Tori Amos And Her Archetypes
The lyrics of Tori Amos are some of the most complicated in music today. They remain the primary focus of her dedicated fans, as well as her detractors, despite the media's fixation on her past history of rape and abuse. They are complicated on many levels, and Tori Amos' lyrics demand a mythological approach to scratch the surface of her artistic vision. In several interviews, she has admitted to being much influenced by numerous books of symbology and others of Jungian psychology and their archetypal insights. "I don't fall in love much. I mean, I fall in love every five seconds with something but I don't go from boy to boy. I go from archetype to archetype" (Rogers 33). Most dominantly, her lyrics rely on concept of the archetypal woman in all of her aspects. Motifs of creation and destruction are also represented in her work. Her ideals of balance for herself and femininity in general have propelled her into stardom; her uses of archetypes have led the way.
The allusions to Christian mythology and obscure references in "Father Lucifer" delve deeper than the casual listener may recognize. Even Toriphiles, her avid fans like to affectionately refer to themselves in this way, are pushed to the edge of their comprehension in attempting to come up with a meaning for every image. Applying a critical mythological approach works best with "Father Lucifer's" imagery because the archetypes lurk just below the surface. The title of this song aids the audience in being able to place the situation -as does the song's tranquil melody; the speaker treats the Lucifer character with compassion and appreciation. Lucifer represents more than just the idea of the Christian Devil; he is the Jungian shadow. "The shadow is the invisible saurian tail that man still drags behind him" (Guerin 180). He is not unlike other symbolic representations of this archetype in literature, namely Milton's Satan. "Father Lucifer" begins with questions and inferences from the speaker that seem encouraging: "Tell me that you're still in love with that Milkmaid/ how's the Lizzies/ how's your Jesus Christ been hanging" (Amos, Boys for Pele). Toriphiles and new listeners alike might concede that picking out who or what "the Lizzies" are is a daunting task. It is clear that they represent something and that their connection is more than likely appropriate, however, the reference is just not available.
Who "the Milkmaid" may be remains another reference on the same cryptic plane. We might just be able to expect that the Milkmaid was simply a milkmaid that Father Lucifer was in love with, despite his place in the shadow, and that a fleeting relationship might have ensued. It is interesting to point out that a book that Tori Amos has recommended to her fans entitled Owning Your Own Shadow by Johnson relates an anecdote about a milkmaid of sorts, Marie Antoinette. The queen was bored with life in the most ostentatious palace in the world. One day she decided she wanted to touch something of the earth and ordered barns built on the palace grounds where she would keep some cows. She would be a milkmaid. The best architects of France were employed, the stables were built, and fine milk cows were imported from Switzerland. On the day when everything was ready, the queen prepared to sit on a three-legged stool and begin her career as a milkmaid. Yet at the last moment she found this distasteful and ordered her servants to do the milking. (54)
Marie Antoinette, within this context, makes a fine milkmaid to match the character of Father Lucifer. Immediately preceding the Milkmaid reference is a line about Father Lucifer's demeanor: "you never looked so sane" (Amos, Boys for Pele). The statement implies that Father
Lucifer should not look sane or even be sane but that he does anyway. Amos' characterization of Father Lucifer becomes more similar to Milton's Satan as the song lyrics are uncovered. The character has been in love and may have problems with his sanity; he is decidedly more complex than just another devil. Perhaps the largest mark of compassion on the part of the speaker is what she calls him; he is not called Satan. The speaker regards Father Lucifer practically as a priest, however, the complexity of the song is not that she is confessing to him, but that their roles are reversed to some extent. "He says he reckons I'm a watercolour stain/ he says I run and then I run from him" represents the relationship that they maintain (Amos, Boys for Pele). Father Lucifer acknowledges her only as the stain from a watercolour -a delicate medium that is difficult to control. A few lines more and we see how their relationship has changed: "He wiped a tear/and then he threw away our appleseed" (Amos, Boys for Pele). The Christian myth brings itself full circle; Father Lucifer suffers from defeat and can not bear to bring himself up to attempt the same task again -at least not in the speaker's specific case. They have in effect made their peace with one another. The duration of the rest of the song addresses more introspective and personalized images, but there is another reference to love lost, "does Joe bring flowers to Marilyn's grave" (Amos, Boys for Pele). The theme of the song is loss and extracting the relationship between Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe ends story that Amos wants to tell. In another song, "Professional Widow" the theme is a bit different, the presentation more harsh, and the archetype may be more recognizable. Defined best as the Terrible Mother, the Professional Widow summons almost all of this archetype's characteristics. She is "the witch, sorceress, siren, whore, femme