Gives You Hell

I’m not one of those people to go “back in my day, music was better.” Firstly, it can be an unfair generalization to make since as a society we tend to remember the prolific successes over the one hit wonders.  Each decade had its fair share of hits and misses, but we only remember the hits. And secondly, I’m only in my early/mid twenties. My generation is currently relevant in pop culture. The music we hear today is being made by millennials for millennials. This is still “my day”.

Still, I’ve always hated being born in the 90s. I feel like I missed such a prolific decade and it’s a shame that some of my favorite artists passed away before I was even in the womb. Luckily for me, the 90s led way to the rise of mainstream pop-punk, and in the 2000s as I went through adolescence, angsty music dominated the charts. My Chemical Romance, Green Day, Simple Plan, Blink 182, Paramore, Fall Out Boy – these are bands that shaped teenage culture in the 2000s. As I revisit some of these bands, I realize that pop punk is not one of my favorite genres. Once the music industry realized pop-punk was the latest fad, it stripped the edginess from its predecessors and mass produced it in a watered down version. It almost became a caricature of itself.  To be fair, this happens to almost every genre. I mean, just take a look at how we got from Johnny Cash to self-proclaimed “bro country” acts like Florida Georgia Line.

Although, I give credit to pop-punk bands for having a lot of self awareness. Whether you love them or hate them, Fall Out Boy had a knack for making fun of themselves in a genuine, non-pretentious way. I think that was a huge part of the genre’s appeal. Just one decade before, 90’s music was incredibly heavy and dark, in a way that was unparalleled. By the time the 2000s arrived, bands took inspiration from the angst of the 90s with the fun of the 80s. The 2010s symbolized the rise of mainstream electronic dance music and I’ll admit, I’m a bit out of touch with this trend. I miss the days when I could turn on the Top 40 radio and hear artists actually playing instruments. Producing beats is incredibly challenging, almost mathematical in a way, but it just doesn’t feel the same. What do angsty teens listen to today?

I went down a YouTube rabbithole today where I revisited some of my favorite songs from middle school. Around this time, my parents gave me slightly more freedom, but listening to contemporary music was still frowned upon. When my parents weren’t home, I’d secretly watch MTV and VH1, which led me to my brief obsession with the All-American Rejects. As a 12 year old girl, I thought Tyson Ritter was the most attractive man on the planet. Their music was rock inspired enough to feel rebellious, but still wholesome enough to sing around the house without getting in trouble. They had an array of hits back in the day, from their power-ballad It Ends Tonight to one of their most famous singles Dirty Little Secret.

My favorite AAR song, however, was Gives You Hell. Although the lyrics are rather simple, it tells a clever story of finding joy in someone else’s misery, presumably after a nasty break-up. Songs approaching this subject can either go really well or come off extremely bitter and unlikeable. Take Cry Me a River, by Justin Timberlake for example.  On the backdrop of his break-up with Britney Spears, Timberlake releases the music video for this song where he stalks a Britney look alike, films himself having sex with another girl, spies on the Britney look-alike taking a shower, and broadcasts his sex tape on not-Britney’s TV. Sure, relationships fail and no one likes being rejected, but the entire music video made Justin come off as an entitled asshole who can’t move on with his life. This is where I give credit to AAR’s songwriting for being equally clever as they are self-aware.

I wake up every evening
With a big smile on my face
And it never feels out of place
And you’re still probably working
At a nine to five pace
I wonder how bad that tastes

Although most people make the assumption that most pop songs are about  romantic relationships, Gives You Hell could be about any type of relationship. The opening verse could be about an ex, or it could be about an old coworker, or even a horrible boss. The chorus is pretty straightforward and biting. “When you see my face hope it gives you hell/ When you walk my way hope it gives you hell”.  The bitterness is simultaneously enhanced and offset by the music’s wacky and bombastic nature. The background vocals sound like a bunch of drunk people chanting in a bar and the guitars play strange surf-rock chords. It’s hard to take the song too seriously, therefore making it more relatable. After the second verse, the music softens as Tyson Ritter sings “truth be told I miss you”. At this point we think, he’s ready to let bygones be bygones and forgive the person who wronged him. Only for him to interject himself devilishly singing “truth be told I’m lying” where we are then propelled back into the vibrant chorus. One of my favorite lines that Ritter repeats is “When you find a man that’s worth a damn and treats you well/ Then he’s a fool, you’re just as well”. The very final time he sings it however, he changes it to “When you hear this song and you sing along but you never tell/ Then you’re the fool, I’m just as well”. 

