songs | interviews | photos | tours | boots | press releases | timeline | stories

Dazed and Confused (UK)
February 1996

Talk of the Devil

by Susan Irvine

Tori Amos has an angry snatch. You can see it right there on the cover of her new album, Boys for Pele-in a symbolic kind of way, Tori sits on a rocking chair, strumming a shotgun as if it were a guitar, a snake wrapped round her rocker and a dead cock hanging in the corner. men are bastards sometimes and that's what she's singing about.

Feeding boys to Pele, Hawaiian volcanic goddess of fire. If you were unlucky enough to be male in Hawaii at one time, you too could have been fed into the molten lava of Pele's blowhole for a little light lunch.

"But you'll notice that I've put the gun down on the back cover," says Tori. Instead, she's picked up a little pig, which she suckles in one of the shots on the inside. It's all symbolism, of an out of the fallopian tubes into the fire kind. The pig is the ugly side of ourselves, the side we refuse to acknowledge. Tori is into feeding her precious breast milk to the pig within. In a symbolic kind of way.

Does it all remind you of French and Saunders taking off Ingmar bergman with a symbolic cup of tea? Read no further. Amos interviews are not for you. They are loaded with symbolism. It shouldn't put you off the new album. Boys for Pele is her best yet, the work of an artist who has found her stride and is grinding her heels into her voice and her groin into the piano stool ever deeper. You don't need to know that ashre ashre ashre is Hebrew for "we are one" to understand the track "Muhammed My Friend". After all, did you ever really know what a Cornflake Girl was?

In a way Amos's is the kind of music you ought to stop liking when your parents give you the keys to the house. Just like you can't read D.H. Lawrence after a certain age without bursting into cynical, hysterical laughter so it ought to be with lyrics like: Baker Baker... what's in your cake this time. There's a certain Cat Stevens Bring Tea for the Tillerman aspect here that should make a grown girl cringe. But I suppose you have to acknowledge the piggie within. And the inner pig loves this stuff. Amos's albums to date have been like self-help manuals on CD. But Boys for Pele is different. Amos is no longer just a musical Marje Proops. The pixie pianist has evolved a few fangs and dropped a little strychnine into the tears. There are more guts, more growls and more gristle. It's also the only album I've heard this year featuring thrash harpsichord and the bellow of an Irish bull in full rut. If Little Earthquakes was a journal and Under the Pink an impressionist painting, what is this about? Tori pauses for a while, and then runs with narrowed eyes: "Blood," she blurts. And laughs.

Tori's had a lot of blood-letting to do. At 21, she gave a lift home to a member of her audience after a night of playing piano in a club. He raped her in the back of the car, with a gun to her head. She thought he might kill her. This is the experience she sings about in "Me and a Gun" on Little Earthquakes.

Sex and the gun are layered into the symbolism of Boys for Pele. "The gun on the cover is for me at the crossroads. Me and a Gun... We've been here before. We know what it's taken between the sexes to get here. The gun is about owning and claiming your anger; claiming yourself as a warrior. And then being able to move on from that." After the rape, it took seven and a half years with boyfriend Eric Rosse, producer of her first two albums to exorcise her psyche. On one level, Boys for Pele is about coming to terms with the end of that relationship. She wrote it in the year and a half since they split. "I'm trying to let Eric go. This record was a huge step towards that. This last year has been my firewalk."

After the split with Rosse, Tori found herself lunging about desperately for a man, any man, to fill the space "and some of that got a little bloody". These other men are in the album too. "I'd find myself doing things like crawling to the telephone... degrading myself. I'd cut a million dollar deal and then be willing to go and be defecated on by some boy. I'd find myself becoming a piece of meat. Being the object of someone's disgust, because I wanted anything from him. I had turned to him for so many years... For seven years there were these things in which I just thought he was a god... I felt unworthy. But as a musician, that was where I could show my stripes."

If's it's not always clear which man she's talking about here, she wants it that way. Amos is very smart. She seems to be instantly so intimate, as though it's just the two of you, contemplating navels somewhere. But it's all therapyspeak; very little is revealed about names, dates and places in her life. It's a great interview technique. She laughs nervously when it's put to her, like someone who's been found out. "Yes, of course," she says. "But there are things I hold sacred. And anyway, it's feelings I'm interested in, not facts. It's the core I'm after now. I want the truth, not the truth with 'buts'."

And where is the truth? "I find it [the truth] especially when I'm in an altered state. Music can put me in an altered state. So can hallucinogens. I have used hallucinogens and I do sometimes still use them to journey to another space." She peers at me to see if I'll understand. "I don't use them to escape, but as a tool. And they have been helpful, but only because I have been working with people who have been in the Amazon and learned how to have visionquest. It's the idea of going into your psyche and knowing it more deeply. It's a complete wealth of information in there."

Amos is famous for being a whacko, a weird chick, a 'ginger nut'. She tells journalists that she composed her first solo album Little Earthquakes by constructing a fairy ring on the floor of her living room. In other lives she has been Sven the Viking and also "a fat little cook preparing meals for my knights". She is devoted to her medicine woman, Peggy Beach; "not a Native American, but a very ancient soul'. And she has channelled the spirit of Anastasia, last of the Romanovs, who apparently wanted her story told in song. Tori obliged. Weird? This is pretty mainstream stuff. Walking around saying, "Hey, the energy's really bad in here, man" or carrying a pack of Native American medicine cards in your back pocket is behavior you expect from half the people in the room these days, and 100 per cent of the people you bump into at Glastonbury.

