Resistance: A Songwriter’s Story of Hope, Change, and Courage
As soon as I caught the news that it was happening I was excited about this book – I see myself as something of a lapsed-fan when it comes to Tori Amos; I have nothing but fond memories of the first few albums – and I’ve started to regularly revisit them (the first six all brilliant, the first three absolute classics) and I’ve been catching up with some of the albums I dismissed on one or two listens – I’ve enjoyed them more than I remembered, and I’ve genuinely loved a couple of the most recent records.
Tori had previously released a memoir of sorts in collaboration with the writer Ann Powers (Piece by Piece). It’s good, has its moments where it is very good but also plays up some of the kook-factor that was probably a big part of what bugged me and moved me away from listening to Amos for a time. In its aims to harness the mercurial it occasionally over-reaches. That is not the case with Resistance: A Songwriter’s Story of Hope, Change, and Courage.
This new volume – the memoir proper – is a better book, much more of a career overview in the way it jumps, chapter-to-chapter, to key moments; it’s also less about ‘career’ as such and more about life. The book is at its best when Amos takes a key political moment and allows us to view it through the lens of her work; best example being 9/11. Her concept covers album, Strange Little Girls (the last of her really great albums in that initial run, to my ears at least) was due to be released the week after September 11 in 2001 – so promo was just getting going. Suddenly all her appearances were cancelled, reworked. She takes us back to the feelings of that time, to the contingencies and to her performance on Letterman, choosing the Tom Waits song Time. She writes movingly about the choices she made, was forced to make and the mood of that era; the phony war that results, the political unease, the distrust of government.
Amos is a talented writer – not just of songs, of prose as well. And here she digs really deep, not just into her own soul (we are used to that from her songwriting) but into and around the soul of the nation, America is now broken and across the last quarter century Amos has been in the public eye. She reflects on what it takes – the work that she’s made and the work that made her and very thoughtfully, deceptively, brilliantly she weaves these song-stories and music-moments around the breaking of America, the breaking down of trust, the creation of sad scandals. Resistance is the key-word, resilience too though – there are two great narratives rolling here, concurrently. There is everything that Amos has endured and the things that have made her stronger as an artist – the grit and heart and soul needed to make it.
But because she knows the audience reading this book is aware that she has ‘made it’ there is something more in this tale – the political discussion, the key events and disturbances (an examination of the Christine Blasey Ford/Brett Kavanaugh story is told via the distressing news of the increase in calls to RAINN – The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) serves to point to the failings of the Trump administration and the corruption and mishandling of power; the busted system that allows it and the loss of hope as a result.
It’s powerful and truly stirring stuff and Amos is unflinching here – her eye for the details of certain events is perfect, the writing poised, she leads us but is never mawkish. There’s huge heart and hope here and you feel it on nearly ever page.
In and around that we also have her story of survival – it’s known to many through her songs and interviews too. But her own story of survival spans sexual abuse and the recording industry.
I loved this book. I read it in that way where you can’t wait to speed through it, you also don’t want it to end. Those are the very best books – and there’s the added component for me, always a part of the very best music-related books, I’m busy going through the full catalogue once again.
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