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Charlie Rose (US, TV)
on PBS
October 19, 1999

Tori Amos interview

part 1

part 2


Charlie: Her latest project "To Venus and Back" is a two disc set consisting of both studio and live performances. I am very pleased to have this native of North Carolina on this program. Welcome.

Tori: Thank you.

Charlie: Boy, you are hot. Look it, this is Rolling Stone for what, I don't know what year this is or when this was but there it is and here is Spin and here is Jon Pareles with a piece called "Disclosing Intimacies: Enjoying The Shock Value." All writing about you. You've just come off this tour with you and Alanis Morissette?

Tori: Yes.

Charlie: Sold out. 5 1/2 weeks. What's going on in music where there's more audience demand to see women than there is men?

Tori: Well, I think that it's...

Charlie: Coming of age?

Tori: It's, it's... Yeah. If you think about for a long time we haven't really talked about the female composers until this century. It's not that there haven't been any. I'm sure Mozart had a sister and she was very talented but nobody cares about her. And it's always been this, I don't know.... In the past that the artists were the men and the muses were the women and now I, um, have many muses actually.

Charlie: Do you really?

Tori: Yeah, I do.

Charlie: Like who?

Tori: Well, sometimes they're strangers and they walk past and I sort of weave them into a tale. Sometimes they're people that I know quite well and so I have to... It's a bit tricky because you don't want to expose them too much but if the material's too good then I have to write about them. [both laugh]

Charlie: You know there are certain things about writers. The highest obedience they have is to putting something on paper. I doesn't matter whose story it is. It doesn't matter whose conversation they're recording - in their head. The idea of what they write is the most significant imperative in their life.

Tori: There's a tradition of musicians that if you really.... I think, if music is first for you, more than, um, I guess we could say.... Sometimes I think people qualify their work by how many records they've sold or their chart position and yet that's not part of being a tradition of musicians. A tradition of musicians is when there's a sacredness to the music and that you have your little toolbox and you know that, in a sense, you're co-creating with this force that can kind of look at you at any point ans say, "I'm finished with you." So it's quite important, I think, for composers to just really.... Put the muse first.

Charlie: Listen to you: "If we could express ourselves another way, we wouldn't be songwriters. I don't think you write songs because in your everyday living you express yourself exactly in the way you want." [slightly long pause from both of them, then Charlie continues:]

So you write songs because it's the only way for you to express who you are and what you feel? Whether it's a personal tragedy of seeing consequence or whether it's a celebration of father and son or whatever -- of father and daughter or whatever it might be.

Tori: Or a tornado -

Charlie: Or a tornado -

Tori: of father and daughter.

Charlie: or yes, you're right. Or not a celebration, but a tornado. I'm gonna come back to your life cause it's interesting. I mean, you've ended up from Newton, North Carolina to the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore and then hung around the Maryland area. It's interesting cause you, when you were at the Peabody, you were clearly the youngest person ever there, weren't you?

Tori: Well, that's what they tell me.

Charlie: Well, you were like 11?

Tori: No, I was 5 1/2 when I was accepted and I got kicked out when I was 11.

Charlie: So you made it for 5 years?

Tori: I finished at 11. Yeah. It was over for me.

Charlie: It was? Ok. We'll find out what you found out about yourself. Now, this tour with Alanis Morrissette, tell me about her. Do you like her? Do you admire her? Is she good?

Tori: She's a lovely person, good heart. She's good at what she does.

Charlie: That's it?

Tori: That's good!

Charlie: I mean... well, was there conflict, was there tension? Or was it just a lovefest?

Tori: No tension because... I think honestly, she approached me and she did it in a way that was like, "Hey, lets be creative and put two shows together, two separate shows and um... I had to bring my own production. I didn't want to do anything where I couldn't bring my own production because that's not how I work. I have a pirate ship, I have a captain...

Charlie: Yes.

Tori: I'm the ship. (giggle)

Charlie: Yes.

Tori: I have loads of chefs.

Charlie: Yes.

Tori: And all sorts of people floating around. Thieves, fantastic. A few harlots.

Charlie: Yes.

Tori: All on my ship.

Charlie: Yes.

Tori: And we all had to come and be respected that, you know, no compromise on any level. and, she has her captain, she is her ship, and of course that's how it had to be approached. And, because of that mutual respect it worked out really well.

Charlie: This business of being of being a rock star demands... I've never seen such attention to every aspect of it... which seems like just fun. There is this obsession.

Tori: You know what they call me?

Charlie: What do they call you?

Tori: They call me an ant fucker.

Charlie: Do they really?

Tori: yeah

Charlie: why?

Tori: because um... every cell...

