Tori (Terra-Tories)

Saturday 27 August 2011, by Cécile Desbrun

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

Even though she created alternate identities for herself on the album, Tori chose to personnify herself as the fifth member and frontwoman of the posse to give a certain coherence and depth to this concept of dismembered feminine. If Pip, Santa, Clyde and Isabel are all parts of her own self representing different sides of her psyche, a Tori character had to be there to link and unify them. “I don’t necessarily always identify with Tori,” she told VenusZine in June 2007. “...there had to be a Tori; otherwise, the construction of this work wouldn’t poetically sear as it needs to. If we are going to have a dismembered feminine, then my name has to be there. I recognize that. It could have gone to any one of them. I chose to do it with the ‘red hat’ because it seemed to be an easier visual acceptance. People identify that as Tori, and so I decided to be close to reality and what we know as the Actual.”

The artist chose the Greek goddess Demeter to base her own persona on because “she’s a nurturing force” and is therefore supportive of other women, which was essential for this work to function since every girl must have the same importance and it’s not all about the Tori character. In the Greek mythology, Demeter is the fertility and agriculture goddess and Persephone’s mother. Her part is essential because she makes the earth blossom so men can cultivate her and grow some fruits and vegetables.

When her beloved Persephone is abducted by Hades to make of her his Queen of the Underworld, Demeter becomes mad with pain and decides to search for her. She travels at the corners of the world and contact all the divinities to try to find a solution. As she doesn’t nurture the earth anymore because of her despair, nothing blossoms and the land begins to die. Finally, the gods set out to help her and make a deal with Hades: Persephone will return to her mother at the end of the winter and will return to the Underworld for the last four months of each year.

This goddess was a natural and coherent choice for Tori for different reasons. First, her Native American roots are very important to her, and the native tribes worship the Great Mother, which is the earth. They see her as a nurturing force that has to be taken care of if men want her to feed and protect them. It was an important point of her album Scarlet’s Walk, in which the central focus was the American land itself and its bloody history of conquest and slaughter when the settlers came to the New World.

In Scarlet, the land was personified by different characters and figures throughout the album, and Tori tried to question the “soul” of this land that was stolen and “pimped out” to become one of the greatest forces in the world through capitalism and politics. Except the settlers and powers-that-be until today never tried to understand the soul of this land they made theirs and that they altered: the Native American culture was cleansed and American people still have a hard time confronting this issue. Moreover, Scarlet’s Walk came two years after the birth of Tori’s daughter Natashya and it was the first album of what she called her “mother phase,” the second being The Beekeeper.

Also, after her first miscarriage in 1996, she wrote and recorded From the Choirgirl Hotel (1998), which she compared to a journey to the Underworld because she was so desperate to have lost her baby that something inside of her wanted to contact any deity or authority to ask her daughter back... which clearly echoes the story of Demeter and Persephone.

It was then coherent that she chose Demeter for her own character. This mother aspect can be felt in “Tori’s songs” — the ones she attributed to her own doll character — “Secret Spell,” “Digital Ghost” and “Posse Bonus” where she appears very motherly toward young women and the young generation overall. Whereas in “Father’s Son,” she seems to take on the voice of the land itself, devastated by men’s violence and hatred and the way they pillage the fruits of the earth (“so the desert grows/strawberry cactus/can we blame nature/if she’s had enough of us”). The two other Tori tracks, “Big Wheel” and “Code Red” show her as very fierce - the sweet and compassionate mother turned into a lionness ready to protect herself and her cubs.

As a matter of fact, this fierceness can also be explained by the fact that Tori chose to channel the male god Dyonisus alongside Demeter, thus equating in a balance between male and female. The Dyonisus aspect appears in the music (most of the tracks of ADP being musically inspired by the male “rock gods” of the 1960s to 1980s) and its rock vibes as well as Tori’s own live performances. Dyonisus has always been the archetype most male rock stars personified or have been compared to because of its power, frenzy, virility and ritual aspect. However, Tori was always greatly inspired by male performers and in her autobiography Piece by Piece, she revealed she played with the Dyonisus archetype alongside other female archetypes in her live performances — think about the power she has onstage and her very unconventional and rocky way to play the piano.

During the ADP tour, this was translated by the androgynous look she had when she took the stage during the second act of the show as “Tori”: she wore a beaded jumpsuit that David Bowie could have worn in the 1970’s and the flashy American flag jumpsuit she wore for a few dates was quite reminiscent of Freddie Mercury’s own clothing style. Plus, her red wig with a fringe brought back to mind the eccentric and theatrical wigs of Bowie & co during the glam-rock era.

The Tori doll sang “Big Wheel” at the beginning of her set each night and “Code Red” was the last track of the main set before the encores. Even though Tori has her own short texts in the CD booklet as well as at the end of the tourbook, she wasn’t granted a blog like the four other dolls because the focus of the project was about allowing different voices to express themselves through her. She then had to get out of the way in order to let this happen...

Something she expressed clearly in the text that accompanies her doll profile in the booklet: “I cannot only be the small sum of my experiences but must a channel for those that I have never had and maybe never will. Otherwise, I can only hear the music through my finite human filter instead of hearing independent frequencies. (...) We can transcribe musical experience from the multiverse if we can be exactly that - perceptive scribes and co-creators instead of needing to be the only creator, how lonely.”