How have you been, dear fellow Toriphiles? Sisters and brothers and fellow listeners, I hope that despite our huge, dehumanizing losses on dignity and liberty, our hearts could still bear the guilty pleasures of living. I hope that not too many of us perished under these extremely cruel times, made even more cruel by betrayal from our supposed caretakers, the powers that be who continually forget that their powers come from us and us only. I hope there is still a strong army of us who survived. After all, all these years, we have been weaned on isolation and solitude, on discrimination and judgment, on abuse and affliction. We can navigate every moment seeing freedom in our depravity, strength in our pain, and life in our little daily deaths. I hope we remain here, breathing and present, ready to behold what little good news managed to fight its way to reach us. And here is one: our dear little secret goddess, the witness to the muses, she who labors to channel for us the graces, wrote a book.
Tori Amos, the American singer-pianist-composer behind some of alternative rock’s most esteemed albums such as “Little Earthquakes” (1992) and “Native Invader” (2017), released her much-awaited memoir “Resistance” earlier last May.
“Resistance”, true to its name and in the purest sense, stuck to its scheduled release of May 5 amid the global COVID-19 crisis. A month-long book tour, initially planned for the entirety of May, was canceled due to nationwide lockdown restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus. But Amos did what she could to still reach out to fans, through virtual means.
The book is now available for purchase through online platforms while Amos held a book signing session and back-to-back virtual Q&A events. She may have not been able to proceed with meeting fans in New York, Chicago, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, San Francisco and Los Angeles – the six cities where the May book tour would have gone – but fans nonetheless participated in the livestream.
Moderated by no less than her daughter and collaborator Natashya Hawley (who has provided backing vocals for Amos’s more recent albums), the hour-long signing and fan interview streamed from and was recorded in Martian Engineering Studios in Cornwall, United Kingdom, where Amos resides.
Kevin from Huntington Beach asked, “What is your favorite venue to play at?” She answered, “Ah, I like the Albert Hall. It’s magic. It’s a tough room I think, on all levels, as far as I think, when you’re amplifying.” Phyllis from Baton Rouge asked, “What advice would you give to your teenage self?” She answered, “Less anger, more smile, as they say. I guess what I would really wanna say is that everybody’s journey is so different, particularly as artists.” Kara Courtney from Lancaster asked, “What is one solid piece of advice you can give your fans during this global pandemic?” She answered, “Yeah… Count to ten before you say something.” Jessica from Pittsburgh asked, “What have you learned as a mother that is most important in bringing up a strong woman?” She answered, addressing her daughter, “To really listen to you.”
Books, at least in our country, are not classified as essential. Never before the pandemic, and certainly not now. At the fiercest days of the lockdown, bookstores were closed and libraries were put out of commission. Pining for a book might even sound insensitive, selfish and capricious to some. This is quite odd, more so when one considers the fact that even when you may be distant and isolated from the rest of the world, perhaps in an extremely remote and unreachable place, without electricity nor a computer nor internet connection, you can continue learning, and remembering and hoping, if you at the very least got a book. But then again, if you are from this country, acquiring a hardbound first edition by Mrs. Hawley of Cornwall, all the way from its publisher in New York, 272 pages at $19 or about P1,000, excluding taxes and shipping and possible additional charges if you’ve never had a credit card in your life and just transact with sellers, to be delivered by a man who might need to speed through the day’s punishing heat, lest he run out of time for the rest of his packages and get caught later violating curfew, over something not at all essential, a book, with a title for which, say, a rapist border patrolman might red-tag him, could indeed be insensitive and selfish and capricious.
“Resistance”, within a week of its release, entered the The New York Times bestseller list of the nonfiction category at the 13th spot. A brief description of the entry reads, “The Grammy-nominated musician details her career and how her work championed the marginalized.” Of course the graceful Amos would not set out to write about her life and work for an agenda of portraying herself as a champion of the marginalized – she does not even call herself a feminist despite how empowering of women her songs can be – her songs simply and naturally tend to narrate the plight of the outsider, the outcast inside everyone of us fighting to live.
“Like extensive sleeve notes in a lavish box set, Tori Amos’s second book uses songs from her back catalogue – the lyrics are transcribed at the start of each chapter – as starting points for stories of ‘hope, change and courage,’” stated a mini review by The Guardian. “So ‘Resistance’ is less an explanation of what her songs were about than a reflection on what they mean to her now, resulting in a tale of politics, feminism and equality.”
