Copyright Joe Jackson. This book is available from in the ‘My Books’ section on this website
Prologue. The back-story of Joe Jackson’s interviews with Tori Amos.
It feels fabulously liberating for me to be finally able to publish this anthology and to title it, truthfully, Tori Amos: Soul Searching and Uncensored. In fact, it makes me feel All Shook Up, uh-huh-huh, to quote the king of rock ‘n’ soul. Why this elation? Because just like Ed Sullivan censored Elvis on American TV in 1956 and ensured that he was filmed from the waist up only, so too nearly every interview I did with Tori, and article I wrote, has been neutered to a degree by a newspaper or magazine.
Not always, I hasten to add. But often enough to make me relish the process of putting together this book and, even more importantly, twenty years after I first met Tori, now being in a position to fulfil, in a sense, a promise I made way back then, or thereabouts.
And therein lies a tale. It’s also a tale I told in a magazine article I wrote in 2010 and called, My Spirit Walk With Tori Amos – it is included in this book as a what I call a ‘Bonus Track’ and what I see as a throwaway track because it is more about me than about Tori and may bore her fans – but I did not disclose all the details. Nor did I even allude to the promise I made.
But here’s how my pledge came about. I first met, and interviewed Tori, when she visited Dublin in early 1992, around the time of the release of her chillingly brilliant debut album, Little Earthquakes, which I loved on first hearing. To say that within minutes of meeting we “hit it off” might be the silliest understatement in the history of rock ‘n’ roll. Indeed, the MD of her record company, in Ireland, later claimed that our interview, which was described by the magazine in which it was published as, “uncompromisingly honest” – a label that applies to every interview we did – was “the best rock ‘n’ roll interview” he had ever read. Yeah, that made me feel All Shook Up, too.
Then, two years later, when Tori released her follow up album, the equally brilliant, Under The Pink, I was told she would not be coming to Ireland to “do promotion for the record.” But she did request that I, and I alone among Irish journalists, be flown to London to interview her as there was “something really important” she wanted to talk with me about. Tori also asked if we could do the interview not for the rock magazine that published our first in Ireland but for my new weekly interview slot in The Irish Times.
But aye, here’s the rub. And there is a sting in the tail of this tale, believe me, as you shall see. Tori knew, because I had told her during one of the conversations we had on the phone, that I got my break as an interviewer for The Irish Times when the editor of its ‘Women’s Page’ asked me to interview singer Hazel O’ Connor. She also observed that I “seem to get on well with women, privately and professionally!” and suggested, “They certainly give you great interviews.” Tori also knew, because I had told her, that The Irish Times had ten times the circulation of that rock magazine and a broader demographic reach, particularly among women. And she loved the fact that the newspaper allowed me to discuss popular music in a socio-political context and haul in left-of-field subjects close to both our hearts such as, sexual politics, psychology, theology, spirituality, all that jazz.
Either way, I was, naturally enough, fascinated by the message from Tori and so anxious to see her again that I probably could have flown to London minus an airplane. Maybe I did. I can’t remember. I was so high from what she said. Sadly, when I met Tori in London she seemed to be down, worried, anxious in another way. She at first complained about her own performance of Cornflake Girl on the TV show Top of the Pops the night before, then she told the PR people who had booked a table for us in a local restaurant that she didn’t really feel like eating. But not long after they left, saying they would return ninety minutes later, Tori explained she didn’t even want to be in the restaurant and would rather tell me what she had to say, in the privacy of her apartment where we could be alone. So, like two kids playing truant, we half ran from that restaurant, hopped in a cab, and went to her apartment.
There, soon afterwards, I learned what Tori “really needed” to talk with me about, apart from first filling me in on all that been happening in her life since we last talked. She wanted to tell me “the real story of” something she had never disclosed in public before and swore she would never discuss publicly again (a promise Tori has kept, as far as I know) – her rape ordeal at the age of 22. We had touched upon this subject during our first interview when I asked Tori to tell me “in the hope that it might help other women trying to recover from rape” either as little or as much, as she wanted to tell. But what I then heard that night in there apartment in 1994 made me realise that two years earlier we barely scraped the surface of her psychic wound.
In fact, as we sat there together on the carpet on her living room floor, with Tori sometimes speaking so low I had to strain to hear her, she redefined for me the meaning of the phrase, ‘uncompromisingly honest.’ Furthermore, although I knew that this time Tori had explained she wanted to go into all the “gory details” because she agreed that this might benefit other women, it also struck me that what I was witnessing was an act of catharsis on her behalf. I suddenly felt very proud of the fact that life had made me a listener, privileged, particularly as a man, to be in her presence and blessed. To say it was a sacred moment, maybe even on a cosmic level, is not an exaggeration.
However, when Tory began to cry, I felt torn inside. In any other setting, say, if she were a female friend or a lover, my natural reaction would be to reach out, hug her, and brush the tears from her eyes and part of me wanted to do just that. But even though we had taken to hugging whenever we met, or parted, I knew it was a rape Tori was talking about and, as such, she might not want to be touched by a man, least of all a relative stranger. So, I did nothing, at first. Then finally, and seemingly even without telling myself to do so, I opened my arms, Tori folded into my embrace and felt to me like I imagined she felt deep inside – like a little girl, lost in a callous world.
