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October 28, 2002

Tori Amos: Wish You Were Here

An American journey gooses the singer-songwriter's imagination.

by Brian Ives

When Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda hopped on their motorcycles in the 1969 movie Easy Rider, they went in search of America. But they didn't find it anywhere - or at least that's what the poster said. Following the harrowing events of

September 11, Tori Amos took a similar journey. On a trek that included all 50 states, she discovered her seventh album Scarlet's Walk.

On this 14-song pilgrimage, Tori converses with porn stars, has her plane hijacked, and does her best to avoid Las Vegas. Riding shotgun is her alter ego Scarlet, an altogether more mysterious character than Peter Fonda's Captain America. The singer and her fictitious associate travel light, packing only the musical essentials - piano trills, full throated vocals and the occasional heartbreaking tune.

After such an expansive trip, you expect Tori to have more road tales than one disc could hold. She did. Chatting with VH1, she explained the inspiration behind her musical odyssey, how her devoted audience helped her get through last year's traumatic events, and how Robert Plant's eroticism made her see the devil.

VH1: It's only been a year since your album of covers, Strange Little Girls. Why the quick release of Scarlet's Walk?

Tori Amos: I haven't put out an album of original work in a long time. The seeds of Scarlet's Walk began when I was pregnant. It came in little segments; sometimes I'd get only eight bars [of music] at a time, but I stored them away. Then when we were on the road last year, at the beginning of September, the songs started coming quickly.

VH1: How did September 11 inspire you to turn your attention to America?

Tori Amos: I began asking myself certain questions about how I saw America. My grandfather was part Cherokee. He related to America as a spirit. He would talk about her like she was a sister and a friend. So I've seen her like that since I was little. But as I got older, I started associating America with her politics. When the twins went down, that brought me back. I felt the loss of somebody I cared about. As I started traveling the country, I found that people started seeing America not as an object but as the soul of the land. [Watch Clip]

VH1: What inspired the single "A Sorta Fairytale?"

Tori Amos: Scarlet's Walk starts with the song "Amber Waves," and "A Sorta Fairytale" is the second song. Scarlet has come back from being with her friend Amber Waves, a fading porn star. When you're in Los Angeles, you see these young gals that have just come to town, thinking, "Hey I'm going to do something with myself." But they go from ballet class to a lap-dance and then straight to video. They don't mean to get drawn in - it's [just meant to make] a little money on the side. I was having coffee with one of these gals a while ago. She looked at me and said, [whispers] "I'm doing despicable things right now somewhere in some boy's bedroom." I said, "We're having coffee. How are you doing that?" She said, "That's me. I'm really doing that and I'll always be doing that." [Porn is] not all beautiful airbrushed stuff. It's being defecated on and being abused as a woman. In a way, it's a metaphor for America. "Fairytale" is where I go off with the person I believe to be the love of my life. But we split up. The [relationship with the] love of your life should work, shouldn't it? The story is a sort of fairytale - why don't they stay together? [Watch Clip]

VH1: On "Pancake," you sing "It seems in vogue to be a closet misogynist homophobe." What led you to that observation?

Tori Amos: "Pancake" is really about the abuse of power, whether by presidents or rock stars. There seems to be a right wing ideology held by some young hipsters - Jesse Helms in tattoos. This thinking has to find something to hate, whether it's a gay person, a woman, a different race or a different religion. It's so boring! But people get drawn in by it.

VH1: Your concerts following September 11th were among the most cathartic shows you've ever played. Did you feel a rush to get back out on the road and see people again?

Tori Amos: People were vulnerable in a way that they haven't been since I've been playing, and there was a real responsibility to not lose it up there. We got so many emails from people saying, "Look, even if you sit up there and look stupid, we need a place to go." So we decided to stay on the road after 9-11 and kept the doors open. You had to be affected. You'd hear stories from strangers every time you turned around. I made relationships with people that I might not have made and that changed the way that I see things.

VH1: People look to you like they do to Bruce Springsteen; they want more than just the music alone. Is it hard to concentrate onstage with that burden of expectation?

Tori Amos: No. At the end of the day, you're a musician and it's a privilege to play. After playing bars where people were spilling beer over the piano so many times, you value people sitting there and not saying, "Hey, after the show, honey..." You think, "Okay, I have a set list of 125 things I can play tonight. For the most part the crowd is going to be open." They like a good show.

VH1: What do you find sexy?

Tori Amos: What is sexy to me is usually a man's wit or a woman's strength. Sexy is hard to define. For me, Annie Lennox is sexy. When I first saw her on MTV, it was such a defining moment for me. I saw a woman presented in a way that I hadn't seen before, with the red hair. I found her beautiful, very feminine but strong. I cocked my head and said, "This is another way to do this."

VH1: You've always held up Robert Plant as an object of desire. Now that you know him, what would you say is sexy about him?

Tori Amos: Robert is sexy now because he has such a great sense of humor. He's also one of those people that takes the time to be a great listener. Who would have thought that? The first time I saw him, I was eight years old, looking at his picture. My father had been preaching to me: "gird your loins." I didn't know what loins were. Pork loin? I was holding this picture and hearing "Whole Lotta Love." I was moving my body and I went, "Oh, I know what my dad is talking about. This guy is making me think of the devil." It was heaven! And when I met him in person, he was heaven! [Watch Clip]

VH1: Have any of your fans ever gotten too close?

Tori Amos: Yeah. That's when it gets to be sad, because you try and make it so that there can be an exchange [between artist and fan]. It's much more fun that way, but if it gets threatening, you have to draw the line somewhere. People can scare you. I know I've scared people before. You don't mean to, but all of us can be scary.

VH1: Your fans really relate to you, but they don't seem like the types who would overstep bounds.

Tori Amos: I'm very lucky. Most of them are the type of people that help you out if you need a lift. But sometimes it's somebody outside of that. It might be somebody who thinks I'm against Christianity, which is ludicrous. I'm about people being able to believe in whatever they want to believe. Sometimes people misread things. With Strange Little Girls, fans of certain artists got a little bit confused and didn't think about what I was really doing. They took it personally. What I was doing was providing a woman's voice. You'd be surprised by the hatred that came back, which only made me more determined to make sure that voice was louder.

VH1: Sometimes when you present an alternative view, people get upset.

Tori Amos: As an artist, it's not about making people comfortable. Before September 11 happened, there was a lot of malice against women and gays. If you're going to glamorize violence, then I'm coming after you.

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