Song Analysis

Amber Waves

Thursday 22 September 2011, by Cécile Desbrun

(Coming soon! In the meantime, read Tori’s quotes about the song)

"My character, Scarlet, gets a call from Amber - Amber Waves - and it’s clear that there’s something going on with her that um, makes me wanna go to be with her. I think there’s certainly people in your life that when they call, you go. They don’t call often and they don’t ask a lot. I don’t even know if she asked um, for very much, but there was something in her voice that said to me that it was time to put everything aside and go be with her. Once I started spending time with her, I started to let things happen, maybe spur of the moment, maybe watching her, keeping my eye on her, and realizing that I had to get her out of the places and get her away from the people that were making her see herself in a certain way, where she wasn’t a person anymore, she was an object. And this is compounded by the fact that we’re going to the porn awards. Amber is so in over her head at this point because, you know, her spirit’s not in her anymore, she can’t convince herself that there isn’t a piece of her soul being taken away now." (Scarlet Stories)

Scarlet’s Walk begins on the West Coast, where she visits Amber Waves, a phrase found in America The Beautiful and also the name of a porn star in the movie Boogie Nights. Amber’s in trouble. "She had arrived in the city of angels with a dream of being someone. But ‘from ballet class to lap dance and straight to video’, her soul has been slowly eroded. She’s still a young woman, perhaps in her late 20s. But the porn baron who made her a star has moved on to the next ingenue. The public has eaten her and spat her out and she has nobody who cares." So Scarlet and Amber undertake a journey, which eventually leads Scarlet to Alaska to see the Northern Lights. "There she’s given the message to tell Amber they’re not drowning, but waving." (Scarlet’s Walk bio)

"There’s nothing that I can seem to do to make Amber see herself how I see her. She’s lost pieces of herself that she can’t seem to reclaim. So the story takes off from there, and I meet people along the way. Events happen that make me question what I believe in and make me question what my country has been up to, and I start searching out answers: Who are the good guys? Because it doesn’t seem like the ones that are calling themselves the good guys are doing the things I thought they were in the country’s name." (, September 23, 2002)

"You find so many stories in Los Angeles. You see especially where all the movies come from - and how the game of chess works. Amber Waves is part of it - if she represents America or if she’s a woman, everybody decides for his- or herself. There’s this anthem with "amber waves of grain" in it - and then there is this porn star in Boogie Nights. She notices at a certain point that she has to learn to appreciate herself. L.A. doesn’t appreciate unconventional personalities. Too many [there] are standardized." (Rolling Stone German Edition, October 2002)

"Scarlet’s just a thread; that’s all she is. she goes out to see her friend, who’s a fading porn star called Amber Waves, and if that’s a woman, or America personified, you take it as you will. that’s how we start." (The Music Monitor October 2002)

"She’s getting pimped out. Also, the word ’fading’ porn star — in this song, it’s not as if she’s exactly fresh meat. She’s made certain choices that she has to come to terms with. They’re haunting her now, so it seemed to me that that’s very much where America is at today." (New York Daily News October 18, 2002)

"I don’t know if I could’ve made this record without being a mother, just because there is an aspect of communication... Scarlet goes first to a troubled friend, a porn star named Amber Waves. Whether that’s America or a woman, or both. And I think that there is a maternal compassion that she has, this confused character, and she doesn’t know how she feels about it. And she knows she can’t find the answers without a mother figure around." (Women Who Rock, Fall 2002)

"Scarlet’s Walk starts with the song ’Amber Waves,’ and ’A Sorta Fairytale’ is the second song. Scarlet has come back from being with her friend Amber Waves, a fading porn star. When you’re in Los Angeles, you see these young gals that have just come to town, thinking, ’Hey I’m going to do something with myself.’ But they go from ballet class to a lap-dance and then straight to video. They don’t mean to get drawn in - it’s [just meant to make] a little money on the side. I was having coffee with one of these gals a while ago. She looked at me and said, [whispers] ’I’m doing despicable things right now somewhere in some boy’s bedroom.’ I said, ’We’re having coffee. How are you doing that?’ She said, ’That’s me. I’m really doing that and I’ll always be doing that.’ [Porn is] not all beautiful airbrushed stuff. It’s being defecated on and being abused as a woman. In a way, it’s a metaphor for America. ( October 28, 2002)

"Scarlet is my character in the story. She starts off going to see a friend who’s a fading porn star, Amber Waves. I go to L.A., to the other side of the 405 (freeway), where all the cheesy porn movies are made. I know there are great ones, but I’m not talking about the great ones. Poor Amber." (USA Today October 31, 2002)

On the other side of that there’s the dream that a lot of people, a lot of women, have about becoming famous. I want to be a dancer, I want to become famous, I want to get known."

