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Amber Paulen

Tori Amos: Disintegration

25 August 2009


When in high school, when the dust of confusion swirled, I found solace like many others: in music. Tracy Chapman, Ani DiFranco, Tori Amos and the Indigo Girls were the voices that sang strong and clear. The songs themselves and above all, their lyrics, were the safety rafts in my adolescent sea. When I listened to these passionate and intelligent female voices, my own experiences made slightly more sense. It was communion: that’s music.

One of the albums that was for me the climax of expression and strength was Tori Amos’ Little Earthquakes. Every song on that album gave me shivers for the truth they told and still tell. To this day I can listen to Silent all these Years or the title track and receive the same jolts to my soul. Boys for Pele was another favorite, her anger was nearly visible; singing along I felt that I too was on a purposeful rampage. The woman who looked out at me from both of these album covers was at once without reckoning, bold and daring, strong yet feminine, unmistakably. She was a woman who refused to play anyone else’s game.

She was.

All this thought began last Friday evening, when to pass the time before dinner, Simon and I went into a large music store in Rome. The bold woman from Boys for Pele, her real red hair witness to the fire she had stolen, has transformed herself — plastic surgery, unmistakably, loads of make-up, botox to iron away her 45 years, thinness — into a pink, passive doll. Doll? Doll! Like every other photoshopped princess-doll who does nothing but conform to society’s hyper-saturated version of female sexuality. She has become it. Invites it. Look at me: I am just a passive doll. The hypocritical gaze of Tori Amos’ newly fourteen-year-old and languid eyes chokes me, now in a very bad way.

Just go look at the site dedicated to her new album: Abnormally Attracted to Sin. In the Bio part Tori Amos is thus quoted:

I wanted to look at power and how we think and how you can reclaim the right to think for yourself, to uncover what you believe in as a spiritual, sexual creature…. You can think, ‘Wait a minute, I’m a spiritual being. Just because I like gold handcuffs doesn’t mean I’m not a spiritual being.

Which is all fine and good, but she is assuming that her audience knows what it is to be a “spiritual being” and a “sexual creature.” She is also suggesting, with the plethora of photographs and the visualettes, that the “sexual creature” part is simply solved by fitting into the usual female archetypes. Such an “examination” of power only proves to us how powerless we actually are. Only if we are willing to squeeze ourselves into tight leather and small fancy dresses, to undergo plastic surgery and put on loads of make-up, be photoshopped, then we are alloted power? I’m confused. Sounds like the same old bullshit to me.

The fog of falsity is unavoidable as is the slip on such perfectly polished surfaces. One cannot teach anything unless one lives what one wants to teach. I just can’t help thinking about all the raw truth in Tori Amos’ earlier works and how it has disintegrated to banal repetition.

I believe that it is the “duty” of the artist to pose challenging questions. All that is challenging about Tori Amos’ doe eyes and passive poses is the fortune that is required to obtain such a Look and the fortune that is required to showcase it. Because that’s what it is: a show. Everyday I am inundated with this show. Once Tori Amos was an island against it; now, she’s sunk like the rest. So much for her kick ass piano



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