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SPIN (US)
November 2002



My Life In Music This Month: Tori Amos

by Will Hermes

Be careful what you wish for. When we asked Tori Amos to compile a list of the records that have inspired her music, she brought us a 100-pound carton of stuff handpicked from her archives. Not just music, either--among the goods was an 1893 geographical survey of the Rocky Mountains that helped map her last record, Scarlet's Walk, a knotty travelogue born of her post-9/11 cross-country travels. But don't expect the master keys to Tori's House of Mystery. "I'd almost release my gynecological records before I'd spill the beans on my deepest influences," she says curled up on the floor of a Manhattan hotel suite. "Everything here matters, but if you asked me tomorrow, I'd give you different things." Fair enough. Here's a sampling of Amos' favorite classic albums, genital-shaped flora, and hella-deep reading material.

FLEETWOOD MAC - RUMOURS (Reprise album, 1977) "One of the greatest pop albums ever made--both for the songs and the sound. The producers and engineers really knew what they were doing; there was a certain art to record-making back then. They might have all been coked-up or whatever, but they still had their ears."

THE DOORS - THE DOORS (Elektra album, 1967) "Jim Morrison was smuggled into our house by my older brother. That's where I got some of my ideas about Lucifer and about recognizing the darkness within. Years ago, I was working with a medicine man, and it was almost as though Lucifer came in a vision and was holding a little cubbyhole that said TORI on it. He was very sad and very bored. And he said, 'I hold the dark. That's what I do. But it's for you to come collect!'"

SYLVIA PLATH - THE BELL JAR (Harper and Row book, 1971) "Madness fascinates me because I think we're all this close to the line sometimes. It doesn't take much. One of my favorite sayings is 'You never know the weight of the straw that breaks the camel's back.'"

ELTON JOHN - GOODBYE YELLOW BRICK ROAD (Rocket/Island album, 1973) "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is a real trip, a long album you can throw yourself into. 'All the young girls love Alice / Tender young Alice they say.' I love that song ["All the Girls Love Alice"]. And the title track, too. Early on, Elton and Bernie Taupin were one of the greatest songwriting teams ever. They'd do complicated stuff--chorus A, chorus B, codas. You have to fight in the industry to do that nowadays, because everyone is spoon-fed verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-out."

DIANE ARBUS - MAGAZINE WORK (Aperture book, 1984) "When I travel, I'll meet people briefly, and I often feel like a photographer. Arbus didn't know all her subjects intimately, but somehow her photos capture their essence. They're not about the airbrush--they're real people, frozen in time. Wherever their souls live, I can visit them here."

LED ZEPPELIN - THE COMPLETE STUDIO RECORDINGS (Swan Song/Atlantic box set, 1993) "I'll never give this one up. John Bonham and John Paul Jones--that's my rhythm. It was heavy, but so sensual. It's all about the relationship of the voice to the drum. A huge influence."

DEE BROWN - BURY MY HEART AT WOUNDED KNEE (Holt, Rinehart and Winston book, 1971) "This book made me weep; I think it will make anyone weep. If you have European blood in you, you have to acknowledge another invasion before Pearl Harbor and the Twin Towers: the European invasion of the aboriginal Americas. There was already a culture here, but all we hear about are the patriots. We're squatters, basically. Scarlet's Walk is partially about that."

JONI MITCHELL - LADIES OF THE CANYON (Reprise album, 1970) and BLUE (Reprise album, 1971) "I know everyone mentions Joni Mitchell, but you have to, really. I can't think of anyone who was doing it like she was doing it. She was the musician's musician. I've even heard Robert Plant speak about how she was influencing him! And that makes sense to me--how could she not?"

BARBARA BUHLER LYNES AND RUSSELL BOWMAN - O'KEEFFE'S O'KEEFFES: THE ARTIST'S COLLECTION (Thames and Hudson book, 2001) "Georgia O'Keeffe's floral paintings are about being so moved that your petals drip. How beautiful is that? This book sits on coffee tables in the living rooms of ministers. Their wives will look at it and think of things--they'll cross their legs, uncross them, and then cross them again."

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Scarlet's Walk review

Rating: 9
TORI AMOS
Scarlet's Walk
(Epic)

Let's go, USA! Shortly after September 11, Tori Amos embarked on a cross-country tour. She came back with material tor Scarlet's Walk, an impressionistic travelogue that turns the American landscape into an extension of Amos' own freaky head space. On her 2001 covers album. Strange Little Girls. Amos Photoshopped herself into Eminem's nightmares and Neil Young's dreams; here, she projects herself into places, not faces, blurring her persona into the scenery to highlight deeper truths about both.

Amos may still be best known for confessing deep secrets while bumping and grinding her Bosendorfer. But her real ax is empathy, and on Scarlet's Walk, she internalizes everything from porn culture to the legacy of westward expansion. As usual, her melodies stubbornly refuse to turn into hooks, preferring to twirl into new territory. But her approach suits the material, which flows like the colors on a weather map, from Los Angeles to Nevada, from New York to Virginia, gathering thunder along the way. On "A Sorta Fairytale." the album's pensive first single, Amos cruises up Route 101, wondering why good love inevitably lets the bad times roll. On "Amber Waves," Amos puts the SoCal skin trade on blast, while undercutting the song's go-along-to-get-along tempo with melancholy piano chords.

The record's climactic tour de force is "Scarlet's Walk," a seance-style spin through the Gothic South, its title evoking both the deaths of American Indians on the Trail of Tears and Gone With the Wind's homesick heroine. All organs, horns, and echoing drums, the song wraps Amos in layers of down-home creepiness. A man with a badge asks her: "What do you plan to do with all your stories?" She tells him she plans to bury them with all the other legends, wisdom, and "medicines" squandered throughout America's history, then stretches the word terra--signifying both Scarlett O'Hara's ruined estate and all that blood-soaked, hallowed earth--into a little earthquake. This is heady stuff. But even when the imagery gets dense, Amos' generous spirit lets you in; your land is her land. Of thee she sings. Buckle Up. LAURA SINAGRA


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