Friday, May 01, 2009

Tori Amos - The Video Collection: Fade To Red




Tori Amos - The Video Collection: Fade To Red
Rhino Home Video, 2006



The Backstory

Tori Amos transformed herself from a gawky young girl named Myra, a minister's daughter and a child prodigy on the piano, performing in nightclubs as a young teen, to the fiery-haired earth goddess of the keyboards, a gay and feminist icon, the mistress of oblique yet intriguing lyrics, and well, a just plain dippy broad to some.

Late in 1999, I went to a concert at Jones Beach in New York that featured co-headliners Alanis Morrisette and Tori Amos. It was one of the few concerts my roommate at the time and I agreed to attend together. I was a Monster Magnet gal and she was a Billy Joel gal, but we found middle ground in Tori. My roomie and I waited at the bus stop to the venue with group of teen and twentysomething girls, some of them accompanied by a wimpy, metrosexual boyfriend. It certainly was a girl's night out; I even got my period unexpectedly. (I know, too much information.) Tori wasn't especially talkative that night, but just to see her at the piano, flowing red hair in the spotlight, crouched defiantly over the piano bench, was enough to summon Persephone back from the underworld. My review was simple. "Tori is a goddess,"I e-mailed my friends when I got home.



Being an old metal/biker/punk chick from day one, this was a weird assortment of concertgoers to behold, much less join. Aah, the things I did for Tori. But Tori, you know, started out as a metal chick in the late '80s. Soon after moving to L.A., she got signed and released Y Cant Tori Read (see video above.) Matt Sorum played drums, and Rick Nielsen and Robin Zander sang backup vocals on one of the songs. A few years later, Tori dumped the Aqua Net and became the ditzy poetess of the piano we all know and love. Even musical prodigies fell prey to the big hair-metal of the 80s.



By the time 1999 rolled around, Tori had long been the poster girl for post-feminist singer/songwriters in a way that Sarah McLachlan or Alanis Morrisette could never claim. Tori, you see, was balanced in her approach. She was worldly, bohemian, glamorous, arty, sexy (everyone-gay, straight, male, female could agree on this point) and obviously intelligent and well-read. Though her you could never be quite sure what her lyrics actually meant. Not that Tori has ever cleared that up to anyone's satisfaction. If an interviewer asked her about a song's meaning, Tori's explanation only complicated matters. Still, she was one of the more intriguing, literate figures in '90s music.

Under The Pink was the first Tori album I bought. Icicles seemed vaguely to be about masturbation/sexual awakening, The Waitress about female rivalry. Cornflake Girl, while oblique to most, had a special meaning to me. "Never was a cornflake girl/thought it was a good solution/ hanging with the raisin girls/I'm going to the other side/giving them the old heave-ho/" I must have played this song 50 times in a row, crying til my blouse was soaked with tears. I had just moved from New York to my hometown of Chicago and was in a holding pattern, wondering whether to go to Los Angeles or back to New York. As a female archetype, I didn't qualify as an L.A. woman (cornflake) or as a N.Y woman (raisin). Rather, I was like Tori in the "Cornflake Girl" video, driving the truck and twirling on the gym bars while the cornflake and raisin girls fought over a tied up studboy. (Eventually I wound up in New Orleans, fashioning my own interpretation of a "cornflake girl.")

Every Tori song means something slightly different to each listener. Since her lyrics aren't linear, they are open to individual interpretation. I'm sure someday a women's studies professor will teach a course on Tori's lyrics. Her fans are notoriously attached to her, although the hysteria of her mid-90s fame has waned. Her most ardent fans vent their fascination on websites and messageboards and in the occasional painting or tattoo. There's even a doll designer who based one of her first creations on Tori. While working as a production coordinator for a doll collector magazine in the mid-90s, I noticed that one of the fairy dolls in an ad bore an uncanny resemblance to a certain redheaded singer.

The Muse

A Spin magazine cover article on Tori in November 1999 caused quite a tizzy when Tori and the artist Pat Kochie took issue with some of the writer's fact checking abilities. Pat and her husband are still fashioning dolls. Contact them at patkochie@aol.com.


So far this decade, Tori has given us The Beekeeper and Scarlet's Walk, two ambitious, adult works that demonstrate Tori is determined to grow as an artist, even if that means forsaking some of the emotional overload of her earlier songs. While The Beekeeper delves into autobiographical themes, now told from the POV of a 40ish married woman with a child, the obtuse lyrics are still intact. Tori still remains one of pop music's most evocative lyricists. She's less arty than Bjork and not as ethereal as Kate Bush. In many ways, her words connect more with listeners on a personal level because the emotions and images tell a story-even if we're left with a cliffhanger most times.




The Videos


Disc One


Past The Mission-Tori leads a group of black clad women of all ages through a village in Spain as they receive bemused glances from the local men. Tori encounters a priest. The women lie down while the priest walks around them to join the men. And then the women make their escape. A straightforward video, not the usual surreal riddles we've come to expect. (Under The Pink)


Crucify- Tori in bondage dress baptized in bathtub. Multiple Toris cheerleading in waitress uniforms. She peers through cut-outs prominent in all her videos from Little Earthquakes. On the audio commentary, Tori talks about Victorian gowns and the beheading of Anne Boleyn. I have no idea what that has to do with the finished version of the video.


