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Tori Amos' Secret Garden

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Even though she knew she was in bad shape, Amos undertook a mammoth world tour in support of Boys for Pele. She collapsed from exhaustion. "I didn't cancel, Amos says with perverse pride. It's not part of my nature to cancel; it's just not what I do – I play." It wasn't until she crawled from the wreckage of that tour that she began to get perspective on her relationship with her art – and it wasn't pretty.

"I think I was in real trouble, and I happened to be in the public eye," says Amos. "You're playing your wound – and sometimes you reach your hand in there and it doesn't feel so good. I see other singers doing this: They're in serious pain, and they're doing stupid, crazy shit that I used to do. But that doesn't go too deep. You have to go deal with it privately; you have to do the work."

The work, for Amos, meant everything from intensive reading to visiting psychics. Perhaps tired of being a shrink to the rest of the world, Amos engaged a Los Angeles analyst, whom she consults regularly by telephone. "Now, things come up and I have a way of working through them," says Amos. "Before, I would write the songs and never discuss them, except with journalists, maybe. Now I'm more aware of what I'm writing about not always when I'm doing it, but after it's done, I'll sit back and go, 'Oh, jeez.'"

To recover from the turmoil of the Boys for Pele tour, Amos took a hiatus at her Florida retreat, north of Miami. It was there, on December 23rd, 1996, that she encountered her gravest crisis yet. Pregnant by her future husband, she miscarried.

"You feel death, but you're alive," says Amos, sitting in a small central-London cafe. "You're walking between the worlds. I went through many different sides to it. You go through every question. I even went through a phase where I felt rejected. Then I began to feel a peace; the spirit started to take me to another level of love. Like the Grinch, my heart grew three times that day – I began to feel the capacity again."

Music was once more the key to Amos survival, with new songs like "Spark," "Iieee" and "Playboy Mommy" helping her work through unspeakable grief. "I didn't know when I was gonna make another record when I got pregnant," she says. "I was going to put things on hold for a while. But the music became vital again, as it always seems to. Songs started to come, and they showed me different ways of feeling and expressing, ways that surprised me. 'Playboy Mommy' dealt with my feelings of rejection – 'Wasn't I enough to be your mother, didn't you want me? Well, don't come, then. Go choose some little right-wing Christian for your mother.' It's a human response."

Rockers Turning 50

Amos orders up a cappuccino, "real milky, like you'd make it for a child," and when it arrives, she clutches the cup to her jaw. As the pain subsides, her face takes on a distant look. The spell is broken when Madonna's "Frozen" comes on the radio. "I love this song!" Amos squeals. "It makes me want to . . ." Amos trills an operatic version of Madonna's spiritual opus, then clamps a hand over her mouth as Saturday-afternoon shoppers turn their heads her way.

Tori Amos could have been Madonna. Well, more accurately, she could have been Tiffany or Debbie Gibson or Taylor Dayne, or any one of the other Eighties disco bimbos who rolled off the production line in Ms. Ciccone's sacred image. In a bizarre subchapter of the Amos myth, she was discovered at a D.C. hotel bar by a pop-soul producer, Narada Michael Walden, who put together some demo tapes for her. Among the aspiring dance diva's 1982 compositions were "Predator," "Rub Down" and the implausibly titled "Skirt's On Fire." "You think Y Kant Tori Read was bad – you haven't heard anything," Amos says with a laugh. She sings a few bars of "Skirt's On Fire" with admirable commitment. Actually, it's quite catchy.

The following day, Amos is sitting in her favorite restaurant, a little French boîte in London's exclusive Mayfair enclave. Luxury is a necessity for this cosmic cracker, whose taste for the good life runs from fine wines to Manolo Blahnik shoes to the $600 Nicole Fahri coat with thick fur collar and cuffs – "That's fake fur, sweetie" – that she's presently dousing in mussel sauce. ("At least it's keeping my sweater dry," she notes.) Amos was making $600 a week as a sixteen-year-old barroom chanteuse, and she retained enough of her family's Protestant work ethic to subsidize her artistic flights of fancy. "I have always been able to pay my bills," Amos boasts.

