Article On Tori In the Roanoke Times Online

The Roanoke Times Online
Posted 10/8/96

When Tori Amos she wants to escape the music business, she comes has to her family's farm in the New River Valley.

Staff Writer

At first glance, it looks like any rural grandparents' farmhouse.

There's a faded, framed picture of Jesus on the wood-paneled wall in the parlor.

On the desk, there are old smiling photographs of their now-grown children wearing Brady Bunch-era clothing and haircuts. Nearby, a 25-year-old family Christmas card is tucked in front of a cross-stitched picture of a pheasant. And right next to that is a row of shiny new color pictures of the grandchildren.

And then you see the gold CD on the wall.

Presented to Ed and Mary Amos, it commemorates the sale of the first 100,000 copies of their daughter Tori's album, "Little Earthquakes."

Tori Amos, the flame-haired alternative musician who has made the piano a rock instrument for the 90s, will be playing the Roanoke Civic Center auditorium Friday night to support her newest album, "Boys For Pele." Her parents, The Rev. Ed Amos, a retired Methodist minister, and Mary Ellen Amos, live for much of the year in the 100-year-old farmhouse in Southwestern Virginia along the New River where Ed was born.

Tori and her parents spend a lot of time together. Mary Amos has shared dinner with Tori and R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe. Ed has met the Red Hot Chili Peppers. (They're nice boys, he says. "They've always had respect for me and Mary, and they've been very nice when we've met them. I really think at times they don't know what to do with clergy in their world.")

And Tori has come here, to this farm in the New River Valley when she wants to escape the music business.

"This is a retreat center for her," said Ed Amos, who went to Ferrum College in the 1940s and remembers going to Virginia Tech football games. "She likes to see the birthing of the calves if she's here during that time. ... I like to put her on the tractor occasionally. She used to really like the tractor. She doesn't know about planting. That's not her thing. She can pick. She loves to harvest. She loves the fresh vegetables from the garden."

Her mother added: "She's really quite a good cook, and she does a lot of cooking when she's here. She's wonderful with fried chicken, and her homemade biscuits are just out of this world."

But during her time off, her parents say, Tori's still making music.

"She sings and plays all the time," Ed Amos said. "She sings in the fields, she sings when she's cooking, she sings in the shower."

She wrote the song "Girl" off her "Little Earthquakes" album on the piano in the parlor of the farmhouse, as a matter of fact. "On the honky-tonk piano, that's what she calls it," her mother said. "Because that's what it really sounds like -- an old honky-tonk piano. All the pianos she has have different personalities to them. And this one, she says she thinks it's been in the bars somewhere in the past because it loves honky-tonk music."

In a telephone interview, Tori, 33, said that when she's at the farm, she likes to "pick blackberries, take loads of walks [and] not talk on the telephone. ... The thing is, it's so different than the world I'm in most of the time, that everything just doesn't seem as important when you're there that seems important when you're in the cities. We sit on the porch and watch the moon, tell stories. It's a weird, different life."

Listening to some of Tori's songs, which cover everything from masturbation to a female Jesus, you might get the idea that Tori is rebelling against her parents, her faith, and her image as a minister's daughter.

But Tori hasn't forsaken her faith, her parents said. She's just trying to get people to expand their notions of God. "I think when people say that Tori is anti-religion, that's a misnomer," her father said. "I don't think Tori is anti-anything. Tori feels that in the traditional church, there's been an overwhelming [male] influence. .... She's just saying, 'Let's give women an opportunity to be equal with you males who have been in charge of the religious systems for thousands of years!'"

"I think the institutions teach you what to think, not how to think, and I'm a big believer in a person having a choice in how they express their belief," Tori said. "I run into Pentecostals all the time ... a lot of them are my friends, and they say, 'Tori, I hope you'll find Jesus.' I say, 'How do you know I'm not having a Margarita with Jesus tonight at 10 o'clock?'"

Ed and Mary Amos listen to Tori's music all the time. They can both talk for hours, interpreting the theology and philosophy of Tori's music and its imagery, or praising her expert keyboard skills.

"She's a 21st century Mozart," her father said. "She is equivalent in talent and ability to Mozart. She really is a musical genius."

For most folks, that kind of statement would just be the hyperbole of a proud papa, but if Tori and Wolfgang Amadeus were to meet, you get the feeling they'd have some stuff to talk about.

Like Mozart, Tori was a child prodigy.

Born Myra Ellen Amos, Tori was playing entire songs by ear at age 2 after hearing her older brother and sister play.

"We weren't aware of it like the sun coming over the horizon, but we were noticing she would come in and play the piano right after they had finished and it would sound a little better than they," her father said. "But I think when we were astounded was when we took her to 'Oliver' or 'The Sound of Music.' I'm not sure which one it was, and then after seeing that, she came in and sat down, and it seemed to me she could play the whole score."

That was at age 4. The Amoses clearly had an unusual child on their hands, and so they took an unusual approach to raising her.

At the urging of friends, they auditioned Tori for the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, where they were living at the time, and at age 5, Tori became the youngest student in the school's history.

Playing alongside college students, Tori spent difficult years with teachers who were determined to break her ear and train her to read and write classical music. At 11, influenced by bands like Led Zeppelin, she improvised with a rock music-style riff in her yearly audition to Peabody and lost her scholarship. It was the first of many disappointments in her long journey to musical fame.

