Philadelphia Inquirer - May 3, 1998
Added May 4, 1998
Two Tori articles were printed in the Sunday, May 3, 1998 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper in the Arts & Entertainment section. One article is about Tori herself and the other is about her fans. The article about her fans, called "'Tori-philes': An ultra-candid camaraderie" mentions me and several other Toriphiles, like Beth Coulter and Elizabeth Perry. The author of the article, Daniel Rubin, did his research well and has written what I feel is the best article about Toriphiles I have ever read. It is refreshing to see coverage about Tori and her following that is factual and truthful. I urge all of you to read these articles! Many thanks to Beth Coulter and Elizabeth Perry for sending me the article. You can also read them online at the Philadelphia Inquirer web site.
By Daniel Rubin
INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
In the misty realm of cyberspace where Tori-philes dwell, it's always after midnight, a time for jagged emotions and naked honesty.
"My father told me that he didn't like who I was," a girl named Jupiter writes to all who visit Really Deep Thoughts, an Internet discussion group devoted to Tori Amos.
Doug from Utah updates the others with further tales of his coming out. Someone named Fragments1 announces her big step: "I found a therapist (deep breath) and I'm scared. Because I'm not sure how deep I'm willing to let her in."
The postings are like diary entries, or notes passed in the back row of class, but the words are unashamedly public. Talk long enough to devoted Tori Amos fans and you hear one phrase again and again.
"I have no secrets," says Beth Coulter, 36, a writer from Richlandtown, Bucks County, who dedicates her work to the singer, whom she credits for pulling her from a life-threatening depression.
"There are no secrets," says Brian Wiese, 25, a pizza deliveryman from Upper Darby, in the 29th hour of his vigil outside the Electric Factory last weekend to assure a place near the stage for Amos' sold-out engagement.
Only one person, he said, could make him and his fiancee camp out in the cold drizzle. "She speaks to the pain I've had most of my life," said Wiese, a tall, rail-thin man with shoulder-length brown hair and a wolfish beard. Amos reached into him with the song "Crucify," from Little Earthquakes in 1992. "It made me understand exactly what it was like for people who live their lives sacrificing for others," he said. "They get stepped on."
If Tori fans are a breed apart, it's because Tori is not like any other, her fans say. Fionas will fade, Jewels will dim. Tori grows with you, from songs that mine her rape experience to songs haunted by her miscarriage. While many stars shine because their audience wants to be like them, with Amos it's different. Up there on stage, she is them.
They share a language: Her fans identify themselves as "Tori-philes," as if their devotion had some clinical element of attachment. Amos herself calls her followers "ears with feet."
It would be tempting to parody these earnest folks who sign off e-mails with sayings from Willy Wonka and Richard Bach, have stock salutations such as "fairie blessings," and while away Internet hours pondering mysteries such as "If you choke a Smurf, what color does he turn?"
But their stories are wrenching.
Coulter says her strongest Tori moment came six years ago, when she sat in her living room with 200 pills and a fifth of rum. Amos' first album was on the CD player -- a suggestion from Coulter's therapist, but it wasn't working. Then something unexplainable happened: The disc started skipping, repeating over and over the words "When are you going to? When are you going to?" The song was "Winter" and Coulter knew the next phrase by heart . . . love you as much as I do?
"I felt myself embrace myself," she said. "The song continued. I got up. I threw the drink down the sink. I flushed the pills and I just sat and listened to the album and reflected on what I really wanted to do."
Michael Whitehead recalls his jaw nearly dropping to the floor when he first saw Amos six years ago at a club in his hometown, Louisville, Ky. "I felt like I left the show different than when I walked in. It was the weirdest thing," says the 31-year-old computer programmer. Never before had lyrics moved him so. "Her music gives me the tools I need to find out who I am and be more of a whole person."
Two years ago Whitehead built "A Dent in the Tori Amos Universe," one of nearly 4,000 Web sites that honor the performer. It now logs about 150 visitors an hour, and Whitehead has heard from 13,000 fans since asking them to e-mail their thoughts.
"What's amazing is that Tori can bring together people who wouldn't necessarily talk. Waiting in line during the last tour, there was me -- I was kind of the nerd type in school with glasses, and still am. The girl in front had purple hair and a pierced tongue. A guy in back of me looked like he was from the country. The guy behind him was a jock type. All these so-called stereotypes, yet we were all together talking about Tori."
Tori-philes, he says, "tend to be people who for some reason or another are missing something in their lives and are open to finding it." David Poe has seen the fervor close up. He's Amos' opening act on her current tour.
"I've been on bills with Shawn Colvin, Beth Orton, Lisa Loeb -- a lot of women," he said by phone a day after the Philadelphia show. "This is certainly the most -- what's the word? -- rabid, I guess, group of fans I've seen."
Observe Lisa Schmoldt, a Port Charlotte, Fla., tattoo artist whose back has become a full-color Tori tableau, starting with a black-and-gray portrait of the singer taken from the cover of the Hey Jupiter EP, and now joined by a fairy, an astral swirl, three planets, and the green god of the forest.
