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The Citizen (US)
Laconia, New Hamshire, newspaper
Thursday, February 27, 2003
On the road to healing
Tori Amos brings latest musical journey to Durham for Scarlet's Walk tour
by Tracey Rauh Solomon
Sunday Citizen Arts Editor
TORI AMOS brings her musical journey across America onto the Whittemore Center Arena stage on Tuesday. Rhett Miller will open.
Tori Amos chose the road after the terrorists attacks against America on Sept. 11, 2001. And true, she's often on the road. But this trip was different: This one would lead the way to Scarlet.
As happened with many musicians when the Twin Towers fell on 9-11, Amos' current musical agenda came to a crashing halt. The eight-time Grammy nominee whose searing, piano-based music has captivated a ferociously loyal and fast-growing fan base since the early 1990s found herself on another path: Scarlet's path — "Scarlet's Walk."
Scarlet is not a real person. She's fiction — sometimes Amos, sometimes a thread running through people, but most consistently a woman, any woman, betrayed, uncertain of the future and on a journey for personal clarity. She's the protagonist of the edgy musician's eighth release, "Scarlet's Walk," a 74-minute musical novella that dives bravely into tough emotional, social and political questions, and draws heavily from Amos' Native American heritage. The record was released in October 2002.
In an interview from her Florida beach house, on the verge of kicking off a national tour that began last week in Boca Raton and will bring her to Durham's Whittemore Center Arena on March 4, Amos is eager to discuss analogies between the attack on America and the plight of Native Americans as their land, too, was attacked and stolen from them.
Amos' great-grandfather and great-grandmother were both Eastern Cherokees. His great-grandmother passed along tribal stories to her son, Tori's grandfather. He, in turn, shared them with Tori when she was growing up the daughter of a Methodist minister in North Carolina. Though she didn't realize how closely she carried them with her until she found herself retelling them to daughter Natashya, 2 1/2, she says now it's as if her grandfather left a "remember-these-stories chip" under her skin before he died when she was 9.
Amos, 39, has always been spiritual in her music, often questioning conventional religion and philosophically exploring the tenacity of the human spirit and her own, for instance, in "Me and a Gun." In that powerful cut from her 1992 breakthrough album "Little Earthquakes," she documents her own rape, and her ability to use her psyche and soul to transcend in the midst of the trauma.
The haunting, 12-track "Little Earthquakes," and the six releases that followed it have built Amos a reputation for being unabashedly unafraid to tackle tough subjects while not concerning herself with popularity. She carries on in this tradition with "Scarlet's Walk." In media interviews and visits to college campuses she doesn't hesitate to criticize the no-questions-asked patriotism that swept the nation after 9-11 and urge Americans to take a good hard look beneath the surface of governmental rhetoric for truths before it's too late.
"When anyone in power is too eager for war," she says, "it makes me very nervous."
Living and touring overseas, Amos sees how those from other countries view Americans, she says. For a long time after the attacks, the predominant perception was that Americans were complacent and unwilling to scrutinize the powers that be.
"The Germans seemed more concerned than anybody," she says. "Their whole way of thinking is that their grandparents empowered people who abused their power, and they had to live with that. They really want to see our people question."
In recent months, she has begun to see this inquisitive spirit rise as people heal from the tragedies, she said with great relief.
Amos, whose permanent home with her husband and front-of-house sound engineer Mark Hawley and daughter Natashya is in England, was in New York City on 9-11.
TORI AMOS heads into Durham on Tuesday for her Scarlet's Walk tour.
"We were preparing to do some telly," she recalls.
She had just finished recording her seventh compact disc, "Strange Little Girls," an ambitious compilation of unlikely cover songs originally done by male artists, including The Beatles' "Happiness is a Warm Gun," and Eminem's "97 Bonnie and Clyde."
After the attacks, she says, "I was walking down Fifth Avenue and seeing people. For the first time, I thought they were seeing America as a soul mother, like the Native Americans did."
It was then Amos realized shutting down was not the appropriate response. She would continue to tour. She would provide wounded people a place to congregate. And she would contemplate America's battered global reputation while urging others to do the same. Her musical muse delivered Scarlet, and while mothering Natashya on all-night bus trips, the songs began to flow.
