Thursday, November 24, 2005

Tori Amos: An Interview

by Thomas Dimopoulos

“Hello,” said the voice, a faint trace of Gaelic mist in her tone.
“This is Tori.
And I’m going into a tunnel.”

Her verse is a rich prose where ancient myth blends with modern archetypes.
Her music, at least in part, comes from the Bosendorfer — a type of piano
made in Vienna, Austria.

To her inspired following of “Toriphiles,” she is nothing less than
an alternate source of life energy — although Amos is humble
in the praise and says she doesn’t want to be placed on any kind of pedestal.

To more than one music reviewer, she has been labeled as making strange
and spacey comments during interviews. The labels are easy to come by:
Minister’s daughter. Child prodigy of the piano.
High school homecoming queen and student of Gnostic gospels.

Archetypes of the public relations grist mill, or is it?

“I’m going into a tunnel,” she said on the road from her cell phone.

Already, the spacey-ness had begun.

In her most recent release, “The Beekeeper,” Amos creates
multiple layers of a symbolic musical garden.

So what was this metaphorical tunnel?
A symbolic return to birth. Perhaps.
A re-creation of the garden — Mary’s original garden.
Was this the tunnel of first creation?
Was it Eden?
Was it Heaven?
Just where was this mystical tunnel?

“Connecticut,” she said. “We’re on our way to a show in Wallingford, Conn.
I’m on a cell phone in the bus and we’re going into a tunnel,
so I may lose you.”

Oh, THAT tunnel.

Monday, she will celebrate a birthday.
Tuesday, Amos’ Original Sinsuality tour will head to Saratoga for a performance at SPAC.

As a songwriter, Amos says the creativity comes in forms of both music and lyric.

“Basically it’s a combination,” she said.
“Ideas are always around us. Some don’t make us immediately jump up — because we’re so comfortable with our feet up on the couch
and we don’t want to get up.
Then there are other ideas that are buried in our own consciousness —
like an invisible tattoo —
and I walk around with these ideas,” Amos said.

“There’s a beautiful silver web, the creatrix, and it’s connected to ideas and visuals.
I’ll see it in a Chagall painting, or in a picture from a photographer taken in the 1950s.I also work with archetypes that capture the emotion,” Amos said.

“We’re all made up of different archetypes and if you’re open to it, it can be a powerful experience.”

For this particular leg of the tour, Amos is using New York City as a hub.
It is where she was nearly four years ago on Sept. 11.
Her cross-country travels have delivered an unusual perspective on the country then, and now.

“There was a shift that occurred, a few shifts,” said Amos,when asked if she could perceive a changing consciousness during the past four years.

“At first, there was an outpouring of love for fellow human beings and there was a grieving.
Then there was shock.
Shock that we were going to war,” she said.

Today, after the shock has worn off, people are looking at the realities from a different perspective.

“I’ll meet mothers who have a son in Iraq, and they’ll say: Can you play ‘Winter’?
With tears in their eyes, they will ask: Can you play ‘Ribbons Undone'?
That is the consciousness of where we are now.
Or, at least that is my experience in the people that I meet.”

Music aside, Amos said one of her favorite films is the Wayans Brothers’ comedy “White Chicks.”
“It made me laugh and laugh.”

For reading material there is Joseph Campbell’s
“The Power of Myth.” Currently, she is engaged in the James Hollis book,
“Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life: How to Finally, Really Grow Up.”

“It is about finding meaning and creating a path for the next generation to fulfill,” Amos said.

The search for meaning and the act of taking responsibility is a reccuring theme.

“We may want to run for the hills, but we can’t, because who else
will deal with it?
Who will pay the bills, and deal with problems.
Who will bring the kids to the doctor?” said Amos, whose traveling companion
is her 4-year-old daughter Tash — short for Natashya.

“We are the grunge generation,” she said.
“Even if we come wearing high heels and bearing an acoustic piano.”

Accepting responsibility, Amos said, is best engaged with bravery
and vitality.

“This is our role. Carrying on in our personal life. Carrying it in our professional life and meeting the challenges of our generation.”

Her voice strong, as the signal clear, coming out of the tunnel.

Published in The Saratogian, Aug. 19, 2005.

Tori Amos: Magical Show at SPAC

SARATOGA SPRINGS -Tori Amos had a day off on Monday.
She celebrated her 42nd birthday at the Spa Park springs and was inspired to write three songs, she told the crowd of 5,000 at SPAC Tuesday night.

They had gathered to witness Amos' solo performance of her Original Sinsuality/Summer
of Sin Tour.

Amos commanded the sparse stage, which was decorated by the ancient symbolism of a half-bitten apple and the tree of life from which was coiled a tongue-flicking snake.