We get the sense that the person he’s singing about lacks self-awareness, that they’ll hear this song on the radio and not even know it’s about them. Like the antithesis of the subject of Carly Simon’s You’re So Vain.  I think we all know someone out there like that, someone who’s so toxic, selfish, immature, what have you, and doesn’t even realize it. Someone who can point out flaws in others, but not see the same flaws in themselves. On the same hand, we see Ritter criticizing himself in the same line, by calling himself equally foolish. Nobody’s perfect and sometimes as humans we have a tendency to hold on to toxic people for too long. At some point, we have to look at ourselves and ask why we continue to put ourselves in shitty situations. It’s a pretty universal feeling to look back at things we’ve done and think about how stupid we were at one time. Even that subtle line makes this song less one sided. It’s not just a fuck you; it’s a self-reflection of someone who realized while they made bad decisions in the past, they deserve better.

 

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Remember Tomorrow

Although I appreciate their enormous contributions to the metal world, Iron Maiden has never been one of my favorite bands. But before I continue, please put your pitchforks down while I explain. Bruce’s style of singing just doesn’t do it for me. I recognize that he has an expansive vocal range and a tremendous talent for storytelling. He can really paint a picture of the text with his voice and that’s a gift that not many possess or even can learn.  I actually had the privilege of seeing Iron Maiden live this past July, during the Book of Souls Tour. Admittedly, I was there to see Ghost, but I can see the appeal to Iron Maiden. Pushing 60, Bruce galloped around the stage with vivacious energy and his voice showed no sign of fatigue or age. He truly is a natural performer.

My fiancé, on the other hand, is a huge Iron Maiden fan. ( I believe he’s seen them seven or eight times). I asked for album recommendations to see if it was possible to change my mind. Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, Brave New World, Fear of the Dark – none of them did it for me. Then, after learning that Bruce was not the band’s original singer, I sought out their earlier album Killers.

The personnel lineup on Killers  consisted of bassist and primary songwriter Steve Harris, drummer Clive Burr, guitarists Dave Murray and Adrian Smith, and Paul Di’Anno on vocals. They released their self titled album in 1980 and Killers the following year, so the 70s metal influence still crept through their sound. Although I have a strong bias in the favor of 70s music, Di’Anno’s vocals is what makes me adore this album. Bruce’s sound is very representative of British Heavy Metal, while Paul’s vocals are more so influenced by punk. His voice is guttural and raw. He doesn’t have the wide range of Bruce, or other prominent metal singers for that matter, but he made up for that with attitude and aggression. Wrathchild, one of their most popular songs off of Killers, is a great example of his unpolished style. From a stage presence perspective, he’s not one to run across the stage. He prefers to stay in one area of the stage with this “cooler than you” swagger. The lyrics tell the story of a bastard son looking for his absent father and he sings each line with such conviction and anger. At some parts, he’s almost yelling.

 

Little did he know at the time that Killers would be his last album with Iron Maiden. The details of his departure are unknown except for the fact that he was paid out by  their manager and receives no royalties for his contributions.  Di’Anno was never really able to find grand success afterwards, despite several projects. He even went to prison after being convicted of fraud. He’s still around singing Iron Maiden songs with a cover band here and there, but it appears he has issues with substance abuse.  I have to say, it’s pretty sad to see how his career never played out in his favor. Nostalgia can be a beautiful thing, but there’s something tragic about watching the fired original lead singer of a band perform songs that he receives no royalties from. There’s a harrowing irony in it all.