"I listen to her music and it's like self-inspirational," says Schmoldt, 32, who says the songs relax her when she's inking her customers.
Consider how, at the end of 1996, when local noncommercial station WXPN-FM polled its audience's top 50 albums of the year, e-mails for Boys for Pele streamed in from across the country. They'd been spammed by the Tori-philes.
When Amos took questions from fans last month through a chat organized by SonicNet and Yahoo, 5,400 fans posed an unprecedented 12,000 queries, according to Atlantic Records. At one point, Joseph from Montana asked her whether she found some of her fans "scary in their devotion."
She replied: "I trust that they will use their balanced judgment and we will respect each other's rights. As I wouldn't intrude in your home, I wouldn't appreciate it if someone intruded in mine."
Elizabeth Lauren Perry e-mails 1,400 people with "The Tori Quote of the Day" from her room at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster. She got hooked on Amos while a junior at Havertown High School.
"I own every Tori poster, every Tori CD, every Tori book, every piece of sheet music, anything has to do with Tori I buy. It's become an obsession," said the junior majoring in music.
For those who have been hurt, Amos' words and music -- as well as her story -- is a salve. "I know there are a lot of girls who have been abused, molested, who look to Tori for solace and comfort," Perry says. "They can say, 'Look, this happened to someone else and they're OK.' . . .
"Tori is so comforting and open, and when she speaks, she's so warm. It's like she's speaking to you and she's your best friend and she's been your best friend all her life. Her words come directly from the heart and they go into the hearts of everyone in the audience."
After nine hours in line last weekend, Tara Kimbroe, 22, watched the tour bus pull up outside the Electric Factory. Amos stuck a hand puppet from a window and greeted her fans. "Everyone had said what a wonderful person she was and how she takes the time," said Kimbroe, a waitress from Newark, Del. But after a few handshakes, words and autographs, it looked as if Amos was going to head for her sound check without seeing her. Kimbroe broke into tears.
That's when the singer noticed her.
"Oh, sweetheart, come here," Amos said, and she wrapped her arms around her quivering new friend.
By Tom Moon
INQUIRER MUSIC CRITIC
The most important thing to know about singer, songwriter and sometime deity Tori Amos: She has no proprietary attachment to the songs she writes.
She knows that her melodies are cherished by melancholy adolescents who hear in them their own struggles to define themselves. She knows that the lyrics to songs such as "Crucify" and "Cornflake Girl" are analyzed endlessly on the Internet, every far-out image (the "ice-cream assassin") scanned for hidden portent. Yet she insists that her emotionally charged songs about victimhood, identity and salvation lead lives of their own.
"Once I put it out there, it's not mine anymore," Amos said on Sunday, as she nursed a broth of ginger, honey and lemon in her heavily humidified hotel suite. She was on a short club tour to introduce her fourth album, From the Choirgirl Hotel (Atlantic), which arrives in stores Tuesday, and waging all-out war against spring allergies.
"Right after I started writing songs, probably when I was 11, the songs came to me and said, 'Let us go do our own thing.' I decided that their relationships with people are none of my business."
Distancing herself from the songs isn't always easy. "Somebody will come backstage and go, 'You saved me.' And I have to go, 'Stop right there. You saved yourself.' That always gets the big eye-roll from Tori. I have to remind them that the works [ they're ] talking about are windows, or a lightbulb going on. Nothing more.
"Or I'll hear someone's description of what a song means to them and the only thing to do is go, 'Well,' and realize that people are going to interpret things any way they want."
Like many artists, Amos, 34, who grew up in Maryland and studied classical piano at the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore, considers herself a channel for the muse. She says composing is her primary creative outlet -- she doesn't keep a journal -- and follows the Native American wisdom that you don't receive gifts until you give things away. Songs are her gifts, she says: "You're selfish unless you pass them on. If you do, then other things come. If not, you're empty."
Amos talks a mystic blue streak, and her conversation, like her music, is a torrent of unlikely associations and freakish juxtapositions. She starts by joking about her feline nature (she's a Leo born in the Year of the Cat -- a "double cat," she says), then offers an observation on the techniques of male and female inquisitors ("the men smell an equal opponent and are usually respectful; the women think they can be nasty"), and pretty soon she's decrying the ways the music business exploits artists.
"I've seen so many artists get sucked in by fame and torch themselves," she groans. "They think it's all about being prom queen."
For someone so worshiped, Amos has remarkably few illusions -- about stardom, her influence, or anything else. Curiosity, not fame, is what drives her to write. She's fascinated by people and their belief systems, the things they value. Though much has been made of her rich imagination -- not everyone can turn lonely-heart odes into sprawling Dungeons and Dragons epics -- she maintains it's her connection with the real world that gives her songs energy.
She turned the experience of her own date rape into the harrowing "Me and a Gun," and founded the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, an organization dedicated to fostering awareness of violence against women and children. Other songs explore the meaning of sacrifice, psychologically destructive relationships, and the tug of war between instinctual desire and institutional doctrine.
