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The Curse, and This Bee's a Keeper

2005-02-01 - 9:36 a.m.

So I'd been meaning to write about The Curse.

The Curse I'm referring to is my birthday curse, where something really bad has to happen on my birthday. Sometimes I manage to escape it. Usually, someone is in tears by the following day. According to my mom, this all started at my second birthday, when she decided to invite a bunch of family over to celebrate. She made the mistake of trying to have a children's party and a grown-ups party at the same time. This meant her cheese fondue. Unfortunately, she didn't have any room on the stove top (cooking, as she was, for 5,000 hungry Mexicans, even if there were less than 50 people there) and so put the cheese in a hot pot on the floor. And someone gave me a tricycle. You know where this is going. Except that I wasn't big enough to ride it yet, so while my cousins were going for a ride on my wheels, I was busily drinking punch. A lot of punch. So at about the time that the cheese was knocked over and the tricycle was doing it's duty by grinding it into my mom's new carpet, I went up to her and said "Mommy, I don't feel so good" before throwing up--the first and only time, thank you, that I have ever thrown up at a party.

More recently, birthday curses have gotten worse. I'm forced to refrain from telling the stories to protect the innocent, and those now in Alcoholics Anonymous (you think I'm kidding, but I'm not).

This birthday, which was one of the best birthdays I've ever had between the party, the concert, and the dancing, nevertheless brought the curse on with a vengeance, and when I say that I mean that I began to believe that someone had actually cursed me. Those who read the entry on my party know that someone got arrested on their way there, but that was just the beginning.

The night before my birthday, my family went out to dinner at P.F. Chang's. When I say family, I mean The Notorious MOM, The Notorious DAD, my stepmother, and my stepsister. We had a great meal, but during the meal The Notorious DAD dropped a bomb. That bomb contained the word "prostate" and the word "biopsy." He had just visited the doctor that day and learned that this procedure was necessary. The good news was that the doctor was pretty sure that there wasn't anything REALLY wrong, and that this was more to rule stuff out. The bad news was, well, "prostate" and "biopsy."

The next day, on my birthday proper, I got a call from Alabama Slamma. I told her that I noticed she had called twice the day before, but that I hadn't gotten her second message. She said that she'd tell me the next day. I said that we should talk about whatever it was now. She said we should wait until the next day. After going back and forth about this for a while, I finally said, "Slamma, what happened to my car?"

Turns out that Slamma got into a little wreck. With my car, that she'd borrowed. Was I upset? Sure, but as I told her she's my friend and my car's a thing and friend's matter infinitely more than things, so the car will get fixed and I love her no matter what. Not a big deal, but a further sign of the curse.

Now, you may not understand how the next part fits in, so I'll explain. In case anyone is reading this diary for the first time and has never met me, I kinda have a thing for Tori Amos. "Are you one of THOSE Tori Amos fans?" you, total stranger, ask. Yes, yes I am. I've gone into the reasons why, but one that I've never really talked about is that I really love her lyrics. "But her lyrics make no sense!" you say, and I, with the patience of a member of the Tori Elect (I've been reading Milton, sue me), say, "Ah yes, but neither does Ulysses, and I wrote a fucking thesis on it." No, seriously, I think her lyrics mean a lot of things, you just have to listen to them and figure them out, the way you do some of the more difficult modernist texts. Trust me on this.

So when I heard the first new single--"Sleeps with Butterflies"--off her new album--The Beekeeper--I was . . . well, is shocked too strong a word? It was straightforward, and linear, and syntactically correct, for the most part. Moreover, it was a love song, with a lot of saccharine word choices like "kite" and "balloon" and "carousel." Now, I know that in her last album she wrote the line "put our snowflake under a microscope," but she also wrote plenty of lines confronting the genocide of the indigenous Americans and what that means as we consider 9/11 and our response to it. This song . . . I just couldn't handle it. I know this doesn't seem like it should mess me up, but this woman's music has gotten me through a lot of rough times, and if I was going to have to deal with four more years of a subliterate tyrant trying to take away my freedom and destory the world, I was going to need good Tori albums.

