The Fem Spot

The spirit of the stairs

Posted in Personal Essays by femspotter on June 4, 2009

June 4, 2009

In my ongoing quest to find a new Tori – that’s a new Tori Amos, I came across Vienna Teng.

Tori Amos is Abnormally Attracted to Sin

Tori Amos is Abnormally Attracted to Sin

It’s not that I’m breaking up with Tori; I’m just exploring her alternatives. Her new album “Abnormally Attracted to Sin” is a little different from its predecessors. It’s not bad. I’ve listened to it six or seven times now and it gets better with each interlude. But somewhere along the way, Tori started working on a thesis about the duality of womankind according to society. She began wearing costumes and wigs. She keeps trying to prove that women can have a personality spectrum rather than being strictly either mothers or whores. And now she’s trying to say that sin is relatively “sinful.” In other words, one woman’s sin is another woman’s glory.

That’s okay. I don’t believe in moralizing for others either. But she’s gotten really, REALLY skinny in the process of unshackling her inner diva. Either she’s ill, or she’s conforming to the skinny standard. (Damn!)

When I first fell in love with her, it was just her and Bo, her Bosendorfer piano. But now her music is all whistles and screeches as the band plays on. Where’s Bo now? And where’s the Tori who helped me find my inner peace after my Dad died when I was 15? Where’s the Tori who asked, “Why do we crucify ourselves?” without postulating that all people hate themselves to begin with? Where’s the Tori who spoke sweetly of fairies and “Ribbons Undone?” Where’s the girl who was “everybody else’s” and “Silent All These Years?”

That’s the Tori I fell in love with: the voice in my head.

And now I have new challenges to face, adult challenges: money, purpose, love, etc. I needed to find another peace and so I needed another artist with purity and truth. I went looking and I found her. With Vienna Teng, there are no costumes, screeches or highbrow theories about the way the world works. I discovered her music, put on my headphones, and danced the night away in my kitchen. (Check out samples on her site! “Harbor” and “Gravity” are two of my favorites.)

Vienna Teng is a Warm Stranger

Vienna Teng is a Warm Stranger

Perhaps I found a new love here because Vienna has given me back the poetry that Tori used to write. Perhaps it’s because her songs are full of emotion, less so of ideas. Perhaps it’s because instead of working to understand the message, I find myself floating on a tune.

And I know that part of the allure comes down to the revival of the piano in its solitary glory! Like Tori, Vienna started playing when she was barely able to talk: at the tender age of 5. She claims that 12 years of informal piano lessons at home – rather than in a conservatory – changed her life. She learned to sing in the shower and at school in the choir. But hers is a sound that is untainted by the strict rules of proper form. She has the voice of a child: sweet and innocent.

Though she’s Stanford-educated, her music hasn’t yet become over thought. (“Sail your sea, meet your storm; all I want is to be your harbor. The light in me will guide you home…”) It doesn’t ask me to think; if forces me to feel.

So naturally, I found myself at a concert in New York City a couple months ago. Being without a girlfriend to drag to this “chamber folk” experience, I of course made my husband accompany me. I had a slight pang of guilt the whole time and recalled putting make-up on my little brothers when we were children – I didn’t have sisters, you see. My husband, like my accommodating brothers before him, obliged. He smiled at me and held my hand while tears rolled down my cheeks. I didn’t feel like I was in a concert hall at all. I felt like I was home in my kitchen, dancing in a nightie and headphones.

During the intermission, he went and bought me a t-shirt and the new album: “Inland Territory.” He bought me as many drinks as I wanted, and since I was drinking vodka, I didn’t realize how many I’d had until the bill came. But like the true gentleman he is, he didn’t blink an eye or break a sweat…he paid the tab and smiled at me with great affection. A pro crybaby escort he has become after countless Tori concerts. He says he loves to go to see me react, to see my soul swell. (He also once told me that he likes to wait in line with me; that it’s never boring. Isn’t that sweet?)

