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.

There is a Light That Shines on the Frontier (Pirates)

Pirates (1988)

Pirates (live, 2014)

Jamaica Inn/Pirates (live, 2017)

1. Captain Blood

Upon joining the project, Joe Chicharelli introduced Amos to Kim Bullard, a keyboard player he’d used on several albums, mostly with the band Poco. Bullard ended up playing most of the synths on the album, and formed a brief writing partnership with Amos that resulted in three songs on Y Kant Tori Read. Two of these became the album’s singles. The third was “Pirates.”

On an album of frustrated love songs, “Pirates” stands out for completely and utterly not being one. It is instead the sort of song that characterizes Tori Amos’s later career, namely one in which it’s difficult to straightforwardly make a statement of the form “the song is about X.” I mean, it’s about pirates, obviously, but not in some straightforward narrative sense in which Amos relates the story of a pirate ship. The pirates exist somewhere between a metaphor and a straightforward subject. In the first verse, they seem to be imaginary—“Traveled far / from my home / foreign streets / paved with stone / deep in my dreams / Moroccan sand / I sail my ship / on dry land.” But the second verse has no ...

I Should Have More Control (You Go To My Head)

You Go To My Head (1988)

Like “Heart Attack at 23,” “You Go To my Head” is a track that poses a significant challenge to anyone looking to argue that Y Kant Tori Read is unfairly maligned. (And, fittingly, the other song from the album that Amos has never revived in concert.) The song is not the cringeworthy mess of bathos that “Heart Attack of 23” is, but is instead something considerably more banal in its inadequacy: a largely forgettable song that furthers its general sense of petering out after “Floating City.” The fact that it was picked as the b-side for “The Big Picture,” the lead single, speaks volumes about how ill-conceived promotion for the album was. 

Musically, the song is the album’s inevitable and doomed Prince rip-off. Bassist Tim Landers gives it his best funk groove, but the production is at once flaccid and lacking the clear sharpness of Prince’s actual hits. The guitar has all the enthusiasm of someone who’s just been asked to work the weekend, the synths in the second verse are as if a kazoo has just learned about cyberpunk, and the saxophone solo in the middle sounds like a ...

The Only Planet That Can't Conceive You (Floating City)

Floating City (1988)

Floating City (live, 2014)

Floating City (live, 2015)

At first, casual listen, another song of heartbreak and disappointed love: “you went away / why did you leave me / you know I believed you,” it opens. In fact, “Floating City” is the first shot in a longer and larger battle with the patriarchal Christian god of her upbringing. Eventually this would go on to fuel multiple albums in which Amos constructed her own sprawling alternative mythology. Compared to those songs, “Floating City” is a half-developed thought; compared to the rest of Y Kant Tori Read, it’s a song of towering scope and ambition.

Amos is, as she often notes, a minister’s daughter. In some ways this led to all the stereotypes you’d expect. Amos went to church multiple times a week, and sang frequently at weddings and funerals. Her father was reasonably progressive—Amos recounts that he marched with Martin Luther King and was a supporter of women’s rights. But this had clear limits—her account of how after “being exposed to so many gay people who work on my tours and shoots he’s evolved to seeing them as individuals, as people, and not as ‘the gays’” is decidedly modest ...

The Taste of My World (On the Boundary)

On the Boundary (1988)

On the Boundary (live, 2011)

On the Boundary (live, 2014)

Caught a Lite Sneeze/On the Boundary (live, 2017)

“On the Boundary” is the rare Y Kant Tori Read song that is neither embarrassing nor good. It is of course another song of frustrated love, but unlike most of the album it is at least not bothering to pine for its subject. Here Amos is clear that the romance is over and is settling on castigating her lover for his inadequacy instead of holding out hope for fixing things. This has the pleasant effect of making the song one in which the swagger of Y Kant Tori Read makes sense, as the song actually casts Amos in a position of confidence and assertiveness.

The song is built around a reasonably effective crescendo from the verses to the chorus. The verses are built on an alternating major chord progression that’s largely carried by the bass, which blats out a two note pattern over some synth pads and, in later verses, a smidgen of acoustic guitar. The lyrics here show Amos sketching out her lover’s failures, which generally amount to his insistence on shutting Amos out and not ...