The Curse finally reached a zenith the day after my birthday. I had gone to visit my former stepmother, PianoCat, in Houston, and we'd had a great time. Her boys are growing up fast, and it made me happy to be able to spend time with them, and with her. That night was my last in Austin, and so I was going to have dinner with Anarchaspud and then go burn CDs with Ms. Firecracker. I got into my stepmother's car, pulled out of my dad's driveway, turned a corner, and a black dog came out of nowhere in the middle of a dark Texas night. I slammed on my brakes, skidded on the wet road . . .

. . . and I hit it.

I KNOW! I KNOW! Don't think I wasn't about to burst into tears. Thankfully, I wasn't even going 20 miles an hour, so it bounced off the front of the car, and ran away. I parked the car and followed it back to its house. It wen't in through a dog door by the garage and I began banging on the front door. The woman in the house must have thought I was some crazy drug addict rapist. Finally, I got her to open the door and said, "I HIT YOUR DOG! IwasoutontheroadoutsideanditjustcameoutofnowhereandItotallyhititohmyGodisitokayI'msosorry!!!"

She got her husband to look at the dog, and she seemed fine, if a little shaken up. The people were SOOOOOO nice about it. I told them I lived across the way and they knew my dad. They were grateful that I had come to them to tell them that I'd hit there dog and to make sure it was okay. They were actually upset that their dog had gotten out at night when it wasn't supposed to. I told them that I'd happily cover all related vet bills if anything was wrong with her, and went on to my dinner.

The dinner was fabulous, and afterwards I headed to Ms. Firecracker's. She surprised me with a box of chocolates and a room full of friends that I hadn't seen over break, most of whom had just arrived back in Austin that weekend. It felt great to see them all there. I sat down and began relating my story about the dog, when I noticed a twig in my shoelaces. I tugged at it and realized that it was not a twig. It was a dead lizard.

I jumped out of my chair and my foot landed in my chocolates. I yanked my shoe off and Ms. Firecracker disposed of the lizard. At that point, I decided that there was some voodoo shit on my head and asked my Wiccan friends to do a cleansing, because it took effort for that lizard to get in that shoe (I think it may have been one of PianoCat's boys having a bit of fun, but I do not rule out the dark forces).

They responded by giving me a four person full body massage. Those dark forces were CLEANSED. I was so grateful to them.

Sure enough, I checked e-mail a few minutes later and got some good news. The curse had been lifted.

Last week, my dad's test results came back resoundingly positive. And yesterday, I got a super special sneak preview of The Beekeeper. And it is good.

It is Tori's most straightforward album, but that's kinda like talking about Derrida's most straightforward essay. Yes, the songs are more linear and easier to interpret, but the albumas a whole contains a lot of subtlety, and you wind up thinking a song is going to go one way when it goes another (Stanley Fish would love this album), and there are all these dark undercurrents of infidelity and death. So I can forgive a happy love song when it's in that kind of context.

For any Toriphiles out there, here's a breakdown (those not interested, consider the entry over):