After the concert, Vienna waited in the wings to greet her admirers and sign copies of their newly purchased albums. My husband helped me get in line and guided me to its conclusion where he presented me to Vienna. At first, she took my album without observing that my head was bent over nervously so that I could avoid eye contact. But then she glanced in my direction as my husband coaxed me closer to her and encouraged me to speak. And when the opportunity presented itself, I opened my mouth and said, “You sound like the inside of my head.”

The remark must have been a hit for it elicited a warm response. Vienna embraced me, though my body language still presented me as an aloof and and insecure person. That should have sufficed. I should have stopped there.

But then I went on to say, “When I first heard my music…I mean your music…”

“Well, it’s your music now,” she said and laughed.

“Those drinks were strong,” I added shaking my head. “When I first heard your music, I danced in my kitchen.”

Then I hugged her, as if one hug weren’t enough. The nerve!

Following this embarrassing display, I should have taken her cues and exited up the stairs to my left, but I wasn’t finished. I said, knowing that she too is an admirer of the Great Tori, “Ya know, Tori Amos got me through high school and you’re just about on par.”

Then I slapped her twice on the arm and headed for the stairs. I heard her autopilot say, “Okay, I hope to see you again soon.”

So there I was, on the staircase leading to the exit and being haunted by its spirit, or as the French say: L’esprit de l’escalier. “Great,” I thought. “Now I can’t go to any of her other concerts for a while, at least not without a disguise. If she sees me, she’ll think I’m a crazy stalker. ‘Oh, there goes that crazy kitchen lady,’ she’ll say.”

It’s not that I would tell Vienna something witty or make a stinging retort to any of her words if I had it to do over. But I have wished since that evanescent encounter that I had said the right thing, whatever that is. I wish that I could have seemed sophisticated instead of tongue-tied and intoxicated. Perhaps I should have asked for a picture of the two of us and simply complimented her dress and hair. Maybe the best thing would have been to say nothing at all.

My husband – who likes to go to concerts and movies with me when I will inevitably cry on his shoulder and subsequently light up with joy in the aftermath of catharsis, and who likes to wait in line with me despite the act’s otherwise boring elements – told me that I came off as sweet and real. (He has to say that!)

My biggest concern is that Vienna may have been stung by my pretentious comparison of her own beautiful music with Tori’s. Who am I to say? I’m just a not-so-casual admirer of the pair.

But they aren’t a pair at all! That’s what I realized when wrestling with the spirit of the stairs. Tori is Tori. Vienna is Vienna. And I am me: just me. I need to learn to live with my silly whims, emotional frenzies and way-too-intense declarations. I need to be able to wait in line with me too; in fact, I need to be able to look forward to it with excitement instead of trepidation. This and other memories like it – “the scars that words have carved on me” – are haunting and crippling me. I have to forget them.

Begone, spirit of the stairs! Begone!

As I said before, the search for a new Tori is ongoing…maybe I’ll find another voice in my head to make a perfect first impression on!


4 Responses

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  1. Mom said, on June 5, 2009 at 6:38 am

    Oh R—–. You leave me in tears, sweet tears. As
    J—– your wonderful husband told you, you DID say the right things because they were what you say. They are REAL and TRUE and YOU. Be YOU not somebody you think is you.

    • femspotter said, on June 8, 2009 at 7:43 am

      Thank you, Mom!

  2. faemom said, on June 7, 2009 at 12:52 am

    I think it was rather sweet the way you talked to her. I’m really curious to hear both albums as I never seem to have time to listen to music any more.
    The way you feel about Tori is the way I feel about Jewel. I loved her first two albums, but then she, well, sold out with her third. While it feels like she’s trying to make it back to what she used to be, her last album was all love songs. Every single one. Which gets old and annoying, especially when she can write such great poetry.
    Oh, and your husband sounds awesome. I’m glad you have him.

    • femspotter said, on June 8, 2009 at 7:50 am

      Jewel is a great example. I used to be obsessed with “Foolish Games” and “Little Sister” in college, but less so with any of the songs on album two, “Spirit.”

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