Tori Amos is one of my favorite Alt-rock divas. Of course, the word “diva” doesn’t really fit her. In our pop culture, it has too many negative overtones to apply to such a refreshingly eccentric woman. It has too many negative undertones to apply to a tremendously creative artist who constantly evolves, sheds old skin for new, and never seems afraid. Of anything.
I’ve been a big fan since 1992 when her second album came out. One listen to her Little Earthquakes and I could tell that she was “for real” and uniquely capable of merging classical piano, deeply emotional and personal songwriting, with ethereal harmonies and moving melodies. It also helped that she was a hometown girl in a sense. She spent much of her youth in Maryland, as did I.
Tori Amos was the youngest person ever admitted to the Peabody Conservatory of Music, at age five. She won a full scholarship which lasted until she was eleven, when she was asked to leave. There is some dispute regarding the reasons for her departure, but Amos says it was because of her love for Rock and Pop and her reluctance to read sheet music. This setback did not seem to slow her down.
(It seems a commonality among young, successful stars that they started training for their future at a very young age. I often wonder what would have happened to me if I had been an aggressive little monster as a kid, pushing for my own space in special art schools, music schools, writing programs.)
It didn’t slow her down and soon enough she was in LA (at age 21) acting in commercials, singing in bars, forming a band . . . and then in the UK (at age 28), with a great record deal and her second album in the bag . . . .
Watch the video: angel with a hint of something much, much darker. Possessed by something the music tries hard to hide and express. Her body on the verge of explosion and rapture. Cool about that explosion and that rapture. Cool about losing control and never losing it . . . From 1992.
Tori Amos would take many more journeys after that, and continue to make beautiful music alone or with her many alter egos, her audionyms. She describes something about her journeys here. From a 1994 interview with Michael Pearce:
“The most influential journeys I have had have been with Ayahuasca, the vine from the Amazon, the combination of that and mushrooms. They give me the trots and such! It’s very much a medicine woman, medicine man’s journey drug, where you go inside. It’s not a social thing. It’s an internal experience. I experiment with things that are usually an internal experience, because that’s just what excites me. And yes, it does sometimes give me visions. But my intention when I am doing it is very different than recreational. I don’t do it recreationally. I do it to go do inner work, and I’m very clear before I do it what I’m searching for. That way, there’s no abuse suffered and I don’t rely on it. It’s just one more tool that I use sometimes.”
This reminds me of the experimentation of Henri Michaux, who painted after he used mescaline, and wrote about the process. But Tori is different. She’s different about everything.
Magical. Just magical. Sleeps with Butterflies.
And her last album? Reminds me of what Fernando Pessoa did. He wrote under several heteronyms, created actual biographies for his different poetic voices. Tori creates five audionyms, based upon Greek Mythology, for American Doll Posse. She dresses up in concert for each character, separates them, separates their stories.
“What I’m trying to tell other women is they have their own version of the compartmentalized feminine which may have been repressed in each one of them. For many years I have been an image; that isn’t necessarily who I am completely. I have made certain choices and that doesn’t mean that those choices are the whole story. I think these women are showing me that I have not explored honest extensions of the self who are now as real as the redhead.“
Provocative, startlingly original, surprising always, Tori Amos shocks us with sweetness and magic, darkness and audacity. She’s America’s reigning fairy princess with an edge.