Kate Bush and Béla Bartòk and Jimmy Page are some of the oft-cited musical influences who put the wind beneath Tori Amos' wings, but an equally important character in her fantastic voyage is her paternal grandmother, Addie Allen. Amos' maternal grandmother was also, she says, a "tough broad"; but it was Allen who captivated the young Myra Ellen Amos, as Tori was known for the first seventeen years of her life. It was Allen who seems to have imbued her with much of the strength she has needed to survive as a moon child in a harsh, uncaring world.

The Waltons, Amos has said, were living in luxury compared with the Scottish-immigrant clan that spawned Addie Allen. As a teenager, Allen came down from the Appalachians to the University of Virginia to attend summer school and, says Amos, "could give you interpretations of Byron and Shelley that would make your head spin." But it was Allen's formidable toughness that really impressed Amos.

When Amos was just five years old, she became aware that grandma Allen – like her son, she was a Methodist minister in the Church of God – was taking a particular interest in her upbringing. She'd see letters in which grandma earnestly advised Amos father that his youngest daughter needed to learn how to love Jesus. Such messages, of course, only served to deepen the child's intransigence.

"That church is very controlling – I guess that's why I'm such a control freak," says Amos as she walks back to her hotel. "I hated her, sure, but you had to admire her power over people. She definitely had a mission."

Despite the fact that Tori Amos has escaped the Manifest Destiny of her hillbilly genes and has wrenched material comfort from the jaws of psycho-religious turmoil, there is a sense that she, like Addie Allen before her, is still on a lifelong mission.

"Yes, I do have a mission," Amos says bluntly. "To expose the dark side of Christianity."

This, judging from Amos' dead-on stare, is not just shtick. The woman has few peers in the God-baiting stakes. Compared with the Amos oeuvre, Madonna's blasphemous stunts look positively devout; and when this little minister's daughter starts exorcising the "shame" of her "Victorian Christian upbringing," she makes soi-disant Satanist Marilyn Manson seem cartoonish and ineffectual. (Not, admittedly, an enormous feat in itself.)

Tori Amos wants a piece of you, Christian right, and she knows where you live. The struggle for self-preservation may have mellowed Amos, but the ironclad resolve she brings to her own anti-Christian crusade would impress even the unsinkable Addie Allen.

"Jesus had wonderful things to say, but Christianity is dickless," Amos asserts as she paces the floor of her expansive suite, popping minibar pistachios. "Jesus was not made from semen, so Christians have been using that conquering sword [makes phallic gesture] to find that in their religion.

"The problem with Christianity is, they think everything is about outside forces, good and evil. With Christianity there's not a lot of inner work encouraged. I don't like it that people don't own up to the fact that every thought we could possibly have, we've all had. That's why kids get into weird cults they're desperately searching for the dark side of themselves. You probably won't do it if you look at it. I think a lot of kids are starving in high school &ndahs; they want tools to do the inner work."

Amos' own years at Richard Montgomery High School, in suburban Rockville, Maryland, were largely anonymous, save for her surprising coronation as homecoming queen. She still seems somewhat mystified by her rare brush with peer popularity. "I was kind of a nerd in high school," Amos muses. "I never really fit in, but I had a little bit of status because I was playing clubs. And I got along with the minority groups really well. I never liked bullies – I have a lot of time for the nerds of the world, the ones that don't make the cut. I'd hang out with science kids they can blow things up! I mean, what's cooler than that?"

The constituency that voted Tori Amos homecoming queen is probably not too distant from the "lost souls and misfits" who launched her into the rarefied orbit of rock stardom. It's a public that takes her every word as gospel, heartily applauding her untethered imaginings, accepting the literal and the oblique with equal gratitude. One wonders how such complex and occasionally confounding music can possibly mean so many things to so many people.

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