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Tori talks about Indian Blood

According to Tori, they [Tori and her mom] respect each other's "visions" and their dreams of past lives, a talent which she claims has been handed down through their Cherokee blood-line. [Vox - May 1994]

Your mother was part Cherokee - has that background had any influence on you?

Tori says...

Completely. She wasn't reared in a Native American, um, culture. Like a full-blooded Native American would be. But the stories came down through my grandfather who was. And she is a minister's wife which is really interesting because that is the duality of being a real nature spirit. And the two, it's a really interesting combination. Sometimes a bit volatile. Because she has her tomahawk in her purse next to the bible. And she is a real, elevated being, my mother. She's been an incredible part of my life. [Nomad - Fall 1995]

I like telling stories. My grandfather - my mother's father, Poppa - was probably my favorite person forever. He's gone now. He was part Cherokee. He would tell me stories everyday. We would take a walk and he would say, "What do you see in that plump of dirt?" And I'd say, "Just a bunch of dirt." And he would say, "You're not my granddaughter." It became a walk where we would see an object and tell a story about it. So I just love telling stories. [MJ radio show, Los Angeles - February 9, 1996]

My grandfather, who was Cherokee, really believed in developing your instinctive side. People call it their sixth sense or gut feeling - but how do you develop it and trust it? My grandfather and I would take walks together, through graveyards, dilapidated buildings, anywhere. He would ask me what I saw and usually I would describe whatever was right in front of me. And then he would make me ask questions: he would say, "Well you're only looking at the surface of this." He taught me how to study people, to listen to what they weren't saying. He really did want me to try and listen. He was my greatest teacher. [Independent On Sunday - November 16, 2003]

My mother's father, the storyteller, who was part Indian, had the biggest influence on me. He had the stories and he died when I was nine. My mother's side didn't have, shall we say, "communication" with my father's side. Until his later years, my father was very rigid, very dominating. But over the years, he's had a few brushes with death, quite a few strokes; he fell off the steeple of the church once while he was tinkering. I mean, my father's almost died like six times, so it's lightened him up a bit. But when I was a kid, it was will of iron, no sense of humor, no Richard Pryor videos. [Spin - October 1994]

A good storyteller has a conversation with the listener. I'm very direct when I play. A lot of people don't like emotional directness. They say, "Why don't you just turn away and sing it and we'll digest it in our own way." But you came to my show to trust me. When I sat down on the porch and listened to my grandfather, I wasn't giving him a fax first on how he should tell the story. [Spin - October 1994]

My grandfather used to say this to me: He said, "You can't judge another person until you've walked a day in their moccasins."[Bay Area Musician - May 11, 1994]

My grandfather always said to me, "You have to walk your talk." I wanted to take leaps as a musician and a composer, but the woman in me had to catch up. The woman wanted to play it safe. [Diva - Febraury 1996]

He [Poppa] believed that there's no greater evil than hypocrisy. He taught, "Walk your talk or you cut yourself off... from the true gifts of the great spirit." When I was a little girl, he said to me, "You can't hide from the demon in your own heart. It always knows, and you have to make peace with it." That's how I live my life. [Chicago Sun-Times - September 24, 1998]

I was drawn to my maternal Grandfather. He was a haven for me, a lighthouse. A Cherokee, his belief in the spirit world was fluid and warm, not scary in the least. Death, in his view, was part of life. We would die but our soul would continue and there was a Great Spirit that touched everything... He would talk to me about having a relationship with the spirit world; just because you can't see it doesn't mean it doesn't exist. He taught me that I needed to respect this, or I wasn't living life to the full. He was very keen to instill in me a philosophy that was not in conflict with the land. He would say, "You need to be very aware of the laws of your ancestors. Then you will be able to walk the land, and in both worlds." [Daily Mail (UK) - November 18, 2001]

I think he instilled in me that spirit is in all things. I've always believed that. I was sort of brought up by my grandfather until he died when I was nine-and-a-half. It was a real natural way of looking at life, though I've come to realize that some people don't see it that way. So all of a sudden, I become the odd one. [Magical Blend - January 1999]

If you go back to traditional Native American spirituality, you have an incredibly grounded way of looking at passion, birth and death that the Christians have really made me feel guilty and shameful about. I like it because it's not airy-fairy. [LA Weekly - September 17, 1998]

Poppa always said the South was so confusing because the South smells the sweetest after a lynching. That's because after a lynching the goddess cries and the honeysuckle never smelled sweeter. [Spin - March 1996]

