You don’t necessarily need to be living under a rock to be missing one of modern music’s greatest and most lasting figures currently leading a nomadic movement across the planet. Tori Amos is finally back in Australia, presently delivering yet another epic tour for Unrepentant Geraldines her fourteenth studio album; seven dates include two phenomenal shows with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and an all-request show (that’s right, throw in whatever you want!).
Having discovered Tori not too long ago myself, I have been making the most of this visit and am repeatedly completely blown away by this artist-the calibre of whom is dwindling or developing depending on how you choose to look at the industry, creative consciousness and contemporary demands on musicians. It strikes me that in the same way we have all mourned and deeply missed the likes of legends recently passed, I sat in stalls of these shows knowing that this creative master would be incredibly missed and not likely succeeded by another quite like her. Sustainability is not the objective of the global artistic industry, let alone the commercial end, so I feel it within my faculties to use what technical savvy the timing of my birth has afforded me to address some things about Tori Amos, those she is like, and those like her. Precisely, I want to make clear five reasons that this type of art be an expression we make as prominent as possible, and remind widely of the value it brings and pervades.
NB: stay with me on this, I know we Ears With Feet (Tori’s version of Little Monsters est. 1996 for those of you playing at home) can be on the intense and sometimes obstinate side but this is an open discussion about music, artism and life. I’ve just used a favourite for a lens. Thank U.
1. She’s a Griffin
Like seriously, and I know that might make no sense to you, but if you’re across the mythology of griffins then you’ll be nodding right now. What I’m getting at here is that according to mythology, it is impossible to tell a lie in the presence of a griffin. When I first met Tori at a Meet and Greet, the sensation of absolute authenticity was both onrushing and incapacitating. I confirmed with many other people I met at the event that it’s a common feeling, as though when faced with her, all you can do is be your ultimate and original self. I lost all functions of articulation, syntax, humour, conversation, anecdote or connectivity. Now I imagine that for some, that simply becomes them for a humble and grateful individual, innocent at heart; I know for some it’s a swift reduction to tearfulness and overwhelm. For me, it was a lot of stumbling words (from someone paid to talk and personally coached in rhetoric!). This is really a thing, there is a whole page dedicated to anecdotes entitled Tori Turned Me Stupid. I believe this is simply due to the concept of Tori providing an open, completely generous and present essence. I have no idea how this woman can come into a group of intense, oft-far-travelled, some traumatised, all excited and potentially anxious people, bringing with her no expectations into the throng.
I feel that presently, many an artist (and almost exclusively a celebrity), strategises their goals around the platform of character (think Nicki Minaj, Lady Gaga, Sacha Baron Cohen, Australia’s Chris Lilley, even Lorde), and are frequently linked to the greats who also seemed to dress up in new identities. But it is my perspective that Madonna, Prince, David Bowie, Kylie Minogue to an extent, and yes Tori Amos all transitioned into new creative incarnations from a place of intimacy, not luminosity. I got the sense that every new dimension to these artists’ reinvention actually came from a lived place, as opposed to a separation from or extension of self. Hopefully we see this going forward from performers getting their commedia happening!
2. The Secret is the Piper’s Pipes
There is a special look of confusion that crosses people’s faces when I tell them that what really hooked me into Tori was her drooling. But the fans get it!! At the end of the day, artists like Beyonce, P!nk, Miley Cyrus, Ed Sheeran, Bruno Mars, Darren Hayes, Sia, Kate Miller Heidke will stand up with the Jeff Buckleys, and the Stevie Nicks’, the Shirley Mansons, Dallas Greens and Annie Lennoxes of the world because each and all push their voice continuously, breaking and re-setting their instruments to have a strong and diverse life on shelves and in hearts. When Tori drools in shows, it is always at the moment where the note is so powerful, and so emoted that whether she chooses to or not, the music and the sound takes any and all priority over the spectacle or the appeal. As it happens, I find it incredibly sexy! Now we may buy the work of musicians, comedians, actors that make mark of the time in which they rose to prominence because they remark on the development of industry and content. But Audrey Hepburn can be watched any day of the week, as Marilyn Monroe can if you’re not a Hepburn fan (yeah I’m calling out that dichotomy!). Having fans is one thing, a following quite another. But few artists have a force. You don’t need it to be big, and in spite of trend you don’t need to give it its own corny eponymous nickname, you don’t even need it to identify itself. But if that’s what you want, then the work of the mastery of the instrument is up to you to do, and to share, and trust. Many an artist lost momentum and fell quickly off the rising star platform because they didn’t believe in themselves enough to work on their craft. Reality television will have a bit to answer for on that front (watch the “losers” of those shows: Ella Henderson, Adam Lambert, Jessica Mauboy, Justin Timberlake, even One Direction-loathe though I am to reference them).
