Little Earthquakes

Band: Tori Amos
Album: Little Earthquakes
Best song: “Winter” is probably Amos’ best song. “Crucify” is a good song, though the single edit is better.
Worst song: “Happy Phantom” isn’t great.

A few months ago, a friend of mine accused me of being pretentious because I made a comment about the Decemberists (I believe it was “Decemberists fans are always annoying”). Really, I don’t think the Decemberists are a particularly good or bad band, I have a perception of fans of a literate band that does, like, pirate music and quotes classic literature.

This, of course, is kind of a stupid thing to do. People don’t just listen to one band. I, for example, am a fan of a wide span of music. I have thousands of albums and I listen to so many records. My favorite bands are, like, Pink Floyd, Mogwai, Tortoise, Elliott Smith, etc. I have a bunch of band shirts, but I really only wear one band shirt a lot.

This one:

Am I the world’s biggest Iron Maiden fan? I am not. I’ve seen the band live once. I own three Maiden albums.

But, I love that shirt. I love the idea that I can broadcast that I listen to Iron Maiden and there isn’t much in the way of confusion. It’s not obscure. There’s no question what Maiden is about.

Look, we all stereotype and in the grand scheme of things, stereotyping people by their music taste is mostly harmless. I could list a million bands that have a stereotype surrounding their fans. Phish/Grateful Dead and burnout heshers. Kelly Clarkson and fat chicks. Korn and idiot meatheads from Central California. Toby Keith and rednecks. The Indigo Girls and, uh, chicaks who wear birkenstocks, play softball and have short, cropped hair.

Tori Amos fans get one of the stronger, most well-developed sterotypes. Female fans of Ms. Amos tend to be a little nutty, dabbling in the magic(k), wicca and goth scenes. They describe themselves as very “sensual” or “sexual” people (here’s a tip: If you have to define what type of person you are to others, you’ve got problems.). They like candles and hair dye. They might go for some cakey makeup and that really deep red lipstick thing. They believe in faeries and love that goddamned faery imagery, maybe she has a faery tatt. Or maybe a sun/moon tatt. They wear fishnets on their arms, but don’t go full-goth. They often have a weird piercing or two. There’s a lot of feminism in this group, but the sort of fucked-up feminism that is almost separatist. Not the kind I practice.

I don’t mean to be mean in making fun of these girls — they clearly have some fucked up stuff going on that makes them define themselves in such a way (short theory: People who dress so abrasively do so because they are putting up a wall. They’re damaged. They don’t want to let people in.). Whatever trauma or physiological situation made them this way is easy to mock, but it’s sad nonetheless.

(I’ve never met a dude who called himself a “big” Tori Amos fan, though I imagine they exist. I had a male friend go to an Amos show in HS — it was on a date with a girl who was a big fan — and my friend said he saw a dude there wearing a cape.)

Amos so caters to these people. Her music is personal and reflective, slightly combative and very emotional. In the same way I feel Jens Lekman is speaking to me on “And I Remember Every Kiss,” Amos fans feel she’s speaking to her on “Silent All These Years.” Stories of damage and redemption pepper her work and her often ambiguous lyrics make for near infinite fan intrepretations. Nowhere are these qualities more evident than on Little Earthquakes, Amos’ solo debut.

Amos’ songwriting is striking in its imagery. God knows what “Mother” is about (sample lyric: “And with your advice/Poison me against the moon”), but it can be intrepreted in many ways. “Crucify” is a little anti-religion polemic, contraining the lyric “Got enough guilt to start my own religion.”

Lyrically, “China” is one of Amos’ most traditionally pop songs. Structurally, the song is a ballad of lost love, with Amos lamenting her lovers’ “wall” of emotions. Having been raped is the subject of “Me and a Gun,” one of Amos’ most-cited songs. Stark and minimalist, it is a seldom-played song in the Amos setlist.

Piano is Amos’ instrument of choice — and a symbol of her career as she named her career restrospective boxed set after the instrument — though she branches often into other keyboards (harpsichord drives “Tear in Your Hand”). Overally, though, Amos’ voice is her greatest asset. “Crucify” lives and dies with Amos darting around the scale for the “looking for a savior” line. Amos’ pipes have a lilting quality on “Silent All These Years.”

It’s actually a wonderful record and one that I’m sort of half-ashamed I own. It’s good, but, man, I don’t want to be identified with those creepy Amos fans.

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  • About Me

    I'm Ross Jordan Gianfortune. I am not a writer, but I sometimes write here about music and my life. I live in Washington, DC.

    I used to review each of Rolling Stone Magazine's top 500 albums of all time. Now I'm writing about albums I own.

    My work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Gazette, The Atlantic, Sno-Cone and a bunch of defunct zines.

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