Song Analysis

The Waitress

Monday 8 August 2011, by Cécile Desbrun

“Because in honesty, I used to say, "I’m not violent, I’m a peacemaker." And here I am in "The Waitress" with no problems ready to rip her head off.” (The Baltimore Sun, January 30, 1994)

“The Waitress” is the second of three tracks on Under the Pink that deals with women betraying each other. The song is musically divided in two opposite poles: the calm but very tense verses with the threatening guitars in the background, and the violent outburst of the chorus. Though it’s the track just before “Cornflake Girl,” the third song sharing this subject matter, Tori considers it’s “the next step in ‘Cornflake,’” which talked about Tori being confronted to bitchy women.Here, the narrator of the song has to deal with her own violence when an argument with a “fellow waitress” puts her in an almost-murderous rage. “’The Waitress’ is how I can’t control my violence, and in this one situation, we’re both equals, we’re both waitresses in this song, “she explained to the Baltimore Sun in January 1994. “I don’t go into the details of why. Why isn’t the issue. The issue is that I thought I was a peacemaker, and this violence has totally taken control of every belief system that I have. It’s a very scary thing, especially after you talk about anti-violence.”

Because of course, Tori’s already been on the other side: she’s already been a victim of violence and she’s a great example of compassionate woman. Definitely not the kind who judges people harshly and goes aggressively after them. And yet, the narrator, Tori’s alter-ego, screams “But I believe in peace, bitch” in the chorus and has to acknowkledge the extreme reaction she has toward someone who probably isn’t worth it, a bitchy fool. “It was just shocking for me to have to deal with that part of myself. First, of course, you acknowledge it, and then you go, if I don’t control it, I could end up in jail with a broomstick up my ass for the next 30 years. That’s no fun. I could, like, go to Italy and have good fettucine. That would be a drag, and I’m sure that there are people out there that just snap that one millimeter more. I mean, what is it that keeps us—there’s something obviously in us that keeps us from taking that step .” [1]

The song addresses its subject with humour (“I want to kill this waitress/she’s worked here a year longer than I/If I did it fast/you know, that’s an act of kindness;” “is all her power is her club sandwich?”) and in the form of a modern tale: two fellow waitresses working in the same restaurant, the narrator’s Nemesis has been working here “a year longer” than her and maybe abuses the power this gives her, there’s no details about their argument actually, like Tori said. More than a song about an argument between two women that turns into a cat fight, the song rather deals with “the feelings of wanting to kill her, and what that brings up. I should feel terrible, but I don’t. Uh-oh. ”  [2]

“The Waitress” was the last song to be written for Under the Pink. In an interview for Blender Magazine in February 2002, Tori explained that Paul McKenna, one of the producers, told her he thought something was missing on the record and that 48 hours later, she had an “horrible argument with this waitress.” It’s hard to know if this woman was really a waitress since Tori came up with different versions in 1994 without clearly identifying the person in question. The song is a parabol and the job of waitress seemed like the perfect one for that story of two women competing each other and tearing each other apart for something that’s probably not such a big deal. One anecdote she told a few times in interview to talk about the song was how she was angered by an article some female journalist wrote about her. Refering to “Me and a Gun,” a song about her rape, that journalist wrote that Tori looked like “a shivering waif in the forest.”

Thus, she told Rolling Stone in their November 1994 special issue: “Oh, I laugh my head off when some woman calls me a shivering waif in the forest. I’m like ‘OK, sister, you get raped and get ready to get cut up, and then write about it and sing it. And you have the balls to call me a waif shivering in the forest.’ That’s why I wrote ‘Cornflake Girl’ and ‘The Waitress.’ That to me is a lizard running around with a pussy. It’s not a woman to me. She ruined her rights as a woman. So what if I sing like the Little Mermaid?” Whether that woman was the original inspiration behind the song or not, Tori told that the person she had this incident with “became the embodiment of a few women in my life that I was having it out with.” When Paul McKenna listened to Under the Pink after the recording of the song, he told her, "The record’s complete.”

information sources

The Baltimore Sun, January 30, 1994.
St Louis Post Dispatch, July 15, 1994.
Rolling Stone, November 1994.
Blender Magazine, February/March 2002.

[1The Baltimore Sun, January 30, 1994.

[2St Louis Post Dispatch, July 15, 1994.