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Akron Beacon Journal (US)
Akron, Ohio, newspaper
Thursday, September 12, 1996

Healing through song

Singing about a painful experience gives Tori Amos strength

by Kevin C. Johnson
Beacon Journal pop music writer

Concert: Tori Amos, Josh Clayton
Where: E.J. Thomas Hall, 193 Hill St., Akron
When: 7:30 p.m. Monday
Cost: $23.50
Information: 330-945-9400

Every time singer Tori Amos hits the concert stage during her current "Dew Drop Inn" tour, she's forced to relive the most terrifying time in her life.

It comes during Me and a Gun, the signature song from Little Earthquakes, her 1991 album. She wrote the song after being sexually assaulted several years ago. In the song, she questions whether she deserved the violence just because she wore "a slinky red thing."

She always performs the stark, haunting ballad a cappella, and its intensity seems to stun rapt concert crowds into silence.

The feeling must be nothing compared to what Amos endures, regularly performing it. But she says she's actually OK doing such a personal song. She admits, though, after writing it she wasn't sure what the song would do to her emotionally. These days, however, she's finding it healing.

"I think I'm working on that place in me that was terrorized and really afraid. Now when I sing it, it gives me a lot of strength because I'm not running." Amos was interviewed last week by telephone from Boston. She brings her intimate show to E.J. Thomas Hall at the University of Akron Monday night.

Amos, 32, took a long time to get to the point where she can say the song is healing. What helped her get there, she says, was realizing, to her shock and amazement, how many other people out there have experienced violence as well.

"Almost everybody in some way has experienced some level of violence from one side or the other," says Amos, an articulate and thoughtful woman who often takes noticeable pauses before answering a question, obviously contemplating her responses.

"At a certain point, there does become a place where the heart opens up and people express their fears and pain. That's when the healing really takes place."

She reminds that violence against women has been going on for hundreds of years.

"There were times when if you were a woman... your husband could beat you and rape you, or whatever. People could do what they wanted with you. You were meat. You were nothing unless your brothers and fathers protected you, unless they were raping you," she says.

However, she believes, progress has been made in this century. "It's a great leap to heal thousands of years of violence."

Adding to her healing process is an adjunct of sorts to Me and a Gun -- the standard Somewhere Over the Rainbow, of all things, which she occasionally does in concert these days following Me and a Gun. The song is also found on her new Hey Jupiter recording with other new songs such as Sugar and Honey.

"Funny you ask," she says about Somewhere Over the Rainbow, a song she has discussed with Liza Minnelli (Judy Garland, Minnelli's mother, sang the song in the classic The Wizard of Oz).

"I'm questioning that whole sentiment, the idea that the dreams you dare to dream really do come true. They might come true, but you might have some scars and wounds you take with you that they don't tell you. The rainbow isn't attained without chasing your demons and your pain," says Amos.

She doesn't mind exposing so much of herself to strangers because she's a hermit in her personal life, "very protective of my heart privately, but publicly it's the other extreme. I keep out of sight because I feel my thoughts are so uncovered in my music that in my own life I don't feel social. There is a level of privacy I keep day to day."

Her musical openness is good news to Amos' legion of "Toriphiles." Her young fans soak up everything Tori. On the Internet, they belong to the Holy Church of Tori and the First International Church of Tori. They talk in "Tori-speak" and read fanzines with titles like ediTORIal.

They devour any Amos tidbit, attend concerts like Deadheads and spend a lot of time trying to decipher her lyrics. Their current project is her latest album, the million-selling Boys For Pele. Combing through her lyrics can be a daunting. Her writings often are so mystical and metaphoric they sometimes can verge on the indecipherable.

"I know some of these kids," says Amos, who says she loves touring because of the audience contact it provides. She says she has met the Toriphiles. "Believe it or not they're quite down-to-earth and your typical nerd whom we love. Most of them are really interesting people. Other musicians ask if they can borrow them. They're quite unique and dead clever."

Laughing, Amos says she finds some fans humorous when they tell her "my songs don't mean what I said they mean in an interview, that the song really means this and they're sure of it. I go 'OK, fair enough.' This isn't a potato-head kind of crowd. They have their own minds."

She says these extreme fans may be bored with other things going on in their lives and find something interesting in her music, which explores everything from God to the broken relationship with boyfriend and former producer Eric Rosse. The fans meet on the Internet, she says, and her music serves as a "window for them to start talking about their own philosophies. ... I do know I'm really just a bridge. I'm very clear about that. But the music seems to get them to talk about other things, a place for them to talk about what their beliefs are."

The cornerstone of Amos' own belief is that everyone has a right to their own belief system, whatever that is, and beliefs should never be forced on another. "I think the whole world is pretty much told what to think, not how to think. I'm trying to bust that program for myself. I was brought up in a very Christian home, and I was taught that things were absolute," says the classically trained Amos, whose father was a preacher.

"That's the bottom line of the music, and I'm always going after it from a different angle - how we control each other or how I control somebody because I don't feel secure."

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