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Tea with the Waitress

Cornflake Girl

Lyrics by Tori Amos

Never was a cornflake girl
Thought that was a good solution
Hangin' with the raisin girls
She's gone to the other side
Givin' us a yo heave ho
Things are getting kind of gross
and I go at sleepy time

This is not really happening
You bet your life it is
You bet your life it is
honey, you bet your life, it's a
Peel out the watchword
Just peel out the watchword

She knows what's goin' on
Seems we got a cheaper feel now
All the sweeteaze are gone
gone to the other side
with my encyclopedia
they musta paid her a nice price
She's puttin' on her string bean love

This is not really happening
You bet your life it is
You bet your life it is
honey, you bet your life, it's a
Peel out the watchword
Just peel out the watchword

Never was a cornflake girl
Thought that was a good solution

Rabbit where'd you put the keys girl

And the man with the golden gun
thinks he knows so much
thinks he knows so much, yeah
and the man with the golden gun
thinks he knows so much
thinks he knows so much, yeah

don't close this door
I know it's so easy
to close this door
I know it's so easy

Rabbit where'd you put the keys girl

[drawing by Andrew Brandou
from the Under the Pink tour book]

Additional lyrics from the 1996 Dew Drop Inn tour

November 2, 1996:

rabbit, where'd you put the keys, girl
said, rabbit, don't give, don't slip
don't slip back, don't
slipping back, yes

oh my darling believe me
I know that you're with me
and I know you're with me, and I know
oh my darling, I know that you're with me
so where'd you put the keys
where'd you put the keys, girl

[and the man with the golden gun...]

rabbit, where'd you put the keys, girl
said, rabbit, don't give, don't give
don't push back
don't push on my baby, say
oh my darling believe me
I know that you hear me
and I know that you know
what I am saying
and I know, darling, I know that you're with me
so where'd you put the keys, girl

solo intros from the Plugged 1998 tour

September 13, 1998:

so good, so good
so good, girl
that thing she should
be around when I'm
going down
she says, to catch me
to push me, more like it
she would
kind of girl
that kills her husband
and she swears she won't
and you bet your life it is
you bet your life she is
and you're sure
she's gonna change
you swear to Christ she will
swear on your life she will
but she shits you
again and again...

September 18, 1998:

He say you do
and you believe in her, too
and you said she's there
in every kind of weather, yes
and you bet your life she will
be there for you, she will
and you try to see through the veil
her eyes are hiding from
far away from
but you stay 'cause
you must prevail
you bet your life she won't
you swear to Christ she won't
cut you, cut you
out, yes
you swear your life she won't
open wounds, she won't
but it's here
and she's there...

October 4, 1998:

Yeah, she can come
and she can come
and she swears many things
and I try to believe
you'll bet your life she does
swear to Christ she does
and she uses
that smile that works so well
she tells me it won't go again
it won't happen again
and that smile
god, she does it so well...

Tori Quotes

History has recorded some pretty nasty things that have happened to people. I think we remember, I think it's in our cells and I think it can still hurt sometimes. [Under the Pink songbook - 1994]

After I read Possessing the Secret of Joy by Alice Walker, about how mothers sold their daughters to the butchers, that kind of floored me. One always feels safer when there are good guys and bad ones. But there are no good guys out there. And its not as if one sex can make it okay. Now with "Cornflake Girl," the idea was that I always had this sisterhood and it was just blown to bits. I was betrayed by someone, a girlfriend, who gave me a pretty shitty deal. Her opinion was -- I'm a shit -- it depends on whose table it is that you're having arsenic at. I think the disappointment of being betrayed by a woman is way heavier than being betrayed by a man. We expect it from you guys. It hurts, but I'm not shocked. [The New Review of Records - 1994]

