A Window In

Tori Amos throws back her shutters

Amos songs—on not fitting in, having the heart stomped on, disintegrating relationships and the ever-changing ways we view our parents—have garnered a league of devout fans for the beautiful redhead. Many of these fans become hopelessly enthralled, casting her into archetypal categories—a fairy, a prostitute, a mother. Though notoriously open during her interviews, Amos has remained largely enigmatic to her fans, those who most long to throw back her shutters and catch Tori in the nude, figuratively that is.

While making her ninth album, The Beekeeper, Amos teamed up with articulate rock journalist Ann Powers to simultaneously write her book, Piece by Piece . Originally intended as a sort of diary of the making of her album, Amos found the task growing larger by the day. How could she document the making of an album without explaining all that brought her to the point where she could make an album?

Amos,

heroine,

The book could have benefited from some better editing, and while Amos warns artists against attributing success to the ego, at times her ego glares as harshly as sunlight on a bald head. But she's likable all the while, and at the end of the day, she's not so enigmatic after all. She's the woman most of us considered her all along— a fairy, a prostitute, a mother, a writer.

Tori Amos has made a career of saying outrageous things in bewitching ways. In 1991's Little Earthquakes, the writhing pianist so famously related her rape experience in "Me and a Gun" and addressed sexual dissatisfaction in "Leather"; in '94's Under the Pink , she explored childhood masturbation and religious disillusionment.

But never once has Amos startled listeners for the hell of it. She's merely made a business of scraping the contents of her psyche, writing songs about the things that have sagged in her stomach, anchored her, the things she longs to disengage herself from.

Amos songs—on not fitting in, having the heart stomped on, disintegrating relationships and the ever-changing ways we view our parents—have garnered a league of devout fans for the beautiful redhead. Many of these fans become hopelessly enthralled, casting her into archetypal categories—a fairy, a prostitute, a mother. Though notoriously open during her interviews, Amos has remained largely enigmatic to her fans, those who most long to throw back her shutters and catch Tori in the nude, figuratively that is.

While making her ninth album, The Beekeeper, Amos teamed up with articulate rock journalist Ann Powers to simultaneously write her book, Piece by Piece . Originally intended as a sort of diary of the making of her album, Amos found the task growing larger by the day. How could she document the making of an album without explaining all that brought her to the point where she could make an album?

The book is pieced together with probing conversations between Powers and Amos, as well as separate sections written by Amos and Powers, respectively. The book also contains insights from the people who surround Amos—her managers, her husband/sound engineer, her sister, her band, her chef, stylist, etc. The result is an exhaustive account of how the musical prodigy turned from a Southern preacher's daughter named Myra Ellen Amos into Tori Amos.

In the book's preface, Powers remarks that she'd "always heard that Tori was a talker; the rare sort of artist who really connects with each interviewer. Much later, I would learn that she's the same effusive, engaged person in the presence of her road crew, her daughter's nanny, or the fans who faithfully gather before each show on her endless touring schedule. Yes, this woman is a talker, but never in frivolous way."

And yes, Amos is a talker, an unbelievable talker, resulting in a text that can seem encyclopedic and somewhat redundant, but nonetheless a treasure trove to one particularly keen on Amos, or to an artist who wants to better understand her creative process. "We hit upon the scheme of an ongoing conversation about Tori's artistic life and how it relates to the larger matter of creativity, especially women's creativity," Powers says. Though most celebrities aren't equipped to write their memoirs, Amos could double as a writer; her eloquence is unflinching, her narrative often intriguing.

The book is divided into eight chapters—one on her Irish and Native American ancestry, in which she explains the folklore that fueled her imagination in childhood and continues to. "Every artist is born in a place, within a family, and though she may leave these sources far behind, they remain within her," writes Powers. "The achievement comes in acknowledging those origins without being devoured by them."

Because Amos is a copious reader, perpetual student, and surprisingly or not, quite a theologian, Piece by Piece reads much like a textbook on mythology and religion, initially giving the impression that Amos wants to dodge the personal details of her life, the reason I suspect most people would pick this book up. She waxes abstractly, but this makes sense, coming from an artist whose songs often seem indecipherable. But she returns to the "nitty gritty" soon enough, and one has to realize that Amos' continuing education is as much a part of her as her music and her family.

There is another chapter on Mary Magdalene, Amos' erotic muse, her heroine, a figure she believes has been largely shamed out of history books. Other chapters focus on Amos' creative process, her life on the road, the evolution of her identity. Another, perhaps the most revealing, chapter recounts Amos' thirst to become a mother as she weathers three agonizing miscarriages before giving birth to the love of her life, her daughter Natashya.

The book could have benefited from some better editing, and while Amos warns artists against attributing success to the ego, at times her ego glares as harshly as sunlight on a bald head. But she's likable all the while, and at the end of the day, she's not so enigmatic after all. She's the woman most of us considered her all along— a fairy, a prostitute, a mother, a writer.

© 2005 MetroPulse. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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