Friday, July 29, 2011

Reading Tori Amos and Patti Smith

I've been on a music biographies kick. I go through this phase periodically, usually when repeatedly dragging my keyboard to the depths of the Lower East Side gets me down and I need to be reassured that yes, other musicians have been successful, and yes, they were real people and not mythological holograms.

I'm currently working my way through Tori Amos: Piece by Piece. I've been drawn to Tori for several years-- I relate to her tales of how religious family life influences her writing and I often cite her as an influence even though I never can wrap my head around her lyrics. What shocks me about this book is how little Tori and I have in common. We're both preacher's kids, but I quietly accepted and deeply internalized my religion while she began rebelling against the patriarchy of it from day one. She connects with the Gnostic Gospels and Native American beliefs while my spirituality has never been remotely fluid. She invokes the "sacred and the sexual" while the idea of the two merging is difficult for me. I am fascinated by her strong sense of self and how different we are. The book scoffs at her "fairy princess" label but the more I read, the more I think of her as just that for her ability to float between worlds, to harness the power of different cultures and yet still remain untouched.

Earlier in the kick, I found unexpected inspiration from Patti Smith's Just Kids. I have to admit that I had no idea who Patti Smith was before reading it (shame, I know) but it came highly recommended from so many different people that I picked it up from the library … and devoured it. Unlike Tori, Patti seems within reach. She spends so much of the book wandering around without a plan, convinced Robert is so much more together than she is, not even making music. Somehow she kept putting one foot in front of the other until everything came together, and her seemingly aimless journey became her story. Patti lit a fire under me. I started taking guitar lessons again, took gigs in other cities, and experienced *gasp* faith in myself.

We always think our heroes are these superhuman creatures living on a higher plane, unwilling to extend us a ladder. But in fact they live the day-to-day just like we do. The only thing separating us from who we want to be is a willingness to work and never give up.

What should I read next? Please don't tell me my arch-nemesis Katy Perry is coming out with a biography … and don't say Justin Bieber either. I'll cry.