Song Analysis

Cloud on My Tongue

Monday 8 August 2011, by Cécile Desbrun

“‘Cloud on My Tongue’ dealing with Eve... dealing with feeling inferior, that somebody else has something that you want.” (B-Side, April/May 1994)

“Because I travel a lot around the world, and I went to all sorts of places, and I ran in to different people. Borneo had something that I didn’t have. It was a very free, hot, jungly place, and the people that, or a person that came from there, had something that I didn’t have that I desperately wanted, which was this no rigidity.” (The Baltimore Sun, January 30, 1994)

“Cloud On My Tongue” tells the story of a woman who fell for a seductive man who turns out to be a womanizer (“hard to hide a hundred girls in your hair”). It’s not really clear if the relationship ever existed or if the man only seduced her but nothing really happened between them but the narrator thought he had a sincere interest in her and was shocked to realize it didn’t mean a thing to him, that he had seduced her the same way he could have seduced another woman.

Tori explained the song was about a personal experience she had with a man but never gave really clear details on the matter. What she told over the years was that during the Little Earthquakes World Tour, a very hot man came to see her backstage and asked her to take her away for four days to go to Borneo in the tropics, a place he claimed he was coming from. Tori was with Eric Rosse at the time and he was there that day, so she apparently had to decline, but felt seduced to the point “the word ’cloning’ really did come into mind," as she witfully said before singing the song at a show in 1999. What kept fans talking, however, was that the lyrics of the song and Tori’s anecdote matched almost perfectly what she had told about her meeting with Red Hot Chili Peppers’ leader Anthony Kiedis, that occured around the same time.

During an audio interview (available on the Summertime bootleg), she recounted the way they met in the following terms:

"The funniest - the most embarrassing thing was Anthony Kiedis from the Chili Peppers came up to me and said ’Hi, I really like your music’ and...oh I can’t tell you what he said next! But I said, ’What’s your name?’ (laughs) And I felt so - it wasn’t because I’m not a fan of the music it’s just that he had the most interesting get up. I didn’t know it was a human being. He had this aviator cap on and this whole get up and I didn’t realize who it was. And when I found out...I had read an article he had written in Details on the plane a month before I met him and it said - now I’m telling you something you can’t like tell him because it’d be very embarrassing - but he said what he would do — how much he loved women and how he would, um, romance a woman. And with so many men in the business being god knows what. You don’t know if they’re into dinosaurs or what they’re into these days. It was just a real - all the - all the, uh, women I was with were completely just blushing, and we’re, you when I met him and I found out who it was, all I could think about was ’I feel like I’m 13 years old. I have to leave because...’ Um, I should just shut my mouth! I’m sorry, but it was an interesting embarrassing moment because, you know, it’s hard not to like Anthony. Anthony is just somebody that — let’s be honest about it — he’s just somebody that you could run away with. He’s that kind of person. But, you know, he’d run away with 10 million women, and I’m not a habit. I’m a lifestyle. I will not be a habit for a man ever can never happen."

Something that Tori didn’t say but that is very well know however, was that Anthony spent a long time in Borneo around 1994 and often talked about it. He has also long hair (“hard to hide a hundred girls in your hair”) and many tattoos (“You’re already in there/I’ll be wearing your tattoo”) so fans were very fast to suspect that Kiedis was the famous man that came to see Tori backstage and inspired her “Cloud On My Tongue ” and even argued that the cover of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ album One Hot minute (1995) was a nod to Tori since we can see a drawing representing a redhead playing the piano, where is sat... a fairy, Tori’s beloved magical creatures she talked a lot about at the time. Tori never identified the rock-star as the inspiration behind the song and often made a point of saying “It’s not who you think” when she told the anecdote of the man in Borneo in concert.

Back to the song. The narrator feels lost because she put all her power in that man and realizes she was drawn to him because she felt he had something she didn’t. “Sometimes I feel inferior to men who have this raw wolf energy,” she thus told Creem in March 1994. “The concept of free expression in your life. I have it in my work but not in my life. So when I meet these people who have it, I want to get close to them because... [... ] I try and suck their energy, that’s what I do.” This very thematic will take center stage on her following record, Boys for Pele, that she described as an album where she reclaimed her own fire instead of stealing it from the men she was attracted to.

Whether the song was inspired by Kiedis or not, she doesn’t refer to the location of Borneo just for autobiographical reasons, however. “Borneo has a very hot and wet climate,” she said to WHFS in March 1994, hence the line “Leave me with your Borneo/I don’t need much to keep me warm.” Again, this echoes back to what Tori said about her intimate life at that time: she felt sensual and alive on stage but dry and powerless when she went home. The narrator of the song suggest to the man to “leave the wood outside” because she already has his Borneo to keep her warm, while “all the girls here are freezing cold” suggest women feeling dry and needing men (or their desire for men, at least) to feel sensual.

When she sings to him “you can go now ” and “you’re already in there,” it’s a way to say she’s already “pregnant” or “just infused,” as she told the Baltimore Sun in January 1994. “You don’t even have to hang around and watch me disintegrate, because you’ve already done your job. You’ve already accomplished what you wanted, which was another scalp on your belt, and you did it. That’s not one of my more favorite men songs. (...) My only problem was, I said ‘You can go now’ after he was already in there. I mean, it had done—it was already planted, so whatever it was, that’s where I think ‘Cloud’ balances out "Baker Baker" a bit, because it’s the shadow side. She’s not ignorant. She knows exactly what’s happening. (...) I think she went into the wrong state. She went into Borneo.”

The song, with its delicate and haunting piano, is very sensory musically, but it’s also something that’s translated in the lyrics with this wonderful image: “got a cloud sleeping on my tongue/it goes and it goes.” When asked about how this brilliant figure of speech came to her, she replied: “...cause I didn’t wanna... I didn’t... My pride wouldn’t let me cry in front of this person. And that’s what it felt like - I didn’t want to cry. I couldn’t, I just couldn’t. ” [1] Funny to note how her tears melt into a cloud on her tongue while on Little Earthquakes she had a ‘tear in her hand.’ But despite its disenchanted tone, the song is not exactly desperate and Tori pointed out that there was “a wonderful acceptance in ‘Cloud On My Tongue,’ an acceptance of being in circles and circles again. That its whirlpool vat. It all leads to that. ” [2] The circles figure of course musically translates in the song by its cyclic melody and structure.

information sources

The Baltimore Sun, January 30, 1994.
WHFS, March 1994.
Creem, March 1994.
World Cafe, March 18, 1994.
B-Side, April/May 1994.
1994 audio interview, Summertime bootleg.
Tori intro to “Cloud On My Tongue” during the Providence show, November 30, 1999.

[1World Cafe, March 18, 1994.

[2The Baltimore Sun, January 30, 1994.