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San Diego Union-Tribune (US)
Thursday, June 25, 1998

A bold taste of Tori would complement the Lilith fare

It's That Column Thing
by Karla Peterson

As if the faerie references and the shoe fetish were not proof enough, another surefire way to tell that Tori Amos is a true girlie girl is to hear her talk about food, especially when she's not really talking about food. "You can't control your popularity," Amos says in the June 25 issue of Rolling Stone. "I know I'm an acquired taste -- I'm anchovies. And not everybody wants those hairy little things. If I was potato chips, I could go a lot more places, but I'm not."

One of the places Amos is not going is Lilith Fair. Through some apparently mutual understanding, one of rock's most distinctive female artists is not joining Lilith's cross-country, women-only slumber party. And just to prove there are no hard feelings, Amos gives Rolling Stone a logical explanation that is free of food metaphors, although not without culinary appeal.

"Well I would have a good bottle of wine with Sarah [Lilith founder Sarah McLachlan] any night of the week," Amos says in the magazine. "But my shows are theater, and I've worked a long time to get them to this point. This isn't just about eating some chicken and hearing a few of your favorite female singers. You walk into my show, you walk into a world -- it's a film every night. I can't impose that on Lilith and vice versa."

So Tori has no regrets about her second Lilith-free summer. But the rest of us shouldn't fool ourselves into feeling the same way. Tori might be fine without Lilith, but Lilith would sound better with a shot of Tori.

Like fellow faerie queens Stevie Nicks (who is in the middle of her own solo tour) and the brilliantly eccentric Kate Bush (whose fear of flying keeps her out of the touring orbit), Amos embodies all the female quirks and indulgences that today's upfront girls and take-charge women aren't supposed to indulge in anymore.

While the rest of us try to keep our food obsessions and our silly crushes to ourselves, Tori takes her ice cream and her David Cassidy lunch boxes seriously. In the process, she comes up with music so elaborately and proudly female, one reviewer accused her of singing from somewhere south of her mouth. He didn't mean it as a compliment, but Tori probably chose to read it that way. And so should we.

On her 1991 debut, "Little Earthquakes," Amos sounded so much like Kate Bush, it was easy to miss the weirdly singular vision that was simmering beneath the Kate-like piano pounding and Bush-ian vocal swoops. But on songs that probed the raw nerve of adolescent angst ("Precious Things") and gave a harrowing first-person account of rape ("Me and a Gun"), Amos made it clear she was not about to let a few social niceties get in the way of cathartic confession.

So you've found a girl who thinks really deep thoughts, Amos sang in "Silent All These Years." What's so amazing about really deep thoughts? /Boy you best pray that I bleed real soon /How's that thought for you?

While other singer-songwriters danced prettily around the truth, Amos dealt in the kind of unattractive truths you share with your closest friends. Preferably over a big bowl of ice cream and a shot of tequila. That combination of startling candor and liberating humor made Amos a cult heroine long before she became a Rolling Stone cover girl. And as she's gotten older, she's become even less inclined to tailor her songs for a broader audience.

On her new album, "From the Choirgirl Hotel," Amos is in touch with her anima in a fierce way. Written in the wake of a miscarriage, the songs are brimming with the messy emotions and mysterious details that rarely leave the heart (or the journal) to face the skeptical glare of public scrutiny. Some of the songs make no sense at all (Need a lip gloss boost in your america, Amos sings on the wild-eyed "iieee"), but the images that do bob to the surface are vivid and moving.

She's convinced she could hold back a glacier /but she couldn't keep Baby alive, Amos sings on "Spark." And whether she's examining the mind-bending effects of post-miscarriage guilt (Then the baby came /before I found /the magic how to keep her happy, from "Playboy Mommy"), the weird power of self-torture (You're only popular with anorexia so I turn myself inside out /in hope someone will see, from "Jackie's Strength") or just dishing the dirt (Girls you've got to know /when it's time to turn the page, from "Northern Lad"), Amos is her usual dramatically frank self. And the truth helps in a major way.

When Lilith Fair pulls into the Del Mar Fairgrounds tomorrow, it will be showcasing some wonderful women with some wise things to say. It also will make it OK for mortal gals to hug our friends, investigate some worthy pro-female causes and run around with pre-cleansing strips clamped to our noses. All in all, it probably will be a great day. But as we sway and smile to the pretty strains of Sarah and Shawn and Erykah, we should be thinking of Tori, whose hairy little songs about growing up female make it OK to run around with your guts hanging out. That image may not look great on a tour T-shirt, but the feeling takes you anywhere you want to go.

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