Charlie: yeah

Tori: every shape

Charlie: yeah

Tori: we spend time tweaking and tweaking.

Charlie: here's the question: why are you so obsessed with every cell?

Tori: Because it makes a difference.

Charlie: In quality or sales?

Tori: Oh, in quality. I mean, you know. I see myself sort of as a small to medium vineyard. And... they usually don't sell as much as the screw-top wine down in Safeway. But, I don't make wine for Safeway. God bless Safeway. Safeway is a necessary um... thing. But that's not why I -- if I'm a winemaker, I'm not going to make screw-top wine.

Charlie: So here's what you are. First of all, you're classically trained. You know that whole little experience at Peabody served you well.

Tori: Classically failed. yeah.

Charlie: Classically failed, right. But... you picked up something there, didn't you?

Tori: A bit

Charlie: All right, I want to come back to this passion you have with the piano. But what did you pick up there, when you were hanging out at the conservatory?

Tori: Playing with structure and form and understanding that um... You see, they were stuck in what was the structure and form of what they were studying instead of trying to push the parameters of what was structure and form in 1968. And, I brought in one of the Beatles' records, I'm not quite sure what it was...

Charlie: Sgt. Pepper?

Tori: It could've been that. I did love that record, but I might've brought in Revolver and said, you know there's something going on here... where these guys are pushing something that I think we should really study. And, they really um...

Charlie: They didn't like that idea at all?

Tori: No... They just they couldn't conceive of it. And, I said, yeah but this is the Bartok of this time, and they really... because it was in a different shape... then they couldn't understand it.

Charlie: So when you left there. I mean at the tender age of 10 or eleven what was it you set out to do and become?

Tori: To prove them wrong.

Charlie: To prove them wrong?

Tori: Sure.

Charlie: To show that you could do what?

Tori: To show them there has to be a vitality in... composers hmm... not just about... we go back to what gets played or what gets heard, because there's always been polkas, and stuff that people have been singing through the ages, you know. There's always been that "entertainment" side but then. I think we go back to being musicians and composers. A lot of times, it's in front of us, it's happening, and people aren't embracing it until you look back ten years later, and then all of a sudden you go, "oh my god."

Charlie: Pretty good.

Tori: They were onto something.

Charlie: Yeah, well that's the nature of...

Tori: Hm... yeah.

Charlie: um... But so you set out to find your own... place, set out to find your own sound

Tori: Carved, carve my own place.

Charlie: to carve your own place, huh?

Tori: Yeah.

Charlie: This... has so much to do with your (review?) but I want to hear so much, and it takes time to get it out here. To Venus and Back, this new CD. Did you write all these songs?

Tori: Sure.

Charlie: Bliss... is about... "Father, I killed my monkey." This is about what?

Tori: uh... Actually it's about my relationship with the Christian god. Instead of "Father who art in heaven", its "Father, I killed my monkey" and because my father um...

Charlie: Methodist minister.

Tori: Methodist minister... my grandparents church of god ministers. They're gone now. But it was very much about the Marys, the two Marys were divided, the Magdalene and the Mother Mary... divided in the psyche. So, the Mother Mary um... the way I see it and the way I think a lot of mythology people that I respect see it is that she was severed from her sexuality, the Mother Mary, and the Mary Magdalene was severed from her spirituality and her wisdom. So, there's a division here... of almost this circumcision of women, Christian women have had to work through for the last 2000 years, and I feel the control that's really gone on. You know this whole thing of divide and conquer, it's a joke really. Divide and conquer what a village? No, divide and conquer a person with themselves, that's control. Then, you think you have to go through these people for some kind of soul purification some kind of acceptance and forgiveness, and I'm like no, no. The Christian god can sit over there, and we can have a chat, and he can do stuff I can't do, I'm only a woman. But no, there's gotta be respect that I'm a woman, he's multi-dimensional. But, I don't see the Christian god for me as the divine being. I think there are a lot of gods in a lot of cultures that have things to say, and some of them I disagree with, and some of them I think have a lot of deep truth. But in Bliss, it was very much... I'm part of you, I'm made of you, and there's gotta be a point where I don't have to keep being something in your eyes. Now, this is the Christian teaching, we're not walking into, you know, Cherokee teaching. We're talking about the Christian teaching that I was brought up with, and this is my line in the sand really saying, wow, we've got this groovy relationship, don't we? Christian woman, Christian god. So, I'm marrying the two Marys in my own being, in my psyche.

Charlie: If I walk out of this studio, and someone comes up to me and says, "Who's on today?" and I say, Tori Amos. They say, "Who is she?" I say what?

Tori: She's the one that you sent the letter to and wanted to blow her up (giggle) probably.

