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Taken By The Throat

Tori Amos, a former child prodigy -- shes 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 didnt 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 shes writing, her daughters and her fathers 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 Ive 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, its 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. Theres 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 thats always been a little regretful that he didnt 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. Hes always stood by the idea that he was called by the Lord, but Im saying he was threatened by my grandmother. Theres a side to him thats always loved movies and music -- hes tone deaf, but hes always loved it. Hes learning to play piano and hes 80 years old. He just took it up this year. Are you giving him some pointers? Or are you staying out of it? Im staying out of it. Its really cute -- hell say, Have you ever heard this chord progression before? And Ill say, Im so thrilled youve discovered it. Thats really exciting! So hes 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 thats 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 isnt 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 couldnt 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 theyve done a really good job because theyre fair people. But when it came down to him choosing which songs are in the anthology, anything he might have disagreed with didnt end up in there. So theres no Crucify, theres no Father Lucifer, -- Id be shocked if theres Icicle on there with the masturbating. I dont think so. That is the side to him, on one hand, where youll meet up with the minister that stands in judgment. And then youll meet up with the other one who will sit and quite happily talk to a gay couple. He wont walk out of the room and say, Tori Ellen, how can you have them in your house doing you-know-what? Hes 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? Shes very aware that some boys stay with boys forever and marry them. And some girls stay with girls and marry them. And its 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 -- Ill use the word underachiever. She says things like He likes war. Hes not for womans rights. So in her mind God of the Bible is more like George W. Bush. Thats how she sees it. And that -- to her -- is not Jesus father. And this is where their relationship goes off into different tangents. Tashs 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, thats all that matters! What kind of a role have you had in shaping her beliefs? She did say to me the other day, If Id been a boy, do you think Id be gay? I said, How do you figure that? And she said, Theres no way that if youre your child, mother, that youre not going to go shopping and do makeup. Thats 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. Shell say, I own a spa. So its time for us to play spa now. Shell do the whole facial thing. Shes into that side of the pampering. She said to me, If I was a boy, thered be no way Id be out there digging up worms. Im going to be shoe shopping and trying to figure out which Charmed sister I am -- Prue, Phoebe, whatever theyre called. Its funny though because you love your 4x4s. I think you could have had a little macho boy. I think I could have too. I dont know if other people think I could've. I thank you for your belief in me, but I wouldnt mind if I had a son that was gay. Thats the thing -- to me, I think that people are born this way. And whos to say you couldnt 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. Wouldnt 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 thats another whole set of children. When Im not being a mom to Tash, Im in my mind composing. Composing is a huge part of my life. You just came off the road about six months ago from promoting American Doll Posse and already it seems like youre working on 4,000 different things. Do you thrive on being busy? I live a creative life. Its not my job. There are aspects to what I do that I think are more job definable, but creating isnt one of them. There are parts of the creative process that get challenging and that sometimes feel as if it can become work. When youre in a place of delivery, when you have to deal with the business side of it, it can seem like work. But if you dont deal with that side then its all unsustainable. You still have to get everybody paid. Even though there are people to deal with that, you have to make sure that the choices youve made will make this happen. I live my life like this -- I dont think when do I get a break from creating? And some projects take you by the throat and say, You thought you were doing a musical and you were doing the comic book, but guess what? Youre doing me as well! You want to talk about that? No! I cant! Its brewing! Well, how about the musical? There have been rumblings about it for the last few years, but now youre really in the trenches getting it done? Im in the trenches. Im delivering act one to the British National Theater in July. I have the guys in the mix room at Martian Studios now mixing one of the many pieces that have to be submitted into act one. The playwright Samuel Adamson -- he adapted All About My Mother for the stage -- thats who Im working with. So what was the process? Was the idea yours and you brought him along? Was it totally collaborative? I told a few people at CAA. My music agent -- Ive been working with her since the 80s, if you can believe that -- said, Alright, if this is really what you want to do, then lets get that department involved. Cut to loads and loads of these properties