3. They Ain’t Heavy, They’re FaNily
Every family has one oddball, except the Toriphile Ears With Feet family who has maybe one straight-lace. Without belabouring the point about fandom, what I have loved most about attending a Tori Amos tour is the people you meet; the diversity amongst them, the openness to meeting one another that Amos herself delivers by osmosis in all she does to communicate with her fans as though they are old friends (seriously I felt like we were reuniting, not first interacting). The fan-crew itself as open and fair with each other for the most part, and I have heard many a recount of how Tori brings her committed listeners into the energy of the entire production, sharing them amongst privileged audience positions and picking up conversations at one meet and greet you paused at the last. Even the crew and tour team make a note of remembering you cross-tours. This is a power all big acts will have the choice to wield, wear or wish for, or perhaps just enjoy. Your choice.
4. Every Day is a School Day
What I enjoy most about Tori’s music is how it manages to be so personal, and yet to the neophyte eye, so vague or obscure. Tori’s references go from art, to nature, to myth, to religion, back to literature then pop culture then true crime into lived experience via botany and politics hanging a left at historical events. I feel I know more about America by listening to Tori than conducting myself through thirteen years of formalised education. I certainly know more about myself.
Sure artists should use their talent to express themselves, doubtless. But what truly impresses me is an artist who can not only express themselves, but also contribute to the knowledge bank of their listeners, viewers, contributors. Artists like Bjork who teach musicology, like Amanda Palmer who has made and continues to make an art form of collaboration itself, Sinead O’Connor’s spiritual tutelage, Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam who refuse to dumb down their craft for the buying power of everyman. Tori Amos was accepted into a premier music conservatory at the age of 5. She’s a freaken progeny, but she’s seen no take-out for lording it over us with that knowledge. She shares it, divides and distributes it to us in music that is made for the smart, for the deeper perspective.
I don’t know if Tori Amos was ever destined for obscurity. A shaky start with an 80s pop record that she turned around into piano-power 90s icon-hood just shows how much she was meant to become what she is today: creating from a place of self-awareness, self-authorship and self-honesty. The Unrepentant Geraldines tour has celebrated her early-fifties years. A time when even the invincible Madonna is facing upturned noses and pursed lips (technically the way she always has, but now for age not outrage), when Prince’s philandering status overtook his most recent creative projects, and questions about whether Kate Bush’s stage tour earlier this year would have held the weight it did if it hadn’t been preceded by the mysterious and thrilling hiatus are avoided by fan and ignorant alike (no knock to Kate Bush-woman’s incomparable).
Now sure at the meet and greet a lovely woman of about 40 years old walked over to me and said “I’m sorry to be asking, but…who is she?”. I feel that what has made Tori’s half-century release such an indomitable and wicked worldwide attention-grabber is how this woman has taken on the tech! Delivering on the #unrepentantselfie and using instagram clips to make the evolving video for her third single ‘Weatherman’. Continual photo updates and a diversification into twitter AND tumblr has brought new relevance to this femme du force. One meet and greet saw an age range of as young as 10 through early twenties, mid-thirties, late sixties and beyond (and in a completely different way from a Taylor Swift concert where the parents have to go). To evolve your penetration is a mark of humility and confidence in the ongoing value of your work and we subconsciously receive that as listeners and viewers. I think this is why digital age artists are doing the same thing but in reverse to show their own (d)evolution: I give you Taylor Swift’s polaroid album cover, Katy Perry’s hippie lovechild vibes, Coldplay’s art-ode to Fleetwood Mac. Now remembering that what flew Tori, faltered for U2, but we will love them still for their bravery, and generosity at the heart of traversing this new and light-speed changing environment to create in.
Unrepentant Geraldines Australian tour dates continue Tuesday 18th November in Perth, Thursday 20th November in Sydney (Request Show) and Friday 21st November in Brisbane. Details can be found at toriamos.com and you may want to jump aboard the good ship undented.com for insider scoops and updates.
Big love. Forgive, Love, Apologise, Thank. bg2yx.
photos courtesy of Andreas Heuer and Rip it Up, AU Review, adelaidenow.com.au, Tori Amos and Ben Hughes d’Aeth respectively. Please contact me with any permission concerns.