Monday Earworm: Tori Amos

When I graduated from high school, I used some of the money people gifted me to buy my first CD player. It wasn’t brand-new technology anymore, but it wasn’t old enough yet for me to be significantly behind the curve. I’ve not often been an early adopter of tech, anyway. My parents had a CD player on their stereo system in our living room, and that was fine, but I was pretty excited about my little boom box. The first CDs I bought for myself that spring were Pearl Jam’s Ten, They Might Be Giants’ Flood, and Tori Amos’ Little Earthquakes. Although TMBG’s album had come out in 1990, it was new to me, and the other two came out my senior year.

I was still a devoted MTV watcher, because MTV was still devoted to playing music videos. “Silent All These Years” was introduced as a breakout video, and the song, the video, and the artist all made a strong impression on me. I was preparing to graduate from high school and go off to college. I wouldn’t be quite the first in my family to attend college, but I would end up being only the second person in my extended family to graduate, after my father’s little sister. I was going to be moving out of my parents’ house and making use of the independence I’d been cultivating since middle school. I was headed off to one of the best schools in the country for Creative Writing, which was my chosen field. I was leaving a thick trail of academic accomplishments in my wake, and the world felt open to me in a way I didn’t even have the life experience to appreciate or recognize at the time. And Tori Amos’ ethereal image and style, her deeply rooted piano, struck chords in me that hadn’t been sounded before.

Little Earthquakes — which was not, incidentally, her first album, though it put her into our consciousness and it might still remain my favorite of hers — made up a significant portion of the soundtrack of that spring and of my first year of college. Even now when I listen to some of those tracks I’m submerged in the emotions those songs shepherded me through during that tumultuous time, even though I’ve long since taken leave of the things that generated them. And as a piano player myself, just listening to Amos’ work plucks at that artistic part of me I still regret not fostering enough when I needed it to. I can blame the fact that I no longer play as well as I did on several things: the death of my cousin, which spiraled me into an abiding and undiagnosed depression; the guy who lived in my dorm who followed me to the practice room at night to sexually harass me while I tried to learn my new sheet music; the multiple and constant demands on my time in my adulthood that made me push that time for myself by the wayside; the people who raised me not to have agency or to put my own needs first. And all of those things are true, but what is also true is that I didn’t make the time for myself, either, even once I had learned how to recognize the need for it.

But I haven’t given up on it quite yet. I do have the sheet music for this album, and every now and then I take it out and play a little from one of the songs. One day I’ll learn a whole one, perhaps. I need to get my piano tuned; I’ll just add that to my endless list.

The school year is about to start again. I went back into my classroom today and started rearranging the furniture that has come back from being in storage during the pandemic. My oldest kid is a senior in high school now — and embarking on the college process, which will ultimately take them away into a world of possibility that they are also not yet ready to appreciate or recognize. I hope I am better equipped to shepherd them through it. We are all in liminal spaces right now, for just a little bit longer.

Tori Amos’ music, and this profound album in particular, has been showing up a lot lately in our Pandora feeds. It’s nice.


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