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This is a book on Tori Amos's 1996 album Boys for Pele. Her third solo album, the one where she's suckling a pig and holding a shotgun on the cover. The one that enticed her to go off to the Amazon rainforest, take the hallucinogen ayahuasca with some shamans, and come back to us with the crucial information that the devil is really a woman in a white Chanel suit driving an ice cream truck: a bit of insight which ultimately gave root to the song "Father Lucifer." Boys for Pele is rich in mythology and texture. It is also her fans' favorite. (The fans have scientifically proven this on the internet. They love the polls.) On Boys for Pele, Amos bangs the hell out of a harpsichord and paints a sonic landscape that every woman knows but had honestly (I know this sounds weird now, but it was true then) barely heard spoken before. Is she really saying that? She gets the texture down of your most self-hating one-night-stands and obsessions-without being obvious, and by tying it in to much bigger-mythological-stories. These stories, these nooks and crannies of women's hearts, find a shape that makes them matter, makes them mythological, sexual (not just sexy), smart, angry, broken, vulnerable, complex, powerful in a way that is not some kind of cheesy go-girl catchphrase or shoulder-pad business suit. Before Boys for Pele, in the culture at large, going near any of this stuff as content seemed more like a trite Cosmo article on the dangers of cutting or of anorexia, a cheap warning against being too Sylvia Plath. (The album's biggest predecessor, somehow, is Joni Mitchell's Blue.) This is the landscape that Alanis and Fiona Apple try to get to, but Boys for Pele does it with adequate depth and drawing on such rich mythology that the album becomes a transformative work, a key to its listeners' inner worlds, in many cases. Amos has often mentioned Persephone's journey to the underworld in context of this album, and it does in fact take you down through the unconscious realms-and back up again-that are hard to get to otherwise.
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Elizabeth Merrick is the author of Girly and the editor of This Is Not Chick Lit. She runs a popular reading series in New York, and is a regular contributor to www.bookslut.com.
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