An Angel To A Girl Who Hates to Sin (Happy Phantom)

Happy Phantom (demo, 1990)

Happy Phantom (live, 1991)

Happy Phantom (1992)

Happy Phantom (live, 2001)

I’m Not Gonna Fuck This One Up/Happy Phantom (live, 2007, official bootleg, Tori set)

Happy Phantom (live, 2014)

A slender, even whimsical doodle of a song, “Happy Phantom” sees Amos larking about on the occasion of her death, or more accurately its immediate aftermath. This, as Amos explains it, came from the collaborative interplay of the rest of her faery circle, which collectively “decided we needed to hang out with death for a while.” Speaking nearly twenty years later, Amos rationalized this as a need for a measure of ego death: “the image that I had created for whatever reason, had to die. If so, she balked big time in crafting the song. By and large, however, other options present themselves.

The song is simple enough—the second shortest on the album, coming in an entire second longer than “Leather,” it uses each of its verses deliberately, establishing a concept, adding depth to it, and finally subverting it. It opens with a jaunty and bluesy piano line which Amos plays with a loud and slightly out of control sounding abandon. The vocals, meanwhile ...

Any Kind of Touch I Think Is Better Than None (Upside Down)

Upside Down (live, 1991) 

Upside Down (1992) 

Upside Down (live in Cincinatti, 1992) 

Upside Down (live, 2007, official bootleg, Clyde set)

Upside Down (web concert, 2010)

Upside Down (radio performance, 2011)

Upside Down/Upside Down (live, 2014)

By some margin the best of the Little Earthquakes b-sides, to the point that Amos in 1994 described its omission from Little Earthquakes as her “only regret.” (She would eventually say something similar about “Honey” missing the cut for Under the Pink and “Cooling” not making it onto Boys for Pele.) And Amos is right—without being so crass as to name names, “Upside Down” is straightforwardly better than at least two songs on Little Earthquakes, and is heads above the next best b-side. This is, presumably, why it found an almost immediate release, coming out as track two of the “Me and a Gun” single in the UK, and showing up on both the “Winter” and “Precious Things” singles in the US—a clear and easily justified decision to make it the primary b-side of the album. 

Much of Little Earthquakes is built in the balance between Amos’s more gnomic tendencies and a confessional approach that relies on a ...

Waiting For Somebody Else to Understand (Silent All These Years)

Silent All These Years (live, 1991)

Silent All These Years (TV performance, 1991)

Silent All These Years (1992)

Silent All These Years (music video, 1992)

Silent All These Years (TV performance. 1992)

Silent All These Years (TV performance, 1994)

Silent All These Years (TV performance, 1996)

Silent All These Years (TV performance, 1997)

Silent All These Years (live, 1997)

Silent All These Years (TV performance, 1998)

Silent All These Years (TV performance, 2003)

Silent All These Years (live, 2005 official bootleg)

Silent All These Years (radio performance, 2007)

Silent All These Years (live, 2007, official bootleg, Tori set)

Silent All These Years (2012)

Silent All These Years (radio performance, 2014)

Silent All These Years (TV performance, 2017)

In many ways, it is Amos’s signature song. It’s not her biggest hit but it’s the song one turns to in order to encapsulate her. It was the one picked for rerelease as a single to benefit RAINN in 1997, the one she’s played on scads of TV and radio performances across her career, and the one picked as the leading single for the album in both the US and UK (even if the first UK release was titled “Me and a Gun ...

Choke Him to Death Daddy (Sweet Dreams)

Sweet Dreams (demo, 1990) 

Sweet Dreams (1992) 

Sweet Dreams (live, 2001)

Sweet Dreams (2003) 

Sweet Dreams (official bootleg, 2007, Isabel set) 

A political song (973.928—History of North America:Politics of Illusion, according to Tales of a Librarian), but let’s immediately be cautious of treating that as a way of distinguishing it from other songs we’ve talked about, as if “Crucify,” “Leather,” or “Silent All These Years” are not also political. The more accurate assessment is that “Sweet Dreams” is a song that is overtly about electoral politics, with a second verse that makes overt reference to George Bush’s “thousand points of light” speech at the 1988 Republican National Convention. 

For the most part, there is something vaguely unsatisfying about this sort of thing. It’s not that there aren’t good songs about electoral politics in pop music. But it’s a routine quagmire in which artists turn out badly over-earnest and strident songs about how bad the President is. The problem is not that Amos is wrong that George Bush is “a constipated man” whose friends “got the earth in a sling / the world on her knees / they even got [his] zipper between their ...

