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The West Australian (Australia)
August 11, 1994
On an Ungodly Mission
Blasphemy as a source of inspiration for song lyrics - and as a way of attracting notice - seems to be working for expatriate US singer/pianist Tori Amos. Michael Dwyer spoke to the tiny outspoken London resident who is causing a storm during a sold-out 110-city tour of her home country.
"Some things only She knows. There is a power that the feminine energy holds that hasn't been claimed, especially in religious mythology. Past the Mission is claiming that, I guess."
A chat with Tori Amos is a bit like logging into an alien database. Every time, you end up boggling over how someone can make so much sense while riding a tangent somewhere on the outer side of prevailing wisdom.
The concept of God, in particular turns spectacular somersaults at the hands of this tiny, red-haired piano person. Her latest album, Under the Pink, had a working title of God With A Big G, and one of its standout tracks is addressed directly to God Himself. Yes, make no mistake, it is a "He" that Amos has a beef with, and she carries it with a distinct lack of the I Am Not Worthies.
"On Little Earthquakes (her 1992 debut album), I went after the Son, so I decided to go after the Father in this one. Bigger game, so to speak," she begins in a cocky tone that would have your average parish priest feeling nervous already.
"There was actually a part of me that felt really yummy going: 'OK Babe, You're in a bit of trouble. Things aren't going well. Put Your feet up. I'll make You a cup of tea 'cause You need some advice. I'm not busy this week so You're in luck.'"
Ah. Small, red-haired piano person offers a spot of counseling to eternal omnipresent creator and Supreme Being. Nice one.
"There has been a shift in the way I see myself," Amos says of the confrontation. "Instead of 'poor little human', it's more like: 'OK, I'm human and maybe You are immortal, but I know stuff 'cause I'm here, so I do have a perspective that I value.'"
"That's really a wonderful place, I think. Humans haven't been taught that they should value their perspective. It's always been so much bowing and scraping to the mythological deity. And I'm kind of feeling like He needs a babe. I'm definitely going after the patriarchy in that song. I'm going after the male presence that's dominated religion and calling forth the goddess to do that. It's a goddess thing to do."
In the absence of any reply from the Patriarch in question, Amos has had to settle for the wrath of self-appointed custodians of His wisdom in God's own country, the USA. A London resident for the past three years, she is enjoying a sold-out 110-city tour of her home country.
"I've had a lot of response from the fundamentalist Christians over here," she laughs in a manner that instantly breaks at least three Commandments. "Oh God, I'm going to hell! In the southern states of America they won't play me at all. God was the No. 1 record on US alternative radio for four weeks and they wouldn't play it.
"It's really funny. I'm the Devil's Daughter down there and I have to chuckle because these guys are missing the point. This is about freedom." Whoa! Start dishing that stuff out in America and watch 'em run.
"Funny you should say that," Amos continues. "They've convinced me themselves that they want freedom but they have such a hard time with it, women in the south anyway. Women are treated very differently down there. Southern women come up to me all the time and say (adopts good ol' gal accent): 'Thank you Tori so much for giving us some hope'. It's shocking."
Tori Amos might be the only woman on the planet who can make a man wish that he wasn't. Her songs come from an intensely female perspective, not only when they're dealing with rape and other power issues. The "goddess" is on full alert in every line, whether resolving the Jesus/Mary Magdalene relationship in her latest single, Past the Mission, or dealing with the murder of a work-mate in The Waitress.
"I couldn't believe that somebody who just wants to hold hands and have cookies and chocolate milk would want to rip this waitress's veins out of her throat," she says.
As always, the questions posed by the song are part of the bigger issue and we're off on a passionate discussion about violence between women - "a whole society in the ladies' room that isn't really discovered." "I don't often cross paths with other women in this business, I cross paths with the men a lot more," Amos says, though she was recently photographed and interviewed alongside Polly Harvey and Bjork for a Q magazine cover story about female performers shaking up the 90s.
"There can be this competitive thing with women which gets very disturbing. Polly and I have talked about this. God! Why can't we just be supportive of each other? It's hard enough out there without two lionesses sizing up the antelopes."
Is it because there are still limited footholds for female performers in the music industry?
"I think that's a message that's been put out there by the industry and I don't buy it because if your work is great there's room for it. But if you look at the way that our culture has gone, that message has been in everything. There's not room enough for all women to have what they want."
"There always has been that idea that we're all fighting for our mate in the harem. Do what you can to get his attention. Not only paint your toes but paint your face and your belly, do something to make yourself stand out because you only get a few minutes to impress him. I'm talking about thousands of years; which daughter is gonna be chosen?"
"Men are competitive but in very different ways. We're competitive on an emotional level: 'See my wares! Love me more than her!' I'm trying to break that pattern and I know Polly's trying to break that pattern."
One excellent way of doing that is to fondle a bunch of rats and snakes in your music videos. God featured hundreds of them and Amos never lost her goddess glow for a second.
"I felt very primitive, which was a new feeling. The snakes were great but they just thought I was a big rat because I hadn't taken a bath and had 140 rats crawling on me. I'll tell you a secret about rats: they eat and they crap. That's all they do, right? So I smelled like a rat sewage plant.
"But I felt comfortable and sensuous about it actually. I always felt like, you know how the male deities come from the sky? Then the female deities should come from the earth. If you're coming from the ground up you have to dirty your feet a little bit."
So if Tori Amos' goddess is not afraid of snakes and rats, what is she afraid of?
"Being alone in a room with a boy. Gimme 300 of them and I'll be OK, but you put me in a room with one and I won't even be able to spread my peanut butter properly on my bread."
Tori Amos returns to Australia for a series of solo shows in November. Men, please approach in groups.
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