Single Serving: Tori Amos — Me and a Gun/Silent All These Years (Review)
Prior to Tori Amos’s meteoric rise off her debut record, Little Earthquakes, she had been hustling hard to make her way into the industry. Her 1988 band’s debut, Y Kant Tori Read, flopped on release and the record was pulled from print after two failed singles “The Big Picture” and “Cool On Your Island”. She had also worked on many other ventures. She was part of comedian Sandra Bernhart’s backing band for her Without You, I’m Nothing live album. During the time between Y Kant Tori Read and her debut, she was feverishly working on music that was true to her. What came from this was a album that would set Amos apart from the rest. She has said in numerous interviews that the powers that be at Atlantic Records wanted her to remove all the pianos on the album and replace them with guitars. She dug her heels in and created magic. The album’s first single would be the truly haunting and deeply candid “Me and a Gun”. I have decided to review both singles for “Me and a Gun” and “Silent All These Years” as they contain the same tracklisting. The single was reprinted after the song “Silent All These Years” took off on the radio. There is a second “Silent All These Years” single, which contains different b-sides, that I plan to cover in the future.
“Silent All These Years” would be the big break out track off the single. BBC’s Radio 1 would pick up the song, which would cause the single to be rereleased with the same artwork, but with Tori’s name and the name “Silent All These Years” on it so that it would be easy to find in stores. During her 1998 VH1 Storyteller’s performance, she would say that song would originally be intended to go to Al Stewart. After Tori’s boyfriend and producer heard the song, he told her she couldn’t give the song away as it was her story. The song is about finding your voice. The song takes you on a journey for Tori finding that voice. You can see her trying to establish to her own voice around those nearest her while getting them to listen to hers, “I got something to say, you know, but nothing comes/Yes, I know what you think of me, you never shut up/ Yeah, I can hear that”. The stark lines on getting the man in her life to listen, “So you found a girl who thinks really deep thoughts/ What’s so amazing about really deep thoughts/ Boy you best pray that I bleed real soon/ How’s that thought for you”, shows she’s not afraid to put it out there. Side note: A Tori Amos fan zine would take the name Really Deep Thoughts based off these lines in this song. I love the bridge of the song, “Years go by, will I still be waiting for somebody else to understand/ Years go by, if I’m stripped of my beauty and the orange clouds raining in my head/ Years go by, will I choke on my tears ’til, finally there is nothing left/ One more casualty, you know we’re too easy, easy, easy”, where you can just feel Tori telling herself that she can’t stifle herself any longer. The final chorus of the song ends on Tori finding her voice, but herself through all this, “Hey, but I don’t care ’cause sometimes, I said sometimes I hear my voice/ I hear my voice, I hear my voice, and it’s been here/ Silent all these years. I’ve been here silent all these years/ Silent all these, silent all these years. The song is a beautifully simple song with just Tori and her piano. The song adds in an orchestra in the choruses and bridge, which only add to the epiphany she has. The song would make it to number 26 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. Tori’s friend Cindy Palmano, who had only done still photography prior, shot the video to the song. Many of the visuals in the video would be used in the linear notes to Little Earthquakes and to the rerelease digipack single to “Slient All These Years”. The song is very much a live staple of Tori’s to this day.
“Upside Down” would become one of Tori’s most celebrated b-sides in her collection amongst fans. She has expressed disappointment in the past over the tracks omission on the final track list for Little Earthquakes. The song is a blend of Tori and her piano and backing synth which only adds to the atmosphere of the song. Here, she is finding own happiness, even if the whole world is turned on its head. She does different takes on this upside down topic: turning her world on itself to clear her fears of always being upended, seeing through her boyfriend’s constant turning her upside down mentally, and ending on that we all have this same internal conflict and fear we’re these infants coming out breach. The bridge to the song really drills in her epiphany that through this all she’ll be okay, “Well, I found the secret to life/ I found the secret to life/ I’m okay when everything is not okay/ I said I found the secret to life/ I found the secret to life /I’m okay when everything is not okay, is not okay”. The song takes a nod to during her father’s backwards thinking on its head, “Well, I dreamed, I dreamed, I dreamed I loved a black boy/ My daddy would scream”. The song is a beautiful track and very much a Tori classic that has been officially released on both the deluxe rerelease of Little Earthquakes and her A Piano boxset.