A lot of Maiden fans like to compare Paul to Bruce, even pitting them against one another. At the end of the day, as fans, we don’t know what happened behind the scenes and the reasons for Di’Anno’s departure. From a speculation standpoint, we obviously saw that Iron Maiden’s sound progressed in a completely different direction, one that wasn’t really conducive to Paul’s style.  Just as friendships grow apart, sometimes bands grow apart. In the long run, Bruce fits Maiden’s evolved style and changing vocal direction was a smart move for the band. However, we should remember that it was the Paul era that put Iron Maiden on the map.  Today, I leave you with Remember Tomorrow, a surreal ballad from their self-titled album that shows a softer side of Paul’s vocal abilities. Whether you love Paul, or hate him, be sure to remember him and his contributions.

 

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Closure?

Opeth was my first taste of progressive metal, and ironically, I discovered them accidentally  when I stumbled upon their cover of Would? by Alice in Chains.  I gravitated to their more subdued songs like Coil, Hope Leaves, and Windowpane. I tend to shy away from the heavier side of the metal spectrum. This is not to say that I don’t like heavy music; nothing gets me more pumped up at the gym than Raining Blood. But coming from my perspective, as a singer and a pianist, I mainly listen for melody and harmony, even on a subconscious level. Growling vocals, heavy guitars, and blast beats are more of a mystery to me. When I listen to a band like Slayer, for example, ninety percent of the time I have no idea what’s going on musically. I just accept it and enjoy the ride. I think if I were a guitarist or a drummer (or if I got better on the bass), my understanding of the heavier side of metal would broaden.

Luckily for me, Opeth eventually migrated away from their previous death metal sound and set a new musical landscape with their album Damnation. I recently listened to the album in its entirety and I wholeheartedly attest that it is a masterpiece, through and through. Although I love every song on the album, I hold Closure dear to my heart. Mikael Åkerfeldt’s vocals have a hushed, almost restrained quality, especially given the depths of his vocal range and versatility. The instrumentation supports this idea alongside him, as only the acoustic guitar accompanies him during the verse.  He emphasizes the beginning of each line with subtle harmonies, which can be heard on Heal Myself, Look Inside, Peel Myself,  All Subsides. As he sings the line “all sins undone” his voice trails off and there’s a brief moment of silence. . .

Then the rest of the band joins in and the guitar line evolves into a complex, Middle Eastern inspired riff. The drums are syncopated perfectly and the bass line creates a steady groove that keeps this breakdown going. This section begins to swell with time and just as we are about to reach the climax, it abruptly regresses back to the acoustic guitar and Åkerfeldt’s vocals. This time, with conviction he sings “In the rays of the sun I am longing for the darkness”, which catapults us right back where the breakdown left off. Each time the riff is played, there’s an evergrowing intensity with increasingly added levels of musical complexities underneath. This track, which started off quiet and restrained, evolves into an uninhibited culmination of emotion. And yet, as the riff develops and we once again reach the climax, the track cuts off abruptly. No fade out. No cross fade into the next track. It just ends.

To me, therein lies the genius of it all. A track called Closure that does not give the audience closure. One of the most unique breakdowns that does not fully develop, that does not resolve. As I listen to the last two minutes of Closure, I never want it to end. I savor each and every nuance, because I know it will only end suddenly.  A lot of people have theories regarding this, but I think this was very intentional. How often in life do we really get closure? When we lose a loved one unexpectedly, we may understand the “how” but do we ever understand the “why”? When we receive a “we have moved on to a more qualified candidate” email, do we ever get a real explanation as to why we were passed by ?” Will we ever understand what truly happens after death? Will we ever know if there is life on other planets? Will we ever know what happened to Amelia Earhart?

Do we ever get closure?

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Alice In Chains Spring Tour 2018

If you’ve been keeping up with my blog, you’ll know that Alice in Chains is one of my biggest influences who kick-started my love of metal. Although they have lost their original singer Layne Staley, they continue on with the amazing William Duvall picking on the vocal reins.  I’ll be at the May 3rd show at DC’s latest venue, the Anthem Theater. Even picked up some “Super Excellent Seats” so I’m expecting to get great pictures and footage. Pick up your tickets now because some of the venues are already sold out. I hope to see you all there. Find more ticket information here.

