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November 19, 2003
The Tori Details
Tori Amos is about to release her 'sonic autobiography'.
While she might not seem like the bookish sort, Tori Amos has entitled her first compilation album Tales of a Librarian. A collection of some of her most personal songs from her seven albums to date, it features Tori herself as the librarian of the title. Just don't go calling it a best of, mind you.
"It's more of a musical autobiography than a greatest hits," Amos explains. "It's a case of it being this woman's life, a chronicle of her 40 years on the planet."
The fact that this is Tori's story told through music and song makes it more immediate than a literary autobiography, which is written with the benefit of hindsight, according to the songstress, particularly when you consider a song like 'Me and a Gun', the chilling confessional of a young woman trying to deal with the aftermath of a rape.
"When I listen to 'Me and a Gun' it's the sound of me as I was then, in the middle of dealing with the rape," Amos recalls. "It's not like writing an autobiography where you are looking back on something and trying to remember what it felt like: this is me as I was in that moment."
The fact that most articles on Amos at the time centred on that song and the horrific events that inspired it, meant that she had to deal with her ordeal and even relive it on an ongoing basis. But then, her songs have always had that ring of authenticity to them. I wondered if it ever gets uncomfortable for her to perform these often very intimate, personal songs in front of strangers.
"It's uncomfortable when I'm sitting down to a plate of spaghetti, when I'm having dinner and somebody wants to know all about the rape or all about 'Professional Widow' and how I became an emotional vampire," she answers. "People didn't seem to know when it's not OK to talk about it. It took me a long time to realise that I shouldn't talk about it, that it's best to keep it in the song.
"But I can put that song on the record, along with Professional Widow, because I know that the woman who was hurting and who had become an emotional vampire turns out to be the librarian."
Amos has never been afraid to confront the most sacred or taboo subjects in her songs. Her latest album, 2002's Scarlet's Walk, was written in the wake of September 11, but instead of going down the rabble-rousing Stars 'n' Stripes forever route, it proves a more meditative piece, partly inspired by her Native American roots.
"When I spoke to members of the Native American community, they reminded me that this was the second time the America's mainland was attacked, then was by the Europeans," notes Amos, who feels that it is important for America as a nation to tap back into the collective memory of the original invasion.
"It doesn't seem as important now but at the time when I wrote Scarlet's Walk, people were being told that if they questioned the establishment, they were betraying their country, whereas it's really a case of if I don't question this, then I'm betraying my country," she stresses. In fact, Tori feels that there is 'a really big shift in the paradigm' in America now, with a groundswell of people who are questioning what she calls the 'subjugation of the masses.'
One song which features on Tales of a Librarian, 'Sweet Dreams' was originally considered 'too political' for her debut album, Little Earthquakes, a fact that is somewhat ironic considering it is probably even more relevant in 2003.
"Sweet Dreams was originally written when George Bush Snr. was invading Iraq and who would have thought that we'd be here again, more than 10 years later, with the son attacking the same country?" she laughs wryly.
While her relationship with her country of birth can sometimes be stormy, Tori Amos has always enjoyed a tremendous love affair with Ireland (she recorded much of the Boys for Pele album here).
"My relationship with Ireland is a quiet one, meaning that it's in my heart," she admits. "Both my mother's and father's people originally came to America from Ireland and when I forget what it is I'm doing, I always go to Ireland."
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