6 Ways Tori Amos Changed My Life

For Tori Amos’s birthday, we are hosting Amy Gentry, author of Tori Amos’s Boys for Pele as guest blogger. For the occasion, Gentry wanted to reflect on the numerous ways in which Tori Amos had a profound effect on her life. Below are just six of them – you can read more from Amy when her book comes out November 1st!

On the spectrum of Tori fans, I barely even rate. My feelings about her can best be summed up as “passionate ambivalence”: when Boys for Pele first came out, I panned it for my high school paper, then quickly became obsessed with it. I went to shows but never followed her from city to city on tour; bought the bootlegs, but not the expensive ones; cut out pictures of her in magazines but never stood in line to hug her after a show. In fact, to this day, we haven’t met, because I’m terrified of meeting people who have changed my life.

And Tori did change my life, in many ways both large and small. I am thankful for every one of them. Today, on her birthday, I’m listing a few that didn’t make it into my forthcoming 33 1/3 release, Tori Amos’s Boys for Pele.

  1. I dyed my hair red.

This may not sound like a big deal, but dying my giant frizzy waterfall of hair burgundy was the first tiny act of rebellion in a life that had, up to that point, been astoundingly rebellion-free. Fresh off my first real break-up on a school trip to France, I picked up two pots of Manic Panic (I had a lot of hair) and, with the help of my host family, made reality out of the lyrics of “Take to the Sky”—“I dyed my hair red today.” The best proof that I had cracked open the door to my non-people-pleasing self at last: When I stepped off the plane, the first words my mom said to me were, “What did you do to your hair?” Music to a teenager’s ears. I’ve been an off-and-on redhead ever since.

  1. I named my cat Tori.

Well, it’s a girl’s name, isn’t it? At least this is what I told people for years. My beloved family pet was absolutely not named after the fiery, feminist, songwriting, fairy-believing piano player I just happened to be obsessed with at the time. Well, I’m ready to come clean. Tori the Cat was named after Tori Amos the Musician. To be honest, a cat named Easter would have been more clever, but that would never have gone over in my family. (I’m not the only one who names pets after divas: I have a cat named Shakira the Pop Star who was named by a friend. Sometimes you just have to call it like you see it.)

  1. Man repellent.

There’s really no telling how many men I repelled with my fervent love for Tori Amos over the years, because they could see me coming a mile away: a faded-out redhead in Doc Martens, trailing skirt, and concert merch decorated with phallic mushrooms and breastfeeding pigs. Once I learned to play Tori songs on the piano, the radius of my “Deep Woods OFF!”-level anti-man spray enlarged to include anyone within hearing distance.

But my single most impressive moment of Tori-related man repulsion came on my first car date with a high school boyfriend. We were driving toward the Water Wall, a giant fountain in Houston that functioned as quinceanera and prom pic backdrop by day, seedy make-out spot by night. Little Earthquakes was on the tape deck, as usual; parking took longer than anticipated; and soon our search for a spot was being scored by “Me and a Gun,” the haunting, unforgettable a cappella rape survivors’ anthem narrated from the perspective of a woman being raped at gunpoint. My date looked extremely uncomfortable and asked if we could skip it. Eager to please, I complied, but with an inward eye roll. What can I say, I liked my music like I liked my coffee: strong, dark, and gut-churning. By the time we got to the Water Wall that night, nobody was in the mood for making out.

  1. I turned down a marriage proposal.

This doesn’t come under “man repellent,” because the man whose proposal of marriage I turned down was himself an avid Tori fan. I was in love with the guy—like, swooping crane-shot love—but we had, let’s say, very divergent religious beliefs. As in, I was a coffee-swilling agnostic who wanted to write books under her own name, get lightly buzzed on the weekends, and have kids—someday. While, in accordance with the beliefs of his religious community, he wanted a Mrs. Him who’d quit drinking coffee and beer and start reproducing as soon as the ring was on the finger. We should never have made it to the ring-buying stage, but swoopy love is a more potent drug than caffeine and alcohol and marijuana and LSD wrapped up in one. I crossed my fingers, buried my head in the sand, and put a wedding dress on layaway.

Thank god I also gave Scarlet’s Walk a hard listen. A sweeping theme album that’s among the best (and most overlooked) of Tori’s discography, it traced a woman’s journey across country as she fell in whirlwind love with a man (“A Sorta Fairytale”) and broke up with him (“Pancake”) after realizing that his patriarchal religion was controlling, manipulative, and violent. I made wedding collages in my scrapbook while Tori warned, over headphones, that I might be marrying a “closet misogynist homophobe”—if not the man himself, then his conservative church. When he started to pull out the ring I’d been waiting for, I stopped him with the hardest word I’ve ever said: “no.” I don’t know how I got the strength. Whoever God really is, she was looking out for me that day.

  1. Rad girl bait.

Not only did my Tori obsession help me dodge a few bullets, it brought me something much better in return: the respect and admiration of the weirdest and best of the college ladies. They heard the strains of “Flying Dutchman” and “Leather” coming from the dorm piano, and they came running. Some of those women became my closest friends, and over the years we attended concerts together, shared apartments, quoted lyrics when we were sad, weathered many, many bad dye jobs, met each other’s non-Tori-Amos-repelled menfolk, and hugged each other’s children. There’s no greater gift than the lifelong love of a fellow Tori girl.

  1. I wrote a 33 1/3 book.

Most recently, Tori changed my life by dragging me kicking and screaming into a world I’ve avoided throughout my writing and freelancing life. What? Music criticism? That’s where all the cool people are. No way was I getting mixed up in that, after a lifetime of being mansplained, music-shamed, and Tori’s-lamed. Looking for a more fulfilling way to use my PhD than academia, I wrote about books, films, even fashion, but I stayed far away from music—just like I’d stayed far away from my guitar and piano after being lectured by men at open mics too many times. Then I read Carl Wilson’s 33 1/3 book on Celine Dion and thought, hey, I could do something like this—but there’s only one album I would do it for. And album so thorny and complex that I still wrestle with it to this day. And on November 1, I can say that I wrote the book on Boys for Pele. Now that’s life-changing.

Tori Amos’s Boys for Pele is available November 1st.

Check out the rest of the Fall 2018 33 1/3s, coming soon.

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