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May 10, 2007

Tori Amos: User's Guide

The flame-haired piano goddess shares recipes, memories, and what Elton did to her left hand.

by Lauren Harris

A preacher's daughter, a reformed punk, a piano-humping rock star -- Tori Amos is many things. With more alter-egos than a psychiatric ward, she's back with American Doll Posse, an album that uses five characters (Isabel, Tori, Pip, Santa and Clyde) to help the singer explore the relatively new territory of politics. The album-opening track bashes Bush by wondering whether we're living during the "madness of King George." Elsewhere, Amos provides a fresh take on her favorite themes of sexuality and religion by using new instrumentation -- blues-rock guitar riffs propel her ninth album, making it her most animated effort in years. We got the real Tori to fill us in on a few things about her personal life.

Full name: Myra Ellen Amos

Born: August 22, 1963 in Newton, N.C.

First memory: There was this big black upright piano that I used to look up at and it seemed to be as big as the Empire State Building. I was probably two.

Biggest thrill as a child: The piano that I first remember, it was one of these old-fashioned pianos that you don't see much anymore. It was so big, but it wasn't intimidating. I would just curl up under it and take naps underneath it. It was my best friend. It was like this incredible nurturing force.

Nickname as a kid: Ellen the Watermelon -- I'd like to think it was because I liked watermelon, not because I looked like one. I wasn't very tall, but I don't remember being that wide. I think we have selective memory in life.

Did you sit at the back or front of the class? I was sent to the back of the room all the time, from the beginning. It always bothered me that I got put in the back of the class most of the time. You'd think I'd be at the front -- Amos, A -- but I think I bothered the teachers with too many questions. I had a lot of questions.

First record bought: My brother was ten years older, so he brought in a lot of records, and because of that, I didn't have to buy them. He'd bring them in before my dad got home from the church, and my father wouldn't allow Jim Morrison in the house. [Morrison] was a prophet of the devil, so certain artists and acts were verboten. So my brother would make me learn the song before my father got home, so that I could play the repertoire of all the songs my dad didn't allow.

First gig you attended: I saw Elton John in 1974. I was 11. Elton had this water, and he threw it into the audience, and it touched my left hand. I met him years later and told him this story, and he said, 'I want your left hand! I want it back! Maybe I gave you something that you took and put it in your left hand.'

First date: There was this cute boy, he was 13 and I was 12. I think we double-dated and went to the movies. I just remember going to the movies so that the guy could put his arm around me -- that was the whole point. Afterwards we went on a picnic on these grounds with woods in the back. So I thought what a great idea to go and have this picnic, and little did I know, until we left, we were on the grounds of an insane asylum.

Last book you read: The Gospel of Judas by Bart D. Ehrman, Rodolphe Kasser, and Marvin Meyer.

Last movie seen: The Queen. I saw it in Britain, with British people. Brits get very choked up about it, for all kinds of reasons. Emotions about Diana, emotions about what really happened. You won't get one person that doesn't have a point of view.

Favorite sandwich: I pride myself on my sandwich making. I do toasted sandwiches. I do a BRT, which is bacon, rocket and tomato. I make sure the bacon is extra, extra crispy, with the right mayo. It has to be Hellmann's.

Favorite item of clothing: Well, everybody knows -- shoes. I'm wearing a pair of Kurt Geiger black patent leather heel slingbacks.

Have you ever been star struck? Not by a star. By normal people.

If you could be any character from history or literature? Viola, from Twelfth Night. She pretends she's a boy -- you know me, I've got to have a dress up, do a cross-dress. I have to do something like that. But to be able to hang with the guys and get to know them on that level, and yet be attracted to them -- it's just kind of sexy. You could be a secret spy, a double agent, without [them] knowing. I think it's great to be able to see another side to a man you're attracted to.

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