Where Would Music Be Without Tori Amos?

Where Would Music Be Without Tori Amos?

Amos pushed the envelope for musical innovation and confessional lyrics. Why didn’t we notice?
posted on March 12, 2014 at 3:56pm EDT
Sady Doyle, BuzzFeed Contributor

A long overdue encomium. Much thanks to Ms. Doyle. There’s just one bone I want to pick.

I have no idea why people ever believed Tori was copying Kate Bush. She has strongly denied it.

When I was seventeen years old — which was, I’m 30 now — um, people started coming up to me while I was playing in the clubs and saying to me, “God, you sound like Kate Bush.” And I would say, “Well, who’s Kate Bush?” So this happened for about, I don’t know, a few months. And I finally heard her work, and I didn’t think I sounded exactly like her. I felt like there were moments, but stylistically and the writing-wise things were very different. Um, I think she’s incredible and she gave a lot to music. She was quite a front-runner. But I try not to study her work too much, just because I was already getting compared to her um, thirteen years ago.

Some people genuinely believe Tori was lying as if she were trying to avoid admitting “the truth.” That’s astonishing.

Tori Amos grew up super close to where I lived, going to junior high school eight blocks from me in Silver Spring. I knew and even played music with some of her musician friends. If Kate Bush was known to anybody I was friends with before Tori turned 17, she certainly wasn’t a favorite musician of any of them. Kate Bush was not an artist who sold a ton of records where Tori and I lived in the 1970s. Tori would have likely needed to listen to WGTB or WHFS to have heard her on the radio in the ’70s. GTB was a rogue experimental station with a weak FM broadcast signal out of Georgetown (which might explain the comments of bar-goers when Tori played in Georgetown clubs). Its tag line was “WGTB: One nation, underground.” Tori certainly wasn’t listening to that station, especially in Rockville and Potomac. She probably heard HFS from time to time, but it’s difficult for me to imagine her living on their musical diet as presented by Cerphe and Weasel. I did listen to HFS constantly for years, and if I ever heard Kate Bush on there, she certainly was not played with great repetition.

No one has ever explained to me why Tori Amos would want to copy Kate Bush’s music. Tori Amos is a serious, trained musician. No serious, trained musician has any interest whatsoever in copying the music or sound of anyone else, unless overtly as a rare and/or amusing nod of respect. In the early days of learning one’s instrument one often plays to recordings and tries to match them note for note, but it isn’t to copy them in public performance nor to copy the style of the artist as if it were one’s own. I’ve known a ton of musicians for more than 40 years, and none of them ever copied another musician hoping to “borrow” the style as their own. Further, Tori Amos began writing songs when she was quite young, and she considers herself a composer above all else. Composers steal from many musicians not just one. The only way such stealing from many artists can be avoided is to not have heard them in the first place. The only such composers I can think of off the top of my head are Harry Partch and Carla Bley, although Ms. Bley came to often write brief humorous references to well known compositions by others.

Casey Stratton sounds so much like Tori Amos he is effectively a tribute artist. That’s not what we’re talking about. No one ever accused Tori of sounding nearly identical to Kate Bush at every turn. At least if they have I’m unaware of it, and it’s preposterous.

Sometimes Tori has sung in a tiny girlish voice one could say reminded one of Kate Bush when she, too, would sing in a tiny girlish voice. What is one to say to that? How much effort must a musician invest  to sound specifically unlike every other musician, simply to avoid risking an accusation she is trying to copy her? Seriously? People also live within categories of psychology, and no musician can reinvent the wheel every time she composes or performs—nor should she.

Did The Beatles not learn to sing harmony due in part to inspiration of the Everly Brothers? Did they not also “borrow” generously from others and succeed in forming their own style of creating and performing music?

There seems to be a psychological imperative among some listeners that they presume the first player with certain sounds is being copied by a second player the listener hears, if the second reminds them of the first. I wish those who feel this way would come to understand there’s a lot of aural illusion going on in such things.

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