Charlie: Really?

Tori: Well, you know... sometimes I think the Christians really misunderstand. They think I don't like them and... it's not that at all. It's that there has to be a place where you don't dishonor my spirituality and I don't dishonor yours. And, this need that a few of the religions have had to no matter what take over, even if they kill. That really isn't "Love your neighbor as yourself "as far as I'm concerned. This is what I say to the Christians, and they get really upset: Jesus would not be a Christian right now, okay. You guys have gotta own what you did to the indigenous people of America first. Big shadow.

Charlie: Is this your Cherokee part speaking?

Tori: This is my woman speaking and my Cherokee part speaking, yeah

Charlie: The woman thing... did it change a lot after you saw that movie Thelma and Louise?

Tori: um... I was...

Charlie: I mean, you could not stay away from that movie.

Tori: I couldn't stay away from that movie, and I was inspired to write Me and a Gun.

Charlie: This had to be the most the most seering the most... lyrics that you could ever write because it's the story your rape.

Tori: It's based on... it's based on my story...

Charlie: And, because you could write about it and sing about it... did what for you?

Tori: Well, I think there were different levels to it because, number one I've always said I co-write the songs with the creative force, and she shows up, and we write the songs together. I'm really a translator. And yet, it comes through my filter, so bits of me are in there. And with Me and a Gun, at a certain point, I felt like um... I had to get some distance from it because I was so under a microscope, and um to the point where people were asking me details about... the incident and... I had to... finally pull back and realize I had to keep something for the internal person, the internal Tori, and that's tricky when you write things that are very...

Charlie: Personal?

Tori: Personal... and graphic

Charlie: So, what do you hold back?

Tori: Well, sometimes it's... it's a little intangible when I explain this to you because I don't really see the picture myself but um... my relationship with the song is private. I write it, and I put it out there, and people have their relationships with different songs but taking a walk with them... in big burly boots and holding hands with them and crying with them or giggling with them ,you know it's a very different, it's a very different, it's a private relationship because I do have relationships with..

Charlie: The audience, too.

Tori: All the songs.

Charlie: And, well, with all the songs and with the audience, too. I mean, you make a big point of, from what I've read about you, that this audience thing is... I mean, you are on the road more than anybody I know. Your history is to be on the road... you know, true?

Tori: Yeah, road dog.

Charlie: You are a road dog. You, and... Bruce was a road dog.

Tori: Yeah.

Charlie: And, the connection... and you think you couldn't be where you are if you hadn't done that.

Tori: No...

Charlie: You don't? You could've not... you could've avoided that and not be the person you are, the songwriter you are, the artist you are?

Tori: No, I had to do that. There's no way that I would make the music that I continue to make. I was playing clubs since I was thirteen, so it's really much a part of... I don't know, my um... my... I don't know, what makes me up. My soup.

Charlie: What does all this mean to you? This life you have carved, sculptured...

Tori: Hm...Well, it changes what it means. I think it's a really big test to, I think, value your work as an artist and not be drawn into everybody's opinion of your work and then everybody's opinion of your work being an opinion of me as a person. I know that the work and I are very intrinsic. Because it's not a job, it's really not. Doing press sometimes is a job, it can be... sometimes. It depends on the agenda of the person walking into the room.

Charlie: You mean the artist or the person who's writing the criticism or the person who's writing about the artist?

Tori: The person writing about the artist. Let's face it, sometimes you have a few good chats with people, and sometimes they've already written a story before they walk in the room. And, I'm going, you know, why are we wasting time here? I'd much rather go see one of my friend's cartoon exhibits down the street than be a part of something that's already been decided. So, I think for me it's changed, what I thought I wanted to sculpt, and what was important to me. It's changed over the years.

Charlie: Where is it now?

Tori: Um... a sense of humor is very important um... I love chasing the dark, I have for a while.

Charlie: Looking for what, chasing the dark?

Tori: Looking for... um... well, most of our politicians will be there.

Charlie: You, finally, make love to a piano.

Tori: Of course. What else are you gonna do with a piano? It's nine feet.

Charlie: So... what's going through your head and the rest of you when you're at the piano?

Tori: Well, see. When music comes through you, if you're lucky, and the stars are aligned that day, then you found the plug in to the 220 voltage, and you're there, and it rolls through you like an elixir. And, I've had different elixirs over the years, and there isn't anything that um... really um... takes hold um... demands and yet includes me all at the same time. Religion never did that. It's very much a subservient thing, whereas this is very much a co-creating thing, and yet... you stand by and watch the muse operate through you.

Charlie: Thank you for being here.

Tori: Thanks.

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