It was me and a gun
and a man on my back
and I sang 'holy holy'
as he buttoned down his pants
you can laugh it's kind of funny
the things you think times like this
like I haven't seen Barbados
so I must get out of this
yes I wore a slinky red thing
does that mean I should spread
for you, your friends, your father, Mr. Ed.
-- "Me and a Gun," Tori Amos
Her wounded voice is horrific and chilling. There is no guitar, no piano and no place to hide. On "Me and a Gun," Tori Amos sings a cappella. She is alone and fragile, just as she was on that long-ago night when she was raped.
Why sing about the experience of rape? Why?
"The reason I'm doing it is because I think musicians have a responsibility," Amos says in a telephone conversation. She will play at Buffalo State College's Rockwell Hall at 8 p.m. Friday.
"The singers, painters, poets and the arts have a responsibility to be the conscience of the masses. We're mirrors, and I think we've had things covering our mirrors up. We forgot what our little job is -- to speak the truth, whatever it is.
"We've been afraid of doing that, because we've been kicked in the face so much. You see, artists want to be loved. We have to stop that. We have to love ourselves, which is the hardest thing to do."
Self-respect is the cornerstone philosophy of Tori Amos. This year her album "Little Earthquakes" established Amos as a dynamic musical force. The record is a journey of emotional growth, self-discovery, heartache and love.
On the album, Amos, 28, offers painful introspection, including dealing with her parents, her own insecurity and the time she was raped.
It is a brutally honest musical work. For Amos, that is all part of artistic expression.
"You do get drained doing something like this, but there is also exhilaration," Amos says. "The pendulum swings both ways, because you can pretend you're not telling your secrets but you know you are telling your secrets.
"You're spilling the beans, but you just have to hope there will be more beans and you won't go hungry because you give so much away. But you are also receiving while you're giving. Especially at the shows. The audience gives me so much, it becomes a reciprocal thing.
"That's why I play alone on stage. I want it to be really intimate, just me and my piano. I don't want distance. I can't sing these songs if there's a distance between us."
Look on "Little Earthquakes" and you will find Tori Amos. In "Crucify" she asks, "Why do we crucify ourselves every day/I got to have my suffering so that I can have my cross . . . got enough guilt to start my own religion."
On "Silent All These Years" she tells of an artist finally finding her voice; on "Happy Phantom" Amos confronts death, and on "Winter" Amos details memories of her father: "I get a little warm in my heart when I think of winter/I put my hand in my father's glove/I run off where the drifts get deeper . . . I hear a voice, 'You must learn to stand for yourself 'cause I won't always be around.' "
The musical biography reflects the emotional changes in Amos' life. She grew up Myra Ellen Amos, the daughter of a Southern preacher. Amos was 5 when she earned a scholarship to study piano at Baltimore's Peabody Institute. This was a happy time and memories of those early days still linger. More than anything else, to Amos it represented freedom.
"When I was 5, I didn't think about what people would think," she says. "I just thought about feeling strong about what I was doing. And then for years and years and years I became an addict of approval."
Amos was 11 when she was kicked out of the conservatory. Two years later she was playing piano in gay bars in Washington, D.C., and Baltimore. Then she moved to Los Angeles, changed her name to Tori and became a self-described "rock chick." She released her first album in 1988 and the heavy metal effort was a bomb.
The enduring lesson for Amos, however, was not to tie her self-worth into her work. "I still have to work really hard at it," she said. "We're taught to look to the outside; we look to others and ask, 'What do you think?' instead of what I feel.
"Now I want to make music that feels truthful to me. I'm not trying to have hit songs. There has got to be a point where musicians make music because we're musicians, not because of what's expected of us. In so many ways, that's what music has become, and that's why so many of us are really angry with ourselves."
Amos has succeeded in her quest for originality. "Little Earthquakes" has earned critical acclaim and strong record sales. "People don't just discover Tori Amos, they become obsessed with her," wrote critic Brook Hersey.
Vogue magazine called Amos "magnetic, mystical," and People said Amos possessed a gift for "masking blunt lyrics with lush melodies. Her highly personal stories make her sound like a sex-changed Bruce Springsteen." The New York Times said her record was "sumptuous and unsettling."
One of Amos' most remarkable songs is her version of the Nirvana hit "Smells Like Teen Spirit." She takes the hard-rocking song about teen alienation and turns into a gentle, powerful piano piece, backed by her sweet voice.
"I'm a piano player and the piano was dying to do it," Amos says. "I'm really paying homage to the song; it's fantastic, and Nirvana's version is a classic.
"What I'm doing is shooting the same scene from another camera angle. When I heard the song, it was a horror movie to me. And I don't mean a funny horror story. I mean, to me that song expresses real horror, and I had to express what I felt."
The craving for inner expression led Amos to write "Me and a Gun." She had completed most of the songs for her album, but one more was needed. She saw the movie "Thelma & Louise" during an afternoon off, and went home that day and wrote the song, which is based on her real-life experience of being raped.
For Amos, the song was not only enlightening but therapeutic.
"It opened the door for me to deal with my own experience," she says. "It didn't cross my mind that the song would get so much attention.
"I knew if people listened to it, they couldn't run from that song. I didn't know I would still be talking about it a year later, and I didn't know I'd be reliving it. I knew what it was, but you cannot know what it is."
Amos often speaks in such esoteric, poetic sentences. She is of small stature, with flaming red hair and soft features. At first glance, Amos appears childlike, angelic; yet beneath that calm exterior is an individual raging with internal struggle.
The meshing of her art and life is most apparent when she sings "Me and a Gun" on stage. "Sometimes," Amos says in a whispery voice, "I have to detach myself to get through it. Sometimes people come up to me after a show and say how I distracted myself from the song, and that might be the night it was the hardest for me to sing it; that might have been the night I really relived it.
"Then there are nights where I just have to sing it to get through it, and people think I relived it but I didn't. It affects people in different ways. But one thing that song always does is come up and put its arms around me and say, 'Just let me do the job.' "
Amos talks of the song as if it were a person and, in a way, it is part of her being. The art has become the soul of the artist; somehow the two are one. This is Tori Amos, pop star, social conscience, rape survivor and, above all else, her own woman.
"I'm just trying to do my art in a way I understand right now, and in a way that is valid," Amos says. "I can't kid myself about what I can't pull off. This is my instrument and this is where I go. If it weren't, maybe I'd be rubbing leaves together, and maybe that would be valid."
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