At one end stood the grand piano, which she alternately pounded and caressed, her eyes
fixated on a spot in the distance. She was both introspective and alluring, simmering and seductive. Reeling her off-the-shoulder piano rolls with a breathless voice, she was
at her best in the exotic intimacies she projected in the song 'Icicle.'

Then she would swivel around, face left, and attack the organ, spitting out syllables and
writhing to the sassy intensity of 'Siren,' her head thrown back and appearing not unlike a possessed concert genius of the middle ages.

Amos performed an 18-song set - on multiple keyboards - that spanned her entire career, including early songs 'China,' 'Mother' and 'Sugar.'

She elected to stay away from her better-known hits, instead challenging listeners to tune in
for a two-hour ride into her hypnotic symphony. Those courageous enough to take the chance were treated to a performance that took on all the intimacy of the songwriter's creative vision.

Amos drew comparisons to British singer Kate Bush early in her career. On this night, during the cover song segment called 'Tori's Piano Bar,' Amos met the challenge head on. She performed -- for the first ever time she announced - the Kate Bush song 'And Dream of Sheep,' and followed with a fine rendition of Cat Stevens' 'Moonshadow.'

It was on her own material that she excelled, at times straddling the bench where she was seated, often with one hand on the piano and the other on the organ. Her voice clipped the lyrics of her prose to create counter rhythms to the music as the bright beams of back-light silhouetted her form.

The best of these were the deep, funereal tones of 'Spark,' as an illuminating silver frost turning blood red, and the intense surrealism of 'The Beekeeper' - the title track of her most recent release - its deep humming organ stirring the base of the spine and buzzing the nervous system while her voice vibrated through the open-air hall and soared deep into the clear August night.

A pair of Los Angeles-based bands appeared earlier in the evening.
The Like performed a brief and pleasant psychedelic-Beatlesque set at dusk. Also appearing were The Ditty Bops, a strum and fiddle ensemble, bringing a bluegrass meets the Andrews Sisters mix into their 21st century eclecticism.

By Thomas Dimopoulos
The Saratogian, Aug. 25, 2005.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Moody Blues: Live? Not in your Wildest Dreams

SARATOGA SPRINGS - Thousands of music fans solemnly filed through the gates of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center Sunday night to pay their final respects to the memory of the Moody Blues.

Beginning their evening with the popular strains of "Lovely to See You," the Moodies took
to the stage accompanied by the swirling psychedelics of a magenta-tinged backdrop. Supplemented by a quartet of musicians, longtime band members Justin Hayward, John Lodge and Graeme Edge performed 19 songs, plus intermission, for the next hour and 45-minutes.

The majority of songs were culled from the band's songbook between 1967 and 1972. The melancholy 1980s tune "(In) Your Wildest Dreams," joined a smattering of other "recent" numbers, performed while images of old album covers and vintage band photos were projected on the backdrop of the stage like a corporate meeting slide show.

Hayward, who sang from his position at center stage, played guitar with a minimum of movement. Wearing pleated suit pants and a button-down shirt, he did not look out of place
in the business-like environment.

The Sunday night crowd listened patiently to the toe-tapping tunes - "Tuesday Afternoon," "Question," "Ride my See-Saw," and "(I'm Just a Singer in a)Rock & Roll Band," - and clapped in between the band's numbers, politely.

For the Moodies' signature tune, "Nights in White Satin," Hayward conjured up as much emotion as was possible on a song he has been singing night after night for the past 38 years.

One of the evening's most humorous moments occurred when percussionist Graeme Edge climbed out from behind his drum kit and walked to the front of the stage. After surveying the crowd, he told them there were so many men with white hair and long beards in the audience
he thought he was looking out on a sea of Santa Clauses.

Then the 64-year-old drummer commenced banging a tambourine and doing a jig across the
lip of the stage, his own white hair and beard flopping in the commotion, as the band
performed "Higher and Higher" behind him - a sonic ode from 1969 inspired by NASA's
lunar landing.

This coming on a night, strangely enough, that a rocket was honing in on its strike at a comet 83 million miles above the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.

For the crowd, it was a moment of levity among the otherwise moody memorial, celebrating what was, once upon a time, in their wildest dreams.

by Thomas Dimopoulos
The Saratogian, July 5, 2005.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Marshall Crenshaw: An Interview

ALBANY- Marshall Crenshaw works a few nights a month, criss-crossing the country, then returns to Brooklyn to take care of things at home.

“In the past couple of years, I’ve been doing solo performances pretty often,” said the man
best known for the hit songs he's given to others.

"I tend to go out a couple of days at a time,” he explains, referring to a work schedule that allows him to perform regularly and still spend time with his family.
“I play on the weekends and come back in time to bring my kids to school on Monday morning.”It is a home life that includes a 4-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son.