Someone Had to Lose (Fire on the Side)

Fire on the Side (1988)

Fire on the Side/Purple Rain (live, 1996)

Fire on the Side (live, 2014)

Fire on the Side (live, 2017)

Another song of frustrated love, but ultimately one that is elevated by the particulars of its subject matter, which sees Amos tackling a classic of songwriting: infidelity. There are, obviously, three perspectives one can write a song about infidelity from. The most common is the person being cheated on, a perspective that allows for sadness (“I Heard it Through The Grapevine,” “Lyin Eyse”), anger (“You Oughta Know,” “Before He Cheats,” the first half of Lemonade), or more innovative perspectives (“Jolene”). Less common but still frequent is the cheater, which allows the singer to cast themselves as a villain, whether a self-pitying one (“The Call”) or an unrepentant one (“O.P.P.”, “It Wasn’t Me”). 

The least common, however, is the most consistently interesting: the other woman. Examples exist—Robyn’s “Call Your Girlfriend” is the example par excellence here, although The Long Blondes’ “Giddy Stratospheres” deserves mention. And it is into this more arcane tradition that Amos steps with “Fire on the Side.” Amos approaches the subject, however, without any of ...

The Things We Do For Attention (Heart Attack at 23)

Heart Attack at 23 (1988)

Generally speaking, Y Kant Tori Read is not nearly as bad an album as its reputation would suggest. Misjudged in its presentation, dated, and a poor use of Amos’s talents, yes, and certainly not an album anyone would still care about thirty-two years later were it not for Amos’s future career, but not the cringing embarrassment that Amos’s disavowals (highlights include “Madonna and Kate Bush in a headlong collision after eating bad mushrooms”) and decision to leave it out of print until 2017 would suggest. For the most part it is a competent minor 1980s album—not something you’d single out as a hidden gem, but not something on its own terms that is mockable or embarrassing.

“Heart Attack at 23” serves as the biggest exception to this. Most of Y Kant Tori Read has been at least partially reclaimed by Amos, worked into concerts as a winking extra for fans die-hard enough to recognize it. “Heart Attack at 23,” however, is one of two songs on the album that Amos has never performed live. Good-natured reclamation of your juvenilia has its limits; here we find Amos’s.

It’s not hard to see why. “Heart Attack ...

Lollipop Girls Pave the Street (Fayth)

Fayth (1988)

Faith/Fayth (live, 2014)

Way Down/When Doves Cry/Fayth (live, 2017)

Flash forward seven years.

Our protagonist has spent all of them working towards becoming a pop star.  Her first serious effort in 1983, a recording session with Narada Michael Walden, who would go on to produce Whitney Houston on the soundtrack for The Bodyguard, produces neither anything of value nor anything that has made it into the public sphere, although lyrics including the chorus “give me the go/ and let me / rub you down /I'm in your power, when you're / takin' me down / I'll just lay low until / you come around / good to go / rub down / good to go /rub down” suggest we’re not missing out. In 1984, she moved to LA, at first doing basically the same sorts of bar gigs she’d been doing in DC. In 1985, she cut a commercial for Kellogg’s short-lived Just Right cereal, where she’s cast as “the piano player who isn’t obviously supposed to look like Elton John.” That year, things finally began to coalesce. She met Steve Caton, a guitarist who will end up sticking with her through To Venus and Back, and ...

The Brotherhood of Baltimore (Baltimore)

Baltimore (unreleased 1978 recording).

Baltimore (1980 single).

Like most pop artists, Tori Amos’s career has a vaguely embarrassing starting point. Fame comes slowly, and rarely on the first try, and most artists have some embarrassing recordings from their early efforts at success that are just waiting to be slapped up on YouTube or, in the case of “Baltimore,” tossed into VH1’s Before They Were Stars, a series dedicated to exactly this. The five minute segment in which this was publicly unearthed sticks mostly to a simplistic biography in which Amos’s piano bench gyrations in the “Crucify” video are juxtaposed with her upbringing as the daughter of a minister. The complexity of the story is acknowledged, but the underlying point is unequivocally rooted in teasing Amos for the naive innocence of her upbringing. “Baltimore” is introduced in a veering segue as the segment goes from the infamous image of Amos breastfeeding a pig in the Boys for Pele liner notes to her parents talking with rueful amusement about her love of shocking them, at which point the voiceover interrupts them to say “if you think that’s shocking…” as a leadup to Amos performing “Baltimore” on local television.

It’s cynical, more ...

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