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excerpts from The Myth of Tori

Mary Ellen Amos says...

Mary Ellen Amos says: I don't think Tori had a strict upbringing, but she probably thought so. My husband was a wonderful preacher, and we would discuss what he was preaching with the children. Tori questioned it all from the start, and we didn't really know how to answer her. She felt women were cheated in the church. I think she's wrong but I accept that God speaks to us all differently. Tori had an inquiring mind and was very outspoken, which got her into trouble. She spent a lot of time at school standing in the corner. It was such a struggle. When things were rough, I'd always tell her, "Don't stop talking to me! I don't care what you say, just keep talking to me!" We keep the channels open, and that has made all the difference.

Mary Ellen Amos says: Tori Ellen was accepted at Peabody at age five. We had a lot of friends around us who were very skilled in music. My husband was serving a large church in the suburbs Baltimore at the time, and she was singing in the choir before she was three. There were a lot of people that were very talented in music in the church, and when she was four, the choir director encouraged us to have her audition at the Peabody Institute, which is the preparatory part for the Conservatory of Music. Well, we had a terrible time getting them to listen to us, and it took about six months before we ever got an audition, because they thought we were just pushy parents, you know. But we had several piano teachers who said they couldn't teach her anything, and eventually the Conservatory agreed to audition her.

And when we finally went in that day, there was a group of four or five professors that sat down and they said to us, "Well, what are you going to play for us today? Ring around the Rosey?" And oh, I became -- we Native Americans have a lot of temper and, you know, that's what's done us in -- I just had to really bite my tongue, because I said, "Oh, I think you will recognize it." She played a selection from Oliver! and The Sound of Music. Then she played a beautiful classical piece and they started listening. And she always had a marvelous repertoire. You know, everything from Mozart to Nat King Cole.

They'd never taken anyone under nine, but they made an exception, and when they realized that on a clergyman's salary we couldn't afford it, they gave her a scholarship. The principal put her hand on my arm and said, "God has given you the responsibility of raising this very rare child, and she has to be given every opportunity!"

Mary Ellen Amos says: Learning to read music was the first difficult thing Tori encountered. She used to offer to do her brother's and sister's chores if they would play her music for her, because once she'd heard it she could play it by ear. She was in a group of students who were teenagers, and there she was, this little thing whose feet couldn't reach the pedals.

Mary Ellen Amos says: Tori says the Conservatory kicked her out. But what happened was that they cloned you to play in their classical way, and we could see her interest dwindling.

Mary Ellen Amos says: By the time she was a teenager, the drugs were coming into the schools. Her friends were getting into them, and she was losing interest in the piano. Her father asked whether, if he got her a job playing the piano, she'd continue practicing. She said yes; and just before she was 13 she auditioned at a bar called Mr Smith's. She got the job and played there every Friday night for a year. Because she was underage she had to be chaperoned. I'd never been in a bar, but we took it in turns. We got letters accusing us of being bad parents. There was a vote in the church about whether they could support the minister and his wife. We said we had to back our daughter or lose her, and they voted to support us.

Mary Ellen Amos says: Most of the time the congregation loved her, although she did some outlandish things. She was a wonderful choir director, but she used to come into church in red leather pants. She loved to shock and she still does. The young people in the choir would do anything for her, but some of the mothers didn't think too much of her. They made sarcastic remarks, which she hid from me. She'd come home and be wiping away the tears, and I didn't understand how cruel people were being.

Mary Ellen Amos says: When Tori left home, it was the worst thing that happened in my life. We'd shared so much. She was always the child-woman. At times it was as if she was the teacher and we were the children. She had this drive within her, and on her twenty-first birthday she said she had to go. We put her on a plane to LA -- she didn't know anybody there. Then she changed her name. She was the fifth generation of Ellens in the family, but she'd always hated her name.

Mary Ellen Amos says: It's very important to remember the struggles that performers without inside connections go through the get to the top. Her first album, Y Kant Tori Read, bombed. It wasn't until she got to London that she really began to be played a lot on the radio. They recognized her as an unusually gifted pianist, and they were interested in her music. That's one of the reasons she loves it there and why she's lived much of her life there since 1991. They love her, and she loves them back.

Mary Ellen Amos says: I love to see her play. She gives everything on stage -- when she comes off she's totally limp. We're usually the only white-haired people at her concerts, but we've met some of the real rockers and they've been so nice to us. I find young people very stimulating because they aren't yet cast in society's mold. I can't be grateful enough to her for letting me share that world.

Mary Ellen Amos says: She is proudest of RAINN, the Rape Abuse Incest National Network. It is something real that has helped people. It met a need. Young people come up to Tori Ellen at her concerts and say, "You've given me back my self-esteem." The song "Me and a Gun" came out of a personal experience of hers, a rape, and is done at every performance. It's been an enlightening experience for me. Her music speaks to me, and all of my emotions and distresses and dreams come alive. She's had devastating experiences. When she called me on the phone that morning after she was raped, I got on the next plane. I still can't speak of it, but I know the fact that she has been able to help other people through RAINN has been therapeutic.

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