UPCOMING DATES
Apr 28, 2018 House of Blues Boston, MA
Apr 30, 2018 Landmark Theatre Syracuse, NY
May 01, 2018 Massey Hall Toronto, Canada 
May 03, 2018 The Anthem Washington, DC
May 04, 2018 Carolina Rebellion (May 4 – 6) Concord, NC
May 07, 2018 Hammerstein Ballroom New York, NY
May 10, 2018 Coca-Cola Roxy Atlanta, GA
May 13, 2018 Northern Invasion Somerset, WI
May 15, 2018 Riviera Theatre Chicago, IL
May 16, 2018 Morris Performing Arts Centric South Bend, IN
May 18, 2018 Rock On The Range (May 18 – 20) Columbus, OH
May 19, 2018 MMRBQ 2018 Camden, NJ
Jun 21, 2018 Tons Of Rock Festival Halden, Norway
Jun 22, 2018 Hellfest 2018 (June 22 – 24) Clisson, France
Jul 08, 2018 Les Eurockeennes 30 (July 5 – 8) Belfort, France
Jul 12, 2018 Mad Cool Festival 2018 (July 12 – 14) Madrid, Spain

Break My Rusty Cage and Run

The first genre that really hit me on a metaphysical level was grunge. Technically, I am a child of the 90s, although the majority of my upbringing occurred in the 2000s. As a child, I was a huge fan of WWF and WCW (which now is known as the WWE). In fact, becoming a wrestler was my first ever desired profession, before I was even old enough to read or write, nevertheless put someone in a submission hold. During that time, it was very common for wrestlers to enter the ring with this grungy, sludgy intro. The NWO, an obvious play on NWA, composed of Scott Hall, Kevin Nash, and Hulk Hogan served as the primary villains,  the gang who wanted to “take over” the WCW. Their entrance song is one of the most iconic and memorable songs in wrestling history, and clearly took its inspiration from the grunge movement. In some unconscious sense, I associated this sound with my childhood. When I hear their theme song I am transported back to a time when I would sit by the TV every Friday night and wait for my favorite wrestler to come on.

Alice in Chains was the first grunge band that I fell in love with, after a friend gave me a recommendation to listen to Jar of Flies EP.  A small caveat; grunge can be a problematic music category, because if you really listen to the four major grunge bands, Alice in Chains, Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Pearl Jam, they all sound drastically different. The first usage of the term “grunge” actually came from Mark Arm, lead singer of Mudhoney, where he wrote in as a critic, lambasting his own music as “Pure grunge, pure shit, pure noise!” Music critics picked up this term and quickly began to use it as a genre classification. When you look at Nirvana, who was clearly influenced heavily by punk, compared to Alice, who was more heavy metal inspired, the only commonality between these four bands is that they came out of the Seattle music scene around the same time. From a lyrical and thematic standpoint, what grunge bands do have in common is a sense of self-deprecation, angst, and alienation. Putting grunge in context with its predecessors, grunge served as a foil to the flashy, sometimes overproduced image and sound of 80s music. Don’t get me wrong. I love 80s music and there is a plethora of prolific bands that came out of the decade that still have influence over the industry even today. But there was something very artificial about the flamboyant quality of the 80s. Take hair bands, for example. Their image was clearly meticulously thought out and crafted. As opposed to Kurt Cobain who rolled up on stage in an old flannel and a ripped pair of jeans. The 80s, which was all about sex, drugs, and rock and roll, the glamour of fame. As opposed to the 90s, in which debilitating drug addiction and crippling depression was candidly discussed.

After my obsession with Alice in Chains exploded, I started listening to Soundgarden and fell in love with Chris Cornell’s voice. Cornell’s voice is a powerhouse of emotion. Whatever he’s singing, you can feel the emotion radiating through your body. In my opinion, even to this day, he is one of the best rock singers of all time, from range, to power, to consistency, to emotion.  Not to mention his hair, the curly tresses of a god. One of the songs that resonated with me was Rusty Cage, off their album Badmotorfinger. The song starts off with this call and response guitar riff that erupts once the entire band kicks in. Cornell sings, very convincingly, about being at his breaking point and being on the verge of exploding.

