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My Life In Music: Tori Amos

Skim the piano woman’s universe of influences, from pivotalbooks to the albums that taught her about darkness

Be careful what you wish for. When we asked Tori Amos to compile a list of the records that have inspired her music, shebrought us a 100-pound carton of stuff handpicked from her archives. Not just music, either–among the goods was an 1893 geographicalsurvey of the Rocky Mountains that helped map her latest record, Scarlet’s Walk, a knotty travelogue born of her post-9/11 cross-countrytravels. But don’t expect the master keys to Tori’s House of Mystery. “I’d almost release my gynecological records before I’d spill thebeans on my deepest influences,” she says, curled up on the floor of a Manhattan hotel suite. “Everything here matters, but if you asked metomorrow, I’d give you different things.” Fair enough. Here’s a sampling of Amos’ favorite classic albums, genital-shaped flora, andhella-deep reading material.

FLEETWOOD MAC Rumours (Reprise album, 1977)
“One of the greatest pop albums ever made–both for the songs and the sound. The producers and engineers really knew what they were doing;there was a certain art to record-making back then. They might have all been coked-up or whatever, but they still had their ears.”

THE DOORS The Doors (Elektra album, 1967)
“Jim Morrison was smuggled into our house by my older brother. That’s where I got some of my ideas about Lucifer and about recognizingthe darkness within. Years ago, I was working with a medicine man, and it was almost as though Lucifer came in a vision and was holding alittle cubbyhole that said Tori on it. He was very sad and very bored. And he said, ‘I hold the dark. That’s what I do. But it’s foryou to come collect!'”

SYLVIA PLATH The Bell Jar (Harper & Row book, 1971)
“Madness fascinates me because I think we’re all this close to the line sometimes. It doesn’t take much. One of my favorite sayings is’You never know the weight of the straw that breaks the camel’s back.'”

ELTON JOHN Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (Rocket/Island album, 1973)
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is a real trip, a long album you can throw yourself into. ‘All the young girls love Alice / Tender young Alicethey say.’ I love that song [“All the Girls Love Alice”]. And the title track, too. Early on, Elton and Bernie Taupin were one of thegreatest songwriting teams ever. They’d do complicated stuff–chorus A, chorus B, codas. You have to fight in the industry to do thatnowadays, because everyone is spoon-fed verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-out.”

DIANE ARBUS Magazine Work (Aperture book, 1984)
“When I travel, I’ll meet people briefly, and I often feel like a photographer. Arbus didn’t know all her subjects intimately, but somehowher photos capture their essence. They’re not about the airbrush–they’re real people, frozen in time. Wherever their souls live, I canvisit them here.”

LED ZEPPELIN The Complete Studio Recordings (Swan Song/Atlantic box set, 1993)
“I’ll never give this one up. John Bonham and John Paul Jones–that’s my rhythm. It was heavy, but so sensual. It’s all about therelationship of the voice to the drum. A huge influence.”

DEE BROWN Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (Holt, Rinehart and Winston book, 1971)
“This book made me weep; I think it will make anyone weep. If you have European blood in you, you have to acknowledge another invasionbefore Pearl Harbor and the Twin Towers: the European invasion of the aboriginal Americas. There was already a culture here, but allwe hear about are the patriots. We’re squatters, basically. Scarlet’s Walk is partially about that.”

JONI MITCHELL Ladies of the Canyon (Reprise album, 1970) and Blue (Reprise album, 1971)
“I know everyone mentions Joni Mitchell, but you have to, really. I can’t think of anyone who was doing it like she was doing it. Shewas the musician’s musician. I’ve heard Robert Plant speak about how she was influencing him! And that makes sense to me–how could she not?”

BARBARA BUHLER LYNES AND RUSSELL BOWMAN O’Keeffe’s O’Keeffes: The Artist’s Collection (Thames & Hudson book, 2001)
“Georgia O’Keeffe’s floral paintings are about being so moved that your petals drip. How beautiful is that? This book sits on coffeetables in the living rooms of ministers. Their wives will look at it and think of things–they’ll cross their legs, uncross them, andthen cross them again.”