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Hartford Advocate (US)
News & Arts Weekly
March 31, 2005
Back to the Garden
Tori Amos gets all biblical on her latest
by Christopher John Treacy
Since the release of 1991's Little Earthquakes, Tori Amos has enjoyed a fanfare of unconditional devotion that less personable artists might find alarming. But she's achieved a balance between her public and private lives -- one that allows her to maintain a considerable degree of honesty in her work, but also keeps her roles as wife and mother protected and separate. Part of this could be attributed to her reclusive residence in Cornwall, England -- but a great deal of it is inherent in how she presents herself as an artist; the sort of music lover that truly worships Amos is also the sort that tries to respect her personal space -- to keep a reasonable distance. In return, Amos gives as much of herself to her fans as she can; it's an unspoken understanding.
In late February, she released The Beekeeper , her ninth full-length disc, and her second on Epic/Sony. Simultaneously, she's also unveiled an autobiography entitled Piece By Piece , written with revered fem-rock critic, Ann Powers. Though the book was turned in considerably earlier than the new CD, they work well as companion pieces. Not only does the autobiography shed light onto Amos' upbringing and the origins of her muse, it also provides short, songwriter's deconstructions of the new songs. Piece By Piece rings with an appropriately feminine tone, and Amos agrees, it's definitely not the sort of project that could've evolved from collaborating with a man.
"I think it needed to be written with a woman in the music business. Plus Ann understands me, and we're the same age," says Amos, calling from Washington, D.C. during her book-signing tour. "She's gone through many phases in the industry -- doors open and close for women, you become the flavor of the month, and then you go. She's watched all that happen. We covered a lot of ground over two years. She felt strongly that women's issues needed to be discussed -- being a mother, what women that choose a career have to try and find a balance with -- because it's different for guys; guys don't have to make the same choice. You can be 41 and never have to consider having a child, but as a woman you just can't do that, the clock is ticking, it just is -- it's not an opinion -- it's a physical reality.
"And I think there are a lot more physical issues that don't get talked about because they're painful," she continues to explain. "So we made sure to discuss my miscarriage. I think women miscarry more than a lot of us know. I know now because people come up and tell me. But it's such an internal experience -- no one else was a part of it except you and your mate, and nobody knew this entity; there was no funeral. It's a very complicated and strange experience."
On the surface, The Beekeeper might seem like "Tori-light," especially to those who have previously written Amos off as being too far-flung for their liking. But lurking beneath the unusually inviting musical landscape is a dense labyrinth of meaning; The Beekeeper is pure Tori Amos, despite a sense of calm permeating through it that hasn't been a component of prior collections. She says it's a matter of how she's learned to articulate her anger.
"Calm is really difficult to conjure up," says Amos, "but it's not hard to muster rage; you can pull rage out of your ass without even needing fingernails. What I've found harder to achieve is the ability to focus my anger, to be in control of myself enough that if somebody takes a shot at me, they don't necessarily get a response back -- that's when you've done your work, that's when you're a powerful woman."
Naturally, the emotional landscape of an artist's output changes as they grow older, and this is also a key element in the overall tone of The Beekeeper.
"When I was in my 20s, there was a certain questioning I had about myself. Hopefully, you're asking different questions when you're 41, because life becomes an entirely different ballgame. I'm no longer wondering what kind of woman I'm going to be, which is what I was doing at 26, when I started writing Little Earthquakes. I know what kind of woman I am now, for good or ill."
Much to her credit, Amos doesn't let her critics get in the way of her mission; she's painfully aware of the collectively short attention span that plagues our culture -- and she refuses to yield to it.
"Everything is so fast food, it's super-size-me music, super-size-me information, and it's super-size-me art," she says. "I feel like everything is 'something for dummies.' But you cannot base your performance as an artist of any kind on that model. I don't make records for dummies. I don't provide that sort of literal experience through music; I work in allegory. But Jesus didn't do that either. He didn't do 'literal-anything,' and you know what? I feel like I'm in really good company."
Amos says that she tries to construct music that speaks for itself -- so there's still enjoyment to be derived even if the intended meaning gets misperceived, either through a pure lack of metaphoric understanding, or as a result of language barriers.
"On the last few records, I've wanted to create music that, if you didn't speak English, you could enjoy on a different level," she says. "This record is really popular in Europe, so far, and that's because of its musicality, its rhythmic complexity, etc. -- because it doesn't get translated into all the languages. If people don't want to know what any of the words might mean, that has to be valid, and I have to respect that. So I've had to surrender that one for the sake of not wanting to take a person's enjoyment away. As [my] husband would say, 'Wife, don't beat me over the head with what it means! Let me love it.'"
But that doesn't mean that she's moving away from her standard conceptual motif; Amos is still very much involved in the intersection of feminism, religion and spirituality.
"The Beekeeper chronicles not just my personal life but also our time, whereas some of the earlier records were more about me. I'm looking at what's occurring with the mass consciousness," says Amos. "I wouldn't be using religious imagery like I am unless it was the vernacular commerce of the week! Ten years ago, the right-wing Christians weren't holding court in Washington quite like they are today. So maybe I need to reveal some things they're not -- like how women were edited out of the New Testament as it was being put together by -- quote unquote -- 'the early bishops of the church.' That's really what's at the core of The Beekeeper -- realizing that, OK, if we're going to go into biblical allegory, the garden is there for the Judaic world, the Christian world, and the Islamic world. So let's create a garden where we also have the ancient feminine there. The Beekeeper takes place not in the garden of original sin, but in the garden of original sin-suality."
Tori Amos plays April 10, 8 p.m. at Mortenson Hall at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford, (860) 987-5900.
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