"Cornflake," "Bells," and "Waitress" are a triangle together. Part of this record is dealing with the betrayal of women, between women. These three, "Cornflake" is, I've been reading Possessing the Secret of Joy by Alice Walker. It went in depth of just women betraying women, and how the mothers really sold their daughters to the butchers, and had their genitalia removed, et cetera. A lot of memory came to me. Just social memory, not necessarily personal memory -- collective memory of how women have turned on each other. And the concept of a sisterhood is not real. I think that hurts me more than most concepts, because the idea that -- we've been, women have had obviously very little to say in their lives, and it's been a difficult road. See, I believe in past lives, so I've been a man making it hard on women also. Just if we look at it from objective viewpoints, just the history of woman has been very lonely, and when you think that we should support each other, understand each other, that makes sense to me. You would think.

It's been -- again, it's the victims become the abusers, it's that whole -- which is explored in "Waitress," too, where I become the one who wants to slice this person's head off. But the thing is, it's been, it's so disappointing for me when I feel betrayed by another woman. So "Cornflake Girl" is that disappointment. "This is not really happening, you bet your life it is. Never was a cornflake girl, thought that was a good solution." Cornflake being white bread, closed. "Hanging with the raisin girls," you know, whole wheat, multicultural, open, a little more going on. "She's gone to the other side, giving us a yo heave ho. Things are getting kind of gross." I think that's clear. "And I go at sleepytime, this is not really happening. You bet your life it is."

The second verse, it just supports the whole thing. "Rabbit, where'd you put the keys, girl?" Rabbit, in certain Indian traditions, it represents fear. "Rabbit, where'd you put the keys, girl? And the man with the golden gun thinks he knows so much." Well, those are my God references again. "All the sweateaze are gone, gone to the other side, with my encyclopedia. They musta paid her a nice price. She's putting on her string bean love." Anorexic. They just put it on. If you go to their side and take up their case, then you're a strong, independent woman. Well, you know, I'm tired of "strong, independent woman equals," and there's a list. Instead of -- well, hang on a minute, the most interesting word here is vulnerability, that's getting left out, because it's associated with weakness. You don't dress a certain way to be a strong independent woman. It's fascist, and it's the same -- they're no different. They're the other extreme. I don't feel a part of any kind of sisterhood. [Baltimore Sun - January 1994]

There's the cornflake girls and the raisin girls, and they represent two different ways of thinking: narrow-mindedness and open-mindedness. It's about the disillusionment that comes from the realization that someone has gone from one way of thinking to another. It's also about this idea that women are the good guys and men the bad guys, which just isn't true all the time. [Upside Down flyer - February 1994]

Alice Walker's book, Possessing the Secret of Joy talks about how the mothers took their daughters to the butchers to have their genitals removed. Even though it may be instituted by the patriarchal group in the culture, it's very telling that the monsters were the ones who took this away from the daughters. When I just started to feel what that made me feel like, I started to really have to deal with my illusion of the sisterhood. I mean, we all like to think that only guys can do something like that, but we [women] can be very, very vicious and we have to be responsible as women for the fact that we've got a lot of blame going on. We blame each other, we blame men, we take very little responsibility for what we've created.

In the book [Possessing the Secret of Joy], it wasn't the men, it was the mothers, the ones you trusted more than anyone, telling you it's the best thing for you. It brought an ache to my being. What we as women haven't really owned is how we withhold from each other -- we'll cut each other out of our lives so fast if we feel our position's being threatened. We don't look at how vicious we can be toward each other. You can blame men for eternity, but the blame is not going to give us self empowerment. [Life - February 7, 1994]

The fact is that women have betrayed one another. I agree with Alice Walker when she talks about the cellular memory that is passed down, which all women have to come to terms with. Whether it is the women taking the daughters to the butchers to have their genitalia removed, or the mothers that bound the feet of the daughters, it is often women who betray their own kind, not just men. Likewise the mother who sells her eight year old daughter in Egypt, to the Saudi Prince, or, as I said, women who say I shouldn't express myself as I have chosen to. That's why I say "Cornflake Girl" is about how I came to terms with the naive notion that all women are the good guys and men are always the bad guys. That, obviously, is not always the case. I still feel so much love for my women friends, nothing is more sacred to me than that, except my relationship with Eric. So when we turn on each other it has to be devastating. [Hot Press - February 23, 1994]

"Cornflake Girl" is about betrayal between women. It was based on Alice Walker's Possessing the Secret of Joy. That book hit me on so many levels, if you know what I mean. I believe that cultural memory is passed down through the genes. Why do I react to certain things that... hey, I just fell off the swing. What's happening here?

