Nearly three years ago, I wrote one of my favorite posts in the series. I had a bit of fun with the abstruse musings of an artist I consider frequently brilliant, Tori Amos. The video for Caught a Lite Sneeze just lent itself to full-fledged snark.
A handful of Tori fans took umbrage. At least, I assume it was just a handful. I didn’t check message boards or Reddit. Is there a Tori Amos Reddit? Probably. I’m not sure I’d dare to go there.
I’ve dealt with worse. I’m a soccer writer. And a soccer coach. And a soccer ref. (Man, soccer sucks, and I’ve dedicated far too much of my life to it.)
But I’ve felt a little guilty. Maybe Tori deserves better.
I could pick any number of wonderful Tori Amos songs. Her debut album, Little Earthquakes, is a wonderful introduction to a woman of many contradictions — full of self-doubt yet brash in her sexuality, relishing her freedom while keeping one eye back toward her family, abstract in some respects but direct in others. She dwelled in the same somewhat depressed realm as many singer-songwriters but possessed a surprising wit that would catch listeners off-guard. And my goodness, she can play piano.
Under the Pink went in some intriguing new directions, especially on the theological twist and cutting guitar on God and the peace/hate exploration on The Waitress, which would be expanded into a breathtaking epic with her skillful band on the live album To Venus and Back.
Boys for Pele didn’t speak to me the same way, as you may have noticed with the link above. But she followed that up with From the Choirgirl Hotel, which ran the gamut from a harrowing and musically sophisticated tale of her own miscarriage (Spark) to a pointed demand of a lover (Raspberry Swirl, which might have been the impetus for the hilarious Bob’s Burgers homage) to another dose of brash wit (She’s Your Cocaine).
With her position in music history secure, she has been experimental over the next couple of decades, even dabbling in classical music. My personal favorites include another witty entry in Big Wheel and the environmental lament Up the Creek.
But for this series finale and reparation to the Tori community, I’ve opted for another beautiful tune from From the Choirgirl Hotel …
Jackie’s Strength is certainly more accessible than some of Tori’s work. It’s a juxtaposition of a childhood memory of fretting over the newly widowed Jackie Kennedy with the adult decision to get married.
It’s ambiguous. It’s stream of consciousness. And it works.
The musical setting of lush strings and piano helps, showing how effectively Tori deploys her sonic palette. It’s not a *happy* song, per se, but it conveys a bit of excitement along with some wedding jitters. (And we thought “fear of commitment” was just a guy thing.)
She sets the first scene beautifully: “A Bouvier ’til her wedding day / shots rang out, the police came / Mama laid me on the front lawn / and prayed for Jackie’s strength.”
Then we fast-forward from childhood to a wedding day, and her acerbic wit pops up again: “My bridesmaid’s getting laid.” And now she is praying for Jackie’s strength. No, she’s not trying to hold it together after her husband was murdered in the most sudden, traumatic fashion. She’s just hoping for a little bit of Jackie Kennedy’s grace under pressure as she takes the leap into the unknown.
The chorus, punctuated by a sudden but graceful harmonic shift (it’s in D, the chorus lands on F# minor, and then we suddenly go to F# major), is a list of gentle but firm demands of this man pulling her to the altar. “Make me laugh” is the easy but sweet one. Generally, just make this work so we can live and learn together.
Then we’re back to childhood and her teen years. It’s innocent — a David Cassidy crush, a sleepover — or maybe not. Someone brought pot to the sleepover, and now she’s fretting that “you’re only popular with anorexia.”
The last verse ramps up the stream of consciousness. She’s lost on her wedding day, and we have a callback to the police — maybe looking for the runaway bride? Then suddenly we get another snarky comment — “but virgins always get backstage no matter what we have to say.” It doesn’t fit neatly into the story, but it doesn’t have to.
I’d always thought the protagonist went through with the wedding despite her fears. The video — also stream of consciousness, not matching the lyrics in any linear fashion — implies otherwise.
And Tori herself has given a few interviews about this song, all slightly different but telling the same story. In real life, she thought about ditching her wedding and going to 7-Eleven for a Slurpee. (Coincidentally, I have only recently started to have Slurpees — it’s a way to cheat and get a soda without the carbonation eating away at my stomach, so it’s certainly a different impulse.) She views it as a sort of sliding-doors moment, and this song is for the girl who dashed off to 7-Eleven.
But even if you’re absolutely sure you want to run down the aisle, as I was, it’s easy to relate to this song. There’s a bit of innocence and frivolity that goes away with marriage — perhaps it’s no accident that she asks her husband-to-be to “make me laugh.” As scary as single life can be, competing with virgins and anorexics, there’s something safe about it compared with saying you’re either going to spend the rest of your life with someone or end up divorced. Or widowed, like Jackie.
And it still comes across to me as hopeful. Maybe if she strummed an acoustic guitar and sounded like any coffeehouse depressive, it would be different. Instead, it’s a gorgeous melody throughout — simple but unique.
Whether you get the ring or the Slurpee, you’re going to need that strength. But you can find it.
With that, I hope Tori Amos fans will forgive me. And I hope you’ve enjoyed this series. I’m wrapping it up, but I’m not going anywhere. Lord knows I need to write about something besides soccer every once in a while. I think even Jackie or Tori would throw up her hands if she were committing to soccer journalism.