Little Earthquakes, the 1992 album by Tori Amos, impacted the lives of many young women and at least one eighteen-year-old man. I was a freshman in college when I bought it, and I would walk back from a class wanting to listen to particular songs. Eleven of the twelve songs were at one time “a favorite” that I came home specifically wanting to hear. (The only exception was the a cappella song, another great song and probably the most personal and courageous on the album, but it’s just not a song you enjoy over and over again.) More than the individual songs, the album as a whole, the act of another person emptying her emotional self into a collection of songs played mostly alone at a piano is what inspired me as a person and, much later, as an artist.
My old college buddies can attest that I almost exclusively wore Tori Amos concert T-shirts back then. I bought imports whenever I found them with fantastic songs that hadn’t made the cut onto Little Earthquakes, live versions, and covers. By my definition a good cover is a cover that gives a song a new sound. Some of Tori’s covers, like her cover of Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit, are so unique to the originals they’re almost unrecognizable. Slowed down, thick with piano accompaniment. In 2001, she released Strange Little Girls, an album of covers.
This was either soon before or just after The Marshall Mathers LP won album of the year at the Grammies. I was probably barely aware of that when I first heard the insanely haunting and brilliant ’97 Bonnie and Clyde by Tori Amos. At first, I gave her all the credit for another bold choice and unique cover. But soon lines like, “Now Momma said she wants to show you how far she can float,” started to stand out. They were written by him. And the story.
I went out and bought my first rap album. My favorite song was “Stan,” which I listened to so many times I could rap the whole thing. (I have to be careful telling people that because they tell me to prove it.) At first I listened to the same two or three songs over and over, but pretty soon I was listening straight through. When his next album came out, I bought it too. As often happens after a rise in popularity, people seemed to be cooling to him, but I thought it was more of the brilliant same. I did wonder, though, how much material could he generate by complaining about things written about him in the tabloids.
All my favorites by him were stories. He was an amazing poet but he was also a brilliant storyteller. One of the songs on The Eminem Show had the line, “Two trailer park girls go round the outside, round the outside.” That line always created a distinct image of two girls walking around a dilapidated structure surrounded by flat, weedy prairie land. I always wondered, And then what happened? (I was naive; I learned later that the line was a sexual reference) I remember telling people that the next step for Eminem was to rap an album of stories. He was already halfway there, with his Slim Shady character and his highly exaggerated stories of conflict with Kim.
I didn’t share that idea with him. Maybe I should have sent him letters and “written the addresses on ’em perfect.” Seems like he disappeared for a while but I saw he released The Marshall Mathers LP 2, which I imagine is good and I might get it. But a collection of rapped short fiction? I would be all over that. The original version of ’97 Bonnie and Clyde I still haven’t heard. I’m not against hearing it, just never have. Which seems odd, maybe because the Tori Amos cover feels like such a pure work of fiction and I subconsciously don’t want to have that disturbed by Eminem’s, which would obviously still be fiction, but would have that, at times, intrusive Eminem tone.