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Dallas Morning News (US)
Dallas, Texas, newspaper
Friday, June 14, 1996
Tori Amos tires of her unconventional stance
By Thor Christensen, Pop Music Critic
Tori Amos- the queen of confessional angst-pop- has a new confession to make: She's sick of being a rebel.
"I was a rebel for such a long time... to the point where I put on these sexual shows for the sake of shock value," she says. "I'm tired of being a rebel. Now I just want to be me."
That doesn't mean the new Tori has started following the beaten path. Her latest and most ambitious album, Boys for Pele, features a jaw-dropping photo of the singer-pianist suckling a piglet. The music on the CD is an oft-bizarre brew of rock, opera, new age and Broadway styles, and the lyrics sound like Alice in Wonderland channeled through Erica Jong.
But while she's still weird after all these years, Ms. Amos, 32, says her life and music have changed drastically in the wake of her 1994 split from Eric Rosse, her longtime boyfriend and producer. "I hit bottom while I was out on the road for Under the Pink," she says, referring to her last album. "I separated from a soul mate, and for the first time I started to look at my beliefs about men, women, equality, honor, disrespect, passion, sensuality - all these things. As I wrote the songs for Boys for Pele, I started valuing myself through my own eyes, instead of valuing me through the eyes of others, like the press or a lover or whatever."
Eyes have been fixed on Ms. Amos for most of her life. A child prodigy at classical piano, she enrolled at Baltimore's prestigious Peabody Institute at age 5, but later lost her scholarship when she insisted on performing her own pop songs.
She also grew up trying to elude the rigid outlook of the Protestant church, she says. "As a minister's daughter, shock value was part of my palette as a painter. I was the girl who taught the boy's choir in red leather pants... It was the way I survived serious Victorian Christianism, the way I managed not to become their projection of what a Christian woman is."
Today, her music boasts more references to God than a Billy Graham speech - only she's not exactly singing the Lord's praises.
In "God" for example, she sings, "God sometimes you just don't come through/Do you need a woman to look after you?" For the "God" video, the singer rolls on the ground and lets a symbolic plague of rats scurry over her body and face. On Ms. Amos' new album, a character says, "Honey, we're recovering Christians," while another questions the sex of Jesus: "It's time to tell the world/It was a girl back in Bethlehem." And on her current tour, she's been singing R.E.M.'s "Losing My Religion."
But while she continues to question religion in her music, the singer says she's distancing her career from her other noted obsession: sex. In the past, her concerts were libido-crazed affairs in which she used her piano bench like a marital aid and talked about performing acts of self-love while listening to Led Zeppelin II. But that was the old Tori, she says.
"God knows what I was up to [onstage] a few years ago. I was just not comfortable with my womanhood, and I had other stuff going on that I've since worked through. Now it's shifted from being a sexual show to just being a passionate show, on a physical level, a mental level, and a spiritual level," she says.
Spiritual lyrics are Ms. Amos' trademark. But because she often writes them in cryptic fashion, fans demand to know what her songs "mean" - which misses the point of her music, she says. "People will say things like 'Is "Muhammed My Friend" about a cat?' and I'll reply with something like 'Well... I'm sure someone has a cat named Muhammed.' I try to write lyrics that don't have a literal translation. They're like dreams, where the lamp isn't always the lamp and the sea represents something other than the sea. It's like when you're trying to figure out what a mental patient is thinking by looking at their art. Sometimes you have to go through another doorway to find the essence of something."
Many of her devotees think the essence of Ms. Amos is that of a "girl who thinks really deep thoughts" (to borrow one of her lyrics), and the singer plays up that image in interviews. She speaks in a whisper, as if her ideas are too intense for passersby to hear. She punctuates her sentences with deep breaths and sighs (sort of like her singing style), and she answers no question without first mulling it over.
Asked about the misconceptions she thinks people have about her, she pauses for 20 seconds while cooking up a response. "People think I don't have a sense of humor at all, that I don't know how to have a laugh over a margarita," she says finally.
"But they're just not feeling what I'm saying. My humor is like a butter knife, not a butcher knife. My humor is there - it's just not very obvious."
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