fatale -associated with sensuality, sexual orgies, fear, danger, darkness, dismemberment, emasculation, death; the unconscious in its terrifying aspects" (Guerin 160). Tori Amos designates the Professional Widow as her "Lady Macbeth archetype. There are many ways to play Lady Macbeth. It can be done in a Jackie O. suit" ("Toriphoria The Voice of Tori Amos"). The Professional Widow speaks to her mate much in the same way that a black widow spider would: "Slag pit/Stag shit/ Honey bring it close to my lips . . . Don't blow those brains yet/ We gotta be big" (Amos, Boys for Pele). She controls him and his every move in the seedy world they live in; controlled by the men Or "Stag[s]," the world is also full of "slag" or the hard, dirty elements found in the bowels of the earth. The Professional Widow not only acknowledges this but replies with "honey bring it close to my lips" before she begins the emasculation by commanding orders. She does not want to just be another spider; she wants to be General Patton in a Jackie O. suit with perfectly coifed hair. "Starfucker just like of my Daddy . . . selling his baby . . . gonna strike deal make him feel/ like a Congressman/ it runs in the family" (Amos, Boys for Pele). The Professional Widow glamorizes herself a "starfucker" and not simply a whore; she would sell her baby to be like a politician because they have all of the power. Rumors among the Toriphiles identify the Professional Widow as Courtney Love though Tori refuses to confirm or deny the possibility; she only cares to admit that she does not like Love personally. The "blow those brains" line providing the only tangible similarity for the comparison. Two other songs, "Spark" and "Siren" also adapt a version of the Lady Macbeth or Terrible Mother archetype; they are, however, less harsh in their adaptations. "Spark" may best represent the archetype after she has been injured by the patriarchy -almost to the point of malfunction and complete destruction. The speaker in "Spark" is "convinced she could hold back a glacier/ but she couldn't keep Baby alive" (Amos, From the Choirgirl Hotel). Her powers have been usurped, but her ideals and struggles are still similar to the Professional Widow's because she too, believes herself indomitable. The spark that she is looking for, "are you sure where my spark is," is the spirit of her life force and illustrated by Jung's archetype of the anima or in the female psyche the animus (Amos, From the Choirgirl Hotel). "In the sense of 'soul,' says Jung, anima is the 'living thing in man that which lives itself and causes life . . . Were it not for the leaping and twinkling of the soul, man would rot away in his greatest passion, idleness'" (Guerin 180). "Spark" is very much about such idleness. "She's addicted to nicotine patches/ she's afraid of a light in the dark/ 6:58 are you sure where my spark is," indicates the speaker's compulsive need for artificial stimulants because of her loss of control and ability to create: she herself does not even make claims about where her "spark" is. The stimulant of choice can not possibly control much because it is not a hard drug only a miserably weak substitute for another drug. Compatible with the broken Terrible Mother archetype in "Spark," Amos' "Siren" plays upon the weaknesses in first person perspective. The speaker in "Siren" distances the siren identity from herself for the purpose of addressing it in particular terms; she admits to being a liar and to being broken. "Know know too well/ know the chill/ know she breaks/ my Siren" set the standards by which she judges herself (Amos, Great Expectations the Album). Her siren is "almost" several things. She begins to address that she suffers, to some extent, from a failure of personality integration. Siren denies the confrontation of her shadow until the time of this song. From this denial perspective, she admits that even her persona "never was one/ for a/ prissy girl/coquette," however, from either perspective she acknowledges that neither one is able to create. She upholds herself as "almost/ Brave/ almost/ pregnant/ almost in love 'Vanilla'" (Amos, Great Expectations the Album). "Vanilla," the unattainable natural, pure, sweet ideal that she hungers for despite being a siren and femme fatale. Siren and Spark destroy any innate abilities to be creators. Developed as destroyers, they discover themselves self-destructing. They are inelastic where they believed themselves adaptable. "Siren" directs this recognition best with "Call in For/ an ambulance/ Reach high/ doesn't/ mean she's/ holy/ just means/ She's got a Cellular/ handy (Amos, Great Expectations the Album). The identities in both songs wind up singing the chorus in "iieee" -" I know we're dying/ and there's no sign of a parachute/ we scream in cathedrals/ why can't it be beautiful/ why does there/ gotta be a sacrifice" (Amos, From the Choirgirl Hotel). Perhaps the biggest riddle of all five of Tori Amos' albums is "Talula." The archetype that she utilizes to frame the song stretches the boundaries of comprehension because it is combined with a variety of obscure historical allusions. Talula may be best represented by the archetypal Soul Mate "the incarnations of inspiration and spiritual fulfillment" (Guerin 160). Complex issues arise within the dimensions that Talula perseveres to represent: Mary Magdalene. In Tori Amos' words: I was really drawn to the bloodline of womanhood. Mary Magdalene, the idea of the Magdalene having been a blueprint; not the Virgin or the Divine Mother but woman- high priestess, not just the chick that washed Jesus' feet with her tears. I've been reading some books that figure she was a high-priestess in Jerusalem of the Isis cult. ("Toriphoria The Word of Tori Amos)
