How Tori Amos Saved My life

I discovered Tori Amos in my early twenties at the end of a terrible relationship with a lovely man. There is no time Tori makes more sense than when you’re twenty-something, blindsided with grief and reeling in shock and despair. I maintain that this kind of emotional pain you only live through once. Twice would kill you. After that, you get a bit wiser and a bit more resilient. It’s a survival thing. The song was her first hit, Crucify, and I went and bought the CD and drank all day and all night with whoever would sit beside me while I waited for the hurting to stop or, at least, subside. Her lyrics were like balm to my blown apart heart. She put words to the emotions that raged through me, and she spoke the unspeakable. Eventually, after a few years, the pain lessened and went away but my relationship with Tori grew, and in many ways her music has been the soundtrack to my life.

‘Hey Jupiter’ (‘No-one’s picking up the phone…’) for the times I’d sit in the semi darkness with the ring tone in my ear knowing, very well, he wouldn’t be home now, and even if he was, that there was nothing, really to say. ‘Putting the Damage On’ for the first time he took his new girlfriend away on holiday (‘You’re off to the mountain/I guess her skinny legs could use sun…’), and I’m bent double with the hideousness of how he’s moved on and is doing pretty well without me and my histrionics while I pine and lament and wish, with all my heart, that it was me sitting in the front seat of his car with a bottle of Jack between my bare feet and the days ahead wide open and the sky full of summer.

There was just something so arrestingly honest about this woman’s music. It was Girl with a capital ‘G’, and she had been all the places I had been, and she made it okay to be angry and feel sad and confused and fucked up. Like ‘Precious Things: ‘He said you’re really an ugly girl/but I like the way you play/and I died, but I thanked him. Can you believe that?’ The way I would go to school hoping to see The Boy, hoping he would like me enough to say hello that day, and the rejection and misery I suffered when he didn’t. Or the feeling of despair, being schooled in a Calvinist institution during the height of apartheid where any type of free thinking was literally beaten out of you, and her having the audacity to announce, ‘Father says bow your head/like the Good Book says/Well, I think the Good Book is missing some pages.’ Well, bloody well, so did I.

And suddenly it was okay to be a raisin girl and to have different thoughts and to ask questions and not take all you were being told at face value. And there was something very unshackling about that. I don’t think it’s going too far to say that the feminist ethos of a lot of her lyrics played a part in forming the person I was to become. Her message resonated more strongly for me than, I think, anything I had ever heard, musically or otherwise. To this day I probably know every lyric to every song, and writing this I have to admit it sounds kinda sad, but it’s the truth. I’ve talked about how we are conduits of truth for one another, and she was that for me. I had nobody in my life at that time to guide me, a clever, headstrong, emotionally messed up young woman with no conception of how to be in a world that felt foreign and hostile and more than a little bizarre.

When I finally made it out of that small town and found like-minded people in the musty lecture halls of the best university in the universe and was introduced to a world of thought where people said no and spoke up and women were strong and fearless I found new ways of thinking and expressing myself and it was a kind of heaven. And still, to this day, Tori has a way of summing stuff up and making everything feel okay. When, 10 years ago, I had the anti-marriage to end anti-marriages in our beautiful, turn-of-the-century apartment in Sweden surrounded by 20 friends in jeans and our baby daughter, Sophie, looking on, it was ‘A Sorta Fairytale’. Like life is. Try as we may, it’s only ever ‘sorta.’ And I always have at least one of her CDs in my car so that, amidst the madness of adulthood and parenting and all that goes with it, her songs are there to remind me of who I really am.

I felt disappointed and a little betrayed when I saw what she’d done to her beautiful face, and I realized that, in spite of her music, she’s not that okay with who she is, after all. But then, like I always say, we teach what we need to learn. Tori is a stunningly talented musician and lyricist, but she’s still a human being and fallible and probably as confused as the rest of us. And maybe that’s why she does ‘real’ so well. And it doesn’t take away from what she gave me when I needed it most. And for that – giving me the voice I never knew I had – I will be eternally grateful.

