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Philadelphia Inquirer (US)
May 3, 1998

'Tori-philes': An ultra-candid camaraderie

By Daniel Rubin

In the misty realm of cyberspace where Tori-philes dwell, it's always after midnight, a time for jagged emotions and naked honesty.

"My father told me that he didn't like who I was," a girl named Jupiter writes to all who visit Really Deep Thoughts, an Internet discussion group devoted to Tori Amos.

Doug from Utah updates the others with further tales of his coming out. Someone named Fragments1 announces her big step: "I found a therapist (deep breath) and I'm scared. Because I'm not sure how deep I'm willing to let her in."

The postings are like diary entries, or notes passed in the back row of class, but the words are unashamedly public. Talk long enough to devoted Tori Amos fans and you hear one phrase again and again.

"I have no secrets," says Beth Coulter, 36, a writer from Richlandtown, Bucks County, who dedicates her work to the singer, whom she credits for pulling her from a life-threatening depression.

"There are no secrets," says Brian Wiese, 25, a pizza deliveryman from Upper Darby, in the 29th hour of his vigil outside the Electric Factory last weekend to assure a place near the stage for Amos' sold-out engagement.

Only one person, he said, could make him and his fiancee camp out in the cold drizzle. "She speaks to the pain I've had most of my life," said Wiese, a tall, rail-thin man with shoulder-length brown hair and a wolfish beard. Amos reached into him with the song "Crucify," from Little Earthquakes in 1992. "It made me understand exactly what it was like for people who live their lives sacrificing for others," he said. "They get stepped on."

If Tori fans are a breed apart, it's because Tori is not like any other, her fans say. Fionas will fade, Jewels will dim. Tori grows with you, from songs that mine her rape experience to songs haunted by her miscarriage. While many stars shine because their audience wants to be like them, with Amos it's different. Up there on stage, she is them.

They share a language: Her fans identify themselves as "Tori-philes," as if their devotion had some clinical element of attachment. Amos herself calls her followers "ears with feet."

It would be tempting to parody these earnest folks who sign off e-mails with sayings from Willy Wonka and Richard Bach, have stock salutations such as "faerie blessings," and while away Internet hours pondering mysteries such as "If you choke a Smurf, what color does he turn?"

But their stories are wrenching.

Coulter says her strongest Tori moment came six years ago, when she sat in her living room with 200 pills and a fifth of rum. Amos' first album was on the CD player -- a suggestion from Coulter's therapist, but it wasn't working. Then something unexplainable happened: The disc started skipping, repeating over and over the words "When are you going to? When are you going to?" The song was "Winter" and Coulter knew the next phrase by heart . . . love you as much as I do?

"I felt myself embrace myself," she said. "The song continued. I got up. I threw the drink down the sink. I flushed the pills and I just sat and listened to the album and reflected on what I really wanted to do."

Michael Whitehead recalls his jaw nearly dropping to the floor when he first saw Amos six years ago at a club in his hometown, Louisville, KY. "I felt like I left the show different than when I walked in. It was the weirdest thing," says the 31-year-old computer programmer. Never before had lyrics moved him so. "Her music gives me the tools I need to find out who I am and be more of a whole person."

Two years ago Whitehead built "A Dent in the Tori Amos Universe," one of nearly 4,000 Web sites that honor the performer. It now logs about 150 visitors an hour, and Whitehead has heard from 13,000 fans since asking them to e-mail their thoughts.

"What's amazing is that Tori can bring together people who wouldn't necessarily talk. Waiting in line during the last tour, there was me - I was kind of the nerd type in school with glasses, and still am. The girl in front had purple hair and a pierced tongue. A guy in back of me looked like he was from the country. The guy behind him was a jock type. All these so-called stereotypes, yet we were all together talking about Tori."

Tori-philes, he says, "tend to be people who for some reason or another are missing something in their lives and are open to finding it." David Poe has seen the fervor close up. He's Amos' opening act on her current tour.

"I've been on bills with Shawn Colvin, Beth Orton, Lisa Loeb -- a lot of women," he said by phone a day after the Philadelphia show. "This is certainly the most -- what's the word? -- rabid, I guess, group of fans I've seen."

How rabid?

Observe Lisa Schmoldt, a Port Charlotte, Fla., tattoo artist whose back has become a full-color Tori tableau, starting with a black-and-gray portrait of the singer taken from the cover of the Hey Jupiter EP, and now joined by a fairy, an astral swirl, three planets, and the green god of the forest.

"I listen to her music and it's like self-inspirational," says Schmoldt, 32, who says the songs relax her when she's inking her customers. Consider how, at the end of 1996, when local noncommercial station WXPN-FM polled its audience's top 50 albums of the year, e-mails for Boys for Pele streamed in from across the country. They'd been spammed by the Tori-philes.

When Amos took questions from fans last month through a chat organized by SonicNet and Yahoo, 5,400 fans posed an unprecedented 12,000 queries, according to Atlantic Records. At one point, Joseph from Montana asked her whether she found some of her fans "scary in their devotion."

She replied: "I trust that they will use their balanced judgment and we will respect each other's rights. As I wouldn't intrude in your home, I wouldn't appreciate it if someone intruded in mine."

Elizabeth Lauren Perry e-mails 1,400 people with "The Tori Quote of the Day" from her room at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster. She got hooked on Amos while a junior at Havertown High School.

"I own every Tori poster, every Tori CD, every Tori book, every piece of sheet music, anything has to do with Tori I buy. It's become an obsession," said the junior majoring in music.

For those who have been hurt, Amos' words and music -- as well as her story -- is a salve. "I know there are a lot of girls who have been abused, molested, who look to Tori for solace and comfort," Perry says. "They can say, 'Look, this happened to someone else and they're OK.' . . .

"Tori is so comforting and open, and when she speaks, she's so warm. It's like she's speaking to you and she's your best friend and she's been your best friend all her life. Her words come directly from the heart and they go into the hearts of everyone in the audience."

After nine hours in line last weekend, Tara Kimbroe, 22, watched the tour bus pull up outside the Electric Factory. Amos stuck a hand puppet from a window and greeted her fans. "Everyone had said what a wonderful person she was and how she takes the time," said Kimbroe, a waitress from Newark, Del. But after a few handshakes, words and autographs, it looked as if Amos was going to head for her sound check without seeing her. Kimbroe broke into tears.

That's when the singer noticed her.

"Oh, sweetheart, come here," Amos said, and she wrapped her arms around her quivering new friend.

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