I write things and am nominally in charge here. Below are my most recent posts.

The bulk of my work is in a style I have, in an act of mild narcissism, named psychochronography. Psychochronography, an offshoot of the artistic concept of psychogeography. Psychogeography is a practice originally developed by the Situationist International as part of their efforts to forcibly dismantle the established social order. Psychogeography is the study of how physical spaces impact social, cultural, and personal lives. Its central technique is what is called the derivé, or drift, in which one wanders through an urban area according to some idiosyncratic logic that causes one to cut against the usual lines and paths traced.

Psychochronography applies this notion to our internal landscape. Taking seriously Alan Moore's notion of ideaspace, psychochronography suggests that we can wander through history and ideas just as easily as we can physical spaces, and that by observing the course of such a conceptual exploration we can discover new things about our world. Topics I've applied this approach to include Doctor Who, British comic books, and Super Nintendo games.

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.  ...

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 ...

The Tiny Pressure of My Thumb, Enough to Break the Glass, Would End Everything

Boys in Their Dresses will be around later this week. For now... something new. You may find yourself wanting a link to my Patreon for this...

A critic once, in a moment of naiveté that hovers between sweet and pathetic, once asserted that "as long as there are stories, there are Doctor Who stories. When the stars go out and the universe freezes, around the last fire on the last world, there will still be Doctor Who stories to tell. And when we are done telling them, at long and final last, in the distance will be a strange wheezing, groaning sound. And out will step an impossible man, and he will save the day." Perhaps it's true that Doctor Who will last until the end of stories, but the reality is that this threshold is very likely a couple of decades away, and will happen right here on this planet as manmade climate change triggers a civilizational apocalypse. In which case there's really not a lot that an imperial adventure hero with a busted-up time machine is going to do for us.

Nevertheless, Doctor Who provides a fascinating record of the fall. The 20th century, particularly the ...

An Empty Cage Girl (Crucify)

Crucify (live, 1991)

Crucify (TV performance, 1991)

Crucify (1992)

Crucify (music video, 1992)

Crucify (single mix, 1992)

Crucify (Top of the Pops, 1992)

Crucify (TV performance, 1992)

Crucify (TV performance, 1993)

Crucify (live, 1998)

Crucify (TV performance, 1999)

Crucify (TV performance, 2002)

Crucify (live, 2003)

Crucify (official bootleg, 2007, Tori set)

Crucify (radio performance, 2009)

Graveyard/Crucify (TV performance, 2015)

There is a teenage girl, though she doesn’t know it. I don’t remember how she came to Little Earthquakes. More likely than not, it was recommended to her by someone at CTY, the academic summer camp she went to and met all the other awkward teen weirdo nerds, no small portion of which, it turned out, were self-closeted queers just like her. That or she just saw mention of Tori Amos online in discussions of other music she was into, which, alongside a smattering of the contemporary alternative scene, was mostly female singer-songwriters.

Sitting in her bed, she presses play on the CD. It’s immediately clear that Amos fit the bill of her taste. But it’s just as immediately clear that there was more to this than merely being “her thing.” The first forty-five seconds of “Crucify” are an ...

Butterflies Don't Belong in Nets (Mary)

Mary (1992)

Mary (1992, live)

Mary (2003)

Mary (2003, web concert)

Mary (2007, official bootleg, Clyde set)

Let’s begin on January 11th, 1967, in London, where the Jimi Hendrix Experience went into the studio and to cut “Purple Haze.” With twenty minutes left in the session, they decided to cut a quick demo of a newly written song as well, “The Wind Cries Mary.” Written by Hendrix following a screaming fight with his then-girlfriend Kathy Etchingham (Mary being her middle name, which Hendrix would use to annoy her) over whether her mashed potatoes were too lumpy, the song is a downbeat R&B number with lyrics that can be best described as a sad man’s psychedelic whinge. 

A quarter-century later, Tori Amos stepped into a Capitol Records studio with Davitt Sigerson to pen a response of sorts. “Mary” is no straightforward response song reimagining events from Etchingham’s perspective—indeed it’s not even about her in any sense. Nor is it hostile to Hendrix to any real degree—he’s invoked on a chummy first-name basis in the second part of the chorus by way of reassuring the eponymous Mary that “even the wind cries your name.” 

Amos, instead ...

Some Magic Buried Deep in My Heart (Take to the Sky)

Take to the Sky (1992)

Take to the Sky (TV performance, 1998)

Take to the Sky (webcast, 2001)

Take to the Sky (TV performance, 2002)

Take to the Sky (official bootleg, 2005)

Take to the Sky (official bootleg, 2007)

Take to the Sky/Datura (webcast, 2014)

In the wounded aftermath of Y Kant Tori Read, with Atlantic demanding a new record on about six months turnaround, Amos was invited over by her high school friend Cindy Marble, who was living in LA also failing to make it in the music industry. Marble had a piano at her place, and Amos, who had gotten rid of her own piano during her excursion as a rock chick, sat down to play, finding herself so utterly engrossed by her old instrument that she lost track of hours and of Marble. Marble implored her to take the instrument back up, arguing that this was the setting in which Amos felt authentic and genuine. And so Amos rented a piano for the apartment she was sharing with her boyfriend/producer Eric Rosse and began to write.

Unsurprisingly, she began with a song that grappled with her failure. “Take to the Sky,” called “Russia” in ...

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