You wired me awake
And hit me with a hand of broken nails
You tied my lead and pulled my chain
To watch my blood begin to boil

But I’m gonna break
I’m gonna break my
I’m gonna break my rusty cage and run

As an isolated teenager growing up in an extremely restrictive, sometimes abusive household, I harbored a lot of anger. I lived my life on the breaking point. I was always on the edge of losing my sanity. I felt like I was trapped in a cage and I was dying to get out. It seems like grunge music really appealed to people like me, the outsiders, the loners, the losers, the ones who are misunderstood.

Grunge singers tend to be cursed to a tragic fate. With the loss of Kurt Cobain, Layne, Staley, Scott Weiland, and most recently Chris Cornell, grunge fans never get a relief from their sadness. Cornell’s suicide really affected me. Outwardly, he seemed like a man who had it all. He had a fulfilling career that spanned decades and a beautiful wife and daughter standing in his corner. However, appearances are deceiving and we never truly know what’s actually going on in someone’s life. I can’t help but think back to Rusty Cage, feeling like you’re at your breaking point and that you have to do something, ANYTHING, to escape. It deeply saddens me losing such an amazing figure in musical history, as he is one of my biggest vocal influences. At the end of the day, we are all humans and we are all susceptible to dark, consuming thoughts. No one, regardless of their social status or notoriety, is immune. It’s important to reach out when we need help, and to also be a helping hand for those who need help. And while Chris left us too soon, his legacy lives on forever.

If you or anyone you know is experiencing suicidal or self-harming thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-8255.

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Come Together

The story I’m about to tell you is rather long, but fairly entertaining and ironic, so I beg you to please hang in there.

As you might expect from a ~20 something~ woman, I am an avid tumblr user. Tumblr is a weird microcosm of millennial culture, ranging in everything from shitpost memes to fandom communities to open discussions about crippling mental health issues. For me, Tumblr is a way for me to post things on social media that I’m not comfortable sharing with my friends and family, but somehow have no qualms about sharing it with 1,800 strangers, I mean, “followers”. Millennials make no sense, right?

Several months ago , I’m browsing through Tumblr one night, as per usual, when I come across a picture of Ghost, the first time I had ever heard or seen them. I distinctly remember instantly being freaked out, not understanding who they were, what their image meant, and why it even showed up on my dashboard. I went through the comments, expecting to hear sentiments similar to mine, but alas I saw an abundance of compliments. Best band ever. Their music is fucking sick. Papa is my hero.

So not only did people like their music, but no one else seemed to be freaked out by their image. Let’s set the record straight here. I do not frighten easily. In fact, I’ve been watching horror movies from a shockingly young age and I don’t recall ever feeling afraid or having a nightmare from them. I clear memories of watching Child’s Play, It, and Scream at very young ages, maybe four or five years. My parents always prefaced these movies with a conversation about how the movie is fake and that nothing bad actually happened to the actors.  To most people, this is probably jarring, but knowing from a young age that horror movies were as fake as any other movie made my tolerance for fear very high. But what made me so afraid of Ghost’s image off the bat was the assumption that it was real.  Only later would I find out that their shtick was more so a horror movie than reality.

Feeling like I was unknowingly in an episode of the Twilight Zone, I quickly googled them to figure out what they were about.  A Google image search didn’t help my cause, as I was bombarded with hundreds of pictures of masked figures and a skull-faced Pope.  I admittingly only briefly skimmed their Wikipedia article and saw buzzwords like “Antichrist”, and “blatantly Satanic”,  but decided, based on my five minutes of research that Ghost was not my cup of tea. And that was that.

Until.

A few months later, a video popped up in my Youtube Recommendations. I follow Anthony Vincent on Youtube, who’s famous for doing ten second song covers in the style of different artists, and I’ve pretty much seen every video he’s put out.  In March, he put out a Chop Suey cover in the style of Ghost.