Conveyed with outlandish imagery ("You don't need a space ship," she sings on Hotel's elliptical ballad "Black-Dove," "they don't know you've already lived on the other side of the galaxy") and delivered in music that is proudly ornate, her weighty themes have made Amos an unlikely rock hero, one whose work doesn't align with either the riot grrl punks or the sensitive Shawn Colvin-style singer-songwriters.
It didn't start that way: Amos' first attempt at music making was an ill-advised L.A. pop-metal band called Y Kant Tori Read, which released one album in 1988 before dissolving. She learned from the experience and relocated to England to begin writing highly personal, idiosyncratic piano ballads. Amos' solo debut, 1992's Little Earthquakes, was a tumultuous ride from comforting coo to vitriolic wail that established her as an original voice. Since then, she has refined her dramatic technique on two more albums -- 1994's Under the Pink and 1996's Boys for Pele -- filled with cathartic songs that give victims a voice or simply mourn. Each of her CDs has sold at least a million copies.
Paramount among Amos' gifts is the ability to cultivate and sustain simmering tension, to scream without screaming. Even when she tackles what she considers the hypocrisy of organized religion, Amos doesn't just blast away: She employs calm, hymnlike processionals to create a feeling of ritual, then bends traditional symbolism into lyrics that fantasize about whether a mortal woman could satisfy a God. The daughter of a Methodist minister, Amos has spent much of her adult life in a debate with her father about the "deceptions" of Christianity. Some of the volleys wind up in songs: "Icicle" contains the line "I think the Good Book is missing a few pages."
"I have a speedboat, and every once in a while I'll go out with my dad," says Amos, who lives in England. "We'll have a cup of tea and talk theology. We go round and around on things: He'll give me the line that God can save people if they're devout, and I'll argue that that power is not outside of ourselves. . . . The church needs for people to view it almost as a hedge against bad things. Fear is a motivation. But bad things will happen to good people. [ Going to church ] is no insurance against rape or incest or death." Amos is still trying to understand religion. "Every Friday night I have a margarita with a Christian God. I'll share the observations of my week, and ask for answers and try to keep an open mind. Then we both move on," says the singer, who politely declines to answer questions about her recent marriage and how it has influenced her creative process.
She doesn't reveal God's reaction to Boys for Pele, whose artwork featured a pig suckling at Amos' breast. She describes the photograph as her "Madonna and child," and says it was "my Christmas card to my dad." But she says the pictures -- and the rambling, almost free-associative lyrics of Pele's songs -- were misinterpreted. "The media misses the humor, when there is humor. They missed the fun of that. Even the Christians who listen to my songs know that I'm chasing the dark side of myself and at the same time chasing the dark side of Christianity."
From the Choirgirl Hotel continues that chase. It's a series of character studies, an inventory of female archetypes -- the space cadet who gets lost on her wedding day, the predator who exploits a man's vulnerability, the Playboy mommy in platform shoes. Its songs are more focused than those of Little Earthquakes, and reinforced by a sumptuous range of sounds that take Amos far from the pathos-drenched style that marked her debut. Stately arpeggiating piano patterns remain the organizing force of the songs, but this time, they're not alone. They're accompanied by thundering guitars, droning synthesizers, and unusual string arrangements that provide an almost orchestral sweep.
As she scoops honey with her fingers from a small room-service jar, Amos explains that because she wanted each of the songs' characters to have a unique identity, she sought an assortment of sounds and textures. She spent longer than usual in a studio near the English coastline, fussing over tiny details.
"The idea of a series of songs with the same basic sound didn't appeal to me. The woman in 'She's Your Cocaine,' which is about a reptile woman who has no fidelity to sisterhood, had to be distinct from the woman in 'Spark,' who's addicted to nicotine patches."
She adds that she hears more sorrow in the record than in anything else she has recorded. "I was pregnant and miscarried at three months. Right after that I started writing. There was nothing else I could do. You know how people say their life changed becoming a mother? My life changed becoming an un-mother. I began to see the preciousness of the miracle of life."
At her show at the Electric Factory Sunday night, Amos -- who will return to the area this summer -- unveiled her first-ever touring band. For years, she had performed solo (or with longtime guitarist Steve Caton, who is a part of the band) because she couldn't find musicians who shared her sense of timing, her penchant for drama. She's found them now: Anchored by poised drummer Matt Chamberlain and bassist Jon Evans, the trio follows the emotional riptides of her songs, one minute supporting Amos with splashes of cymbal color and delicate chords, the next surging to bellowing climaxes.
The windblown grooves and featherweight implied backbeats are impressive, but the mood swings are even more so: The music grows heavy with a flick of Amos' wrists, and as fast as the storm gathers, it dissipates, leaving serene blue skies. There are outbreaks of funk stomping followed by moments of fragile, impressionistic beauty: Now when Amos writhes on the piano bench, she's responding to an intoxicating, all-consuming rhythm her music has hinted at before, but rarely attained.
"What I've found is the primal rhythm," Amos says, enthusiastically. "I knew the songs could hold their own, but what's been amazing is the way they've opened up and blossomed. It's like the songs gained three new mothers."
She chuckles at the suggestion that the primal beat might be traced to her late maternal grandfather, who was part Cherokee. But then she chews on the thought.
"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."
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