From her earliest days as a child piano prodigy and lounge player in Washington D.C. clubs, Tori Amos has met resistance but never backed down from it. Battling tirelessly and, ultimately, with success against the male-dominated music industry, she has maintained of her voice and vision. And now she has published Resistance: A Songwriter’s Story of Hope, Change, and Courage, both a memoir and a how-to manual to inspire others.
“Being in opposition to something is to be in a position of power. It’s not simply reactionary. Defiance can be active and can be the genesis of something. You don’t want to play the victim. You want to have conviction. Because make no mistake: we are living in a moment of crisis.” – Tori Amos
In the introduction of the new Tori Amos memoir, Resistance, Tori describes a sculpture she owns of a strong woman with her hair flying. Defiance, is the name of that art piece, aptly opening a beautifully-written memoir describing her decades-long career as an artist among political strife, human rights issues, and homeland violence.
Most remember Tori as the ‘90s rock singer with the bright, red curly hair pounding viciously at her piano keys on Late Night with David Letterman. Her silver, metallic pants shined brightly as she played half-standing with the energy of a panther on a hunt. Her unique sex appeal casting a spell on all genders. This witchy genius showed us that a classically trained pianist could be dangerous as opposed to stiff.
The music video for her 1994 hit song, “Cornflake Girl,’’ featured a group of young women happily playing in the back of a truck she’s driving. They start to turn on each other, shoving and yelling, when they pick up a male hitchhiker. In the next scene, the man is sitting in a boiling pot of water chopping a vegetable, while the girls dance around him. The feminist imagery brought her to light as a fearless artist who speaks her truth.
Tori Amos was born in North Carolina, the daughter of a Methodist minister. A child prodigy, she played music at age two and was writing her own songs at three. By age five, she became the youngest student ever to be admitted to the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, where she studied classical piano from 1968 until 1974. By age eleven, rock music became more important to her as well as her dislike of sheet music, and her scholarship was discontinued. Tori’s father, who she compares to an infamous stage mother named Mama Rose [from Gypsy, by Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim], brought her to Georgetown, in Washington, D.C., to get a professional job playing music. Tori landed a gig in a gay bar on Wisconsin Avenue, which was looked down upon by her father’s parishioners. When warned against the eternal anguish they would suffer in hell for their sins, Tori’s father shot back, “There is no safer place for a thirteen-year old girl than in an all gay bar.”
“Winter” – Tori Amos, live at Montreux, 1992, which she introduces as “for my dad”:
Tori was shown a street education while being the lounge singer for D.C. senators, lobbyists, and representatives. She heard their opinions and secrets while fine tuning her chops on the piano. They dismissed her as ‘just a kid,’ while she listened intently, storing everything in the dark recesses of her mind for future reference.
In 1980, the Iran Hostage Crisis brought images of Iranian’s shouting, “Death to America,” along with U.S. hostages being blindfolded and marched away amid machine guns to American televisions. People turned their backs on President Carter as he gave U.S. refuge to the Shah of Iran among pressure from Big Corp allies, Republicans and some Democrats who were friends of the Shah. After Vietnam, Americans were hesitant to military occupation, but the country came together to bring the hostages home. Tori recalls that scary time:
“Even from my piano I heard them calling for the Dems’ blood. Operation Eagle Claw had not only failed to rescue the hostages but had lost the lives of eight American military commandos in the Iranian desert.” – Tori Amos
Television audiences gasped as they watched a plane crash into the World Trade Center on 9/11. Everyone remembers where they were at that moment. Tori was in New York. She was invited to play the second David Letterman show after the tragedy. The first show had no music out of respect for the dead. Tori had an album signing at the Virgin Megastore in Union Square that same night. Amongst her visitors, a man said, “I am not a fan of your music, but I have lost my uncle and I had no place to go.” They held each other and cried. A much-needed release for both of them during that chaotic time. People begged her not to cancel her tour under the pressure to. One person said: “We need a place to gather to exchange information that we know is secure.” A message that some people distrust the government and the news media.
Women’s rights are a huge issue for Tori. From the secret beatings taken by her female judge friend who seemed to have a ‘perfect life,’ to the ongoing, un-anesthetized genital mutilation of young girls in Africa. The latter was mainly done to keep the girls faithful to their future husbands. These procedures can cause painful infections and turn intercourse into an excruciating task.
In 2018, Christine Blasey Ford accused Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were teens. The U.S. Senate held hearings that dismissed her claims and let him advance in rank. It was another slap in the face to women everywhere. Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Kavanaugh, was protected from an FBI investigation in a boy’s club fashion.
