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The Drum Media (Australia)
A free music/gig guide available in Sydney
May 19, 1992 (Issue 87)

Moving Heaven on Earth

by Mark Mordue

TORI Amos has trouble in mind: a crazy cosmic passion mixed with an almost traumatic exploration of memory. She sings and writes like a cross between Kate Bush and Joni Mitchell, the eccentric as offbeat princess of her own destiny, which might begin to explain at least some of the odd hooks that catch and stay when you listen to her album, Little Earthquakes.

THE classically-trained pianist who dolphin dives through FM pop, then jars you with icy off-key minimalism. The sexy '90s hippie woman who expresses pure hate; the love-child that got raped and managed to write Me And A Gun about the experience, telling the story in a raw acappella crack-up that's so technically wrong it hurts.

THERE are plenty of thorns in Amos' songs For some that's just pop as a therapy for 'deep' problems: claustrophobia, madness, love, sexual oppression, a psychoanalytical song impressionism that's painfully American, emotions for the grandstand smoothed of danger with a little mainstream syrup.

AMOS does it better than that. But it's interesting to contemplate why musical fashion has turned against women who look to an interior life. Why the heroes and sometime heroines are in the realms of dance, aggressive guitar-pop abstraction and rap's sassier, or brutally sexist, reportage. It seems that exhilaration, assertion and anthems of pleasure dominate the codes of styilsh pop taste: reflection is treated like a disease of indulgence and weakness, a throwback.

YEAH, Amos makes me think of Kate Bush, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Nicks, Pati Smith, Toni Childs, Tracey Chapman ... confessional, commercial, radical, astral, angry, Amos, she keeps me hanging on, finding true violence of spirit in arrangements that threaten saccharine resolutions, turning American pop into something more restlessly bohemian than a singalong. Is it any wonder her confused American record company passed her over to their English compatriots to 'sell' to the public, and for the time being the cloudy isle is home?

AMOS' mother is a part-Cherokee Indian. Her father is a Methodist preacher. They lived and she was born, in North Carolina. An already brilliant pianist by age five, she could play Leonard Bernstein musicals and West Side Story by ear. A scholarship to a conservatory that tried to break her spirit and drive formalism home mattered less in the long, hard run than being just out of infancy with a generation ot teenagers in the late 60's when Hendrix, The Doors and The Beatles mattered as much as composers trom the last century.

"SEE, I had ear ability. I couldn't read music. I was all hearing. Naturally. And the conservatory tried to break my ear. That means I was not allowed to play by ear. Which is kinda like having your feet tied it you're a swimmer. So I got really frustrated because they were trying to teach me Hot Cross Buns and here I was being able to play all this other music by ear. By the time I was about seven I was getting really bitter. But I liked the kids there and learnt a lot from them. It was during those real volatile 60's years: '68, '69, '70. I kinda got the subculture.

"THAT was the main reason I kept on with the charade. It really was a charade. And the bottom line of it all was I was a disappointment, I didn't come through. I just didn't come through. All the teachers looked at me, basically, like 'God, she had something so amazing and she just really petered out. She doesn't really have it.'

"I KNEW what they were thinking. But I kept on believing in my own work and my own music."

LOSING her scholarship at age 11, Amos spent a year "doing absolutely nothing. You have to remember when all your life you've done one thing - which I did - and that's play, then when you don't do anything and you're 12 years old and you're growing from a girl into that puberty stage, all your confidence is gone.

"SO my father was very concerned about me. And we were having incredible fights. I mean ... just ... ferocious. And then there was the religious upbringing going on the whole time: I wanted to be approved. You don't want to be an outcast. You don't want to be thought of as disrespected ... It was weird. Being really rebellious, and then being completely accommodating. Such strange opposites.

AMOS recalls the influence ot her father in the song Winter, when he asks her, "When you gonna love you as much as I do?" An intense, damagingly free conversationalist with a sensual humour to balance her, Amos breathes out a thought - "My father, yeah ... My dad ... is an interesting one. I think a lot of daughters and fathers have this relationship. Not all. But a lot of daughters have a real special thing for their dad. And my dad is like that.

"I ALWAYS wanted to achieve whatever he wanted me to, because I wanted to please him. And he was a real super-achiever, my father. He's still alive, but ... things have changed. I think when you get older and you move out and you get your own life, then you're not around them all the time so it doesn't affect you as much as when you're growing up."

IT was Amos' father who drove her to the conservatory as a young girl and waited all day while she had her lessons. When it all fell through and she told him she wanted to do her own music, he drove around to the local clubs and acted as chaperone for the underaged prodigy.

BY the time she finished high school though, Amos had "ditched the piano, got a synthesizer, I was seeing this older guy, I was beginning the rock-chick phase ... And I had all these romantic notions love and passion. And they got all screwed up through the years because I started to separate them - - lust means one thing: how can that be with your best friend?

"I REMEMBER ending up in LA. I was 22, and I acted really tough. I was into being Miss Invincible. But you know, when you're in bands with guys and they're tough, and they're strong, you become a wise-ass sailor. Underneath I was terribly lonely.

"ON stage I have a bit of what the French, I guess, would call 'whore'. She's really wonderful, that side of me. It feels very comfortable. But back then I was not looking at the vulnerable side of myself. I was squashing her. So when I put my self in situations and I'd push it to the limit, then she would resurge, she would find some way to go, 'Oh my God, I'm going to wee my pants if you don't get me out of here!'

"I JUST found I wasn't talking about anything. Not talking about my fears. Not talking about my feelings about religion. Not talking about what happened with Me And A Gun. Not talking about anything!

"THAT'S such an incredible separation of yourself. Like your shadow side and your light side. You have to be able to call all parts of yourself back together, or you're not whole, you're not complete - and you re always trying to find something to complete you: a job, a relationship, anything ... And its not going to happen. The only thing that can complete you is you.

"THERE'S parts of you that are really childlike, there is a part that is really passionate, and then there's that part that is really domestic, really motherly or fatherly, protective ... And why can't the motherly be passionate? Why can't the one who wants to hold the baby also throw her man up against a wall and lick him head to toe? I mean, why not?! And then want to go and feed the chickens ..."

TORI Amos plays the Rose Shamrock & Thistle on Monday 25th

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