While the said review lauded “Resistance” for “[reinforcing] Amos’s position as one of pop’s more thoughtful songwriters,” it did not sound particularly fond of the book’s “a few too many discussions with her muses.” Even back in 2005, when her earlier memoir “Piece By Piece” co-written with the music journalist Ann Powers came out, a review by the Chicago Tribune described Amos as someone “whose flaky, Queen-of-the-Fairies reputation could use some grounding.” Amos may have over the years earned the respect of critics but her being Tori is not always regarded as pleasing.
“Resistance”, written and developed by Amos, this time aided solely by the power of her songs as signposts functioning like provocateurs, would expectedly not please everyone. As noted by Forbes, it is a memoir that also “[addresses] polarizing contemporary topics,” expressive of “Amos’ worldview amidst life in America following the 2016 election of Donald Trump.” Not only is “Resistance” a book that she wrote in the aftermath of the death of her mother, it also comes after the rise of a divisive president, their own version of a father of a nation, someone she preferred to call “the master showman.” Curiously, back in 2017 as she just released her latest album “Native Invader”, Rolling Stone keenly noted how “Amos is careful never to use Donald Trump’s name in conversation.” “My place is not to get distracted,” she was quoted as saying “with a smirk.”
“When he has the levitating lady happening over here, then he is throwing a few knives at the other lady…” she further said in the interview. One cannot help but wonder if in “Resistance”, does she continue the resistance of not giving him the dignity of a name, or does she finally dare name him, to pin him down to his rightful place in history, in the map of a country he helped further fragment? In the landscape of “Resistance”, did the puppeteer earn a page?
Why has she not come often to us here in Asia? I could only find three dates in Tokyo in 1994, and one way back in 2007 in Ra’anana, a city about 80 kilometers from Jerusalem. Why has she not come to us here in the Philippines? I could only guess we who listen here might be too few compared to legions in other countries and cities – we might not sound worthy of a journey, as we may have not done so much to make our presence felt, or grow the fold by sharing the songs. But would it not be powerful if she could come, and just as she does in the cities she goes to, craft a setlist unique to our place and our people, responsive to our pulse and our life? Would it not be beautiful if she could come and play at least just one from every album, from the very start?
“Precious Things” for our infinite refusal to let go of our precious victimhood. “The Wrong Band” because it’s time we open our eyes, let’s not be afraid to open our eyes. “In The Springtime of His Voodoo” if you got an angry snatch ‘coz swivelin’ the hip no longer does the trick. “Playboy Mommy” for forgiveness, for every mother and daughter we condemn and bury. “Juarez” for the glorious drug war, the brilliant program that is tokhang, and our very own world-class killing fields. “Don’t Make Me Come To Vegas” for all those who just feel like singing along to “over my dead body” over and over again. “The Beekeeper” for whoever will be tapping our shoulders when it’s time. “Code Red” for the thieves. “Curtain Call” just in case she would feel like ad-libbing all the way to by the time we’re forty-five, fifty-five, if we’d still be alive. “Trouble’s Lament” for those who would like to know how Trouble the girl is related to Danger the boy. And “Reindeer King” for remembering and returning.
“I think the not knowing is always really – ” and at this point of the livestream, Amos paused, took a deep breath and braced herself. Natashya was pointing out the book’s 9/11 chapter, and how her mother said there was no blueprint for it, as is the case now with the virus. Amos gradually sat up again and spoke, “You grab your heart and say, ‘Why?’ I don’t know. I don’t know when we’re touring again. We have plan A, plan B, plan C, plan D, but we don’t know. I do think though that the opportunity to write songs right now for everybody is important, if you’re called. But we’ll all be called to write in different ways.”
As of this writing, Amos has been working on her sixteenth studio album, originally aimed for release before the 2020 U.S. presidential elections. Vanity Fair asked if her timing for it has changed, and if there is any significance to put the songs out before the elections. Amos, a goddess of rebels, my saint of terrors, answered with a question, “Is there gonna be an election?”
All this to the tune of protesters who marched to decry the death of George Floyd, while their president kept fanning the flames by encouraging the police to use greater force; all this to the tune of our workers who marched to the streets yesterday after over two months of lockdown, to finally report to their jobs, walking for miles and miles under the rain and heat because they got no cars, and could not afford taxis, and only work for little businesses without special shuttles, of course, because they can’t even give benefits; we must walk as far as our strides could carry us, it will be like this until we all become either too tired and defeated or too tired and furious, and until we collectively ask, “What can I do to remember how this feels, how this hurts, and how I’m choosing to end this, to change this, now?” NVG/VL