have to go talk to them. But they certainly aren't... they don't all have one orientation, that's for sure. And they all don't get along either."

Is Scarlet queer perchance? Bi-curious maybe?

"Right now I think more than anything she's about being a good friend. Whether Amber does whatever she's been doing and Taxi's been doing whatever he's been doing, they're some of her closer friends and that's where that sits."


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