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The Florida Times-Union (US)
Jacksonville, Florida, newspaper
Friday, February 21, 2003

Watching, Weighing Her Words; Tori Amos Observes but Is Careful Sharing What She Sees

by Nick Marino
nmarino@jacksonville.com

Singer and pianist Tori Amos traveled through all 50 states as she wrote her 2002 album, Scarlet's Walk. Her tour map is right there in the liner notes, complete with a color-coded guide to which songs she wrote in what states.

She wrote the song Another Girl's Paradise in Florida,but Amos' most vivid remembrance of Jacksonville dates back to a "surreal" sighting she had several years prior to the Scarlet's Walk journey: "Aretha Franklin standing in the lobby of the hotel there in hot pants," Amos said via phone from Germany.

Amos wasn't sure what Aretha was doing here, or why she was in hot pants, and she wasn't about to ask.

"I don't say anything. I don't go up to people," Amos said. "I just kind of observe things."

That's an understatement.

Armed with a Bosendorfer piano and her signature breathy voice, Amos has spun a career from observations that few songwriters would dare make.

On her 2001 album Strange Little Girls, she observed how it might feel to be locked in Eminem's trunk. On her 1994 high watermark Under The Pink, she observed that God could use a woman to look after Him. And on her 1992 debut Little Earthquakes, she observed a man raping her.

Scarlet's Walk begins with a story about a porn star and moves through various other characters in various other places. It's an American tale as seen through Amos' unblinking eyes, which have even more perspective on life in this country now that she's become an expatriate.

Although she said she still has a beach house in Florida, she's raising her young daughter in Cornwall, England. When she called for an interview to promote tonight's Jacksonville concert, she was just finishing an overseas tour that hammered home Europeans' objections to the pending U.S. war with Iraq.

"They're burning American flags right now," Amos said, "because they feel like we're abusing our [position] as a superpower."

Just days after the Columbia disaster, anti-American sentiment was still running high.

"On one hand, America is dealing so much with grief and death but isn't seeing that the world doesn't have too much empathy for us right now because of what our leaders are doing. We're the bully of the playground," Amos said.

"Those seven astronauts, that's tragic. [But] how many pilots are you going to lose in a war?"

Even though she's done her homework about world affairs--reading Herman Goering's comments from the Nuremberg trials to a German MTV audience--Amos knows she has to be "very careful" talking like this.

Tori Amos fans listen very carefully. They're widely acknowledged as one of the most attentive and devoted fanbases in all of popular music.

According to one recent Amos interview, R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe once asked her, "Can I borrow your audience?"

Along with Ani DiFranco and perhaps one or two other arists, Amos has almost unrivaled access to her target demographic of young, left-of-center women who appreciate her mix of Randy Newman, Julie Andres and Sylvia Plath.

Amos fans are a literate and discriminating bunch, a group small enough to keep the artist as a cult figure but big enough to ensure that she still has a job despite lacking broad commercial appeal. Her fans don't want her to be just another overexposed pop star. In fact, they'd probably be repulsed if the flame-haired singer appeared on television unzipping a Pepsi can.

When Amos addresses her fans, especially about matters as grave as war, she tries to light each individual's torch of motivation. She knows she can influence people, but she doesn't want to dictate their behavior.

"Right now it really is about people becoming active and walking their walk, not my walk," Amos said. "Because if they're walking their walk, they're gonna stay true to it."

And she continues to walk her own musical walk, writing and singing her songs, her observations on the American experience. She embraces the unpopular and addresses the uncomfortable.

The Scarlet's Walk song I Can't See New York risks pretention and objection by putting Amos' character on a hijacked plane heading into New York City.

"Every writer worth [his] salt is called pretentious," Amos said. "You have to be willing to be called any of that. It's not about a popularity contest."


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