Taken By The Throat
By Noah Michelson
Tori Amos, a former child prodigy -- she's been pummeling the piano since she was two-and-a-half -- got her first big break (and garnered her first queer fans) as a teenager playing the gay bars of Washington D.C. After moving to LA in the mid-'80s, Amos killed a few years in the ill-fated hair band Y Kant Tori Read (get it?) before emerging as 'the girl with a piano.' Her riveting keyboard-centered autobiographical songs have amassed her a following dedicated enough to rival any garden variety jam band.
Over the past 15 years, Amos has sold more than 12 million records; covered everyone from Nirvana to Eminem to Kylie Minogue in concert; created RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), the nation's largest anti-sexual assault organization; and continued to push the scope of her musical output. She shamelessly flirts with rock, rap, techno, and country -- all the while staying true to her first love, the piano.
Amos recently phoned us from her home in Cornwall, England, and though we didn't get a chance to chat about her recent split from Epic Records -- a move that finally aligns her independent artistry with independent industry -- or Comic Book Tattoo, a 480-page, full color comic anthology based on her songs, due out from Images Comics on July 23, she did give us the dirt on the musical she's writing, her daughter's and her father's gay learning curve, and what she really thinks about Perez Hilton.
Out: Everyone knows the story of how your father, the minister, took you to play the piano in the gay bars of Washington D.C. when you were 13 years old, but I've always wondered if he ever formally sat you down and explained exactly what was going on with the patrons of those bars.
Tori Amos: You mean have I sat him down and explained what was going on in those bars.
So, you knew?
In retrospect, it's all very clear to me now. At the time, he was battling parishioners -- in the Protestant system they have a thing called the Board of Trustees, where the parishioners have power over the minister. There's a thing called the Pastor-Parish Committee and they can sit and pass judgment on the minister. So, he was taking me to these bars and got a lot of flak for it. I remember this conversation he and my mother had in the kitchen and he had said [the parishioners] were in shock and horror that he could take his daughter to such a sinful place. And he said, 'I said to them, Mary, a gay bar is the safest place for a 13-year-old girl to be! What, are they nuts?' So, I think on that level he was very clued in that it was a very nurturing place for me. I think he has a side to him that's always been a little regretful that he didn't have another path in life. He chose this path because my grandmother, who was a minister as well and a schoolteacher, made him to see the error of his ways wanting to become a doctor and -- these are my words -- guilted him into being a minister. He's always stood by the idea that he was called by the Lord, but I'm saying he was threatened by my grandmother. There's a side to him that's always loved movies and music -- he's tone deaf, but he's always loved it. He's learning to play piano and he's 80 years old. He just took it up this year.
Are you giving him some pointers? Or are you staying out of it?
I'm staying out of it. It's really cute -- he'll say, 'Have you ever heard this chord progression before?' And I'll say, 'I'm so thrilled you've discovered it. That's really exciting!'
So he's still hovering around the 'Hot Cross Buns' level?
I would say 'Hot Cross Buns' is where he is. But there is a side to him that, if he can get away with it, he flirts with danger. The fact that Kevyn Aucoin [the late celebrity makeup artist and one of Amos' close friends] would stay at [my] beach house with different lovers at different times -- I think that's the way that my dad can be exposed. [He would] pop down and have a cup of tea and hang out with that other quote unquote lifestyle that isn't sanctioned by the Church.
But there must be some tension between those two sides of his life?
I think there must be. For instance, he edited one of my music books, because I was on the road and I couldn't do it that year. When I say edited -- he had nothing to do with the manuscript. It was about picking what songs ended up in the anthology. He works for my publishing company. He and my mother have worked for it for years and years and have made sure everything was done correctly -- and they've done a really good job because they're fair people. But when it came down to him choosing which songs are in the anthology, anything he might have disagreed with didn't end up in there. So there's no 'Crucify,' there's no 'Father Lucifer,' -- I'd be shocked if there's 'Icicle' on there with the masturbating. I don't think so. That is the side to him, on one hand, where you'll meet up with the minister that stands in judgment. And then you'll meet up with the other one who will sit and quite happily talk to a gay couple. He won't walk out of the room and say, 'Tori Ellen, how can you have them in your house doing you-know-what?' He's not like that. So you have to kind of think, 'Well, then, there are two sides to this guy.' It just depends on which one you run into.
Have you had a talk with your 7-year-old daughter, Natashya, about your gay friends?
Oh no. She knows all about them.
Because she grew up with them around? It was never an issue?
She's very aware that some boys stay with boys forever and marry them. And some girls stay with girls and marry them. And it's the way it is. But the thing about Tash is that she and Granddaddy Eddie see religion very, very differently. She believes that God from the Bible is not Jesus' father. She feels that God is -- I'll use the word 'underachiever.' She says things like 'He likes war. He's not for woman's rights.' So in her mind God of the Bible is more like George W. Bush. That's how she sees it. And that -- to her -- is not Jesus' father. And this is where their relationship goes off into different tangents. Tash's religion would be considered something that is not Western.
But Jesus is still a part of her religion?
No. She thinks that Jesus was a good teacher and had some really good things to say. But she says, 'Did he walk on water? Did he not walk on water? Does it matter? Was he a nice guy -- and was he good to children?' I said, 'I think he was good to children.' And she said, 'Well, that's all that matters!'
What kind of a role have you had in shaping her beliefs?
She did say to me the other day, 'If I'd been a boy, do you think I'd be gay?' I said, 'How do you figure that?' And she said, 'There's no way that if you're your child, mother, that you're not going to go shopping and do makeup.' That's what we do -- we do shopping and we do makeup. We do our nails.
Lots of shoe shopping going on in that household.
Also spa time. She'll say, 'I own a spa. So it's time for us to play spa now.' She'll do the whole facial thing. She's into that side of the pampering. She said to me, 'If I was a boy, there'd be no way I'd be out there digging up worms. I'm going to be shoe shopping and trying to figure out which Charmed sister I am -- Prue, Phoebe,' whatever they're called.
It's funny though because you love your 4x4s. I think you could have had a little macho boy.
I think I could have too. I don't know if other people think I could've. I thank you for your belief in me, but I wouldn't mind if I had a son that was gay. That's the thing -- to me, I think that people are born this way.
And who's to say you couldn't have had a macho little gay boy who grew up to love 4x4s and going to the spa?
How great would that be?
I would marry him if he existed.
Wouldn't that be good? I could be a foster mom. The thing is -- I feel like my relationship with Tash is really great and being a good mom takes so much effort. And also being a composer, because that's another whole set of children. When I'm not being a mom to Tash, I'm in my mind composing. Composing is a huge part of my life.