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The Journal News (US)
Westchester County, New York, newspaper
Thursday, March 6, 2003

Searching for 'Scarlet' through letters

by Ian D'Giff
Freelance OK

"No matter what happens to this world, she carries Lothlorien within her." So says Tori Amos about her two-year-old daughter Natashya Lorien, whose middle name mom copped from the enchanted elvish woods in J. R. R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings." Last fall, Amos released her seventh and most maternal-messaged album to date, "Scarlet's Walk" (Epic), a concept album that finds Amos' alter-ego soul-searching across America. Tonight, tomorrow and Saturday, Amos appears at Radio City Music Hall, new songs in tow. Last week, the fire-haired chanteuse and I discussed the intersection of fact and fiction on her new album, songwriting as therapy (or not), the yin and yang of pleasure and pain, how motherhood has affected her pen and more.

Scarlet, the main character from the new album, is semi-autobiographical. Is it easier to write from a fictionalized point of view or from personal experience?

"Well, when you're only writing your diary, which you can do once, you excavate that material of 25 years of your life. The stories are the stories. You can't clone yourself and be in the bed with your father's rival's daughter across the street, while you're in bed with your mother's ex-boyfriend's son. You're either in one bed or the other at 12:02 on May 19. Do you see what I'm saying? That's why 'Little Earthquakes' and those records were very reflective of where I was at that time. Almost all those albums were. You have personal experience, but you also have personal impressions, which shift a bit. This may sound a bit odd, but you're a writer and I think Kerouac was like this; you start having an alternate life within yourself that maybe nobody knows about but you. You might be having very in-depth relationships and nobody knows but you and that person. And, it's not illicit. Do you see what I mean? But it's potent and you carry it around with you all day and you drink it in your coffee and no one knows. It's what happens with a lot of writers as they realize consequences."

Do you use songwriting as a therapeutic tool?

"I don't see it as therapy, as much as telling stories of how people really are. Each person has their own myth, their own mystery. Most of my characters, I guess all of them, are based on real people. They're not made up. I mean you jimmy with time a little bit, but really, just the average person has such a story to tell. And I find I never know it. Do you know what I mean? It's the people that I don't expect."

Is it more natural for you to write from pleasure or pain?

"The paradox is the best. You need the tension of the opposites. It's part or the palette. It's all part of the palette, but no different than the great writers; they utilized all of it. Sometimes you get in a funk. Sometimes you're just in a place where you can't see a lot of possibilities."

The writing adapts to the mood.

"Yeah. Or pulling yourself into a place where you can see from that characters point of view. That's always tricky. Like in 'Carbon,' trying to get into that space, being around somebody who is a manic-depressive, unless you're that way, it's very tough to see it like that. I found that one very tricky. To study and try to imagine being like that, doing that kind of research ... when you don't feel it within yourself. You try and make yourself almost like a canvas so that their experience can just tattoo or imprint on you."

The new album has very maternal feel to it. How has motherhood affected your songwriting?

"I guess it permeates it in a way. In the end, Scarlet realizes something that I did: that to mother her daughter she has to mother her spiritual mother or there'll be nothing for her daughter. Or nothing her daughter will want in 25 years. It was a realization that sometimes you don't nurture another by only being there for them. You also have to nurture something else that will be held for them in perpetuity. An ideal; a world; a place, because by the time they walk into it it'll be too late to turn it around. In 25 years she'll look at me and say, 'Did you do anything when you knew this was happening? When the media wasn't telling the masses what was really going on because of the controls, did you do anything like they did in 1968? Or did you sit back?' She will ask me that. They will all ask us this. They will."

Tori Amos performs at 8 p.m., Mar. 6, 7 and 8 at Radio City Music Hall, 1260 Ave. of the Americas, Manhattan. 212-247-4777. $30-$50.

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