This was one of the most intimate moments I had shared with an interviewee who wasn’t, frankly, my lover. And as part of that intimacy I promised Tori that I would do everything in my power to ensure that every word she had spoken to me on this incalculably sensitive subject would be “treated with the utmost respect by The Irish Times.” I then joked in an attempt to make Tori smile even a tiny smile, “Even if this means that I have to stand over the article with a sword in my hand until ‘our’ issue of the newspaper hits the streets!” She did smile, and said, “you probably would!”
Sadly, it was The Irish Times that yielded the sword, in a sense, and savagely so. The same editor who had said I did great interviews with women told me that the newspaper would not be publishing my Tori Amos interview. Not only that, when I asked, “What exactly is wrong with it?” and offered to do a rewrite of the “problematic parts” I was told “everything” and that offer was rejected.
“It’s just too much,” I was told. “This woman is deeply disturbed. She should have gone to proper counselling. Here she is just rambling on, about Jesus, rape, and her boyfriend fucking her. [This article is] not for our readers, I’m afraid. The whole interview is just a personal crisis.”
I was incensed. By nearly everything that had been said in that quote, such as, Tori Amos being referred to as “this woman” rather than her name being used, the dismissive description of her as “deeply disturbed” and the suggestion that she had been “just rambling on.” But rather than lose my temper, which is one of my more negative traits, I decided instead to become, in effect Tori’s mouthpiece in terms of her hope that our article might help women who, themselves, were trying to recover from rape.
“But surely it’s a ‘personal crisis’ that many of our female readers could relate to?” I argued.
“No,” I was told, categorically. “[The sentence}‘He sits on top of me and fucks me’, or whatever, is too extreme. We can’t have that in the newspaper.”
Tori was enraged, as I say in that article, My Spirit Walk With Tori Amos. Most especially as a woman who, as I claimed, ‘hadn’t talked about her rape for five years, written a song entitled Silent All These Years, and now, ultimately, was being silenced yet again – but this time by a woman.’
“This is what my song Cornflake Girl is all about!” she said to me on the phone. “The biggest betrayal of women is by other women and this woman has silenced not just me but, as you said to her, all women who have gone through rape and, [she] is saying, ‘as a woman I don’t care what you went through.’ Her position on that needs to be made public at some point.”
“Actually, I don’t think she is saying that,” I responded, feeling morally obliged to defend the editor in question whom I had always admired greatly and would defend to this day. “I happen to think she has just hit a blind spot, here.”
“Maybe. But, to me, she has a misplaced pussy. You are more true to women than she is and we must not allow ourselves to be silenced by The Irish Times.”
The latter hit home, in every sense. Especially when it came to something else I didn’t disclose in that ‘Spirit Walk’ article. Just before Tori and I parted that night in London she had said, as we hugged goodbye, “You know what really feels good about all this, Joe? I trust you. I know I can tell you a story even about something as traumatic as rape and that the story will not be violated – nor will I be – as it passes through you on its way to your readers.”
This comment had a profound effect on my own ever-evolving perception of myself as an interviewer. So, too, did a similar comment Tori had made earlier that night. She said she saw me as, “a medium, a healer.” And Amos also told me, “I have realised that interviewing isn’t just your job; it’s your life, how you express yourself, your art…maybe your higher calling.” Coming from Tori Amos, this was like a prayer, of sorts, or a song, same thing in her case, she wrote and sung to me.
So, when she said we must not allow ourselves to be silenced by The Irish Times I really had no alternative other than to promise her this would not happen. And, it didn’t. The editor/owner of the rock magazine that had published our first interview was suffering at this point from a fit of petulant pique because Tori chose to do the interview with The Irish Times rather than with his publication and wouldn’t commit to using a second article I offered – at Tori’s suggestion – that would draw on unused material. But he rather rapidly changed his mind after hearing what had happened at The Irish Times. In fact, that editor wanted me to write about the article having been censored. So did Tori. But I said to her, “I love you, Tori, but not enough to risk losing my job for you!” and told him, “No.” I actually wasn’t afraid of losing my job by going public on this matter, although I might have; I loved The Irish Times, and was fully committed to its Arts coverage.
Yet, even without that aspect of the story being told at the time, the article ended up being four times its original length – although it, too, was cut – ran over three pages in the magazine and was the cover story on the following issue. Many people, especially Tori’s fans, still regard the interview as possibly the best she ever gave. It is certainly one of the best that bears my name. And now, included in this book, for the first time in print is the original censored version – on reflection I think I got the tone wrong and pushed the envelope too far in terms of certain themes – and the full, unedited typescript version of the magazine article.
In 1996, incidentally, The Irish Times commissioned another Tori Amos interview from me – as would the Irish newspaper the Sunday Independent in 2001 – and I purposefully and provocatively made a political point by including some of the quotes that had been described as unfit for our readers two years earlier. Tori knew about this and she was delighted. Not that anyone else noticed. Or if they did, nothing was said to me about it and the interview ran exactly as it was written.
However, here I should point out that the interviews and articles in this anthology were written for three different publications over an eighteen-year period and certain quotes and comments of mine do turn up time and time again, like that wonderfully demented idée fixe in Hector Berlioz’s Symphony Fantastique. And, why not? It’s all rock ‘n’ roll – even Symphony Fantastique, which could be said to have been a precursor to the Rolling Stones’ Sympathy For the Devil in ways, or indeed, to any of Tori’s tortured compositions. You could play any of that music while reading this book and I am sure it would be in tune with most of the text. But I believe it would be best of all if you read this book in silence. If only because, yes, you guessed it, the story Tori Amos: Soul Searching and Uncensored, has been Silent All These Years.
Joe Jackson. Glasthule, Dublin, Ireland December 18th 2012.