Gay Icon Nominee: Tori Amos

Yep, piano bench jockey Tori Amos is one obvious choice for this column. I swear I’ll get around to picking a dude candidate soon, but come now: Let us dwell on the eternally inquisitive Tori, whose sorceress voice and mystical overtones have drawn comparisons to Laura Nyro and Kate Bush, but have always stood on their own in terms of pure incisive power.

Her gay credibility is well-established, and when she debuted in ’91 with the unprecedented album Little Earthquakes, she proved that her brand of vulnerability was both harrowing and pristine, and she also secured the kind of fervent gay listenership that Sinead O’Connor and Alanis Morissette earned with their first albums. But 21 years later, just as she releases her thirteenth studio album Gold Dust, Amos is as restlessly creative and cool as ever. Here are five of my favorite reasons she’s more than worthy of her gay idolatry.

1. She speaks frankly with her 12-year-old daughter about gay issues. And her 12-year-old daughter responds by announcing her specific man taste.

Not that you’d expect Tori Amos to be anything less than candid, but I was touched to find that she engages her daughter in direct discussions about gayness. According to Amos’ great 2011 interview with Pride Source, she and her daughter Tash (short for Natashya) had a specific chat about same-sex attractions.

“She’s grown up with gay people in our life. We have people from all walks of life on our crew – gay women and gay men that we work with. She’s been brought up in it,” said Tori. “But she knows very well what I think. I had a chat with her once that if she ever came home and said she was a lesbian then that’s her choice. And she said to me: ‘Mom, I’m not a lesbian. Black guys are hot.’”

Damn. Wish I’d have had the stuff to tell my mom that sort of thing at age 12. Think I was still devoting most of my time to middle school spelling bees at that time.

2. She has Madonna beat in the reinvention game.

I like dress-up, but I especially like it when it’s subversive and weird. Get this: Tori is subversive and weird. I’m always impressed with how she routinely (and cannily) contrives new personae for almost every album she releases, including Strange Little Girls, her 2001 album of eerie covers that was released with different artwork of Tori as different women, 2005′s The Beekeeper, 2007′s American Doll Posse (which included that “MILF”-namedropping single “Big Wheel”), 2011′s Night of Hunters, and — my favorite of all — her 2003 greatest hits package Tales of a Librarian, which included gorgeous liner notes, photos of Tori in dramatic librarian regalia, and a track listing arranged according to the Dewey Decimal system.

I used to think wielding a whip and calling yourself Dita was “reinvention” enough. Tori just rewrote the rules of reinvention and even built it a new card catalog. Other phenomenal self-reinventors: Bjork and PJ Harvey.

3. You will listen to her spooky and thrilling “Real Men” cover a million times. I just did.

Props to the righteous emperor Snicks for locating this killer clip of Tori covering the ’80s Joe Jackson song, “Real Men” on Craig Kilborn‘s old show. The cover appeared on Strange Little Girls, and as far as I know, this is the only time I’ve heard the f-word (yes, THAT f-word) on a big three network. Here are some choice lyrics from the old song, one that explores the definition of what it is to be a man.

See the nice boys dancing in pairs, golden earring, golden tan blow-wave in the hair. sure they’re all straight, straight as a line, all the guys are macho see their leather shine. you don’t want to sound dumb, don’t want to offend so don’t call me a faggot not unless you are a friend. then if you’re tall and handsome and strong you can wear the uniform and i could play along.


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