Twenty-five years have passed since Tori Amos' therapeutic debut album, Little Earthquakes. And, she's still reasoning, poetically, with her audience – and herself – about crucial issues such as familial myths, sexual repression, political turmoil, female empowerment, and white-male dominance, sometimes all in one sitting. Much is the case with Native Invader, which manages to weave the tales of her grandfather, a reach into the mind of her mother who suffered a debilitating stroke, religious faith, and the oppression wrought by white men on indigenous peoples into one poignant tapestry. Amos will sing from her songbook, new and old, at Upper Darby's Tower Theater on Saturday.
I can remember my grandfather telling stories that captivated me and my mom. I went in search for what inspired him when he was younger. He grew up in the Tennessee-North Carolina area. He liked it there. He could tell you a story about anything and make it dramatic — whether it was him picking up butter at the flea market to how weather systems worked on any given day, and be enthralling. His presence began to loom larger with me when my mother had a stroke, because she, too, was a great storyteller. That's especially tragic because she can't speak, and she was very articulate. The whole family has felt such a loss because now we can't hear her versions of those stories.
I guess that goes back to listening to grandpa tell stories. I spent summers, Christmas and Easters there with him. Growing up with those stories was everything, but, I didn't realize that he was teaching me something. It didn't dawn on me until much later. He was the one who made me know that — as the weaver of the tales — you have to make choices. And it is important as to what choices you make, or you're going to lose your listeners, whether it was him telling his stories or me telling mine.
My father's mother was really the one: a painter, a missionary, a missionary teacher. That was unusual for a woman at that time. She was a real disciplinarian. She and her husband had five boys, all [during] World War II, though my dad didn't make it in until right before it was over. He was going to go into medicine, but got guilted by his mother to start a career in religion. She was strict, and music was frowned upon in her house, so I stayed as far from her as I could.
I was forced to go to church until I was 21, even though I was working in clubs six nights a week — it wasn't an option. I had to toe the line. When I moved away from home to the West Coast, I got exposed to different ways of thinking. I spent a lot of time in nature, and seeing the different points of view. I'm thankful for that time. I was able to put distance between myself and institutionalized religion.
The Indian Removal Act of the 19th Century that was driven by the likes of President Andrew Jackson, but questioned by indigenous leaders who called those in Washington 'the great white fathers.' "Broken Arrow" is reflection of what's been happening in the last year and a half, thinking about our sacred land, and what should be our part. Those in power now in Washington… I'm thinking that the Environmental Protection Agency should be renamed, as I don't think that there is any protection going on for our federal land or the citizens of this country.
I think that these three records are related to each other, and only truly resonate because of what is happening and what continues to happen in our lives and in our world. That's why I write them. Scarlet's Walk was in response to the fallout of 9/11. Native Invader is the response to what happened on [9/11].