Through some friends, I came into contact with the Native American Pueblos and their matriarchs believe that women will only resolve their problems with men once they've taken action to resolve their problems with themselves and one another. You need to love life, you know? You need to love men, and you need to love women. And I think I'm getting there... [Melody Maker - February 5, 1994]

It was hard to change direction and be myself for a change [after Y Kant Tori Read]. Walk your talk, my Indian grandpa always said, and that's exactly what I wanted to do from then on. Walk my talk - saying and doing what I believe in, singing what I am. At first the boss of my American record company hated Little Earthquakes. Half of the staff hoped I'd be a white Neneh Cherry, the other half wanted to make me into a female Elton John. It took a long time before they wanted to accept who I was, and realize I could make them money that way. [Nieuwe Revu (Holland) - February 1994]

It's true that my music has a sense of ritual in it. I very much want to create an atmosphere, a feeling of reverence. That was my grandfather completely... He really instilled in me the beauty of all things. We'd go for walks when I was a little girl and he'd say, "What do you see?" I'd tell him I saw a pile of dirt. He'd go, "You are not my granddaughter. What do you see?" And I'd try to describe the dirt, and that wasn't it either... For him, every word held an association. Everything was a metaphor for something larger. Even in tragedy he would find a lesson or a rite of passage... It's really hit me recently that that's one thing I've been trying to do... I had no idea I would carry him so close to me. [Philadelphia Inquirer - May 3, 1998]

One of my heroes is Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce tribe. He was one of the great poets and speakers, and he led his people - who were run into the ground like foxes being chased by hounds - with such a vision. He's known for being somewhat like, in a small way, a Dalai Lama, a Gandhi, a man of dignity and vision. He's the one who said, "I will fight no more for ever."

Over the years people have argued that maybe he didn't do the right thing, but it's such a complicated thing, what happened in America with the Native Americans. The Germans have had their feet held to the fire for what happened in World War Two, but so many people in the quote-unquote most powerful country do not want to see their part in it. Chief Joseph had a similar spirit, a similar belief, to my grandfather, who was actually the first person I thought of when you asked me who was my hero. [Mojo (UK) - March 2002]

It's so fitting that you should tell me that you first saw him [Native American musician Bill Miller] when he was singing "Home on the Range" in Nashville because I've just recorded that song for release on a future single... I really don't worry about people not understanding what I said to you about being called by 'the forces.' When he'd talk about the blacks and the whites fighting one another my Poppa would always paraphrase that Indian saying by telling me, 'They can't understand each other because you never do, until you walk in another man's moccasins.' If people can't see things from the other side, that's not my problem, it's theirs. And that really applies to racial tensions in America, still. The deepest psychic wound in our country is the genocide perpetrated on Native Americans. The deepest root of our country is being denied and we are a people dislocated from ourselves, our past. We can never be whole until there is re-integration at that level. [Hot Press (Ireland) - February 23, 1994]

The biggest shadow over America is that people don't want to admit that the genocide on the Indians has been the same as that of the Jews. There were obviously no signs on the coast saying: Hey Europeans, come here, take our land and kill us! Every country has it's own collective demon which is systematically denied. And when this shadow comes back it doesn't look could, right? With all the school murders in Denver and stuff. America is the policeman of the world, of course. They point their finger at everybody, but don't see what happens in our backyards. Our children are killing each other on the streets. [Oor - September 18, 1999]

Tori says that both Boys for Pele and from the choirgirl hotel were inspired by the lessons of a Native American "medicine woman" she studied with. The singer, who is part Cherokee on her mother's side, credits the Native healer with putting her in touch with the darker side of their nature - and giving her a way to use that energy in her art.

She basically taught me that many women pull in... well, she calls them 'baby demons.' I think a lot of women are trying to conjure up the prince of darkness - and, as you know, a lot of women pull in men that are a bit didgy. And she felt that women are trying to access that side of themselves through these people, instead of realizing that Lucifer is actually a woman, wears white, and drives an ice cream truck... It was a big realization that I had to kind of go into myself and find the violator in my own being, and it took about a year of intense work. But I found her, and that was a real... um, big turning point for me. [The Calgary Straight - September 3, 1998]

I think the phrase that comes to mind the most now is, my grandfather used to tell me this, he was part Cherokee, and he would say to me "You cannot separate yourself from your creations." It took me awhile to let that become a part of my, I don't know, um, waking kind of um, grandfather voice phrases cause there are always those that all of us have, but as I have I think worked with music long enough and made enough mistakes and realized, done things that I've regretted doing, whatever I've done or haven't done I can't separate myself when I do it. Even if you want to go back and make amends it still becomes a part of your tapestry. [Ana Voog chat - October 20, 1999]