Talula and this Mary Magdalene archetype elicits "comparable psychological responses and serve similar cultural functions" (Guerin 157). In an early version of "Talula," the beginning lines make an obscure allusion to Marie Antoinette: "Said you had a double tongue/ balancing cake and bread/ say goodbye to a glitter girl" (Amos, Boys for Pele). "It's one thing to be a glitter girl, but it's another thing to be all woman. And that's what Marie Antoinette desperately wanted" (Amos, "Toriphoria The Word of Tori Amos"). Marie Antoinette is placed in juxtaposition to the Talula for the sake of making Talula truly positive and not to be mistaken for the Good or Terrible Mother archetypes. "Ran into the Henchman who severed/ Ann Boleyn/ he did it right quickly a merciful man/ she said 1 + 1 is 2/ but Henry said that it was 3/ so it was/ here I am" denotes another historical story of femininity's lineage blocked and taken apart (Amos, Boys for Pele). "Jamaica/ do you know what I have done" brings flavor to the setting and to the whirlwind of historical journey's that Talula undertakes (Amos, Boys for Pele). It might most appropriately signify another separate world because it is geographically far away from France and England, the earlier locations which are referenced. Jamaica represents the spirit world and the home of Voodoo; "do you know what I have done" suggests a denial of that world. In another song "In the Springtime of His Voodoo," the reference of Voodoo is best linked to the idea of the magical but misunderstood; a positive light is thrown onto what Jamaica represents if we view it in this way. "Mary M. weaving on said/ what you want is in the blood Senators/ I got Big Bird on the fishing line" (Amos, Boys for Pele). The reference to blood is appropriately linked to the idea of Jung's anima, much like it is in "Spark." Blood is what Talula is looking for, the bloodline of femininity within all of its inspirational and spiritual for ms. "Senator" is much like "Congressman" in Professional Widow, another reference to the dominating party which is largely patriarchal. The riddle of "Big Bird" is solved by its designation next to "Senators." He is rather simplistic compared to the other more obscure images; he represents the big goal to be obtained, the special interest or lobbyist that political candidates cater to. The Talula/Mary Magdalene/Soul Mate archetype can be applied to two other songs, "Marianne" and "Jackie's Strength" but within a slightly different context. "Marianne" is a positive feminine character even though the song maintains a dismal, mournful tone in comparison to "Talula." Tori Amos comments on who Marianne is: "Mary Magdalene reference, a young girl who I knew that died. There's the whole idea of that part of woman that has been dormant, who's been dead" ("Toriphoria The Word of Tori Amos). Marianne is the "quickest girl in the frying pan" and one of the speaker's "traitors of kind" (Amos, Boys for Pele). In Jackie's Strength, the image of Jackie Kennedy, is archetypally represented as the Soul Mate because, in many ways, she is seen as the ideal representation of woman based on her "strength" (Amos, From the Choirgirl Hotel). The song moves through the speaker's childhood and adolescence with "stickers licked on lunch boxes worshipping David Cassidy . . . / sleep-overs Beene's got some pot/ you're only popular with anorexia so I turn myself/ inside out" (Amos, From the Choirgirl Hotel). As the speaker matures, her respect for Jackie's Strength increasingly becomes more and more prevalent. Jackie is the Mary Magdalene archetype accepted by society because she is so identified with the Soul Mate's qualities of goodness. Jackie offers warmth and nourishment to the speaker despite her getting "lost on her wedding day" (Amos, From the Choirgirl Hotel). Tori Amos' lyrics challenge her listeners to utilize archetypes within the context she has designed for them. Toriphiles have accepted their task to discover what Tori Amos' images compound, but some have arrived at another conclusion: the vocalization in the songs themselves is also a challenge to our comprension. The two challenges together may be the strongest objections her detractors have to her work. Her lyrics are some of the most challenging in modern music -similar musicians such as Fiona Apple and Sarah McLachlan do not demand the same kind of attention-though they too may use similar archetypes of woman and creation. To understand her images, to gain their insight, will keep Toriphiles, or Ears With Feet as Tori Amos prefers to call her fans, involved in the albums that she continues to release. Tori Amos' archetypes have led the way. The most appropriate quote to describe her: "She remains endearingly harebrained, keen to bewilder, reluctant to compromise, often hard to stomach, yet periodically magnificent. Just the way, it would seem, that nature intended" (Rogers 3). All Toriphiles would replace "periodically" with "constantly."
Amos, Tori. Boys for Pele. Atlantic, 1996.
Amos, Tori. From the Choirgirl Hotel. Atlantic, 1998.
Amos, Tori. Great Expectations the Album. Atlantic, 1997.
Guerin, Wilfred L., et al. A Handbook of Critical Approaches to Literature. 2nd ed. New
York: Happer and Row, 1979.
Johnson, Robert A. Owning Your Own Shadow: Understanding the Dark Side of the Psyche. New York: Harper Collins, 1993.
Rogers, Kalen. Tori Amos: Images and Insights. New York: Omnibus Press, 1996.
"Toriphoria: The Word of Tori Amos". 1 March 1999
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