Jackie's Strength- Tori as runaway bride in a taxi goes for a spin around the neighborhood as groom laments. Scenes from Tori's life whiz by as she watches her neighbors and family from the taxi window. (Choirgirl Hotel)


A Sorta Fairytale-An animated fairy tale on the streets of downtown L.A. Tori is not a whole person, she's only a head and a leg. Her suitor (Adrien Brody) has suffered the same fate as an arm/head combination. Their resulting love makes them whole by the end of the video An unusual combination of a story and special effects. (Scarlet's Walk)


Winter--Tori at the piano. Another stark, all white video. She dances with a group of little kids who are wearing flower headgear, and revisits her relationship with her father. In the audio commentary, Tori explains how she burst into tears at one point she was so overcome with emotion and her make-up had to be redone. If you watch the last shot closely, you can see that Tori is still holding back the tears. (Little Earthquakes)


Spark-- Stylish concept video with Tori as kidnap victim who escapes from car trunk. She stumbles through the forest while her kidnapper follows her. She manages to find her way to the road. There is a chance of escape-- but not for long. (Choirgirl Hotel)


Sleeps With Butterflies- A video based on the artwork of Aya Kato features Tori in a variety of costumes, sitting on a mushroom, surrounded by-what else-butterflies. (The Beekeeper)

Cornflake Girl-The American version of the video, filmed on a cheesy set that evokes the Southwestern U.S. Tori drives a pick-up truck while the raisin girls and cornflake girls brawl in the truck bed. Tori and the girls dance around the hapless stud as he sits in a bucket of water chopping up a carrot. Phallic reference? You're for dinner? Or both? (Under The Pink)


Hey Jupiter--A distraught, smoky-eyed Tori is rescued from a burning building by a little blonde girl (an angel?) and ostensibly saved from her addiction, crisis, or abusive relationship. Or perhaps the little girl is guiding her to the afterlife. (Boys For Pele)


Silent All These Years--In another grainy, white early video, Tori flings around in orange and blue miniskirt and rolls back and forth in a wooden box. A cute little girl dances defiantly against the stark background. (Little Earthquakes)



Disc Two

Caught A Lite Sneeze--I can't for the life of me figure out these lyrics. Pretty Hate Machine is another Trent reference (Tori mentioned Nine Inch Nails in These Precious Things), but I can't offer even a vague interpretation of anything else. The video begins with Tori rolling around on a floor covered with autumn leaves. A surrealistic ocean scheme keeps the lyrical riddle flowing. (Boys For Pele)


1000 Oceans--One of Tori's most decipherable love songs. "I know how the game Is played/ but I will be here following you." Tori, dressed in a black gown, sings the song in a glass box on a street in downtown L.A. Street people, quarreling lovers, and nuns pass by, some intrigued by the imprisoned singer, some disgusted. A mini L.A. riot occurs as Tori sings in her isolation booth, aching for human contact. (To Venus And Back)


God-- See what happens when your Dad is a Methodist minister? "God sometimes you just don't come through/do you need a woman to look after you?" Rats scurry over Tori as she lies on the floor. We see scenes from various religious ceremonies, including snakehandlers, Kabbalah, and Hinduism. (Under The Pink)


Bliss-- The obligatory live concert video. Tori and band engage in backstage camaraderie. Tori plays with a Teletubbie! A guitarist rides a bike in the hallway! Such rock 'n' roll decadance.. (To Venus And Back)


China- Tori in grey bodysuit slithering on rocks by the ocean. A shot of broken china mixed in with the rocks is included for good measure. A sculptor works nearby, building a stone piano while Tori stares seductively at the camera and sings.China, an absolutely haunting love song, demonstrates Tori's ability to impart the intense longing one feels when separated from a lover by using disparate and deliberately obtuse imagery. (Little Earthquakes)


Raspberry Swirl-- A bouncy and bass-heavy song that is an inch away from industrial. Tori follows a boy through his bedroom to a rave. She crawls through a tunnel. They end up at a dinner with kids in black wigs who turn into pigs. (Choirgirl Hotel-- her most underrated album.)


Talula-- Captured by scientists, our girl is trapped in a plastic booth again, separated from her piano. (It's sealed in a booth next to her.) A scientist pokes and prods at her with scary looking medical instruments. Tori finally breaks out of the booth and runs to her piano. (Boys For Pele)


Sweet The Sting- Our girl sings the blues, posing a sexual challenge of sorts to a lover. In the opening verse, the man in question struts in the room ala "You're So Vain." (Lyrical aside--So what is cinnabar juice, hmmm?) Tori and gospel back-up singers gather round the piano. Some behind the scenes shots of Tori and her musicians. (The Beekeeper)


Pretty Good Year- Tori in her thermals sings the opening verse while sitting on an overstuffed chair in a white room. She jumps through a window, as glass shatters over the ivory void. Cut to Tori in bed, singing to her blonde lover boy, then dancing with a bunch of young studs in their underwear. (Little Earthquakes)


Extras

Cornflake Girl (UK Version) A plotless dream version of the video, loosely based on the Wizard Of Oz.

Professional Widow (Remix)

The Making of the "A Sorta Fairytale" Video

Audio Commentary by Tori Amos




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