being stacked in front of my eyes and I start to go through them and finally I put my hands on this one called The Light Princess and I say, This is the one for me. Its a book from the 19th century and another client at CAA had the property. So we got along and then it went to the next stage. We went to producers on Broadway and they practically laughed me out of the room saying, Whos doing the book? Whos doing this? Whos doing that? or Until you have this, we cant talk. And I said OK, but Im coming to you so that we can work together and you put it together -- cant you see that idea? No. Thats not how we do it. So the last stop was the British National Theater. We flew into London and sat down with Nick Hytner who runs the National, and he said, I want you to meet with some of my team. Part of the team was Samuel Adamson. So I brought the project to the National and then Sam and I started to go back and forth and hammer out the concept. And then he writes the book and Im writing the songs. And its very collaborative -- hes great to work with. He and I have been working on this, on and off, for two or three years. When do you think youll be done? Well, the goal is that well be in workshop before Christmas. The goal is that it will open at the National late 2009 or early 2010. Its really involved. It seems like a logical extension of what you already do -- a lot of your albums have very strong narrative arcs to them. It seems like something that would come naturally to you -- Naturally is a good word. But I set myself some benchmarks. For instance, there were certain sonic bibles, certain musicals I surrounded myself with -- West Side Story being one of them. I felt like if I were going to do this, then I wanted there to be a representation of different styles of music, not just, Well, its an 80s-themed musical, or, Its a takeoff on the 50s. I wanted music to span from all of the 20th century and into the 21st century. So that has taken a lot of time. It isnt something that Ive done as a hobby -- its something that Ive done for eight hours a day since I got off the road. But it sounds like its immensely satisfying. Ask me that in a year. [Laughs] I mean, on some level, working with Sam is great. Thats fun. But Im not just handing in piano/vocal demos. Im handing in full percussion. I had Phil Shenale arranging a couple, so there are orchestral arrangements -- on boxes, not with live pieces because Im funding this out of my own pocket. When youre commissioned by the National, they dont pay you. You dont get paid unless youre selling tickets and there are people coming in. So you have to go into it blindly just hoping for the best, then? Really. And you have to realize that they can pull out at any moment. Thats got to be nerve-wracking. Yah, it is. But I will say the greatest thing about working with someone like Sam is that they will -- the key word when youre working with them is development. Theyre really great about that. When I went to some of the Broadway producers, the idea of development and a workshop and that structure was not in their definition of how to bring a show onto the stage. And logically I couldnt understand why its not part of it, because now that Im a part of this process, its a solid process. You once said that that Strange Little Girls was your Cindy Sherman moment. Would it be fair to say American Doll Posse was your Lady Bunny moment? [Laughs] I guess you could say that. I think there was something very drag about what you were doing -- and when I say drag I mean that in terms of camp, but also performativity. The shows on the last tour were so much more theatrical than anything youve ever done before. Yes. If Ziggy Stardust is a drag moment then Ill agree with you. There are a few fans who are writing books about Tori Amos fan culture, there is another fan who is shooting a documentary -- someone is even compiling a book of fans dreams about you. What is it about you that inspires this? Well, yes, and then there are some people who will come to the shows and listen to the music and thats the extent of their involvement, and thats OK too. There are those people who dont go online but they might want to come to a show. And theyre always welcomed. Thats the idea -- this is not a closed party. The door is open and there isnt the idea of the velvet rope. I dont agree with that. People can drop in and drop out and drop by, and theres always going to be a fire ceremony going on and the circle will widen to let you in. The songs are very much about me being a container -- and yes, I have my opinions about what theyre about. But they also go out and have relationships with people. What I do contains a lot of archetypal reference. And I think ultimately, people are trying to decipher what archetypes they carry. In some ways, you can say we carry all of them if we want to -- if we want to explore them -- but I would say at different times you carry a different ratio. That was the whole idea of American Doll Posse -- some of the key players are from the Greek pantheon -- for the women. You could do it for the men as well. You could pull the main players of the male side of this and you yourself could start investigating how much Apollo, how much Zeus, how much Dionysius you have, given where you are in your life. And I find that mythology is something that can be current. Joseph Campbell was always saying that the myths are always alive in us, but religion has repressed this. So the myth that we have been forced to adhere to is the Christian myth and where is the homosexuality in the Christian myth? And where -- for women -- is the woman who has her sexuality and has her spirituality in the Christian myth? The Gnostics believe that all