“Me and a Gun” was originally conceived after Amos watched the movie Thelma and Louis and wrote the song up in the car. This would be one of the last tracks recorded for the album, “China” being the other. The song is full accapella. Her vocals raw and slightly subdued, commanding you to listen in. The subject matter of the song, Tori Amos’s personal experience being raped. In interviews, she has said the song was her way of giving herself forgiveness for it. The song would be hear diving into the wound in order to finally heal. It’s a difficult listen. The song begins with Amos still up from the night before trying her best to make sure she far away from danger, “Five a.m. Friday morning/ Thursday night far from sleep/ I’m still up and driving/ Can’t go home obviously”. There’s a palpable fear and hollowness to her vocals here. Possibly the most gut-wrenching lyrics in the entire song is the first chorus, “It was me and a gun/ And a man on my back/ And I sang, “Holy holy”/ As he buttoned down his pants”, giving full view to the horror that she went through. She then shifts to the thought in her mind at the time, “You can laugh, it’s kind of funny/ The things you think at times like these/ Like I haven’t seen Barbados/ So I must get out of this”, painting the inner narrative of a mind racing over all they’ve yet to do, want to do, and think they may never get the chance to do. She also stands tall and lets all know that the way she dressed and looked doesn’t mean she was asking for it, “Yes, I wore a slinky red thing/ Does that mean I should spread/ For you, your friends/ Father, Mister Ed?”. This type of candid honesty over something very few ever openly discuss set her out above all others and helped many heal along with her. The single only contained the name of the song, “Me and a Gun”. The single would be what would ignite the flame that was Little Earthquakes. She would perform the song regularly on tour for her first few albums. Tori said in interviews during the Little Earthquakes era that she sort of goes into a trance when she sings it, outside of herself. She’s not ashamed, but empowered by it’s presence. She has said that the songs off the album were a healing process for her, and this song speaks volumes to that process.
In 1994, Steve Bortowitz and Tori Amos founded the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN). The organization was founded to help those who have suffered from sexual assault of any kind get the help they need and to bring their attackers to justice. Their mission statement is:
- RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) is the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization. RAINN created and operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800.656.HOPE,online.rainn.org y rainn.org/es) in partnership with more than 1,000 local sexual assault service providers across the country and operates the DoD Safe Helpline for the Department of Defense. RAINN also carries out programs to prevent sexual violence, help survivors, and ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice.
Tori has been with the organization since the beginning. She is still a National Council Member to this day. She has been on numerous campaigns for the group and performed for several benefit concerts, must notably her 1997 Madison Square Garden show which would be recorded and sold on VHS. This performance was to kick off the Unlock the Silence program, which Tori and Calvin Kline promoted. The live cuts of both “Me and a Gun” and “Silent All These Years” would be released as promotional singles for the event. Amos’s compassion for victims and passion for work around the subject has helped many to get the help they need and heal along the way.
“Thoughts” it the final track on the single. The track is very much a demo for the song “Girl”. This becomes that much more notable by the lines, “Thoughts right now/ She’s been everybody else’s girl”. The song came way from Tori being in the studio riffing on the song “Girl” and Eric Rosse recording her improv at the moment. Tori has said in the past that when she finished up this bit, Eric told her great job they recorded all that. It’s a fun track that definitely gives you a look into the window of Tori’s writing process.
Almost all the tracks here are pivotal in Tori’s career and to many of her fans. The strength she showed to bare all in the track “Me and a Gun” is something to not only admire, but be in awe of. The visceral nature of the song gave way to her helping to found RAINN and help may others healing and receive justice. “Silent All These Years” is also an extremely important song that resonated with many on finding your own voice and not stifling it. Little Earthquakes linear notes were set up like a diary of sorts. These tracks here really personify that treatment. My first listen to any Tori Amos song was “Me and a Gun” and it hit me hard in the stomach. All I wanted to do is hug this woman and cry with her. Having known others who’ve suffered from sexual abuse, it ripped through to my core. You just don’t hear people talk about that, let alone sing about it. Her personal lyrics make you feel like your talking openly with a friend you’ve known forever. I think that is why Tori has such a passionate and devoted fan base. That honesty she showed in these tracks, and in subsequent records spoke to and continues to speak to many. “Silent All These Years” speaks to me as someone who struggled to find his own voice through his teens and early twenties. I have a hard time to recommending you give nearly all the tracks her a listen. My highlights:
- “Silent All These Years”
- “Upside Down”
- “Me and a Gun”
My overall rating: 9 out of 10
An important side note: If you or someone you know if has been a victim of sexual abuse, you can visit rainn.org or call 800-656-HOPE to receive help. You don’t have to suffer in silence.