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Stardumb: Tori Amos

What the strange little girl of American agit pop has to say about her mother country. Mo' Moby. And introducing . . . The Barbrometer!

11:00 PM, Jan 30, 2003 • By DAVID SKINNER
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SHOWDITZ JANEANE GAROFALO told the Washington Post this week that a pro-war corporatist media encourages stars to speak out against war in Iraq in order to marginalize the peace movement. Take two: A famous comedienne, speaking out in the media against the war, discerns some ulterior motive in being given a podium by such famous warmongers as the bloodthirsty Machiavellis at "Good Morning America."

This is the cross-eyed effect of using one's showbiz fame to advance a political cause: Apparently you begin to imagine that it's not you making a fool of yourself, but others who are making a fool of you.

Stardumb hypothesis Number 1: Persons of talent, because most of their life is spent on a single activity at which they excel above many, many others for no logical reason, tend not to appreciate the hard work that goes into developing the skills, knowledge, and temperament needed to succeed in politics. As a result, they throw themselves, ill-prepared, into the fray and are astounded when they inevitably get slammed by an unappreciative public (after being loved by audiences for so long!).

The resulting befuddlement only leads to more of the same, as when they confuse their right to speak with the public's right to laugh at them or otherwise return fire. At which point they say things like: "There was a tone, there was a feeling that if you questioned what our government was doing post-9/11, then you were betraying your country, which I found very offensive." That was Tori Amos, today's stardummy, in a December interview on KCRW in Los Angeles.

Amos is famous for her 1992 album "Little Earthquakes." Its tightly wound anger came as much from Amos's haunting piano and banshee vocals as from her confessional lyrics, in particular her story of being raped. Her music seemed inseparable from that period in the early '90s when rape feminists had taken over American campuses in Take Back the Night marches and Clarence Thomas underwent his "high-tech" lynching at the hands of Anita Hill and Senate Democrats. By 2001, however, that particular stage in the war of the sexes seemed to be over. All the same, Amos proceeded to beat the dead horse with her gender-bending album "Strange Little Girls," on which she covered songs by men and written (pretty much) from a male point of view. This pointless experiment in gender studies complete, Tori Amos moved onto her next project, a post-9/11 comment on America called "Scarlet's Walk."

This would seem, then, a natural place to explain what message the singer-songwriter had in mind--but after listening to the album several times and reading all the lyrics, I haven't the slightest idea what that message is. So why don't we let Tori do the talking. Asked by Nick Harcourt, during a studio session on the very hip "Morning Becomes Eclectic" on KCRW, what difference having a child made to her writing, Amos said, "Well, maybe, uh, becoming a mom made me think about mothering my own mother, my true mother, which is the soul of the creature we call America."

Asked about her feelings for her mother country, Amos (who now lives in England) said, "I think that my relationship with the country, especially, I guess, being in New York on the 11th of last year. I began to see people relating to America as an alive thing. And I crossed the country touring at that time. And a lot of people would speak about it, speak in ways that they don't normally speak. And so that was different, the way that people started to talk about 'her'--whether it was a mother or a friend or a creature that was alive. She wasn't an object anymore. And the main thing people were bringing up was: Is she in the right hands? Are we putting our true mother in hands that are protecting her? Good question."

In closing, Harcourt asked if there was "anything specific . . . that you've noticed from the people who are coming to [your concerts on this tour]? Because this is post-9/11."

"We are in the middle of scary stuff," Amos answered. "As we all know. So people are maybe not so bashful to raise their hand, because, as we all know, there was a tone, there was a feeling that if you questioned what our government was doing post-9/11, then you were betraying your country, which I found very offensive. She is my true mother, and sometimes to protect our true mother we have to ask questions: Is this right? For her course? Is this the direction she needs to go? Not for the agendas of us. Sometimes what we need as her children, what we want, what are our desires are, is different than what her needs are. And this is something I [inaudible] because we do roundtables at a lot of our shows and there is an activism that I'm seeing in the universities. The torch is being picked up that was not picked up previously."