"It's amazing that sometimes out of your greatest struggles come your greatest successes," her father said. "If there's any lesson to be learned out of Tori, it's that her failures have turned out to be marvelous."

To keep Tori interested in playing, Ed Amos took her to piano bars in the Georgetown section of Washington and got her jobs playing on the weekends. Wearing his minister's collar, Ed could be seen taking his 13-year-old daughter to all kinds of gigs, even in gay bars.

"That took a lot of guts," Tori said. "My father wanted me to become a pianist, and he didn't always agree with all these things I was interested in, but at a certain point, he said, 'I'm not doing my duty if I don't help you take this to the next step or encourage you.' And so, sometimes at the expense of people respecting him, [he was] chaperoning me in gay bars."

The music jobs served another purpose as well, her father said. When many of Tori's friends were getting involved with drugs, Tori didn't have time.

On Sunday mornings after her weekend nightclub gigs, Tori could be seen teaching the children's choir at church. She was the one in the red leather pants. ("She just loved to shock, even from the earliest of years," her mother said. "We've almost become shockproof with her.")

In college, Tori took virtually only music classes, and in two years, she had the equivalent of a bachelor's degree in music. Having graduated to playing hotel lounges by that time, she decided to try her luck in Hollywood, which began many hard years of playing lounges and auditioning for entertainment jobs. (She once beat out Sarah Jessica Parker for a role in a Kellogg's cereal commercial.)

"For 14 years, I played 'Feelings' so many times, I swear to God that guy should pay me," Tori said.

Tori's parents never gave up on her. They wrote to entertainers such as Frank Sinatra and sent tapes to dozens of record companies. Chances came and went.

In 1987, she finally got a record contract and made a pop rock album, "Y Kant Tori Read," with a band that included the future drummer of Guns N' Roses. The album flopped miserably.

"It is such a devastating event when your whole life is in this one product and it fails," her mother said. "She really went through a long period of depression. We wondered if she would ever come out of it. As parents, we really wondered if she would ever play again."

But after much introspection and a long visit to the farm, which her parents say has become a place of healing for her, Tori decided to be who she really is. So she returned to her roots as a pianist, which resulted in the stripped down personal sound of her hit album "Little Earthquakes."

That's a lesson that she tries to bring to her fans.

"She's trying to get young people who are dealing with a self-image that isn't similar to the TV to enjoy who they are," her father said. "I think that's one of the biggest struggles that she encounters a lot with her fans. They often want to be something other than what they really are."

Tori explained: "I tell people everybody has a uniqueness, and if that were really honored in our culture, we wouldn't feel like, 'Why does she have all this and I don't have anything?' A lot of times we don't look for our own diamonds, and we're not encouraged to look for or find our own diamonds. Sometimes, it's just a way that somebody knows how to make you feel comfortable or safe. ... All those things are diamonds, but they're not considered diamonds in our world."

Local content copyright (c) 1996 The Roanoke Times Online

--------- here is another little article they also had posted...

A haunting story that helps those who listen to the words

Staff Writer

By now, Mary Ellen Amos is pretty accustomed to the fans who come up to her and ask to meet her daughter Tori. After all, as she points out, she and her husband are usually the only gray-haired folks at a Tori Amos concert.

But there was something different about the earnest young man who came up to her after a show a couple of years ago.

Tori's mom explained to him that setting up a meeting with Tori is almost impossible. "Then would you tell her for me," he asked, "that I know for a fact that she has helped a lot of men as well as women through the rape experience that she sings about?"

"It really kind of took me aback for a few minutes," Mary Amos recalled. She had never thought of the idea of a man being raped. "But he said, 'Believe me, Mrs. Amos, there are a lot of men that have been helped by her song as well as women.' "

Tori Amos' haunting song "Me And A Gun," sung a cappella, tells the story of her 1985 rape in Los Angeles at the hands of an audience member who hitched a ride from her after a lounge gig. ("It was me and a gun and a man on my back and I sang 'holy, holy' as he buttoned down his pants.")

"It was a very, very moving experience as he stood there and told me how it had changed his life, because he has had the same experience of trying to deny it," said Tori's mother, who flew out to Los Angeles in 1985 to aid Tori after her rape.

Inspired by the movie "Thelma and Louise," which helped Tori deal with her buried memories, "Me And A Gun" is a staple at Tori's concerts, and many fans say it has helped them come to grips with their own histories of sexual abuse.

"It's surprising how many people have had a violent experience," Tori said. "And it also surprises me how few of them feel like they've healed from it yet. It's quite a journey to work through that deep, deep, deep seated pain."

Tori has received awards from the governor of Maryland and the Washington D.C. Rape Crisis Center for her work helping rape victims. In 1994, she founded R.A.I.N.N. -- the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, a toll-free phone line through which sexual abuse victims can seek free local phone counseling and other help.

In recent months, the phone service has had some financial hardships, but a soon-to-be-announced national sponsor has agreed to support it with donations and advertising.

"It's very exciting because R.A.I.N.N. really needed some help. You're talking about hundreds and hundreds of calls," Tori said. "The good news is there's a phone line. The bad news is it's sad that so many have had this kind of violent experience."

R.A.I.N.N. -- the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network -- can be reached at (800) 656-HOPE.

Local content copyright (c) 1996 The Roanoke Times Online

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