this was in Christs teachings and yet, it got edited out when it was taken over by the patriarchy. So, therefore, mythology is something that were starving for. These are our stories -- this is in our DNA. And you see the doll concept as a vehicle to express yourself? I think there were some fans who weren't entirely happy with the direction you went -- a kind of chorus of We want Tori Amos. We dont want Tori Amos dressed up in a wig as a doll or as a persona, sprang up. Do you think they misunderstood where you were coming from? Theyre all Tori. And this was a framework to explore your different sides? Is that fair to say? If you think about what we just talked about, that each woman or each man carries a character type within in them from a pantheon -- some people say, You are an Athena. Well I would say, "Lets look at these as modern stereotypes that Tori is one way." No. She expresses herself in one way. But there are other sides to the woman that maybe dont fit into the popular image. There are other facets that are true and real and exist. It reminds me of Sex and the City and the theory that if you put the four characters in that show together Voltron-style youd get a complete woman. Is what youre talking about similar? But based around an archetypal strategy opposed to a modern stereotypical definition. Which is something youve always been interested in. I think the archetypes have always been there -- Boys for Pele was filled with them. Yes, but to say, Hang on a minute. You can get trapped in an image. And people can trap you in an image. Think of -- whoever you are, reading this article -- think of your friends that turn around and say, I dont like you this way. I dont like this look on you. Well, fuck you! If youre a real friend, why would you stifle your friends exploration? But a lot of times we like our friends a certain way. And instead of them maybe finding that confrontational streak -- not that they become a bitch, because I dont see Pip [one of Amos personas from American Doll Posse] as a bitch -- I see that she has no problem being a warrior. And she has no problem discussing things that other people would shudder from. And shes not looking for a man. Or a woman. Shes not looking for an other. Knowledge is what shes married to and she doesnt think that shes defined by a soul mate. She carries Athena. And that fascinated me -- working with that energy -- because she doesnt need everybody to like her. Thats what I liked about her and she can talk about things that will upset people. Ultimately Tori as an essence -- as an image -- tries to make things OK. And you cant always make things OK -- certain things are not going to be OK. So, whether you see these characters taken to their full expression, which was taking it all the way into the physicality -- not just the sonic -- those women live in here now forever. Will they show up again? When you perform in Belgium later this summer will they be there? No. That will be Tori as a one-woman show. But will they show up again? Were making a DVD -- we filmed that. And there is a lot to their life that happened off stage. Its hard to know in life how a story chooses to end itself. All good stories have to end, but sometimes there needs to be a yearbook if you will. I know Perez Hilton is a big fan of yours -- is the feeling mutual? Do you think he and his cohorts work for the forces of good or the forces of evil? I dont go on the website all the time because Id never get anything done if I did, and he knows that. But when the lights are off and youre just sitting and talking to him hes a wonderful force. So you two are friends? Were acquaintances. Weve met. I think he can have a very sharp blade -- theres no question about that. And theres a persona there -- thats why somebody like that becomes bigger than life by talking about what other people are doing. That is his art form -- talking about what other people are doing. Now when you do that, you cant always be complimentary or its not sustainable. There is no career there. So if youre one of the sacrifices along the way, it cant feel good. It just cant. But I think that if he werent doing it somebody else would be doing it. Theres always going to be somebody whos commenting on celebrities. And theres something about his particular brand of panache or style that you can get behind? I think hes funny, but more than that, hes very smart. Hes scary smart. And thats why this is occurring -- because hes extremely intelligent. No different than Brian -- Marilyn Manson. I dont know him personally but I know people whove worked with him. A highly intelligent individual that created Marilyn Manson, a very smart person. Sometimes people forget that when they talk about the panache -- that sometimes really distracts, intentionally, and masks you from the mastermind. But there is a huge mastermind that lives in Perez. And some people would find that very calculating, but then anybody thats really good with concepts has to know that the concept is airtight. And if you have a good concept, youll inspire hate as well as ecstasy. Because if its just OK, nobody gets hard. Its just one of those things -- it can occur while youre at the dentist -- it doesnt matter. But if it pushes those buttons in some way, then you have to know its a fucking great concept but it might not be what the public wants all the time. That doesnt mean theyre right. When it comes to art, the public isnt always right. The public likes what they like for all kinds of reasons. And sometimes its, Its just because I want it this way! But that doesnt mean its the most exciting choice. Send a letter to the editor about this article.
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