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USA Today (US)
Thursday, October 31, 2002

Amos' 'Walk' goes in search of America's soul

by Elysa Gardner

NEW YORK -- While touring over the past year, Tori Amos met many fans who were eager to talk. But one encounter made a particularly deep impression on the singer.

"There was this Native American woman," Amos recalls. "She was older, and she hadn't come to hear the music -- she could have cared less. She just sat down and said, 'I have a message for you.' And do you know what she said?"

Amos leans forward on her sofa and lowers her voice slightly, as if to relay an important secret. "She said, 'The white brother took the land, but unfortunately, that's all he took. It's time that he takes more.' She was saying, in essence, that those who own the land and those who hold it are two different entities, and that it's time they came together."

Such theories and observations informed Amos' new CD, Scarlet's Walk, which arrived Tuesday. The singer/songwriter describes the album, her first collection of new material since 1999's To Venus and Back, as a sort of musical search for America's soul.

The 18 tracks take a mysterious figure named Scarlet -- more about her shortly -- from coast to coast. Her journey invites listeners to reflect on events ranging from Sept. 11 to the forced Native American migration of the Trail of Tears, which directly affected the Eastern Cherokee family of Amos' mother. (The CD also allows access to "Scarlet's Web," a feature on Amos' Web site including maps that offer more specific insights into the songs via photos, commentary and behind-the-scenes video footage.)

Being a Tori Amos project, of course, Scarlet's Walk is considerably quirkier in its use of imagery and metaphor than your average historical essay.

Scarlet may be a person or a symbol of something bigger. Amos chose the name partly to suggest a thread running through the story, "because scarlet was actually a fabric before it was a color."

"Scarlet is my character in the story," Amos explains. "She starts off going to see a friend who's a fading porn star, Amber Waves" -- also the name of Julianne Moore's porn-star character in the film Boogie Nights, Amos points out. "I go to L.A., to the other side of the 405 (freeway), where all the cheesy porn movies are made. I know there are great ones, but I'm not talking about the great ones. Poor Amber."

From there, Scarlet embarks on an adventure that eventually finds her on a plane heading from Boston to New York. "And another woman gets on another plane, but her plane doesn't make it down. Then my character feels what she felt before she died."

Amos says she came up with the plane-crash scenario before 9/11, "but I didn't know what it meant. I didn't know what some other references I was coming up with meant, either."

When the tragedy occurred, Amos was in New York, preparing for a TV appearance. She was about to release a compilation of cover songs called Strange Little Girls and begin a tour. "We started getting a lot of e-mails from people asking us not to cancel, because everyone was canceling shows, and people felt they needed a place to congregate, to just be together.

"So we went on the road. It was a time when people were telling us stories -- in letters, before and after shows. I've never experienced an openness like that, where people needed so much to talk, because nobody knew what tomorrow would bring -- or if there would be a tomorrow. People in different cities responded in different ways, but for once we weren't isolated. After 30 or 40 years of living in a grown-up Disneyland, where we felt no one could hurt us, we were finally experiencing what it's like to be part of the world."

The experience fueled Amos' eagerness to re-examine her own Native American roots. "The land has a story here, and it's not about King Arthur," says the singer, who now lives in England with her British husband, sound engineer Mark Hawley, and their 2-year-old daughter, Natashya. "Even though many of us are part European, we have our own rich history and mythology. But we haven't handed it to our students and our children the way other cultures have."

Amos is encouraged, though, by the rising profile of young female singer/songwriters who also are exploring issues of personal and social relevance.

"The winds are changing," she says. "People want thinkers and poets and songwriters. There's always a place for entertainers -- we all love them. They make us giggle, and they make us want to sing and dance with them, and that's important. But I think we're beginning to get what could be the equivalent of the Laura Nyros and Joni Mitchells and Roberta Flacks of the next guard. If that's starting to happen, it's really good news."

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