Ghost? Why did they sound familiar? Ah yes, this was the band that scared the living  daylights out of me a few months ago. But funny enough, I really liked this interpretation of Chop Suey, and I thought, “Well, if this is their style, I’d probably like their music then”. I typed Ghost into the search bar and clicked on Square Hammer, which was the first result. I definitely liked the sound and their popularity began to make sense to me. But still, operating under the assumption of reality, I could not get past their image. Maybe it’s just the remnants of growing up in a religious household and being a pastor’s daughter after all. I don’t identify as religious at all, but growing up in such an extreme evangelical household, there’s a lot of things that stick, subconsciously, and only disintegrate if I actively try to unlearn them. So again, I dismiss them, this time a bit more reluctantly since I did like their sound. But still, at the time their image was something I was not able to look beyond. Out of sight, out of mind.

Fast forward to this past summer. My fiance, Josh, is a die-hard Iron Maiden fan. If I’m not mistaken, I believe he’s seen them at least seven times in concert. This past summer they came to Bristow, VA and he asked me a few months before the concert if I wanted to go. I have unpopular Maiden opinions, as I prefer the Paul era to the Bruce era, so I had no interest in attending. He asked me multiple times and each time I laughed and said no. He ends up going with his friends and sends me videos of the concert. I have no interest in seeing Iron Maiden, so at first I was unsure of why he was sending me all these videos.

When he comes home, I ask him how the concert was. He said Iron Maiden was great as always, but that he was really impressed by their opening act. I asked him who opened for Maiden and he tells me it’s this band Ghost that he’s never heard of. Now keep in mind, this was a band that I had dismissed not once, but twice, but goddamn it when I heard they were the openers, I was kicking myself for passing up on that opportunity.  I liked what I heard of them, and I probably would have gone just for the experience even back then if I knew Ghost was Iron Maiden’s opener.

Josh became obsessed with Ghost and started showing me their live footage. A week later, we bought their albums and listened to them nonstop. As I became engrossed in their music and watched dozens of interviews, I then realized that their image was satirical.  As a lover of horror, I realized their image was as real as Michael Meyers or Ghostface. I was no longer freaked out by their image; in fact it became very comical in comparison to the soft spoken nature of the band. We became so obsessed that Josh wanted to see them again, and we bought tickets to see them in Brooklyn on July 22nd, the final date of their American tour. As a birthday present for myself, I bought Josh and I meet and greet tickets to meet the one and only Papa Emeritus III.

Here, we have come full circle. The masked figure I once was terrified of, I am now bombarding with hugs and awkward smiles. The experience was one in a million, like an out of body astral-projection experience that was surreal. When we first made eye contact, he instantly tells me that he loves my hair, with a strong intensity and emphasis. I, completely starstruck, am smiling from cheek to cheek to the point where my face is nearly numb. We took a couple of pictures and as I left I told him to have a great show and he thanked me, again in a way that was super sincere, especially as someone who is donning the role of a character.

Their show was amazing, by far the best show that I’ve ever been to. I was screaming and singing and dancing along the entire time. I was definitely judged by some hardcore Maiden fans, but I didn’t care because I was there to have a good time and support an awesome band who is often so misunderstood. They always end with Monstrance Clock and while it is one of my favorite songs, it’s a bit melancholic because it symbolizes the end. But before they close out, Papa goes into a spiel about the demonization of female sexuality and female pleasure. Specifically he talks about the importance of a female orgasm and that both parties, not just men, should feel fulfilled. The lyrics, are two-fold. Come together, together as one. Come together for Lucifer’s son. From a literal sense, it is about the procreation of the antichrist. From a metaphorical sense, it is about a female orgasm.  Maybe it’s because I’m a Cancer, but hearing them perform it live, knowing this was the end of this magical night, made me feel a bit sad.

My Ghost obsession still lives on and in a lot of ways finding Ghost has been instrumental to reigniting my own musical journey. I touched base about my experiences studying music in a classical, academic setting before, but in essence it was almost traumatic. I went in as a bright-eyed eighteen year old with a strong passion for singing and playing piano, but by the time I graduated college, I felt so beaten down by the criticism and the political games that the students and faculty alike played that I walked out never wanting to pursue music ever again. Going to music school somehow siphoned the love of music out of me for a long time and I didn’t rediscover that passion until I found Ghost. Now I play piano nearly everyday and I’m taking operatic voice lessons again for the hell of it and I’ve experimented with writing my own choral arrangements. I even am learning how to play the bass, which was something I’ve always wanted to learn, but never tried because I felt so afraid of failure.  And then, of course, I started this blog to talk about my love of music.

