clap clap blog: we have moved

Tuesday, March 01, 2005
So I'm not quite sure how I think about this. If you're wondering exactly what I'm wondering about, well, it's the first line:

I’m going to hell anyway, so I may as well come out and say what you’d be thinking if you sat all the way through Tori Amos’ career from Y Kant Tori Read to The Beekeeper: the only way that we’re going to get a good album from her in this day and age is if someone has the decency to abduct and kill her daughter.
Now, I've probably made some variation of this comment at some point in my life, maybe even more than once. And I recognize that it's meant in jest, and lord knows I'm OK with offensive humor. But it still rubs me the wrong way for some reason. Maybe part of it is what the author said in this ILM thread:

Q: Dom, what earthly reason do you have for starting your review like that?
A: 300% readership increase. Welcome to capitalism.
Uh, yeah dude, capitalism. I don't think that's quite the word you're looking for.

I think the issue here is not that what he said is offensive, but that it's wrong, as in inaccurate, and while I'm always OK with wrong, funny, offensive things used to make some sort of point, here the point isn't followed up on, and he's admitting that the whole thing is purely self-serving, which makes it way more icky.

The simple fact is, there are much better reasons for Tori's musical decline than a simple lack of tragedy in her life, as becomes abundantly clear from just the first few chapters of the book she just put out: the lady's insulated herself from criticism. Plus, the only good song directly influenced by a particular tragedy is "Me & A Gun"--"Spark" kinda sucks, and the two albums not directly following harrowing events are the best, Under the Pink and Boys For Pele. The problem isn't a lack of bad things happening, it's the support structure she's developed, which seems to be a wee bit too nuturing for there to be real artistic growth.

Now, you could have taken this statement--which is, indeed, an exaggerated version of what presumably more than a few Tori fans have thought in their darker moments--and, instead of simply letting it sit there as fact, pointed out the ways Tori herself invites these kind of critiques. She's built her career and public image around being a sort of arbiter and resevoir of grief. She even says in the book that she's like her preacher father, who she recalls as spending a lot of his time dealing with death, consoling loved ones, presiding over funerals, etc. She calls it "holding a space," and says, "it's one I have to find in performance, when people are bringing their grief to me in a similar way." Eww! But Tori, you're not a preacher, and it's not one-on-one. (And I've been to the motherfucking meet-and-greets. Still not one-on-one, I'm sorry.) You're a goddamned pop star.

So yes, what I'm saying is that these are expectations that Tori hasn't done anything to deflate, that she has, in fact, encouraged them by everything she's done. True, she's never talked about her miscarriages to the extent that she does in the book, but that's even worse--she just gave us a general overview, "this album was about my miscarriage," without filling in the more human details. While in the early albums there was a strength to it, an ownership to the grief, by the time Choirgirl came around it started to feel a little, well, exhibitionistic.

Now, I'm not going to put the blame for this solely on Tori. The fact is, we encourage our musicians, especially women, to be exhibitionistic about their grief, to sell it to us, to reflect our own ideas of escalated sadness. There are economic incentives to commodify your tragedy, and that Tori did it is not surprising, especially given how well she did it at first, how transcendently. But by continuing to do it, she just perpetuated this idea of suffering as artistic worth, and this is an idea that's caused all sorts of problems for all sorts of artists, successful and, worse, unsuccessful. It's one of the most repulsive things about art, to me, and it's one of the reasons I'm so anti-tragedy. (And, coincidentally, anti-Arcade Fire, but again, only one of the reasons.)

So by beginning the review in this way and by failing to follow up on it, Passantino commits essentially the same sin as Amos herself: he validates this idea of suffering-as-worth, sacrificing his good sense for purely self-interested reasons, and allows it to perpetuate rather than challenging it, putting its feet to the fire, and this, ultimately, is why I think the whole thing makes me feel icky. As one commenter said (and you have to filter out all the Tori-fan blather, you just can't help those people), it does feel a bit Pitchforky.