Y Kant Tori Read

Tori’s Style

Sunday 2 October 2011, by Cécile Desbrun

“You’ve got love ‘em. I was having fun trying to see how tall my hair could get. But that was the time: the girls and their hair, the boys and their black eyeshadow. You know what it is? It’s totally from Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion. I adore that movie! [she laughs and does her best Lisa Kudrow impression.] Duh!” (Alternative Press, July 1998)

“It’s hard not to notice a girl with two-foot hair and plastic snakeskin boots up to her thighs, unfortunately. That’s what my band, Y Kant Tori Read, was all about. I left home at 21 and I was off to the races.” (Vox, May 1994)

“I was a real sleazy, big hair rock chick. Real distant, look-but-don’t-touch. I wore my war medals with pride, but none of the songs were about me.” (Melody Maker, February 5, 1994)

As she moved to L.A. in 1984, Tori began sporting a different look but she went even further, kitsch-wise, when her band got signed by Atlantic to record a first album. She became a fiery redhead with really really tall hair, lots of make-up, thigh-high boots and wore sexy and a bit trashy clothes she bought at the accurately named Retail Slut in Los Angeles —a shop that still exists to this day. In one of the private pictures of this era published in the authorised biography All These Years, we can see Tori wearig a black bra and jeans that are... hmm... more than “torn.”

This underwear excessive look was representative of the 80s... you just have to watch old music videos to see how strong an influence the ‘hair bands’ had at the time. The problem being, this image didn’t suit Tori very well and she mostly conformed to what a ‘rock chick’ was supposed to look like in the musical industry to have some airplay. After spending years of sending demo tapes of her work to record companies only to see it rejected, she gave up her dear old piano and only used a keyboard to compose. “If I had grown up wanting to do cock rock, if that were my aspiration, then maybe it would have been different,” she wrote in her autobiography Piece by Piece in 2005. “I would have been happy in fishnets. But you see, I was brought in a tradition of musicians. I did not think I was a bimbo when I first heard Led Zeppelin at age five. I could see and hear how deep it could be. But clearly I got it very wrong in the 1980’s. I think when you chase somebody else’s notion of success, you’re bound to fail”.

Unfortunately, Tori didn’t understand how much she wanted to please everyone back then, and her looks in the artwork and promotion shots of Y Kant Tori Read are quite embarrassing... though the total excessiveness and the fact that she changed so much and became a renowned artist afterwards make it quite funny in retrospect. The strange thing about her outfits in the photographs or the video of “The Big Picture” is that they seem to constantly hesitate between a fiercely sexy look (the cover shot, the low-waist rubber pants with cropped satin bustier) and something more naive, almost childlike (the ‘pirate’ outfit, the white bride-like dress). But, in the end, the idea behind the fashion wasn’t clear at all and Tori looked far too soft to be credible in her character of amazon-like warrior.

Her producer at the time, Joe Chicarelli, told her how bad the CD cover looked and how it didn’t represent the music at all. She cried but didn’t change her mind, because it was her “pirate cover”: Chicarelli had given her the sword she holds in the photographs and the music video because she was so much into pirates at the time (that was even the title of one of the album’s songs) and she sticked to her idea... which didn’t translate since everyone thinks this is a samurai sword. The lace push-up bra showing through her bustier was also a bit ridiculous since it’s obvious she doesn’t have big breasts and she even joked about that in interviews: “[The picture sleeve] was a good dartboard for pinning the tail on at a bachelor party,” she thus told Q in February 1992. “What you want to embody has to be inside yourself,” she also told Keyboard magazine in June of that same year, “and this Amazon... (shakes her head) Although the body was fine, wasn’t it? (Laughs) But it had nothing to do with me, it was more of a kind of cry for help: ‘Please love me!’ Because, you know, when I was young I was always the good buddy, boys never asked me out, as opposed to my friends. The boys only called me to get their phone numbers. Maybe I wanted to get even with them with this picture. (Laughs)”

As a consequence, when the album was released, Billboard magazine wrote the following sentence that got to Tori pretty bad: “‘Unfortunately, provocative packaging sends the (inaccurate) message that this is so much more bimbo music.” A remark that Tori will later consider as being “fair enough.” “What was most difficult was that some women had been able to keep their integrity while I was sacrificing mine in the name of getting cocks hard,” she wrote in Piece by Piece. “When I was making Y Kant Tori Read, my executive producer was David Kirshenbaum and across town he was producing somebody called Tracy Chapman. He exposed me to her, and I couldn’t understand - wait a minute. Wait a minute. How come I’m the cheap hooker and she’s the poet? Then I looked at myself in the mirror and I said, ‘Well, you look like a cheap hooker.’”

After that harsh review in Billboard magazine, Tori tossed her clothes and make-up and, a few months later, would begin to write the songs that will become Little Earthquakes. Different time, different look...

information sources

Q, February 1992.
Keyboard Magazine - Germany edition, June 1992.
Melody Maker, February 5, 1994.
Vox, May 1994.
Alternative Press, July 1998.
Tori Amos, Ann Powers, Piece by Piece, 2005.