tori amosEveryone has a jarring musical awakening in high school, and Tori Amos was mine. She was the artist who, during those confusing years when no one seemed to understand, played music that echoed exactly how I felt. I remember getting ready to go see her play for the first time when I was 14 or 15, putting on my mom’s mascara and slipping a black lace shirt dress over jeans and a t-shirt. I think I was even shaking a little on the T ride over – excited like only a 14-year-old going to see their musical idol can be.

Yes, she’s known for her rabid fans – tortured women wearing too much eyeliner and gay men also wearing too much eyeliner. And when reviews write about her album, the word “cult” usually gets slipped in the opening paragraph somewhere. But, possibly as a rapid eyeliner-ed fan, I think it’s well-earned.

Perhaps you had to see her last night (or that first night I saw her about ten years ago) to get it – standing up on stage over a piano bench, playing a grand piano with her left hand and a harpsichord with her right hand (this is hard, people), legs spread, stopping in the middle of a song to improvise for a minute or two about the guy in the third row who’s bothering her.

A child piano prodigy, at five she was the youngest student to ever be accepted to the Peabody Conservatory of Music. At age 11, she was the youngest student to be kicked out. After that she played in gay piano bars in Washington DC for years before she hit it big in the early 90s with “Silent All These Years.”

And I loved her. I listened to her obsessively, tracked down every rare single and every limited edition poster, drove six, seven hours to catch a show. I drove room mate crazy and embarrassed boyfriends.

But what happens to these teenage obsessions ten years later? Sure, I still buy all of her albums, but I no longer buy every magazine she appears in or read about her Australian set lists on the internet. The posters I have of her are rolled up.

Last night, though – last night I put my Tori tickets in my wallet and dug through my wardrobe until I found a very specific black lace shirtdress that could have easily been in My So-Called Life. Despite smelling like closet, it fit – kind of. It fit in the physical-size way, but not so much in the personality way. I walked into the living room where my sister Becky and Ben were. Becky said something about how 1994 the room got, and Ben looked at me with a huge smile on his face – he was seeing High School Sarah for the first time. And he found her hilarious.

I changed. I took off the shirtdress (which also made appearances at a few other concerts – Ani Difranco, Bob Dylan, Sleater-Kinney) and retired it. I’m still young and everything, but I’m not 14 anymore. I rummaged some more and found a sheer black fitted sweater that was a little more my current style. Things change, I told myself, but I can still wear see-through.

At the concert, I expected to see a bunch of high schoolers and college kids, but they weren’t there. Most people were in their 20s and 30s, and also seemed to have pulled out their slightly-conservative but still-fun outfits – Chunky boots, flowing dresses, kitten heels (and yes, tubs of eyeliner). Everyone talked like friends. It was nothing less than cozy.

Tori Amos ran on stage and was just as she has always been -full of energy, sporting a bright red wig and sequined pants suit, humping the piano when she pleased, and playing and singing like it was the easiest thing in the world.

She was everything that Britney and Paris and Lindsay are not: absolutely confident, ambitious, fun, quirky, and hellbent on making great art. I still knew to clap when she pulled out a rare b-side from 1999 or when she added the rare “brambles” verse to another non-album song. And the music was still just plain beautiful – something that deeply affected and inspired me. That won’t change.

 Here’s some recent live footage if you’re interested:

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