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33 Things You Should Know About Tori Amos
She's the feverishly adored piano goddess with a soft spot for porn actresses, The Lord Of The Rings and "potion-induced journeys." And, she admits to Blender, if she were an ice-dancing judge, she'd be a damn good one. Hooray!
by Dorian Lynskey
Photography by Robert Maxwell
1. Don't call her Myra Ellen
That's the name her mother and father gave her when she was born on August 22, 1963, in Newton, North Carolina. She changed it to Tori when she was 17. "My parents call me Tori Ellen," she says, "which is really lovely."
2. She's the daughter of a preacher man.
"When I was growing up, my father was a minister, and he wanted to be like Billy Graham. In a way, preachers are performers -- no different than rappers."
3. She's part Cherokee.
"I went to my grandfather's house in North Carolina most summers until I was 9 1/2, when he died," she recalls. "He and his wife were eastern Cherokee, and I grew up listening to their stories." Some of those stories found their way onto her new album, Scarlet's Walk.
4. She was homecoming queen in high school, much to her surprise.
"Well, I can't claim it was Carrie," she says. "Although it would have been great. I never saw myself in the mirror as a young woman. I was just a musician who has one more hole than you do."
5. You hum it, she'll play it. Well, she used to, anyway.
When she was 16, Amos played piano in a bar in Washington, D.C. "I had a repertoire of maybe 1,500 songs. I'd get a lot of show requests: 'Memory' from Cats, 'Don't Cry for Me Argentina.' I was a living jukebox."
6. That was an education in more ways than one.
"Prostitutes would come into the bar and smoke or drink for a minute, and I would play them something. I've always felt protective of the Mary Magdalenes, the prostitutes, the porn B-movie actresses of the world. You begin to see that most people had a dream of themselves when they were younger, and at 27 or 28, it wasn't going how they had hoped. That was the place I realize that everybody has a story."
7. Tori Amos 1, Sarah Jessica Parker 0.
Amos beat out the then-unknown Sex and the City star for a role in a Cornflakes commercial in the early 1980s. "It makes me giggle to think about it," she says, laughing. "They needed a piano player. Could Sarah Jessica Parker play piano? No. I'm sure that was the only reason. It wasn't an acting phase. It was an 'I'm broke' phase."
8. "You can't be ashamed of what you've done."
That's her assessment of the self-titled 1988 album by her short-lived pop-metal band, Y Kant Tori Read. "It was a different time; I was in a different place. Everything was over the top -- the high hair, everything. I was shopping at Retail Slut." If you ever hear the album, though, skip to "Cool on Your Island." She likes that one.
9. Don't Challenge her to a duel.
As seen on the cover of Y Kant Tori Read, Amos used to wield an old-fashioned saber. "I was taking lessons. I was really into the whole New Romantic lifestyle. Could I still handle it? I'd have to spend a long time brushing up."
10. Useful tip #1: Second albums are hard work.
After her autobiographical solo debut, 1992's Little Earthquakes, Amos had to raise her game. "You get to write your diary once, and then you have to become somebody who can write about characters and other people. You have to learn your craft; you have to get your toolbox out."
11. Useful tip #2: So is dealing with record companies.
When Atlantic Records planned to bring in a new producer for 1994's Under the Pink, Amos threatened to burn her master tapes. "I find record companies usually try to change that thing in you that made people come in the first place. The relationship I had with [Atlantic] was quite strong, and whether we disagreed some of the time or not, there was passion there."
12. Where was she when Kurt Cobain died? On Tour.
In Dublin, two days after the Nirvana front man's 1994 suicide, her live version of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was a choker. "I was just ready to start the chorus, and all of a sudden, in perfect pitch and very quietly, as only the Irish can do, [the audience] started singing it like a hymn. It was like they were sending his spirit off. It was an honor to play his music that night."
13. R.E.M.'s lead singer wants her fans.
"Michael Stipe said to me once, 'Hey, can I borrow your audience?' I said, 'You'll have to ask them.' I'm very lucky. Most of them, 98.9 percent of them, would give you a ride, give you something to eat and you'd be fine. There's a mutual respect there."
14. Her musical education started early.
"I was a musician before I could talk. I had been nurtured to want to be a classical composer, although I loved contemporary pop: the Beatles, Elton and Bernie, Joni Mitchell, Laura Nyro, Stevie Wonder. I was 3 or 5. My brother was 10 years older, and he was bringing records home. Some of them he had to sneak in, like Jim Morrison."
15. She's a comic-book character.
Well, kind of. In his cult series Sandman, Neil Gaiman based the character delirium on Amos, particularly the eccentric way she speaks to others. "When I talk to people I'm always playing something in my head," Amos says, "so it sounds like there are a lot of stops and starts, because that's where the piano riff goes. I don't know how Neil was hearing it, but Delirium sounds very disjointed."
16. Amos on drugs: Just say maybe.
"I'm not an addictive personality, and being a drug addict or alcoholic is just not me. I'd rather read a book. But I have taken journeys over the years that have been -- how would you put it? -- potion-induced."
17. Amos's 1996 album, Boys for Pele, doesn't spend much time on her stereo.
"I was really in a bad way. I was finding out what I believed in. What was my ideology? What was the woman I wanted to be? What was sexy to me? What was exciting? I was breaking away from a lot of things and people, and they were breaking away from me as well. It was a low in my life."
18. Amos picks her parties carefully.
"Where's the swinging thing happening? Where are the fun people? My God, it isn't backstage at the Grammies. I've had better parties on my crews buses."
