Song Analysis

Bells for Her

Monday 8 August 2011, by Cécile Desbrun

““Bells for Her” is the ending of a friendship, thinking that... this is my best friend forever, that only guys do this to each other.” (St Louis Post Dispatch, July 15, 1994)

"’Bells For Her’ is about loving a friend, even though you’ve been betrayed by them. The ache that you feel in that song is just admitting these things. It’s not saying: What is a spiritual path? It’s not like I wrote in Little Earthquakes - let’s break out the crystals and say a mantra. It’s that I want to find joy in my life, and part of finding you and a commitment of joy is not being a victim." (Schwann Spectrum, Spring 1994)

"Sometimes but not very often I journey to this place of bells I know I’m there when I see blue floodlights and I have no hunger for anything, husks of wedding dresses, horse carts, silver liberty churches-anything that I associate with bells remains unharvested until when I journey to this dimension of bells where I hear them like they never tasted before" (Under The Pink Songbook)

“Bells for Her” is the first song of a trinity on Tori’s second album Under the Pink about women manipulated by patriarchy and betraying each other. While “The Waitress” and “Cornflake Girl” address real anger and nastisness among women, the atmospheric and dreamy “Bells for Her” describes a more subtle form of betrayal: one in which another woman refuses to choose freedom to turn “[her] power over to a man ” [1] and turns against her best friend who tries to shake her back to her senses.

In the song, Tori is the friend painfully realizing that she’s losing her best friend and can’t do anything to save her from this situation or save their friendship, there is “no resolve,” hence the line “can’t stop what’s coming/can’t stop what is on its way” in the chorus. From “blankette girls,” inseparable friends, the two women have become “blank ettes,” strangers unable to communicate (“and now now I speak to you/are you in there/you have her face and her eyes/but you are not her”) and find back their complicity, their “thread and their bare.” “[...]what it means to me,” Tori elaborated in The Baltimore Sun on January 30, 1994, “is just blank women, chicks. Yet they were making mudpies and creating and it’s void now. And if you talk to people that know her, they think she’s a together, great babe. And if you talk to people that know me, I’m a together, great babe. And yet we just couldn’t do it.”

The sound of the prepared piano in the track, that sounds very much like the bells of the title, is pretty important as it translates the sadness and disillusion of the narrator who still loves her friend but have to let her go because they can’t work out of this situation. “The words and the music are trying to translate what the feeling was, I think it does, but the main thing about ‘Bells’ is that there is no resolve, and that’s what that whole song was saying. ‘Can’t stop what’s coming, can’t stop what is on its way.’ All I can do is respond truthfully, and the concept that we’ll always be friends, or we can always work it out, I would have bet you that I could have worked anything out with this person. I would have bet my hand I could have worked anything out. I’d be missing a hand right now. It’d be the one-armed Tori tour. I couldn’t have foreseen this. ”  [2] The bells more than seemingly refer to the wedding bells.

Except that in this case, it’s a pretty sad wedding since Tori’s friend chose to be with a man who doesn’t treat her well. “I’ve got to accept that everyone’s not gonna choose what I want them to choose,” she explained to B-Side Magazine, “and let’s take the next step: why do I need them to choose what I want them to choose? I wanted some of my friends to choose freedom, to choose empowerment. We talked about the word: this is empowerment, what we are talking about. To look in those places and own up! Own up to the fact that you are so bitter that no one wants to get near you because you’re a toxic release valve! I don’t want to hear about your background that made you that way. Yes, I do want to hear about it, but at a certain point it’s back to ‘Pretty Good Year.’” And if there’s this sense of loss and betrayal in the song, if there’s no resolve, it’s because the narrator’s friend doesn’t want to look truthfully at her situation and her responsibility in it... even though she’s probably been damaged by this man or even another male authority in her life. Which is why Tori defined the song as being “the scream of ‘no’ before you cut the chord and let them go. ” [3]

In the interview she recorded for the broadcast of her Montreal show on TV in November 1994, a choked-up Tori confessed she wrote the song about a recent personal experience with one of her best friends. “’Bells for Her’ is about a woman, a best friend. And now we just couldn’t communicate. She made choices that made her have to... She chose to be with a man that was treating her like dog shit. And by doing that she defended him and couldn’t look at what was really going on. So, when you can’t be truthful with your best friend... I couldn’t stay there and lie about it when I saw him destroy her. The good news is she finally got out of it. But not until this year ago.When ‘Bells for Her’ was written, I didn’t know if we’d ever speak again.” In her 2005 auto-biography Piece by Piece, Tori admitted her best friend Nancy Shanks she often refers to as Beenie, was actually the inspiration behind “Bells for Her” as well as “Cornflake Girl.”

information sources

Under The Pink songbook
The Baltimore Sun on January 30, 1994
Hot Press, February 23, 1994
Schwann Spectrum, Spring 1994
Philadelphia Daily News, March 24, 1994.
B-Side, April/May 1994
St Louis Post Dispatch, July 15, 1994
Tori Amos: Under the Pink Live in Montreal, November 9, 1994
Tori Amos, Ann Powers, Tori Amos: Piece by Piece, Doubleday Broadway Publishing, New York, 2005.

[1Philadelphia Daily News, March 24, 1994.

[2The Baltimore Sun, January 30, 1994.

[3Hot Press, February 23, 1994