"It’s what I’m talking about in Amber Waves, where this porn-star woman looks around after years of her life and realises that she can’t get back the pieces of herself she’s sacrificed to become who she is. There’s a line in that song that says, "there’s not a lot of me left anymore..." I think as a nation, America might be in a similiar position."

"You know, once I was talking to one of those woman over coffee and she used to do that stuff. And she’d come to an understanding with herself, it was a light conversation. But she told me that even as she was talking to me, somewhere, in someone else’s room she was committing the most despicable acts on video. And she can’t ever take those moments back." (Hot Press November 20, 2002)

"When I was starting out in L.A., I saw it from the bottom up. Women would come to town and they thought they’d be actresses. One thing leads to another and before they know it, some of them are involved pretty deeply in porn. I’m talking about women that allowed things to be done to them that they’re questioning now. So I really liked the idea that Amber Waves is America personified, that she’s teetering; she’s involved in stuff that she knows isn’t great for her soul anymore and I felt America’s spirit like that. By the album’s end, many things have happened. Scarlet has to find out how she’s going to walk her walk. She realizes that she’s talked about it, but she hasn’t yet walked it." (MetroSource February/March 2003)

"If I’ve chosen to tell a little of the life of Amber, this porn star, it’s because I’ve really met this kind of characters in reality, in different shapes, the same way I met the manic-depressive or all of the other protagonists of this record. Amber’s character seduced me with her story, her life and her worries. She’s a resident of this country just as any other American woman. Really! I don’t see why I should keep her out of anything. She has rights like anybody else in this country." (Keyboard April 2003)

Ryan: Ok, so it works. And so the journey starts in southern California.

Tori: Yeah, in the valley, and I go see my friend the porn star.

Ryan: Why are you going to see the porn star?

Tori: Because she called me.

Ryan: She called. Why’d she call?

Tori: She’s having a tough time.

Ryan: She is? Well, she’s in porn.

Tori: She has to, well, she has to go to the Porno Awards. She’s giving one.

Ryan: In Vegas.

Tori: In Vegas, which we Ryan: Which is a stop.

Tori: Which is where we go. We take that trip and the whole thing about it is, is she’s presenting, she’s not getting one. And it’s just...

Ryan: She’s very upset about that. That happened to me at the Teen Choice Awards.

Tori: But, don’t you think... See, I’ve known women over the years that, at the time they came to LA, um, they were dancers, they had dreams, and said, "Hey, just a little bit here, just a little bit there." And then, before they know it, they’re involved, it’s good money, and sometimes it’s straight to video. I’m talking about porn, yeah.

Ryan: It’s not many people’s dream to be a porn star. Many women, I would think.

Tori: No, but it’s, but it’s what they get from it. They can, they maybe have a kid, they can, they can help pay for it...

Ryan: They make good money.

Tori: Yeah, but it’s for many reasons why some of them do it. And it just, I’ve always had a place in my heart for these women. I have a lot of time for them.

Ryan: So they’re not, they’re not naughty people. They’re not people that are sex-crazed lunatics. These are people that came out with a separate goal, separate missions, separate dreams and fell into it.

Tori: I think you would be surprised. There’s, some of their stories are really intriguing. And some of these women have been very good acquaintances of mine and I have a real soft place. They, and they were a good friend to me. (Star 98.7 August 19, 2002)

"I investigated a similar character in ’Amber Waves,’ on Scarlet’s Walk. The Magdalene and America are really good synonyms, because they’ve both been pimped out, though they always resurface. I’m taking about the land of America now, not the government. She appeared to me as a fading porn star. That character is based on an acquaintance of mine who had turned her life over to a man; I was watching her demise. In part it comes from a film too -in Boogie Nights, the Julianne Moore character’s name is Amber Waves. But in the end, she’s just another version of the Magdalene. That’s why the song is sexy and not just sad. She retains her dignity in her soul by asking the question ’Are the Northern Lights drowning or are they just waving ?’ (Piece By Piece, p. 97.)