The Sins of Tori Amos

Aquarian Weekly 8/12/09 BUZZ

Tori Amos Defies The Sins of Sexual, Religious & Corporate Segregation

Tori Amos“I can’t stop it,” an ebullient Tori Amos whispers over a phone line somewhere on the outskirts of the road. “The muse walks in and grabs me by the throat, and demands, ‘Pay attention!’ – it could be in the middle of a movie or a nice evening with the husband, where I might be getting somewhere.…” Snickering playfully, she hesitates, exhales ardently, and simply confides, “Creation is in control.”

Amos, who once told the Chicago Tribune that her life was overrun by these “beings”, which she dubbed her songs that come “in and out like fragments”, is never one to ignore their meaning, birthing, and eventual nurturing unto bold statements that liberate her from an entertainment industry usurped by focus-grouped robotics.

“Creation is always there,” she continues, as if desperate to get the word out. “It’s always there for any of us that just want to surrender to it. If you can admit that it’s just not you who’s doing the creating, then it’s there for us all the time.”

Embarking on her first world tour as an independent artist, (she signed a joint-venture with Universal Republic Records late last year) with family in tow, (aforementioned husband, Mark and daughter, Natashya) Amos, who turns 46 this August, has released her tenth studio record, Abnormally Attracted To Sin, a tour de force of disparate musical styles furiously expressing sinister notions of sexual emancipation and spiritual fisticuffs. The tour, the artist blissfully admits, is something between Lounge Lizard and Fire & Brimstone, swings through the NY/NJ area this week with an edge some may expect from the enigmatic pianist cum myth-buster, but this time with perhaps something decidedly deeper.

The show is a reflection of Amos’ new-found escape from the corporate music industry with healthy backslaps at all-things oppressive, as is the balls-out themes broached in her newest razor-sharp collection of songs and throughout our candid discussion.

James Campion: Abnormally Attracted To Sin is replete with strong mythic metaphors; this idea of defining evil or specifically iniquity, which I know has informed your past work – but could you talk about the subjective defining of Sin as a theme in these new songs?

Tori Amos: Well…,once I realized…,once I really thought about how clever the early fathers of the Christian church had been, …because as I’ve traveled the one thing that comes up all the time with women is the segregation of the sexual and spiritual. Women can step into these different energies, but rarely are they together, and in order to get off or get excited and feel sexy, a lot of them have to step into the cliché of porno, instead of being in control and allowing the moment to take over them. Women will say, “Well, I’m liberated, I can do whatever I want with my body”, but in order to get off a lot of them have to pervert what could be a spiritual man. What’s sexier than touching your twin flame? But it’s kind of been put in a holy space, so that women turn to what I would say is perversion and negativity in order to get off. And I think that this is all connected to sin and the definition that was programmed and passed down by the early church fathers. So you couldn’t win; if you step into the bad girl you’re never going to achieve transformation, just orgasm. And if you’re spiritual, you’re not going to get transformation either because you’re disconnected from the body.

I’m reminded of an interview you did a few years ago on the subject of the subjugation of women in the early church while I was researching a book on the historical Jesus. I was in Israel visiting the town of Magdala, which was the town of the New Testament’s Mary of Magdala, later translated as Mary Magdalene, often seen as a woman of ill repute and wrongly depicted in church parlance as a prostitute. In actuality, she was a mainstay in the early Christian movement, or the Jesus Movement, which I call it in the book, and conspicuous in its absence is not one church or plaque or remembrance in the birth town of this Mary Magdalene. This, I think, speaks to that subjugation of women, not only spiritually and sexually, but also literally and historically.

“Women haven’t had a template. It’s not as if we’ve been taught, in the West particularly, throughout the Christian world, how to be whole and complete women. You’re taught to pick different aspects of this.”

Yes, and later once the movement was taken over by what became the Catholic Church, then, as you well know, Jesus’s message was merely a jumping off point for their own message. And their message became shame; that the body wasn’t holy, it was dirty. The truth is I always felt Mary Magdalene was telling us about integration and that she was a prophet. And if you and I go back to the great goddess culture of these women, they were whole. A lot of these women from ancient Egypt….

The symbol of Isis?

Yeah, they were complete beings. They weren’t just only sexual or only spiritual. Women haven’t had a template. It’s not as if we’ve been taught, in the West particularly, throughout the Christian world, how to be whole and complete women. You’re taught to pick different aspects of this. And this is why so many respected women go out and have these affairs and start dancing on the street or on a poll, (laughs) because they haven’t been able to figure out how to liberate the passionate self. And this is why the title of the record is so important, because it really asks you to define; “What are you attracted to?” And once you start knowing what you’re attracted to, until you really can look at what it is, and just talking to women, some of them are appalled and shocked at what they’re attracted to. Some of them have been attracted to men that don’t respect them at all. My God! So then, don’t you see? You have to go into your programming and you really have to reconstruct your main core outward.

That reminds me of something a woman friend of mine said years ago. She was pretty good at chess, but her father was excellent, and she said the problem there is that men are wired to parry and attack, while women are wired to react and protect, to hold back, which is doom speak in the realm of chess. You are pre-programmed not only sexually and spiritually, but also intellectually, instead of choosing to live not on the prospect of fear, but self-empowerment.

That’s right. So in a way I think this record is attacking the way that sin was seeded and put in the psyche, generation after generation.

Which brings me to the lyric in Flavor: “Who’s God then is God/They all want jurisdiction/In the book of Earth/ Who’s God spread fear/ Spread love.” And there is also the stanza from the title track; “She may be dead to you/But her hips sway a natural kind of faith”. And I love the combination of physicality and spirituality here; “That could give your lost heart/A warm chapel/ You’ll sleep in her bell tower/And you will simply wake ” Which has this Buddhist feel to it. I wonder, have you ever heard of Matilda Josyln Gage?


