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Green Bay Press-Gazette (US)
Green Bay, Wisconsin, newspaper
Thursday, March 20, 2003

Getting inside Tori's head

by Kendra Meinert
kmeinert@greenbaypressgazette.com

It's an ongoing challenge among music writers to come up with ways to describe Tori Amos.

"Diva, witch and hippie chick," from The Village Voice.

"Trademark kookiness," says Blender, which hails her 1994 "Under the Pink" album as one of the "500 CDs You Must Own Before You Die" in its April issue.

One of 10 "Old Ladies Who Are Still Sexy to Rock Boys," according to Spin's current ultimate list issue. ("Oh, well good, hooray," she says flatly of that so-called honor.)

"Hyper rock goddess," "ethereal high priestess," "mysterious wood nymph," "fearlessly sensual," "eccentric," "provocative" ...

The list of adjectives is as long as some of Amos' own fascinating ramblings on her inspirations for music and the current state of America's soul. But ask her how she would describe herself, and the singer/songwriter/pianist is quick with a simple reply.

"I'm a librarian with a very cute shoe," Amos says matter-of-factly by phone from New York. "That is my job, and it's a privilege to be part of the librarian community. And I rarely leave my library, and I like it that way."

If there's such a thing as typical Tori, that's it. She gives you an answer that begs for more questions, gives you music that begs for more thought -- but always gives you something of herself. No wonder the fiery-haired Amos is regarded as the nurturing godmother to the female singer/songwriter generation of the '90s.

Early albums like "Little Earthquakes," "Crucify," "Under the Pink" and "Boys for Pele" and the haunting tale of her own rape told in "Me and a Gun" garnered the daughter of a Methodist preacher an immediate and intense following among young female fans known as "Toriphiles."

More than a decade since her debut, the 39-year-old Amos -- now the mother of 2 1/2-year-old daughter Natashya Lorien -- is an established rock icon who was fresh off a three-night sold-out stand at Radio City Music Hall when she called.

"It doesn't suck. It just doesn't," she says of selling out Radio City.

"I treated it sort of like a trilogy, like 'The Lord of the Rings' trilogy. I was looking at it as a threesome and a journey. In the old days, long ago, I would take those journeys in the '80s with ayahuasca ... I don't know if Green Bay is ready for this, but c'mon, 'Laverne & Shirley' isn't that far from all this. They took a different journey -- Miller (beer), ayahuasca, not that far. Radio City was very much like that, three different stories coming together and without any hallucinogens. Imagine that."

Amos is out on the road in support of her seventh full-length release, "Scarlet's Walk." She traveled to all 50 states while writing the 2002 album. The liner notes show her travels, including a guide to which songs she wrote in what states. The 18 songs follow the main character as she journeys across America.

Amos didn't set out to write a concept album, it just happened that way. "It started showing itself slowly. In the end I felt like I was playing Clue. You know, Miss Scarlet in the library with the candlestick," she says, laughing at another library reference.

"I knew America was a character in this. I knew she was being personified in 'Amber Waves' as a porn star, that she was being pimped out by her leaders. I saw all that. What I didn't understand was the scope of it and where it was going -- not until I was walking down Fifth Avenue on the 11th of September. I began to see I was writing a work on American history, but it was her story, the soul of our nation had a voice in this. We haven't been listening to her voice. We thought of our government as her voice, but of course that's not so....

"Until that day, I don't think the masses felt her alive until she was bleeding and there was so much human death that day. Then we were all tugged. We were all pulled. We felt something. Something was alive. And people started to gain relationship with the soul of America in ways I haven't seen in my lifetime.

"So the Native Americans came to visit me on the road and they warned me in their beautiful way. How they knew I was writing this, I don't know. My husband didn't know I was writing this. But they came, and they said, 'If you're going to write American history, you write her story. We are her protectors. You have access. We will help you, but you hold true.' Did it scare the heebie-jeebies out of me? In a way."


With Amos at her Bosendorfer piano and drummer Matt Chamberlain and bassist Jon Evans backing her, the set list on the current tour changes dramatically from night to night. In addition to her own music, she has considerable covers to pull from -- everyone from Eminem and The Beatles to Nirvana and Slayer.

"I begin with a different fairy tale every night," Amos says. "So depending on what's happened in the world that day and the letters and the perspective on the little town I'm in and the global machinations that are going on, that decides what we're going to tackle that night."

The music on "Scarlet's Walk" may be seen as a departure from the more personal and raw emotions of her earlier albums. It's merely a natural progression for an artist who is looking forward to turning 40 later this year, Amos says.

"It's just not as narcissistic. When you're 26, come on, you're trying to figure out who you are and you're writing your diary. You're pretty self-consumed, and there's nothing wrong with that at 26. When you're almost 40, if you're still writing that, woops.

"Some people, if they're not playing it out in their personal life, they can't write about it. Some people are able to really do research and allow themselves to kind of amalgamate into different people and live a secretive live. Maybe I don't show up at any of these silly celebrity things because I have a secretive life,"
she says, whispering. "And I don't leave my library without my candlestick."

To see her here
Who: Tori Amos, with Rhett Miller
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Weidner Center, UWGB
Tickets: $37.50 reserved; (920) 465-2217 or (800) 328-8587


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