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The Times-Picayune (US)
New Orleans, Louisiana, newspaper
April 25, 2003

Tori Amos casts out her demons with a song

by Keith Spera
Music writer

At first glance, Tori Amos' recent Scarlet's Walk CD appears to address grander, more universal themes than her early work.

The lyrics of her debut, Little Earthquakes, could pass for pages torn from a diary; she unspooled her frequently painful, deeply personal thoughts and memories against dramatic soundscapes sketched by her voice and piano.

In Scarlet's Walk, the title character, a stand-in for Amos, embarks on an epic cross-country voyage of discovery. The events of Sept. 11 inspired "I Can't See New York"; Scarlet finds herself asking the big questions about why it happened, wondering if her government had somehow betrayed her.

But she also engages in some classic Amos self-examination.

"The only difference between this and Little Earthquakes is that Scarlet reads The Guardian," Amos said during a recent phone interview, laughing. "(Around Little Earthquakes) she was too busy with her own little life. Which is fine -- that's what you do when you're 24. But hopefully, as you travel and you look at the world, you begin to know who you are. When you're almost 40, if you don't know that, you're really in bad shape."

Scarlet's Walk gets personal when Scarlet arrives in Louisiana. Amos' ties to the state run deep. She has recorded parts of past albums in New Orleans with local musicians. She shot the artwork for Boys for Pele in and around Breaux Bridge; that's an authentic Breaux Bridge piglet nestled against Amos' chest in one memorable image.

In "Taxi Ride," Amos sends Scarlet through Baton Rouge because Kevyn Aucoin, the famed make-up artist to the stars who died in 2002 from a brain tumor, lived there before moving to New York. He and Amos were friends; in Aucoin's book Face Forward, he transforms Amos into Mary Queen of Scots.

"'Taxi Ride' is a story about a guy where his friends deserted him when he needed them," Amos said. "I felt like we wanted to go by where he is from, and I felt like it was important that it ended in New Orleans. One reason is I like New Orleans. The other reason is I couldn't leave Kevyn in Baton Rouge. It needed to pass by and sort of wave to him as a little boy, but it needed to have transcended and gone somewhere else, just like he did in his life.

"And there's also a very thin veil in New Orleans between those who are walking in body and those who are walking in spirit. That veil is thinner
(in New Orleans) than most places. It's not inconceivable that you walk with the dead hand in hand and feel like there is a way to somehow contact them."

Amos' life changed after a painful process of rethinking who she was that started while she toured for her 1994 album Under the Pink. The subsequent Boys for Pele documented the process.

"Pele was pivotal because it reflected a crisis time in my walk. You could listen to a woman in pain on Little Earthquakes and it's not so difficult. But the walk didn't end there. The demons weren't really looked at yet. Pele really was about where I was as a person. To become sovereign as a person, you have to descend and go visit the queen of the underworld. It was a dark night of the soul time.

"I have a hard time listening to that record, listening to that woman, Tori, sing. Very hard. There is a lot of exorcism going on there. She's finding the demons within her being that she's projected onto other people and she's having to go and try to break some patterns. It's a stripping of flesh to get to the molecular structure of who she was."


But without Pele, Amos would not have been comfortable enough in her own skin to assume the characters on her album Strange Little Girls. Nor could she have undertaken Scarlet's Walk.

"I wouldn't have known where I stood with myself to write this record," she said. "Scarlet is not a woman in pain; she's a woman who's questioning. If you're in complete pain, you can't do that. You're too busy trying to make it from one day to the next. You're trying to keep your mask on . . . which people in New Orleans know about."

Amos comes to the Saenger Theatre Tuesday.


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