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The Virginian-Pilot (US)
Norfolk, Virginia, newspaper
Thursday, August 11, 2005

Music, bees and the Bible

By Malcolm Venable

TORI AMOS has never been afraid of telling it like she has lived it. The singer-songwriter, who says she was born a feminist, has built a cult following over the years for her confessional and sometimes haunting songs. Her song "Me and a Gun," from her 1991 EP of the same name, for example, gave a chilling account of her rape ; other songs have touched on her spiritual searching.

Agile enough to flip between powerful, sometimes angry music and softer, tender tunes, Amos has been an inspiration, sister, friend and goddess for many young women since her 1992 album, "Little Earthquakes," which in many ways fueled the folk-ish/alternative female songwriter movement of the 1990s.

Her latest album, "The Beekeeper," finds the singer still speaking out and still taking the road less traveled. Amos, raised by a Methodist minister and a mother of Cherokee heritage, published the album along with "Tori Amos: Piece by Piece," an intimate autobiography that addresses her life in full, from her battles with her former label, Atlantic Records, to her miscarriages.

Due in part to the birth of her daughter, Natashya, four years ago, Amos sounds less embittered, but she has by no means lost her sense of outrage. "Beekeeper" is a deeply layered conceptual album that uses bees' society as an allegorical statement on human society and biblical interpretations.

The album, which made Amos one of the few women to have five or more Top 10 U.S. debuts, starts like the Bible, with a heroine confronted with a piece of fruit. Only this time, the woman is urged to eat it to gain understanding. Her parable, Amos says, inverts a male-oriented power structure that manifests itself not only in gender oppression but also in the devastation of war.

Amos, whose "Summer of Sin" tour - named for "sin-tuality" - comes to town this weekend, talked to The Pilot about her music, bees and the Bible.

Q. How is this album different from your others?

A. They are all different. That's the idea. As a person you constantly change. If something happens in your life where you're infuriated, your work will express that. "The Beekeeper" is about the abuse of power by the patriarchy of our leaders. See, the bee colony is based on a female hierarchy. The honeybee gathers the honey and feeds the hive.

I felt that it was essentially something to address the abuse of the male hierarchy in our current world. I'm talking ideology more than anything, not just about men and women.

Q. Do you set out to make your lyrics difficult for people to understand, or is it just that you're writing for yourself?

A. I work in parables, in sound architectures. If you're able to allow yourself to walk in this world, then you can begin to understand the language. It's no different than when you're talking with a computer. I make mazes for you to walk into that are filled with light filament. Sometimes it's about where you are. Sometimes you have to look at the part of yourself that's a terrorist. It's very easy to spot the stranger carrying a bomb in a knapsack. What's very tricky is within our own personal universes, where we don't know how to tell a friend they've overstayed their welcome, or when they've not treated you fairly. That's where we're tested. That's what I write about.

Q. You describe yourself as a Christian woman, yet you challenge some of the Bible here as well. A. I go back to the original teachings of Jesus, not the ones hijacked for an agenda. I went back to gospels of Mary Magdalene, the Gnostic gospels of the Nag Hammadi Library that were discovered in Egypt in 1945. And I read that, and I even had my mother read it. She read it and she started weeping. She said, "If I had read this as a young woman, I might not have seen sexuality the way I did through the church."

The right-winged Christian movement is not covert, but overt. The Marys have been divided. Women have been feeling like there is a division where they have to choose. Women, though, are the ones that have to marry the Marys within their being. "The Beekeeper" is about going into the garden and planting other seeds of thought. Because Eve was blamed for the downfall of man, I thought we needed to create another garden where we do eat the forbidden fruit. That's the only way out. This way we think of ourselves and are not being seduced by the leaders.

Q. You were born in North Carolina and studied in Baltimore, so I'm sure you're aware of the military presence and the large religious contingent here as well.

A. I get more letters from Navy guys than you would imagine. All the time they question the orders that they're given. Especially when I wrote "Scarlet's Walk," which is from a Native American perspective, and "The Beekeeper," about a woman questioning her country and the decisions being made. It's more of a global perspective. I'm going after the religious manipulation that is used against the masses and reclaiming (Christianity) as a minister's daughter and going after the truth. It's like, "I know what you're doing. I know the parables. How can you talk about freedom and then send these boys to die?"

Q. Doesn't that make you a magnet for controversy?

A. Oh, of course. And you know what I say? Stand in line. I welcome you. I will wash your feet. The door is open. I will sing with you. It's not about being violent back to these people. That's the only way to combat destruction.

Q. How has motherhood changed you?

A. It's made me more compassionate. There's a time to be angry with the world, and that's not in your 40s. That's not attractive. If you don't sort that out, it's a great tragedy. Some people are gutted that I haven't become some desperate washed-out middle-aged woman. That's not who I am. I'm not angry at men. I've forgiven those men I've danced the vampire dance with. I can giggle about it now. I took their essence. I drank their drink. Now I can smile. It's not about being destroyed by past experiences.


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