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The Buffalo News (US)
Buffalo, New York, newspaper
Friday, March 14, 2003
On the road again
Tori Amos looks for the heartbeat of America
by Jeff Miers
News Pop Music Critic
Most of us spend our lives in the town we call home, venturing out only for yearly vacations, pilgrimages to our ancestors' lands or jaunts to Disney World. It's hard to get a feeling for the country, living this way.
Musicians tour. It's part of the gig. Inevitably along the way, they meet people. People from various walks of life, of different ethnicities, political persuasions, faith systems, musical tastes.
The kind of people that make up America. The kind of people that many have suggested aren't being represented in the media in the post-Sept. 11 world.
"I've met so many different people, from totally diverse age groups out there," says Tori Amos by phone, reflecting on her recent critically acclaimed "Scarlet's Walk" album and the tour that brought her to Shea's Performing Arts Center on Thursday evening.
"What I've found is that people are extremely aware now that they aren't getting fair and representative discourse through the media. This wasn't the case when I was out there in November. This is what the Europeans were concerned about, which I found when we were over there touring a few weeks back - that American citizens weren't getting enough facts to even be able to question the tenor of the country properly."
Amos cites the "emotional blackmail and the constant use of the events of 9/11 to stir people up by insisting there's a threat right outside the window" as the reason for this shortage of what she calls "reliable information." "I'm seeing now that people are networking in ways that I've never seen in my lifetime. Whether I'm going from Alabama to Nashville to Charlotte to Syracuse to Portland, or wherever, there is a questioning that I don't think we've seen since 1968. People are taking this very personally right now.
"People that I've met, whether they're on the right, the left, or in the middle, have a relationship with America's soul, not with our government at all. Something is awakening in them that says, 'My forefathers and foremothers believed in us having certain rights, and they're being taken away. We're being manipulated, and it won't be tolerated.'"
It's fitting that Amos is, in a sense, taking the temperature of America during her travels, for the narrative thread of "Scarlet's Walk" involves a similar plot conceit. Throughout the record, Scarlet - "not necessarily me, but parts of me and many others," says Amos - assembles a sort of road diary of American life. It's a complex album, full of dense layers of meaning and open to various interpretations - much, says Amos, "like America herself."
The album follows in the storyteller tradition, something Amos says she was steeped in from a very young age by her grandfather, a full-blooded Cherokee.
"I would sit on the porch with him, he'd smoke the sacred tobacco and tell me these stories. I don't think I realized at the time how profoundly he was changing me. It only came out when I started writing this album. And while I was writing and researching it, I was contacted by leaders of several Native American tribes. I have no idea how they even knew I was doing this, but they did. They said, 'We are her protectors,' meaning the country, the land, 'and we are here to make sure you do this right.' It was an incredible experience for me.
"Their stories are not the ones we hear often, but in a sense, they are the real stories of this land. I felt like I needed to try to capture that. And my grandfather was in this album, the whole time. He was there."
Part of what Scarlet finds in her journey is that there is a chasm between the spirit of this country and the image the rest of the world has of it.
"There are nooks and crannies in that chasm," Amos says. "Places for historical facts to hide, places for what really happened in the past to hide. We're not taught in our schools how exactly America was acquired. But I've been really romanced by the land, by the richness of it. We have such ancient history here that we don't actually access ourselves.
"To be able to follow the myths associated with the true roots of this land... I must tell you, it was like truly living a fairy tale."
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