Last December, I saw Tori Amos in concert in Los Angeles, and it was amazing. It was stunning, actually. I sat in my seat with wide, unblinking eyes and did my best to take everything in, to experience everything as fully as possible. I was there with four of my friends, but once Tori came out on stage in her crazy dress and shiny leggings, my focus was set, and my experience was individual rather than collective. I suspect the other three did the same. When it was over, we gushed together.
I learned a few things that night. I did not realize that I was so familiar with most of Tori’s songs that I would notice slight variations (an unexpected stress on a particular word in a song; a chord that used to be played differently; a slight lyric change). I did not realize how much of my self was tied up with her music.
I’m one of those Tori fans for life. It really doesn’t matter what she does (or doesn’t do); I will find a way to love everything she creates. My experience of her music, my connection to it, has changed over the years. I used to connect very emotionally to her music (possibly because I was a teenager at the time, possibly because the music itself was more emotional in nature), but my connection with her recent albums (except for Night of Hunters) has been more intellectual. I want to figure out what the story is behind her songs; I want to hear and understand the architecture of the music and figure out how it contributes to the story; but I don’t often deliberately seek out the little personal corners of myself that connect to this or that piece of music or lyric. My habit of intellectualizing Tori’s music ended on that evening in December when I sat in the Orpheum Theatre and listened to Tori play.
It was “Precious Things” that did me in. Sitting there, I was reunited with all of my past selves who had listened to that song and found some comfort in it.
I am, of course, unable to listen to that song objectively. All those past selves crowd in with their various connections to all the pretty girls, to all the pandering to boys whose faces I no longer remember, to all the times I cut myself down in an attempt to be what someone else may (or may not) have wanted. I do not know whether that song is powerful in and of itself or if its power largely derives from my experience of it over the years. Maybe it is infinitely more powerful to me because so many women of my acquaintance also connected with it. Maybe that’s what music is.
Tori’s new album Gold Dust reminds me of that December concert. I’ve grown up with Tori’s music as the soundtrack of my life, its ups and its downs. Tori has grown up, too. When she sings her songs now, “Precious Things” and “Hey Jupiter,” for instance, she can sing them as the girl she was 20 years ago when she wrote them, as a mature woman, as a mother. Nothing about Tori’s music is static – every time she changes, it does, too – and I think that’s my favorite thing about her as an artist, that her art gives me the room I need to grow and change and still love what I loved before.