[1 February 2005]
I choose to fight my battles through music, and if I’m misunderstood, well, I’ve done my best.
Piece By Piece is not so much a book as an experience. A collaboration between noted musical journalist Ann Powers and musician Tori Amos, this biography goes beyond the basic task of informing readers and moves into the realm of influencing, persuading, and affecting outlooks. Longtime fans will appreciate the intimate glimpses into Amos’ life. More recent members of the admiration camp will be smoothly ingratiated into the complex world that is Tori Amos’ music. Readers from all vantage points are treated to a unique journey through history, mythology, musical theory, and personal experience.
As with the previous authorized Tori Amos biography, All These Years by Kalen Rogers, Piece By Piece strives to maintain a sense of open-ended expression. Ann Powers emphasizes multiple times that this book is not a chronicle of Amos’ completed life, but “the story of her unfinished evolution.” Just as Tori Amos is not a celebrity or rock star by traditional parameters, this is not a typical biography. Coverage goes beyond name-dropping and timelines in an effort to communicate and create new conversations around Amos’ music.
Piece By Piece is a product of Amos’ and Powers’ e-mails and face-to-face collaboration. Unlike many rock star bios, whose main characteristics are vague ties to the subject and debatable factual presentations, the book quite obviously shows Amos’ influence and contributions. Her offerings are highly visible and palpably personal. Amos does not hold back, and even well informed fans should be delighted with abundance of personal anecdotes, detailed genealogy, and general invitation into Tori’s mindset. As with her music, it may require a leap of faith and an adjustment of sensibilities to fully absorb the information as it is presented, but readers are well rewarded for their efforts.
There are no “just the facts, ma’am” experiences in Piece By Piece. Readers are encouraged to explore and interpret the information given. The book is divided into eight densely packed chapters, each titled for a mythological or symbolic character. Amos and Powers begin with genealogy, in particular Amos’ Cherokee heritage and the lessons she carries from her grandparents and parents. Early in the book, strong themes begin to emerge. Through a discussion of Amos’ puritanical grandmother and religious family, the concepts and influences of family and spirituality are explored. These ideas make way for an introduction of perhaps Tori’s most compelling creative source, the dichotomy of the sacred and profane, of mother and whore embodied in the person of Mary Magdalene. The character and concept of the sacred prostitute is a recurring theme in Amos’ music and in this biography.
Demeter, the Greek goddess of harvest and fertility, is introduced to accompany Piece By Piece‘s chapter on motherhood. The discussion of Amos’ struggles with miscarriage and the subsequent birth of her daughter Natashya is easily one of the most affecting parts of the book. Amos shares raw the emotions of her loss, and Powers deftly and sensitively recounts the facts of these devastating events in Amos’ and her loved ones lives. “Survival with dignity” is the lasting impression, and Amos concludes this chapter with the arrival at a threshold of sorts, a point at which she began new journey to discovering her real self.
Amos and Powers represent two very different styles of writing, and this fact is further highlighted by the layout of the book. Tori’s metaphor/fact continuum is unique and fluid. Lush storytelling overlaps with technical information about composing music and lyrics. Rather than delineating or explaining her craft, it’s as if Amos is narrating her own incomparable process. Ann follows with concrete distillations and presentations of the facts. The alternating presentation is effective, but at times distracts from the general continuity of the book. Thrown in with the point/counterpoint style discussions are sections entitled “Song Canvases.” In these areas, Amos chooses a song and explains the background, creation process, and personal significance. Other sections include quotes and opinions from friends and family, poetry, and exclusive pictures.
Piece By Piece is an unconventional biography. At times, the depth of imagination and expression are overwhelming, but these very factors are the keys to a deeper understanding of Tori Amos as a woman and as a musician. Her soul and her experiences, both in the “real” world and beyond, are represented with clarity and generosity. Through the filter of the book, Tori Amos’ music takes on a new beauty, grounded by trials, uplifted by the inimitable spirit of its creator.