1. Parasol--A classic Tori opener, where she sets up the story of the album. It speaks of a painting that sounds like a Renoir or Seurat, and whether Tori can be that woman or not.
2. Sweet the Sin--Spicy and sexy, with echoes of Boys for Pele. This whole album seems to make reference to a lot of her older stuff.
3. The Power of Orange Knickers--When I read the title of the song, I though, "Okay, Tori, you're pushing it." Turns out it's one of my top three songs on the album. Tori questions female duplicity, secret kisses, and mother's little helpers, and which one is the truest terrorist. It's very different from most of her song, with a rollicking folky sound.
4. Jamaica Inn--A Stanley Fish song; she may say that the sexiest thing is trust, but then she realizes that pirates have come. I didn't like it too much at first, but it's growing on me.
5. The Barons of Suburbia--A crux point of the album: can a rock'n'roll feminist adapt to the suburban world of wife-and-motherhood? As someone else already said, this song comes close to capturing Tori's live spirit.
6. Sleeps with Butterflies--Still pretty sugary, but it's okay when one considers the sour, salty, bitter, and spicy tastes in the other songs.
7. General Joy--Tori takes on the warmongers, among others, which I am always up for. Again, more Stanley Fishy lyrics (for those who might be lost, Stanley Fish developed reader response theory, where you consider the process of reading a poem rather than trying to look at it as a whole), where you like happiness, but only when she's crying.
8. Mother Revolution--The woman in this song loves her husband, but can still look at the negative side of that relationship, that even marital bliss has a dark side.
9. Ribbons Undone--About her daughter, this is Tori's most gratuitously beautiful song since "Winter." I could not get through it without a box of kleenex handy. I'm sending it to all women I know with young daughters.
10. Cars and Guitars--Tied with TPoOK (Hee!) and RU for my favorite song. It could easily have been on Scarlet's Walk, so I wonder if it was a b-side for that album, initially. I never thought I'd love a song about loving cars, but then again loving a car is about loving to drive on the open road, so I shouldn't be surprised.
11. Witness--Sound wise, ripped right out of Pele. The choir in the background suggests religious witnessing, the lyrics evoke a courtroom scene.
12. Original Sinsuality--Toriphiles, imagine Mr. Zebra meets Merman. Light and playful, but also about calling out to a loved one who might not be ready to eat from a tree that predates Genesis. There's even bits of this that remind me of "Boys in the Trees," one of her favorite covers.
13. Ireland--I like this one a lot. I think there's something of a career retrospective going on here, especially since Ireland is where she recorded Boys for Pele. I think the friends in the car with her are her songs, but I'm not sure.
14. The Beekeeper--When the title track is this dark, you know that a lot is going on in this album. I'm talking Choirgirl/Venus period dark. There's a flaxen haired woman that I think is Tori's image of Death from Strange Little Girls. The Beekeeper is not someone you want to mess with.
15. Martha's Foolish Ginger--I can see what Tori meant about having a title she didn't know what to do with--the line in which she says the title is very catchy. There's questions about what she would have done had things been different.
16. Hootchie Woman--When I first heard Hootchie Woman, I hated it. Why would a woman who rights about the betrayal of women by women write about hoarding power and money and--and then I realized that I had just answered my own question. I can see the humor in this song; I just don't intend to be singing it without some irony, which is what I think Tori's doing. This is a lot closer to Mr. Zebra than it is to Tear in Your Hand or any of her other leaving-my-man songs.
17. Goodbye Pisces--Very straightforward, and a reference to "China" off Earthquakes, I feel. Gentle and sing-songy. Not thrilling, but sweet.
18. Marys of the Sea--Tori sings en francais (un peu)! I can't understand a lot of it yet (my sneak preview did not come with lyrics) but I really like it. It sounds like a sea chantey (shocker). Proof that Tori remains as weird as ever.
19. Toast--Gold Dust, and yet not Gold Dust. "Toast" as in "to drink a," although you never know with Tori. Not the strongest ending, I feel, but there might be a reason for it.

Overall, this album reminds me a lot of Under the Pink: rather than having a linear narrative, such as the journal-style Earthquakes and Choirgirl or the "sonic novels" Pele and Scarlet, it's about looking at the album as a whole, as though it were a painting or a landscape to step into, and trying to find relationships between the songs. There are reappearing motifs, including a mysterious blonde woman who might be death, or a lover's mistress, or both. The straightforward lyrics are, I think, trying to hide something in plain sight, tricking you into thinking you have something figured out when, in fact, she's been tricking you the whole time, but I'm not sure what the hidden pictures are yet. I personally prefer the narrative structure, so I don't think the album is going to wind up as dear to me as LE, BfP, FtCH, and SW, but there are already songs that would have to go on my list of favorite Tori songs, and I'm looking forward to communing with this album a whole lot more over the coming week (if you think I'm listening to anything else this week, you don't know me well). In fact, I think I'll go do that right now!

Oh, and if anyone out there wants to hear the songs early, you should NOT e-mail me personally because I do NOT intend to distribute this song to other people and I RESENT the implication so you should definitely, definitely NOT tell me if you want to hear them because I WILL NOT DO IT and YOU CAN'T MAKE ME. So, you know, DON'T.

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previous - next

The End - 2005-02-11
Let's Go on With the Show - 2005-01-30
The Curse, and This Bee's a Keeper - 2005-02-01
Sisters Lolita and Matronic Explain It All for You - 2005-01-31
Cowboys and Medievalists - 2005-01-30

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