When we go to a city, say it's Chicago. Um, I spend time outside with the people, but then I go inside, I walk the venue. And maybe it's part of my grandfather really always saying to me "you listen to the land." And being part indigenous American, I'm very connected to this land here. Whereas you know, a lot of the Europeans that settled here haven't owned that. Really the goal was that the indigenous, the 500 nations, people say the Native Americans - the Indians call themselves the Indians to each other because they're just gonna make those fucking white folks never forget how bad their sense of direction is. But anyway, um, the goal was that they would never rise again. That was the goal from the white Europeans, and they have not risen again. And the Germans, that was their goal, they weren't as successful, um, as the Americans making sure the Indians ... genocide. So there are you know thousands, a few thousand left. But there is a mythology to this land that until you can claim the blood of the land, the story of the land, then you can't access the land. But whoever you are if you just really go "ok, own it, honor it, get it," just really understand, then I think you hear the voices of the land because they held this land for thousands of years. So whether I play Chicago or somewhere in Alabama, I tune into the land, and not just this week, but I listen ... It changes every day, but I'm also looking at the bloodline of the land that the city's built on. [Ana Voog chat - October 20, 1999]

This is how I tone before I sing. This is what's speaking to me. I want you to hold open your arms like you're going to get a blood transfusion, you know? Ok? It's Ok. I had all this blood taken from me, right, this week. Because, um, I was very ill. But what it is, is instead of me taking blood from you, or anything from you, I'm gonna try and give you something. [This is where Tori performs a sort of Indian spiritual chant, in which she sings no words but rather more "HEYS," and she kept her rhythm by patting her stomach and stomping her foot. I must say this was the best part of the show]. [UCLA Speech - March 1995]

God exists. He is up there drinking some Margaritas. I'm sure about that. But I don't look at him as someone divine. I rather believe in the spiritual world. That's a very common word to me, nothing strange about it. That's because of my Indian grandfather, who had a large influence on my life. Most of the time I discover the divine in non-western and ancient cultures. Especially in those of the Native Americans. [Dutch Cosmopolitan - August 2000]

the songs...

Home On the Range: Cherokee Edition [lyrics]

Cornflake Girl [lyrics]

"Rabbit, where'd you put the keys, girl?" Rabbit, in certain Indian traditions, it represents fear. [Baltimore Sun - January 1994]

Talula [lyrics]

"wrapped in your papoose, your little fig newton..." It's the Indian reference. It's the whole idea of the cycle, the rebirth. There's something being born within, which is the ability to let go. When a man you love walks out of your life, and you have that ache, you feel not only can you love again, but can love a son. The son or the daughter is the rebirth of the soul. [Vox - April 1996]

Frog On My Toe [lyrics]

iieee [lyrics]

Some of you know that we like really good wine. So, I wasn't quite sure if um, the things I was seeing was from that, or if they were really happening. And uh, it was a strange time, I had just uh, I had a bad pregnancy and I lost the baby. And I started having this vision of this little Pueblo boy everywhere I went. And we knew it wasn't a little boy, so... I really didn't know who he was. And uh, the wine really wasn't that good, you know what I mean? So um, I would close my eyes when he would appear and I would follow him and he would say things like, "Come, rabbit come on." And I would go. And we had this 1959 convertible and he was a Zuni boy, Zuni or Pueblo boy. And he would sit in the back with his arms like that [spread out] and we would drive for hours and hours and hours. And I would site there and we didn't know where we were going, but when we would get there, nobody would be alive. So um, it was a strange thing, it was like being in, I don't know, a bad Dustin Hoffman killer virus movie, you know. And I didn't know what we were supposed to do, so we would leave the town and uh, he would tell me to build a campfire. Um, and I'm an arsonist so I, I really like that bit. So I would build this thing and um, he would start dancing. And um, he would say, you know, "we failed today but we have to go to the next town tomorrow." And this happened over and over and over again. And we were always too late. Um, and he would sing this thing in my head. And he would go, he would pat me on the head and he'd say, "It's ok... iieee, iieee, iieee..." [VH1 Storytellers - October 24, 1998]

a sorta fairytale [lyrics]

"I knew that he was
looking for some Indian Blood, and
find a little in you, find a little in me
we may be on this road but
we're just imposters in this country, you know..."

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