Never known for possessing a great technical voice, Crenshaw’s talent comes in scripting the verses of the love-struck and the love-lorn. Matching phrases with catchy tunes, his compositions have achieved their greatest popularity delivered by the likes of Bette Midler,
The Gin Blossoms and Robert Gordon.

There’s an honesty that permeates Crenshaw’s recent release, “I’ve Suffered For My Art ... Now It’s Your Turn.”
The 14-track CD captures the songwriter on stage, mostly sans band, in a February 2001 live appearance at Asbury Park’s famed Stone Pony.

The stripped-down renditions of “Someday, Someway,” “Cynical Girl,” and “Whenever
You’re On My Mind” are redefined in their new embryonic state.
Mostly. it is the integrity of his voice that rings true. His voice is an instrument that creaks as much as it soars, yet breaks, aches and careens down a familiar highway of everything that
makes rock ‘n’ roll fun.

“I try to get a rhythmic foundation, a groove,” Crenshaw said of his songwriting process.
“The first idea is tempo and feel. I’m looking for something that feels good to hear and perform, and something that rings true emotionally for me.”

He is celebrating the 20-year anniversary since his self-titled debut record was issued.
Early in his career, Crenshaw happened upon a number of acting roles. He played John Lennon in “Beatlemania” and Buddy Holly in “La Bamba,” although these “came at me from left field,” he said. While “they were pleasant surprises” at the time, he has no designs for pursuing an acting career he says.
His early influences remain a mainstay today, and listens mostly to ‘60s music, jazz, and
rhythm and blues, as well as being partial to the sound of vinyl for capturing the essence of the period in which the songs were recorded.
“At times it seems that here’s something lacking in the electronic transformation,” he said, referring to the transition from vinyl to CD. Life has been a transition as well for the New York City resident, post Sept. 11.
“You see the altered skyline all the time," says Crenshaw, always on his mind. "The emotional shock is still there with me.”

by Thomas Dimopoulos
The Saratogian, March 14, 2002.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Phil Ramone: Music legend speaks at Skidmore

SARATOGA SPRINGS - Inside the gold-record-plated walls of the music industry,
Phil Ramone is a living legend.

For those to whom his name rings a vague bell of recognition, it should be explained that Phil Ramone is not a leather jacket-wearing punkster coming to serenade with a rendition of 'Blitzkrieg Bop.'
Nor is he the gun-toting record producer known for inventing the 'wall of sound.'

Ramone's 40 years of music engineer and music producing work can be found in the liner notes of some of the most popular records of the 20th century, and in collaborations with everyone from Frank Sinatra to the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Speaking at Skidmore College Tuesday night, Ramone offered advice to a crowd made up of students and music fans.

He explained his success by having a passion for the work, and understanding the ego-less psychology of 'the world behind the glass.'

When asked about work during Simon & Garfunkel's on-again, off-again friendship during their recording of 'Concert in Central Park,' Ramone laughed that his biggest accomplishment was in keeping the two apart off-stage.

He also shared some wisdom for students having doubts about a career in music in the 21st century: 'Let your passion and your belief drive what you do.'

Ramone's passion began at the age of 3, when he started playing the violin. By time he was 10 years old, he had played a command performance for Queen Elizabeth. A decade later, he was the music producer when Marilyn Monroe sang 'Happy Birthday' at President Kennedy's birthday party. Subsequent White House gigs under the Johnson and Carter administrations followed.

He also had a hand early in his career in the recording of Procol Harum's 'Whiter Shade of Pale,' Arlo Guthrie's 'Alice's Restaurant' and Peter, Paul & Mary's 'Leaving on A Jet Plane.'

The past 30 years brought dozens of more artists into the fold. Last month, Ramone added three more Grammy Awards to his collection - bringing the total to 12 - and next month,
he'll be in Las Vegas making a live recording at Caesar's Palace with Elton John.

His philosophy, he said, remains simple: 'Let's just go in there and not be afraid to make mistakes.'

One of the things he is committed to nowadays is developing what he calls 'surround sound.' Two years ago, he worked on the re-issuing of Bob Dylan's 'Blood on the Tracks.'
Happy with the outcome, Ramone said his goal was: 'I wanted you to be able to hear it like
Bob was sitting right in front of you.'

Ramone's son, B.J., a student at Skidmore, attended his father's talk, and will be graduating shortly with a music degree in music. The young man said he was thrilled his father was on campus, teaching students and sharing his knowledge. The fame aspect of his father's job is something he takes with a grain of salt.

He has heard the stories about Barbra Streisand rocking him in her arms when he was a baby, and about Billy Joel singing to his mother's stomach when he was in the womb.

'To me, he's the normal guy I have dinner with, the guy I call Papa,' he said.

By Thomas Dimopoulos
The Saratogian, March 23, 2005