I think the lesson in all of this is that there is much more than what meets the eye and I shouldn’t always take things at face value. Sometimes the most invaluable inspiration comes from an unlikely source.

If you have ghost, you have everything.

 

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Father Lucifer

My junior year in college I took a Women in Music class, where my final project was to create a 15 minute presentation on a female musician. I knew immediately that the subject of my presentation would be the one and only Tori Amos.

I feel a strong affiliation to Tori, and in my head I imagine we’d be friends, that Tori would be my mentor and I her protégé. Our upbringings are eerily similar in some regards and it makes her music, which sometimes can be so far out of the realm of reality, connect to me in a way that not very many artists can.

Like myself, Tori is the daughter of a minister and grew up in a strict religious household. At a very young age, she started playing piano and was later accepted to Peabody Institute at the age of five, making her the youngest person ever to be admitted into this prestigious conservatory. However, Tori was always a rebel, even at a young age. She had little interest in classical music and would rather play rock music instead. She also struggled with reading music, as she primarily played piano by ear.  At the age of eleven, her scholarship was discontinued and she subsequently left the program.  Somehow, her father allowed her to perform in local gay bars across the DC area as a teenager. Eventually, in her twenties she moves to LA to pursue a music career. Her first musical endeavor, Y Kant Tori Read, a joke off of Tori’s lack of interest in reading music, was not a success. Following the failure of this musical project, Tori released Little Earthquakes, one of the most prolific and artistic albums from the 90s.

Today, her career has spanned over 20 years, with dozens of albums of work to show for it. Little Earthquakes is a genius debut masterpiece, but a close second for me is Boys for Pele.  In this album, she focuses on religion from a female prospective.  In fact, Pele, is a Hawaiian volcano goddess, whom appears to represent the anger within Tori. Anger from failed relationships, anger from being raised in a patriarchal religion, and anger from a previous sexual assault.

For my presentation, I struggled to condense it down to 15 minutes. How do you spend only fifteen minutes talking about Tori’s upbringing, musical influences, and body of work?  I struggled even more with deciding which song and video to show my classmates. It became even more difficult as I learned more and more about her story. I see a lot of myself in her.  As I’ve said on other posts, my father is a pastor and I felt trapped in his religious ideologies. As a self taught musician, I felt honored when I was accepted into music school, but it was also difficult for me. I was bored with the repertoire my piano teacher gave to me and I had no interest in moving my wrists up and down on certain beats or using certain fingers for each note. In the practice room, instead of practicing my piano repertoire, I would learn how to play Enter Sandman or Man in the Box. And I’d much rather learn by ear than read through the sheet music. I’d rather improvise than follow exactly what’s on the page.

I ended up choosing one of my favorite songs, but also probably one of her more controversial pieces, Father Lucifer.  Despite the title, this song is not about worshiping the devil, nor is it about her own father.  After experimenting with psychedelic drugs in South America, Tori met with “the devil”, or rather the darkness within her. Hiding from the darkness, the depression, the anguish within does nothing in the long run. At some point, you have to face it head on. In her own words:

“The idea that Dark is not a scary thing if you go in there understanding there is a purity in Darkness. There’s also a lot of distortion in Darkness. It’s a choice where you want to go, and I wanted to get to the truth, not to the drama and to keeping me from the truth.”

In the bridge, we hear three layers of vocals singing completely different, almost nonsensical lyrics, like “girls that eat pizza never gain weight”, “I got a condo in Hoboken”, “everyday’s my wedding day”. But to me, this represents the cacophony of thoughts in her head that she’s hidden from herself for years.

Tori’s rendition of Father Lucifer on the Letterman show in 1996 is my absolute favorite live performance of this piece. First of all, going on national TV performing a song called Father Lucifer takes major balls.  Then, she effortlessly incorporates The Exorcist theme music into the bridge.  On national TV. When I showed this to my class, they were equally mesmerized as well as horrified. I believe that was probably her goal of this performance.  Self discovery is not always a fairy tale and sometimes we must plunge into the depths of ourselves that we’ve buried inside.

 

 

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