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The Alameda Times-Star (US)
San Francisco Bay area newspaper
April 11, 2003

Tori's body map

By Alan Sculley - CONTRIBUTOR

SHORTLY after Sept. 11, Tori Amos went on tour to support her CD of cover songs called "Strange Little Girls."

It was then that she noticed some fundamental changes in people she encountered, either in person or through letters.

"People were maybe relating to each other in ways they normally wouldn't. Barriers were dropped that normally wouldn't be dropped," Amos says. "The masks were down."

The idea that fans were reflecting on the people, the events and places most meaningful in their lives resonated with Amos.

Part Cherokee Indian, Amos has long been familiar with the native American concept of body maps -- collections of experiences that are ingrained in people and provide a guide to each person's life and inner soul. Amos is also familiar with another fundamental belief of native Americans -- the need to respect and nurture their homeland. Amos says she saw many Americans starting to adapt a similar outlook toward their country.

"People (started) feeling like America was a live being that had been attacked ... lying burning and wounded, as a mother, or a friend, like the native Americans used to look upon her," Amos said. "And maybe there was a stirring there in that thread that America wasn't just an object for people anymore."

The idea of a person possessing her own personal body map and America as a land to love and nurture both became key themes of "Scarlet's Walk," Amos' release following her 2001 tour.

"...I think that a lot of us love America deeply and a lot of us feel that these are troubled times. And she (America) is at a crossroads, and we have many questions to ask where we need to go and hold her hand. So the album is really about those questions."

But looking back, she says the concept behind "Scarlet's Walk" had started bubbling up before she went on tour.

"When I was pregnant with Natashya, I think I started getting seeds coming, but only in segments, so maybe eight-bar phrases," Amos says, mentioning her daughter, now 2. "And I didn't know why in the world there were references to America, but there were. Sometimes subtly, sometimes there seemed to be a reference to a woman, and I could sense her. But I didn't know (the full story) at the time.

"So not until I was on tour and going across the world myself -- through the night, through the day, through different climates --
(with) different people coming to the shows telling their stories, not until then did it all start to come together."

"Scarlet's Walk" works on several levels. For one thing, it can be taken as a strict narrative account of one woman's travels, the people she meets along the way and the events that occur.

The story begins with Amos' main character, Scarlet. She travels to Los Angeles after receiving a call from a long-time friend, Amber Waves, a fading porn star who has reached a crisis in her life.

After helping her friend through this difficult period, Scarlet meets who she thinks is the man of her dreams, and the song "A Sorta Fairytale" describes their travels and Scarlet's eventual realization that they weren't really a perfect couple after all.

By now Scarlet is clearly on a journey, and her travels bring her together with other lovers, prompt her to explore her Native American roots and to make stops in cities in every region of the United States.

Taken together on a strict story-telling level, the songs and stories of Scarlet's journey form a colorful travelogue that offers insight into Scarlet's character and how her experiences reshape her life.

On a deeper level, though, "Scarlet's Walk" also offers commentary on the state of America, and how the choices we make affect our lives and the people and the world around us.

"This is a woman who is questioning and discovering things," Amos says of Scarlet. "She loves, she gets disappointed. There's death and there's birth, and there's (the) sinister and she walks hand in hand with it all. And sometimes they drop her and she lands harshly. And sometimes they drop her and wings seem to catch her.

"And I think that a lot of us love America deeply and a lot of us feel that these are troubled times,"
she says. "And she (America) is at a crossroads, and we have many questions to ask where we need to go and hold her hand. So the album is really about those questions. Can Scarlet find the right questions?"

If that sounds like a deep concept, it is. And it's just the kind of multi-layered, highly emotional and personal work one would expect from Amos, given her past music.

A classically trained pianist who began playing at age 2 and was kicked out of the prestigious Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore at age 11 for improvising too much on the classics, Amos first made a name for herself in the'80s trash metal band Y Kant Tori Read?

She has since distanced herself from that episode. Her true musical vision didn't come into focus until 1992, when she emerged as a solo artist with the CD "Little Earthquakes."

Immediately Amos established her singular vision and sound. With piano forming the backdrop for music that stylistically echoed everything from classical to pop to opera, "Little Earthquakes" found Amos confronting remarkably personal subject matter. Nowhere was this more evident than in the song "Me And A Gun," where Amos chillingly retold the true story of her rape.

Subsequent CDs haven't always been as harrowing as that first effort, but they have frequently found Amos exploring emotionally complex and deep subject matter ranging from Amos' conflicting feelings and expectations of men (on the 1996 CD "Boys For Pele") to self-empowerment and overcoming a victim mentality (on 1994's "Under The Pink"). She reflects on the emotional effects of her miscarriage during her first pregnancy on the 1998 CD "From The Choirgirl Hotel."

Lyrically, "Scarlet's Walk" is one of Amos' most ambitious concepts. And while Amos often has cryptic lyrics, the new CD is one of her most accessible works yet.

Using a full band on most tracks, Amos offers inviting and enticing pop on "A Sorta Fairytale" (a single that has spent more than 20 weeks on the adult top 40 chart) and "Amber Waves." On "Crazy," the melodic mood turns more sensual, while "Pancake" deals in spookier textures. "Gold Dust," a song that doesn't include a full band, is a dramatic ballad built around Amos' ornate piano playing and strings.

As for just how much "Scarlet's Walk" reflects Amos' own life -- her body map, if you will -- the singer-songwriter isn't about to get too specific.

"It's a story based on real people and real events," Amos says. "Sometimes as a storyteller you have to tell it in ways that maybe protect a few people. I don't even know if the people that it's about even know that it is they."

And while Amos will admit that she identifies strongly with the Scarlet character, she stops short of saying she was writing about herself throughout the CD.

"I kind of got wrapped up in Scarlet," she says. "At first I used to say she seems to wear my shoe size, but I think I wear her shoe size."


[This article also appeared in the San Mateo County Times on April 11, 2003.]


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