35 comments

  1. Awesome Susan – and I thought I was the only one to have gone through that pain!! No only joking, but I sure wish I had Tori’s music then!

  2. A beautifully written piece.

    1. Thank you, Glen! :-)

  3. “Northern lad” was my Tori break-up song :) Lyrics fit perfectly, and the melody was just sad enough for the moment.

    1. Me too!! Love that song so much.

  4. Pretty fucking intense, girl – and that’s a compliment.

  5. Have you heard the version of “Silent All These Years” on last year’s Gold Dust album. EVEN BETTER (if that’s possible).

    1. NO! Will look for it right now :-)

  6. Love Love Love your stuff!

    1. Thank you so much! xxx

  7. Tori’s songs are definitely not “chick music” (for lack of a better term). I hung out with the arty crowd at varsity (early ’90s) and got to know her music that way. To this day I get seriously intense flashbacks when I hear “Famous Blue Raincoat”. “you’re living for nothing now / I hope you’re keeping / some kind or record”… Ahhh man…
    I rediscovered her work – and appreciated her on another level – in the YouTube era, when I discovered what a phenomenally great cover artist she is. There is quite simply no one else who can take perfectly acceptable, but rather bland mainstream songs and turn it into works of breathtaking beauty. I present to you: http://youtu.be/g3Y_kuig1Rw. Enjoy.

    1. Awesome, Emmanuel! Thanks so much for sharing it x

    2. Just listened to it again. It’s sooo cool. I also rediscovered her when I started to find her covers. And Famous Blue Raincoat is one of my all-time favorites. If anyone else had done it I think I would have found it sacreligious :-)

  8. This is your best post yet. Please stick to this genre and avoid race relations and socio economics.

    1. I write what I like.

  9. all your posts make me so homesick (for SA) but this one really touched my heart. i too found solace in tori’s music back in my 20s & “little earthquakes” remains one of my all time precious songs.

    1. Also LOVE it :-)

  10. Charlotte · · Reply

    “…we teach what we need to learn…” Wow. Just wow. So glad to have found you and your wonderful blog. And please do keep on writing what you like.

    1. :-)))))) Thank you, Charlotte, very much xxxxx

  11. Love reading your blog – I agree… keep writing whatever or wherever your heart takes you – every entry is a pleasure to read and absorb and laugh about! I have forwarded your blog to so many of my friends – they also love your work!

  12. What can I say, but love, through tears and smiles.
    Big love.
    Lots of wine.
    And, as always, a little bit of Tori.

    1. Ah, my Jen-Pen, big friend of many, many years. And everything worked out so perfectly in the end. Lots and lots of love and gratefulnesses xxx

  13. I like that line “what’s so amazing about real deep thoughts?”

    1. Oh my word, one of my best EVER.

  14. lorraine botha · · Reply

    susan, your blog is just my best friend. it makes me sad sometimes, but mostly happy. love you to bits. lorraine botha

    1. You are the best! Xxxxxxxxxxx

  15. Thank you. Beautifully voiced.

  16. China has to be one of the most beautiful song ever written by Tori. Thanks for sharing this post.

  17. Philippa Cathryn Bresler · · Reply

    I named by beautiful cat ‘Easter’ after all of those years, loudly singing along to “Crucify’ Ah the memories.

    1. :-) thanks for writing! X

  18. She’s my all-time favourite too! Her rawness always connects me with my emotions and it’s such a relief sometimes. I love her newer songs about her daughter and moving to England she even has an album she sings with her daughter. How’s that for parenting? I always said I would pay whatever to go see her if she ever came to SA and then one day someone told me they had been to an AMAZING concert the night before at Grand West and I said, “Oh who?” and they said “Tori Amos” and I thought I was going to spontaneously combust with the sudden shocking pain of disappointment THAT intense. I was reeling with it for days. I really had to lean on the, “There’s a reason for everything, even if we can’t see it” belief. I’m sorta ok now…

  19. I just discovered your blog, I love it! Tori Amos is my favourite as well. I saw her live in London in 1998, and that show was just awesome! I still to today remember how she came on stage, and just started playing the piano and singing. Best show I have ever seen!

    1. Thank you so much! :-)

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