19. Tool's Maynard James Keenan is "like a brother."
"It's always been that way," Amos says, glowing. "Whether it's a past life or something, we could have just been two ants struggling to get from one place to another -- there is that familiarity you can't explain. You just feel comfortable."
20. She met Lucifer and Jesus once.
"I remember at the dinner table one night, my father said, 'I heard [Amos's song] "Father Lucifer," and it really kind of hurt me. I never saw myself as Father Lucifer.' I said, 'No, no, no! I wasn't talking about you! I was on an Ecstasy trip, Dad, and I had an affair with Lucifer and Jesus -- so don't worry about it.' He felt much better."
21. Last year's covers album, Strange Little Girls, led to some interesting conversations.
"I'm open about some of them. Slayer sent T-shirts; that was fun. But some of the messages and conversations were very personal. Yoko Ono had to approve 'Happiness Is a Warm Gun,' and she was absolutely divine. Neil Young had to hear 'Heart of Gold,' because I changed the lyrics. But I didn't change a word of Eminem's [Bonnie and Clyde]. Eminem and I have the same lawyer, which is handy."
22. People think Amos lives just like her characters. She doesn't.
She has lived in Cornwall, England, for the last few years, but not because it's the mythological home of King Arthur's Round Table. "I think people think I'm in long dresses wafting around Dartmoor," she says. "My girlfriends laugh hysterically when they hear this, because they see it as sitting on the dock of the bay, drinking margaritas with our feet hanging on the water, listening to Marvin Gaye."
23. While recording Scarlet's Walk, Amos visited all states. The worst moment? The KKK barbecue.
"I was coming into northwest Florida from Georgia, and there were Ku Klux Klansmen on the streets inviting people to a barbecue in broad daylight. That was pretty chilling."
24. Little Amos.
Amos and her husband, Mark Hawley, have a 2-year-old daughter, Natashya Lorien. The middle name comes from Lothlorien in The Lord of the Rings. "I thought that since the world is changing so quickly, it would be nice to give her the name of a place that doesn't change."
25. There's one book she'd recommend to anyone.
"Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee [by Dee Brown]. It's the Native American story. I would defy anyone not to be moved. I don't care who you are. If you need to be moved, if you need to be shaken, if you need to feel something, that's the one."
26. Amos's one addiction: Hello Kitty stickers.
"Natashya covers for me on this one. I can't buy them when I'm traveling alone."
27. If you're buying the drinks, she'll have a nice Bordeaux.
"We try to lay down a few bottles, but we've got a lot of people coming in and out all the time -- so we do sometimes run through the stock."
28. She picked up some bad British habits.
"Watching the telly all the bloody time. The television should have a name in British households, because it's part of the family. There are some good British habits. Greasy breakfasts isn't one of them. Not every day. Beans on toast? Yuck."
29. ...And some good ones.
"In America, it's work, work, work, work. The Brits want to get things done but they also have to have enjoyment -- that thing called life."
30. Tori Amos: A future ice-dancing judge?
"I'd be a good ice-dancing judge because I think I'm fair," she remarks. "I'm not going to always vote for the person in the cutest costume. It's important to be fair and a lot of judges can't be objective. That's the problem with these sports. I like justice."
31. Amos to George W. Bush: "What you sow is what you reap."
"As every good Christian knows, if what you are sowing isn't evil, then there should be nothing to fear," she says with a discreet smile.
32. Amos to Peter Gabriel: Thanks for the advice.
"He said, 'Get your own studio. Because if you're having a rift with your record company, they have to call the owners of the studio to get the artist's masters.' That can come in quite handy."
33. Tori at 38 to Tori at 18: Don't worry.
"Some days you're gonna feel old when your not so old, and some days you're gonna feel young when you're older. So don't jump off a bridge on the day when you're feeling old, because a week later or a year later, you're gonna feel young again."
~ ~ ~
A road trip of the mind from the high priestess of dramatic pop
Scarlet's Walk - five out of five stars
Tori Amos's mannered singing and unapologetically gorgeous songs have gone out of fashion since she burst onto the scene in 1992. Neither is her Women's Studies viewpoint as new as it was when her cover of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" revealed the some also to be an affecting ballad. To her credit, eccentricity, melodicism and feminism come as naturally to Amos as her green eyes, and her seventh full-length album is her most fully realized yet.
Against gleaming, meltingly smooth arrangements, she crafts iconic tales, vague but rich with resonance and imagery. She sketches her lyrics with brief, powerful strokes, evoking in a few words the fallen woman of "Amber Waves," who went "from ballet class to a lap dance," and the murder victim of "Carbon." She adopts the stance of a weary pal on "Don't Make Me Come to Vegas," about a friend show seems to be in a dangerous situation. Her elliptical approach continues even on the poignant "I Can't See New York," whose narrator is stuck inside a doomed hijacked airplane.
The songs are one after another of Amos's patented ultra-emotive ballads driven by portentous piano chords that swell and crash over lush orchestration. As it meanders through regional landscapes, conjured more through poetic implication than blunt description, Scarlet's Walk unites the darker threads of women's experiences with those of other outcasts: gay boy on "Taxi Ride," African-Americans on "Virginia" and Native Americans on the a capella "Wampum Prayer." Uncommonly rich and unfashionably gynocentric, Scarlet's Walk makes the personal universal, using the stories of women lost, left and unseen to chart a map of the American psyche.
by Arion Berger
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the World of Tori Amos