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Washingtonian (US)
February 1994



by Sherri Dalphonese

TORI AMOS, singer/songwriter, aims to shock -- from her blazing-red hair to her songs, full of sexuality and anger.

The daughter of a Potomac preacher, she sings about victimization -- from destructive relationships to religious oppression to rape -- and about the need for women to find their voices. Her first solo album, Little Earthquakes, released in 1992, earned her "best new female artist" in Rolling Stone's Readers Poll. A second album, Under the Pink, will be released this month. Her spring tour includes a stop in Washington. Her first album was a not-so-subtle look at women and society. In "Crucify" she sings, "I've been looking for a savior in these dirty streets / looking for a savior beneath these dirty sheets."

In "Me and a Gun" she sang a cappella, in a whisper, about the night a man tried to rape her: "It was me and a gun and a man on my back and I sang 'holy holy' as he buttoned down his pants / You can laugh, it's kind of funny the things you think times like these / Like I haven't seen Barbados so I must get out of this."

In her new album, Amos sings of liberation and of taking control. In the video for the song "God" she deals with religious rituals. "I have rats and snakes crawling all over me in the video," she said in an interview. "The rats are for an East Indian ritual. The snakes are from the Appalachian Mountains." In the song, she suggests that the idea of God has been twisted by man. "In the name of Christianity, we've done some awful, awful things," she said.

Her father, Edison Amos, is pastor of Potomac United Methodist Church on Falls Road. The two of them have been through the "ranting and raving" about her work, she says, and she says he now is supportive. In fact, he is retiring from the pulpit, partly so he and her mother, Mary Ellen, can spend more time as her music publishers.

"We love her songs," says Edison Amos. "We don't always agree with everything she writes and says. But when she writes about God, she writes about how images of God are so extreme, and that males made the rules of religion and left women out. Her personal faith is very strong. All Tori is trying to do is get people to think."

By age 4, Tori -- born Myra Ellen -- was playing the piano, writing songs, and singing in the church choir. In 1968, at the age of 5, she became the youngest-ever student at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. At 11, she was booted out for playing by ear.

Her father arranged for her to play Gershwin four or five nights a week at hotels and Georgetown piano bars, including Mr. Henry's, where the clientele was mostly gay. He chaperoned her until she was 15. Mornings, she went off to Richard Montgomery High in Rockville -- where she was homecoming queen.

Tori Amos now lives in England, where her music first found an audience - and she found room to be good girl and bad. "For years, I felt like different people at a dinner party," she has said about her life before Little Earthquakes. "When you've got the virgin and the whore sitting next to each other, they're likely to judge each other harshly."

[pages 58 - 59]

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