The 18-track "Scarlet's Walk" was self-produced and recorded in Cornwall, England, where she also recorded 1998's "From the Choirgirl Hotel," as well as other music. For the CD, she teams up with longtime collaborators Jon Evans on bass and drummer Matt Chamberlain, both of whom will be with her at the Whit. Rhett Miller opens the show (see story, Page 24).
Also joining her on the CD are new Amos recording contributors, guitarists Robbie McIntosh, Mac Aladdin and David Tom. The guitars add interesting dimension, but happily the CD still overflows with Amos' trademark haunting vocals and searing piano playing. It's fast gaining notoriety as one of her most accessible recordings to date. And for something generated by an infuriating event, coming from a woman never accused of musically repressing her anger, it's something of a lullaby, infused with the promise of bright, tempo-shifting melodies and beautiful ballads.
"I think in writing, I was drawn to certain works over the century that have commentary and can penetrate people's walls," she says.
"You have these works through history commenting on war — your Russian composers, for example. They come from a time of peril and respond by taking people by the hand and giving them a torch so that they are not terrorized or paralyzed anymore. I thought giving a light and a doorway to come through was an easier way to relate and speak to people — that anger was not the right response."
At the same time, she began to draw upon those stories from her grandfather.
"I thought a collective memory was being awakened, that this was not much different from when the Native Americans were invaded, though ours was in an instant and theirs was over many, many years. But invasion is invasion," she says.
"I was realizing that if this collective memory was being awakened, we might be able to see our country as a soul, which helped me realize if you can access that, then you can also access the wisdom of that collective people."
In collective wisdom, it seems, there is safety.
"I began seeing people feeling like She — America — was alive," she recalls, which hitherto fore had not been the norm.
"French people have always seen France as something different from her people — something to be cared for. The Irish, too. Most everyone has. But Americans have made America much more of an object that the patriarch can pimp out."
The phenomenon, she poses, may be largely responsible for the negative worldview of Americans and threat to our safety. Therefore accessing the collective memory, our collective ability to connect with the soul of America, becomes a road to healing, peace.
"That was the foundation of the piece. My character, Scarlet, was developing her relationship with the soul of the land," Amos says. "America takes on many different faces as Scarlet gets to know her."
Looking closely at her various roles in relationships with others and to herself, Scarlet deals not only with the external betrayal that sparks her journey, but with the betrayal of her heart when she discovers a homosexual friend was abandoned by people toward the end of his life in "Taxi Ride" ("Just another dead fag to you that's all. Just another light missing on a long taxi ride," she writes). And she sees the eyes through the eyes of others: a manic depressive in "Carbon"; a wise, elderly Native American woman in "wampum prayer"; and a porn star, America personified, in "Amber Waves."
Listeners can trace "Scarlet's Walk" on a map on the inside of the CD jacket, and see where in America stories were written. When at the end of the story they realize Scarlet is pregnant but don't know who the father is, Scarlet knows this: To mother her child, she has to mother her mother, her soul mother — America.
The material presented in "Scarlet's Walk" really grew from years of traveling the country as a musician, Amos says. It also marked some significant changes for her as a writer. In 1998, when she spoke to the Sunday Citizen in advance of her last show in Durham, she was in the emotional aftermath of a miscarriage and described songs from "Choirgirl Hotel" as perhaps being fairies that delivered messages to her. This state of mind was evident in intensely emotional melody packaged with lyrics heavy with symbolism and word associations.
"Scarlet's Walk" is more pointed than this, more accessible, with a linear story, a deliberate message; "less of a private journal," as Amos puts it. It reflects maturity, an approaching 40th birthday in August, and the impact of becoming a mother.
"There was a lot of healing for me, carrying life and becoming pregnant, physically becoming a mother. I think I healed a lot sitting on my egg," she laughs. "I changed the way I did everything. … Changed my priorities. Putting another life first was good for me. And the miscarriage may have made me value it more. I realized that life is quite fragile."
This fragility of life, of land, of a people, seems to be the thread running through all aspects of Amos' life and work these days: like Scarlet running as a thread across America; like a song weaving its way into a soul.
Rhett Miller opens for Tori Amos at the Whittemore Center Arena on the campus of the University of New Hampshire at 7:30 p.m. on March 4. Reserved seating tickets are $38.50 and $32.50, with a $10 discount for UNH students with ID. Visit the box office at 128 Main St., Durham, charge by phone at 868-7300, or visit www.ticketmaster.com
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