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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
"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
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
"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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