The reason why I ask is your answer speaks to your point. She was a latter nineteenth century suffragette who was ostracized by the women’s movement and in particular Susan B. Anthony for her vociferous stance against the church and Christianity at large. The movement subjugated her because the movement could never be ingratiated into American politics on the momentum of an atheist or pagan voice, even though her points justified the very movement she was kicked out of. And in an essay at the time that I believe ended up in one of her later books, she wrote: “Believing this country to be a political and not a religious organisation…the editor of the NATIONAL CITIZEN will use all her influence of voice and pen against ‘Sabbath Laws’, the uses of the ‘Bible in School,’ and pre-eminently against an amendment which shall introduce ‘God in the Constitution.’In a way she is saying that all of these concepts were set up as a retaining wall to keep women from their constitutional rights, and although it differs slightly to what you’ve been saying, I thought about Gage and this quote upon hearing much of Abnormally Attracted To Sin.

Tori AmosWell it’s funny that you bring this up, because I’ll be playing the Daughters Of The American Revolution in Washington soon at DAR Constitution Hall. (sighs) The thing is, yes, things have changed in many ways, but you probably know how corporations are rife with a Right Wing Christian kind of leaning. And that this is not just an isolated situation I’m talking about, but across the country there’s a movement that is really about subjugating women on every level. It’s everywhere. And yes, there are corporations that are thinking more like you and I, but the fact is that in the twenty-first century there are corporations that are driven by a belief system! So the separation of church and state is a concept that is not necessarily a reality in our country at all. And I’ve had to go up against it as well; nothing like this woman, mainly because of the Internet, where I could get to the people without… (pauses) Without the Internet I’m not sure I’d be on my tenth album right now quite frankly, because the Internet came as corporations were clogging where I stood. And I was very vocal about the emancipation of all people, not just women, from this tyrannical faith system that is not Jesus’ teaching. So, yeah, I’ve had to combat some pretty dark forces. And without the Internet I don’t think that I would have been able to do it, because I got directly to the people.

Working outside of the system that is set up against free thought or free expression?

That’s right. But if we didn’t have the Internet we couldn’t work outside the system. Not like we are.

Sure, and that speaks to the self-empowerment issue as well. One last question about the record, there is quite a bit of prose, almost dialogue, specifically “Welcome To England”, “Not Dying Today”, “Maybe California” – which has a gorgeous melody, by the way – this sort of almost Allen Ginsberg, Beat poetry thing. And I understand there is an accompanying DVD with the record that has videos for nearly ever song. So I’ll assume you saw a cinematic aspect to the songs that could be more direct or succinct visually than audibly?

Well, honestly, I think the audio lives on its own, as you’re talking about it. There are conversations happening. It’s a very intimate record in a lot of ways, because we’re looking in on these conversations this woman is having and what’s going on in her mind, and the deepest feelings of her heart. So I don’t think it needed visuals, necessarily, but when I saw Christian Lamb’s montages I thought of silent movies and I thought of stories being told, but I wanted the visuals to be abstract, not literal. And he doesn’t work literal, so when I saw them I thought, “This is the tenth album and I want to give something sort of, I don’t know, it’s a double-digit anniversary number, I want to give something that is a little gift,” and I was really moved by his montage work.

“When you start seeing things as a job, then you start responding with a job consciousness as opposed to ‘I’m a creator who has an opportunity to create and live my life.'”

So you were inspired in that direction, which makes sense, again I find many of the songs cinematic, especially “Mary Jane”, which has now become my favorite drug song of all time. (laughs) There’s a Kurt Weill style to the song, not sure if you agree with this, but it has that German, nihilistic sound, just as the playful lyric works against it nicely. I know you didn’t do a film for that, but it is theatrical.

Oh, I’m so happy! You just made my day!

Oh, I did. Okay, good. (laughs)

(laughs) It doesn’t have a film, because really to do that film justice, you know…

I understand. Say no more.


But you were thinking in terms of Kurt Weill? Because it screams it to me.

Oh, yeah.

So, how’s the tour going? Can you escape to continue to create and be yourself, when you have so many of these things – interviews and you have to be on planes and in and out of hotels and performing – can you escape and be Tori every once in awhile.

Uh, being Tori…, you see, it’s not segregated anymore. (chuckles), Tash said the other day “Mummy, you rock.” Just about something silly, you know? I got her something cute, and dad looks at her and says, “Well, that’s an actual true statement, you’re mom rocks.”


And so the thing is we travel as a family, and this is our life. People have said to Tash, you know, when they’re meeting her and they don’t understand the creature, they will say, “So when do you get back to your real life.” She’ll look and say, “Do you think this is a joke, then?”

It’s funny, you call your songs “Your Girls”, and now you have a girl and it’s weird, the balance of that.

Yeah, I mean, Tash has asked me before; “Do you love me as much as your piano?” or “Do you love me as much as your song girls?” And I say, “Uh, Tasha, I love you more than anything in the whole world”, because the mom in me is going to step in at that moment, but the truth is you there are no comparisons. Tash is a physical being and this is ether, and they’re immortal; the songs, they’re not trapped inside human emotions and all that. So in my mind, the way I see it is that the mother, the composer, the performer… this is not a job to me. When I do interviews, I try and put my head space as in there’s an opportunity to have conversations with people. When you start seeing things as a job, then you start responding with a job consciousness as opposed to “I’m a creator who has an opportunity to create and live my life.”

Unedited Transcript of Entire Interview

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