“The problem they and their enablers did not count on was that the dominos have not only knocked down other dominos, sliding Kavanaugh into his very own Supreme Court leather, Gilded Age chair; the dominos have created a tsunami in the other direction, knocking down any vestige of faith we had held on to that our senators cared about women survivors of sexual harassment and assault in America.” – Tori Amos
Tori went on to call out Senator Mitch McConnell’s statement of, “We’re going to plow this through,” as a message to women that men do/ take/ say what they want as well as have the backs of any other men who thinks like them. She believes in women exchanging ideas. Society, definitely wants women at each other’s throats—from mothers telling daughters to compete with other girls physically and challenging their body image, to women’s magazine’s telling us how to please our men in bed amongst other article’s on weight loss. Even reality shows like Vanderpump Rules and The Real Housewives franchise depict perfectly tanned, slim women throwing drinks on each other amongst vicious verbal assaults. Women must unite. Speak up. Undo the psychological training by family and society that has kept us down. The word feminist doesn’t mean ‘man hater,’ for instance. It only means that you want equal rights for all sexes.
“Hall passes are available for White Male Privilege and for women complicit with their behavior, women who are willing to look the other way.” – Tori Amos
LGBTQ rights have been and are currently being threatened around the world. Tori writes about Russian president Vladimir Putin signing the “gay propaganda” law in June of 2013 that meant little access to health and educational services for that community. Some spoke out about this injustice, but Russian’s are frequently killed or jailed for protesting, as many of us have seen with the band Pussy Riot. So it can be hard to bring out people in mass numbers.
While in Istanbul on tour, Tori spoke with a gay man who admitted he lives a double life to avoid getting fired from his job or worse. Soon after, an LGBTQ protest was met with tear gas and rubber bullets. Hmm… Sounds familiar…
As many of us have been protesting police brutality and the systemic racism against people of color in the United States, I can’t help but remember all the times I’ve had to hail cabs for my black friends. Another memory flashed in my mind of my mother’s disapproval when my childhood friends, Keisha and Keema, visited. They were black girls whose parents relocated them from Compton to Huntington Beach for better schools and safer streets. These girls were smart and hilariously funny. After a wild session of undressing Ken and Barbie and thrusting their plastic pelvises against each other, my mother angrily ordered them out of the house. She dropped the n-word frequently as I grew up, always clarifying, “I like the women, just not the men,” as if that justified the slur. My mother was 13 when the Civil Rights act was enacted in 1964, de-segregating schools and public restrooms. Not very long ago really. Unfortunately, racism never went away, it was just swept under the rug. Neatly packaged equality that held some rotten fruit inside.
“Putting The Damage On (Boys for Pele)” – Tori Amos:
Tori noticed this racism while on a shoot for the record she calls her ‘“punk” album, Boys For Pele, in the Deep South:
“The location shoot was about two and a half hours from New Orleans, Karen Binns, who is mixed-race, was naturally part of the team. She pulled me aside and said, ‘Tor, I am feeling really uneasy. People are giving me strange looks.’ At first I did not see it, I have to be honest. I told her, ‘They just have not seen your approach to London fashion’.”
But when we sat down to eat as a team and everybody’s food came except Karen’s, I started to take note. When it happened the second time there was no mistaking the hostility directed toward her. A comment was made about her when we were shooting in the middle of a burning field. Send her back. I confronted the man: ‘What the hell is going on?’”
His justification? “You all chose to come here. Remember that.”
As I write this about a time that I truly believed we had moved on from, the venomous chant ‘Send her back,’ which our own president has invoked, moves me to write a new song:
Send her back to Michigan
Send her back to the Bronx
Send her back
Send her far away
But what if that’s the U.S.A?”
One thing is clear: Tori Amos is a very empathetic soul who people feel comfortable sharing their strife with. I wish more artists would be as vocal about human rights as she is. Raising awareness about the injustices that oppress people around the world can help open minds and fund donations. Tori wrote this book to help artists create amongst a crisis. The major crisis being losing democracy (aka, the current administration). Another more personal crisis befell the siren in May of last year: her mother Mary and close friend Nancy died within two days of one another. These painful blows opened her eyes to all the frustrating platitudes people say to make you feel better. Simply listening is better than throwing a Hallmark card wrapped up as a polite verbal gesture at someone who is grieving.
“In art and creating, I am not risk-averse. I may be in other aspects of my life, but not in music. Not with the piano in the lead by my side and the guiding force in my life. I trust her. More than I trust anything: People can change alliances.” – Tori Amos
A strong song can be birthed from pain and there is no such thing as writer’s block. As Tori sees it, power-addicted people can “Target artists specifically because they know that artists have the ability to reach the public in ways no one else can.” John Lennon’s “Imagine,” was put on a banned list right after 9/11. Radio stations would not be able to play the beautiful song. The powers that be do not want the people to remember the song’s ideology. Just like Lennon and the Beatles, the social revolution of the Sixties was powered by tunes like Bob Dylan’s, “A Hard Rains A-Gonna Fall.” Dylan’s lyrics could be describing people’s feelings today:
“Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters/ Where the home in the valley meets the damp and dirty prison/ And the executioner’s face is always well hidden/ Where hunger is ugly, where the souls are forgotten/ Where black is the color, where none is the number/ And I tell it and speak it and think it and breathe it/ And reflect from the mountain so all souls can see it.” ‐ Bob Dylan