If Tori Amos didn't exist the '90's would have had to invent her. She's the perfect nexus for our neuroses. Dad a Methodist minister, mum half-Cherokee. She rejected the straight-laced, sex=sin views of Christianity and embraced the Native American ethos of her Cherokee side. At a concert in Atlanta she famously, said, "Baptism: normally they sprinkle a few drops on you, in my case they held my head under for fucking years." You may applaud, but are you surprised? Transgressing traditional Christian values is establishment rock practice.

Her dad, the son of two ministers and a minister himself, checked his child prodigy daughter into Baltimore's famous Peabody Conservatory to learn classical piano, aged five, and when she was chucked out, aged eleven, took her out to play cabaret in Washington DC's gay bars. Her gay audience taught her about performing and how to give a blow-job, using several varieties of fruit. Her dad seems to have lost his way recently. "My dad is starting his rebellion against the Church now, and my mum's rediscovering the old Cherokee ways."

America, remember, is a fundamentalist Christian country. Amos's lyrics threaten Middle America more than gangsta rap because they're coming from the mouth of a middle class white girl. her single "god" was denied radioplay in America. the most subversive line in it suggests that maybe God needs a woman to look after him. Tori observes: "Britain is the one country that doesn't seem as affected by Christianity, which is really funny because they spread it all over the fucking planet and destroyed all these cultures."

On the Church's view of women she gets really angry. "The problem with my Christian upbringing was the role models for women," she explains. "The idea passed down to you was that you couldn't be a passionate woman-not a virgin, but a woman- and still claim experience and wisdom. Sexuality hasn't become part of the divine mother. The Magdalene is not part of the female role model of the Christian church, and that's a huge part of what I claim."

Mary Magdalene is "everywhere on this record". Her own relationship with Rosse, she conceded, faltered because he couldn't accept her as a creative force and yet also a loving woman; just like the Magdalene. "There's this denial that the Magdalene was as divine as the Virgin Mary. I absolutely believe that she was the sacred bride of Christ. She was a high priestess and they joined houses. If that had been passed down this would be a different planet right now because the world of women would be so different."

Lucifer is also rehabilitated by Amos. She's not the first rock star to claim sympathy for the devil. But then her devil is an altogether more attractive figure than the one who lurks on the shoulders of serial killers and crack pushers "I've been taking tea with Lucifer," she says. She looks at me askance. "I mean I've truly spent time with Lucifer, the energy of Lucifer. So when I sing, 'Father Lucifer, you never looked so sane,' I truly went to those places. I'm talking about the shadow side, the secrets of the unconscious. It's about claiming in ourselves what we hate in other people."

Suddenly she snakes forward, her face contorted two inches from mine. "Just go burn that girl," she hisses, "just go fucking burn her, she's a fucking cunt!" Her eyes become placid again. "Until I started bringing in my sin, my judgement of other people was so harsh."

Tori is sitting here in a hotel off the M25, chewing gum and drinking tea, exuding an earthy sensuality. The vulnerable child-face of previous albums is replaced by someone whose inner cast of characters now includes the masculine, the bloodsucking vampire, and the passionate woman, wet between the legs.

"Up until now it's been me and my piano. I'm just beginning to feel my womanhood and my sensuality. I'm reprogramming the woman programme. This is about finding my Woman's Worth." She says it like that, capital letters.

Not that this means she's a feminist. "Feminism is limited. Listen, I can drag a man's balls across the country better than a man can. I run my own publishing company. I run my own label. I was the youngest student ever at the Peabody Conservatory. I was a musician first. I held my own with the bad boys that can play their asses off. I wasn't just the girl singer. But I don't want to have to play it better than a man. That's what makes me puke. I just want to play it like it is."

Still, the Tori everyone wants to remain the broken-hearted survivor offering the heart in her hand. And squeezing it until all the blood runs down her dress. She may pepper her talk with 'fuck' and 'cunt' and 'Satan,' but that aura of the minister's daughter is hard to shake. And powerful. An angel singing about masturbating while her father is praying downstairs is sexier than Courtney Love screaming about her hole while dressed as a tart.

Tori asks me to shuffle her medicine cards. I have to pick one and then turn it over to see what kind of 'animal medicine' I need right now. I close my eyes and choose. I need an elk in my life. Elk is telling me I may have forgotten the excitement of the mating season. I may find my best option is to invite a friend of the opposite sex over for dinner or for an afternoon outing. Tori turns over another card. Snake. Snake looks a whole lot more exciting. "Snake people are very rare. It involves living through multiple snake bites, which allows them to transmute all poisons, spiritual and emotional. The power of snake medicine is the power of creation. Snakes reverse the cycles by shedding their skins." Snakes are prophets, wise women, creators, Tori, of course, is a snake person. She's an archetype for the modern soul. Maybe she does babble therapyspeak, but she transmutes the poison into powerful music that's worth a thousand trips to a shrink.

t o r i p h o r i a
tori amos digital archive