Again, it's not about good guys or bad guys. It's not about this team or that team, although on "Cornflake Girl" there are the cornflake girls and the raisin girls. And you know I'm a raisin girl. [Creem - March 1994]

"Cornflake Girl." I like that Ghost Riders in the Sky/High Plains Drifter whistling part. Who did that?

Me. I didn't whistle, though. We found it in an Apple computer.

Who's Rabbit in that song?

Rabbit is a Deadhead, who lives in Northern California. Rabbit is a girl. She lives in the forest, and makes beads, and she lives with Fox... I wished I could have been Rabbit!

Tell me about the man with the golden gun. Is he a wolf?

No. Never. He is dreams. He was never a contender, nor did he ever want to be. He is someone who, you know, he is just someone who... [BAM - March 11, 1994]

It's like in Possessing the Secret of Joy, that novel by Alice Walker: cornflake girls are prudish, unconformistic and obedient to authority, whereas raisin girls are original, wilful and sexual. A cornflake girl is Wonder bread, whereas a raisin girl is whole wheat bread. In an American perspective the cornflake girl comes from a redneck-family from the mid-west and the raisin girl would be the product of a multi-racial circle of friends from the big city. It's of course, like all previous generalizations, a black/white picture. And the whole idea of good girls and bad girls is of course relative. That's why I like Trading Places, with the homeless moron Eddie Murphy temporarily takes the place of a manager. So much depends on the way you're living... I must admit, by the way, that long ago, I played the role of a bar pianist in an ad for Cornflakes [actually it was for Kellogg's Just Right cereal]. I flattered myself with the thought I was the Trojan Horse there: a raisin girl amid cornflake girls.

That book [Possessing the Secret of Joy] deals with women betraying each other. You have the cornflake girls and the raisin girls and they are two different beings. Cornflake girls are narrowminded and full of prejudice, whereas raisin girls are open to everything. My song is about someone who turned from a cornflake girl to a raisin girl and think it a disillusion. It's also about the idea that women are always the good ones and men the bad ones, which is not always true. [Hitkrant - March 12, 1994]

In "Cornflake," you think, no, "this is not really happening -- you bet your life it is." It's a betrayal of women against women, which I really wanted to go into. [St Louis Dispatch - July 15, 1994]

There are many layers of jazz influence in "Cornflake Girl." But while I was writing it, I refused to go back and listen to those influences because it had to evolve itself. [Virginian Pilot - July 27, 1994]

Originally, Steve Caton, who played mandolins and guitars on the record, came up with this little line on the mandolin, and that was the "Ding ding-a ding ding" with the strumming to it [in the beginning of the song]. Everybody really liked that. And even in the mix studio, I was screaming at the top of my lungs that it had to be a whistle. I want the cowboys coming over the hill. Eric was laughing his head off, and the mixer, Kevin Killen, said to me, "This whistle is naff, Tori." And I said, "Well, guess what, Kevin. When you make your own song, you can put your own mandolin on it. This is a whistle. Fucking put it in. Put the sample in." So I got my whistle, and I'm happy as a clam to this day. [Baltimore Sun - July 1994]

In London I lived off All Saint's Road, across from a reggae hangout. This was before that area lost a certain multicultural influence it once had. I was on-and-off the road touring Little Earthquakes, but whenever I would come home I would hear this reggae music all day long. One day in particular I had my windows open, and, oddly enough for England, I remember it being warm. I heard this groove in the distance, and it might have been many songs that they were playing back-to-back that day, but I started jamming to this constant kind of rhythm. Within pretty much a day's time I had a piano riff for what would become "Cornflake Girl." I was just playing along, and then, when the music stopped, I found myself still playing that riff.

