Nine Inch Nails & Tori Amos
This blog was originally posted to The Dresden Dolls Diary.
I do not want to live to archive my own life.
I see it everywhere around me, especially with the popularity of web diaries, forums, and cell phones that take pictures. I do not want to fall into the subtle trap of truly believing I Blog Therefore I Am.
I see this happening at our shows, as an alien army of fans in the front row hold their phones up to my face as if probing me for signs of life in some twisted Outer Limits martian ritual. But I understand this feeling all too well. The picture that you will take home, connect to the interweb, mail to your friends and offer proof positive that you had an experience is almost worth more than the experience itself. And as I realize that more and more people out there read this diary, it haunts me in my life. Each good deed, struggle, mishap and geuinely weird experience I have gets simultaneously logged into an unhealthy mental card catalog of Good for Web Diary.
My friend who knows me best has the perspective and advantage of being older than I am, he saw me grow through my teens. We used to talk about a moment that never happened, but was a perfect metaphor for my self-consious narcissism.
It is summer. People are outside. I am lounging alone under a shady tree, in a beautiful sundress, reading a book. As people pass, I am more aware of this picturesque vision of myself than I am of the book I am reading. I am sixteen, and I know I am the Poster Girl of Youth and Beauty and Freedom, and that the middle-aged men passing by me in their polyester jogging suits take a long hard look as I focus on the page, pretending to be unaware that they are staring at me, the icon of girl.
We could talk on and on about The Male Gaze, post-feminism, narcissistic personality disorders and so forth, but the truth remains simple. For some people, life is lived to be shown more than lived. I pray every day that I don’t fall victim to this in perpetuity, it would completely suck. Fuck it.
The two dates in London with Nine Inch Nails (www.nin.com) were a relief. We were bracing ourselves for an onslaught of hatred just in case, but the audience was incredibly receptive. Nothing was thrown at the stage.
The band and crew of NIN were all very friendly, though you could feel that tension at first, before they all saw us play. I had imagined the whole aggro black-clad NIN crew sitting on their bus over whisky drinks saying
“So what about this gay mime band?”
“Dunno, Trent picked ‘em so they might be good.”
“We’ll wait and see if they suck.”
In reality they were these amazingly kind and funny people. At any rate, they seemed to approve and decided to like us.
The band and Mr. Reznor Himself were busy as hell and cordonned off in some secret dressing room the way Famous Bands are, but on the second day we were granted an audeince, and we thanked Mr. Reznor for bringing us out on the road. He told us that he had been sent the CD by a friend, loved it, and that was that. Here we were. I had never seen them play until these shows, and these people fucking throw down. He’s one intense motherfucker. From what I read in a recent interview, he’s straight and into taking care of himself and his body lately, so when I get up the courage I will invite him to do some power yoga with me. Namaste, Trent.
And now, I must now delve into the uncomfortable subject of Tori Amos.
She’s been haunting me for years and it’s time the story was told.
My earliest memories of Tori Amos were of not really liking her, in that teenage-fuck-everything way, before I’d really heard much of her music. A friend of my sister, Rich Collins, was way into her and gave me a copy of her “crucify” EP. I didn’t really dig it, and I didn’t bother to dig any deeper. As I grew older and starting getting the comparisons, I just shrugged my shoudlers and said, “Not really familiar with it, not really into it.” When I was working at Toscanini’s, I think I was around 20, Mike Penta insisted that I dig. “You’ll love her. I’ll make you a mix.” And so he did, and I listened. And I still didn’t like it. This time, I more than didn’t like it, I REALLY didn’t like it. There was something about the vocal that irked me. But some of her lyrics and melodies were brilliant. Some I couldn’t stand. This was really bugging me. There was one song on the disc “Winter”, that I absolutely loved, but I wanted to go into the song with my bare hands and strangle some of the precious-sounding lyrics. I realized back then that the reason this was such a frustrating expereince is that the similarites – between my songs and hers – were enough that the differences were painful. The way human beings are terrified of likenesses of human beings that are “slightly off”. Hearing the piano was like listening to someone speak in my voice, it felt like a violation. I would hear this word choice, this chord choice, this line or phrase and my blodd would just boil….wrong! wrong! wrong! No mittens and snowflakes! Evil! No butterflies, no goddesses, this is wrong wrong wrong! But the songs that were good rooted and stuck. They were few, but I was fucked. I had to admit that I liked them. After that I sort of forgot about her.
Then, recently, I got to the point where I could really afford to get CDs that I might not like. So I bought a bunch of her stuff. I considered this part of my job, research. I would even defend myself at the local record store, embarassed as if I were a guy buying tampons. “Heh heh. These are for my Wife.” “Heh heh. This is research for my band. Really.” I knew she was coming to town, I got tickets. I decided to delve headfirst and figure this out, and put it to bed if possible. Brian and I had gotten a DVD of hers and watched it several months ago and shut it off halfway through, bored. I had heard that she was a real fireball of a performer, and I was really disappointed by the blandness of it. I also cound’t tell if I wanted to like it or wanted to hate it. I couldn’t tell if I was jealous or looking for a role model. Some strange combo of all of these things, I think.
We left for tour and I brought a few of her CDs, including her new one, “The Beekeeper”, and her new book. It was my project. Brian laughed at my face while he watched me reading. I would grimace, breathe through my teeth and put the book down while making a deep agoinized sound.
“AARARRRGGHGGHGg. She’s talking about the goddesses and butterflies again and refferring to a song as ‘she’. Am I evil for hating this so much?”
But I was fucked again. Buried in all of the Corn-Mother, Butterfly-worshipping New Age LaLa there was a woman living my lifestyle. Getting in a bus with a bunch of people, writing songs, performing them, learning to cope with the crap-ridden, backstabbing music industry. Learning to cope with assholes like me hating her butterfly-worshipping side. I couldn’t put the book down. So much of she was writing about, between the lines, was directly applicable to my life. I loved it and I couldn’t stand it, just like the music. I listened to her first two records and found songs that I thought were genuinely brilliant. Meanwhile, I listened to the new CD. And I kept wondering…do you want to hate this? Do you want to like it? The answer kept being both (but with the new CD I had no choice, I couldn’t like it even if I’d wanted to. Couldn’t stand it.)
So we went to see her here in Boston the night before last, my band and I, and there I sat. And as I watched her I thought: This performer does not need to care about whether I like her music or not. She has a huge following, people who love her music and stick with her, she’s forty, a mother and she’s touring. Terrible album or not, Amanda, you’ve got to repsect this woman. Coming home, I finished the last few pages of her book and thought about what had struck me, stuck with me. One thing that she expressly said a few times was how sad she thought it was that female musicians and singers felt the need to compete so fiercly with each other, as if there were only room for so many – and it was kill or be killed. I wonder if that’s true among those women at the top. I’ve never felt it. But maybe I have, without realizing it. Maybe my younger distaste for the Toris and the Anis of the world was borne of jealousy more than taste. As I’ve gotten older, I find that it all doesn’t matter so much. I can allow myself to love this or that song, this or that album, and leave it at that. Soemtimes it’s easier to love Avril than Tori. Sometimes I wonder what Liz Phair was thinking. Then I think about Bjork and all conflict disappears and I think that the rest of us should just give up and flip burgers.
So as Oprah would say, You Go Tori. I will always continue to buy your records, hoping to find a song I love. And your book made me think, and learn, and consider, and for that, I thank you. There are few of us, and indeed, we best stick together.