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Independent on Sunday (UK)
November 16, 2003
Q THE INTERVIEW: TORI AMOS
Tori Amos was born in North Carolina in 1963, the daughter of a Scottish Methodist minister and a part-Cherokee mother. The "freak child with really good rhythm" began writing songs aged two, and made her solo debut in 1991. A "Best of" collection, Tales of a Librarian, is out tomorrow. Tori lives near Bude, Cornwall with her British spouse Mark (whom she refers to as "Husband") and their three-year-old daughter, Natashya Lorien.
How are you?
I'm really good. I just called Husband and he's dropped our daughter off at kindergarten. When I'm not there, he dresses her, but he's really colour blind. I'll say to him: "you know you married a redhead", and he doesn't even know that. I had to make sure he didn't think he'd married Jewel, but he said "I can still hear."
Where did the title Tales of a Librarian come from?
I've chosen songs that have chronicled this woman's life, "this woman" being me. She was born in 1963, three months before Kennedy was shot, into a religious family in the South. She grew up in the DC area, and played clubs for congressmen. So from 13 to 21 she played for these people and watched them bring in their rent-boys and call girls, and then she moved to LA. Different things happened to her, and in the way she saw the world, and then she moved to London. It's an autobiography.
What three words would you use to describe yourself?
Likes good sauces.
So what exactly is a Cornflake Girl?
That song is about betrayal, and about how women can sell each other out, in ways that men never do. It's a different kind of wounding. I've always said that women don't use knives or guns: they don't need to. It all happens at the dinner table: with their hands in full view - no weapons. I've seen it, the damage that one woman can do to another.
As opposed to the Raisin Girl in the song?
Yes, they're usually the ones who aren't the most popular, but they're loyal and they're there. You know ... when the champagne has stopped, when the party is over, when nobody's calling. When you're on your knees, who shows up? That's the question. And you begin to find out. Sometimes it takes you years to find out who these people are, because everybody looks great when there's success in the air. But when there's loss - whether it's loss of life, or whether you're ill or whatever; having a bad patch, as they say - I always find it so telling. You almost want to be crawling on your knees at least once in your life, just to see who shows up.
Your daughter's middle name is Lorien. A Lord of the Rings reference?
The book, yes. Not the film.
Why do you say that? Aren't you a Peter Jackson fan?
I first read the books when I was nine. Then, when I was pregnant, Dunc, our Welsh chef, got me back into it. I'd had three miscarriages, so I really had to take it easy. I went to our little beach house in Florida and read Lord of the Rings again. I was bringing this little girl into the world and I wanted to create a place in her name where she could go, somewhere that was never touched by the malice of the 21st century. I don't know if Loth Lorien is safe, but it's a place that the 21st century can't improve upon. We can try and make movies, but that's just our impressions of it. It lives in the world of stories.
What is your favourite city?
Florence. I've never lived there, but I can walk there and do good writing there. I'm not drawn in, though: I like being a visitor in these places.
Why did you decide to settle in Cornwall?
Honestly, it was Husband's choice. I'd only been there to visit here and there with friends - you know, an American in Cornwall type of thing. But I learned much later, when we started getting together, that he used to go there every summer with his folks. I think it held more of a sense of home to him than anywhere else.
Don't you ever feel isolated?
Well, there are very few distractions, and the people are beyond any group I've ever met. Their loyalty is something I haven't really seen before. When I lived in London, I loved the different types of people and the different cultures, and sometimes I miss that, but they come down and visit me - and I think they like it. In Cornwall, everybody seems to know everybody else, and has done for a long time. I'm a guest there, and so I never try and impose.
Have you ever thought about surfing since being there?
You see farmers' daughters walking alongside surfers, which is a cute look. I like that look. It's one of those mixtures - farmers and surfers - that you don't really get in LA or Hawaii. I've never personally surfed, and this might sound odd to you, but I've sat for hours and watched this love affair between the surfer and she who is the ocean. It's monogamous, and I love that - when you see somebody who is just intertwined with something else. It can be a musician with their instruments or a surfer with the sea. I feel there's something sacred about it.
You've got some Cherokee blood ...
This is where we go back to my grandfather, who was Cherokee and really believed in developing your instinctive side. People call it their sixth sense or gut feeling - but how do you develop it and trust it? My grandfather and I would take walks together, through graveyards, dilapidated buildings, anywhere. He would ask me what I saw and usually I would describe whatever was right in front of me. And then he would make me ask questions: he would say, "well you're only looking at the surface of this." He taught me how to study people, to listen to what they weren't saying. He really did want me to try and listen. He was my greatest teacher.
You once asked: "How can I be a sacred being and a hot pussy?" Have you resolved that paradox?
It's an everyday quest. I married the right man, because I think you have to be with somebody who doesn't nail you down. Now it's about being a monogamous hot pussy.
Tales of a Librarian is out tomorrow on Eastwest Records.
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the World of Tori Amos