About a year later, when I took the song into the studio for recording, other musicians came on and the original bass riff started to become something else. The legendary George Porter, Jr., brought his own variation of New Orleans voodoo, having been an instrumental part of The Meters. Eric had developed a loop that he said he was inspired to create after hearing me play my original riff for hours and hours. It's an interesting progression to note that "Cornflake Girl" was inspired by a groove-loop kind of percussive rhythm. Then I wrote the piano part, and to the piano part yet another percussive part was written. Then to that new and improved loop Paulinho Da Costa came and layered the track with even yet another syncopated, percussive part that included big sleigh bells and all kinds of things.

So despite "Cornflake"'s initial quick and spontaneous creation, all the mini sections and compositional details took over a year to resolve. Sometimes you get a real burst of inspiration, and then all you have is a riff. You don't really have a completed thought. It took me going very far away from where it had started to really finish it. Taking it from the city of London to the desert of New Mexico so that it could find its own character.

I think once I started to jam to the loop I was able to come up with this piano solo. But then it kept changing. Every time I played it, it changed depending on my mood. So what you hear on the record was really improvisation. The day that we recorded it I remember walking out of the studio wondering how I was going to be able to play it live. It took me weeks to really sit down, take the time to realize that I couldn't just improvise on tour every night, and actually learn what was caught on tape. [A Piano liner notes - 2006]

My friend Karen Binns and I were talking about the idea of betrayal, and friends who don't stay friends because you feel they've crossed some kind of line, but they can't see that they've crossed it. They think you crossed the line. We gave these behaviors terms. We had our own language going so that people didn't know what we were talking about, and raisin girls were the girls that wouldn't let you down. Cornflake girls were the mean girls. It was a rejection of the projection of wholesomeness in America being seen as better than someone who might have had many experiences, but she's had to get her hands and her knees dirty to learn from those experiences. She's seen as tainted because she has knowledge. [Under the Pink Deluxe Edition liner notes - 2015]

The Story Behind "Cornflake Girl" - Classic Song
NME - October 16, 2012

Live Versions

"Cornflake Girl"
March 28, 1994 - New York, New York
Late Show with David Letterman

"Cornflake Girl"
June 8, 1994 - New York, New York
Late Night with Conan O'Brien

"Cornflake Girl"
November 9, 1994 - Montreal, Canada
Under the Pink Live in Montreal

"Cornflake Girl"
December 2, 1994 - Sydney, Australia
Australian Music Awards

"Cornflake Girl"
March 23, 1996 - Cologne, Germany
The Harald Schmidt Show

"Cornflake Girl"
April 11, 1996 - New York, New York
MTV Unplugged

"Cornflake Girl"
January 23, 1997 - New York, New York
The Concert for RAINN

"Cornflake Girl"
June 27, 1998 - Pilton, England
Glastonbury Festival

"Cornflake Girl"
October 24, 1998 - New York, New York
VH1 Storytellers

"Cornflake Girl"
November 11, 2002 - New York, New York
Scarlet Sessions

"Cornflake Girl"
March 5, 2003 - New York, New York
Oxygen Custom Concert

"Cornflake Girl"
June 15, 2007 - Seinäjoki, Finland
Provinssirock Festival

"Cornflake Girl"
August 19, 2014 - Atlanta, Georgia

"Cloud Riders"/"Cornflake Girl"
October 5, 2017 - Manchester, England


"Cornflake Girl"
from Jawbox (1996)

Florence and the Machine
"Cornflake Girl"
Live at RAK Studios, London (2018)

Noah Hawley and Jeff Russo
"Cornflake Girl"
from It's Always Blue: Songs from Legion (2018)

t o r i p h o r i a
tori amos digital archive