Poison Me Against the Moon (Mother)

Mother (1992)

Mother (live, 1992)

Mother (live, 1996)

Mother (live, 2005, official bootleg)

Mother (live, 2007, official bootleg, Tori Set)

Mother (live, 2014)

“Mother” unfolds with strange formality, opening with a minute-long instrumental prelude in Cm before the song proper begins in Gb. (The official sheet music omits this entirely, beginning at the start of the main piano line.) It’s scarcely the only time Amos will use an approach like this—she’ll use the same trick next album on “Icicle,”for instance. But it grounds the song more in Amos’s classical training than anything else on Little Earthquakes, giving the song a strange and almost ritualistic feel when compared to anything around it. 

This fits the strange confrontation within it. “Mother” is structured around a relationship of authority—it opens in the imperative: “go, go, go, go now / out of the nest it’s time,” and with instructions to “tuck those ribbons under / your helmet be a good soldier.” But Amos is in no way content to play the submissive underling. The song’s narrative voice bleeds from mother to daughter, shifting midway through the first verse. And the daughter is far from compliant, keeping secrets and plotting her escape.  ...

A Ghost Story for Samhainn

Calder's Room

 

Thomas Calder, a lieutenant in the 1st Surreys, was sent back to England in autumn 1917 after being injured during the Battle of the Somme.  He spent a week or so in a conventional military hospital in France, but his wounds were primarily psychic rather than physical, so he was sent back to England, and to Sandilands.

Sandilands had by that time come under the directorship of Dr. K. J. Ravichandra.  Ravichandra was marked out by his universally acknowledged skill, and by his advanced and humane ideas.  Before his advent, Sandilands had effectively been a torture chamber for men who were considered weak and cowardly, in need of being shocked or bullied back to obedience.  Whatever our modern opinion of Ravichandra’s approach, there can be little doubt that his informal and conversational style represented an improvement on treatment through freezing cold water, or electric shock, or cigarette burn.  The men who came under Ravichandra’s care at Sandilands - an Elizabethan manor in East Anglia, bought by the government and converted for use as an Army psychiatric hospital - generally showed great improvement. Calder turned out to be something of an exception. 

One ...

Love Isn't Forever (Leather)

Leather (live, 1991)

Leather (1992)

Leather (live, 1997)

Improv/Leather (live, 2003)

Leather (official bootleg, 2005)

Leather (TV performance, 2005)

Leather (official bootleg, 2007, Tori set)

Leather (live w/orchestra, 2012)

Leather (live, 2017)

The confessional mode of songwriting is full of pitfalls for a critic, and “Leather” offers us opportunities to topple into all of them. The song creates as aggressive an intimacy as is possible: “Look I’m standing naked before you,” it opens, immediately making its singer vulnerable with regards to the listener. From there we plunge into debasement: “don’t you want more than my sex? / I can scream as loud as your last one / but I can’t claim innocence.” There is an immediate sense of knowing more than we should—a feeling that we’ve been brought into a space we do not belong. 

It’s a trick, of course. To state the obvious, Amos is not standing naked before us. The line is a sly game of medium. “Look,” Amos proclaims in an entirely auditory form. “I’m standing,” she says on a recording that was already two years old when it was released to the public. “Naked before you,” she declares from a ...

I Don't Speak German, Episode 34 - The Grift Question

This week, we look at a bit more Nazi infighting, and talk a little bit about some reactions we've had...

Content Warning.

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Show Notes:

"This Podcaster Dug Into the World of Neo-Nazis. Now They've Put a Target on His Back." https://www.thedailybeast.com/i-dont-speak-german-podcaster-daniel-herman-exposed-neo-nazis-now-he-has-a-target-on-his-back

"In early September, Harper and his co-host released a pair of episodes that focused on the adherents of an obscure neo-Nazi author named James Mason. A book Mason wrote has become a bible of sorts for terroristic neo-Nazi groups like Atomwaffen Division, and it has helped spawn a new wave of so-called accelerationists—people who believe societal collapse is the quickest way to create an all-white ethnostate.

Many of those adherents flocked to Telegram, the encrypted messaging app, in recent months after getting booted from other social media platforms. And they’ve created their own enclave there, which they refer to as “Terrorgram.”

It was there, in the Terrorgram community, that the threats against Harper took shape.

On Sept. 11, an anonymous post appeared on one of the Terrorgram channels, telling people to send Harper “fan mail” at his address in Michigan.

The following day, the same channel published a video ...

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