A Witch Lost in Time (Etienne Trilogy)
Etienne (official bootleg, 2007, Tori set)
We have been returning frequently to the lens of Amos’s eventual reclamation of her Y Kant Tori Read work, mostly in the course of her 2014 tour. And so it’s fitting that we end discussion of that period of her career with the first song from the period that she played live, the album closer, “Etienne.” It happened on April 28th, in her old stomping grounds of Washington DC, about two month into the 1996 Dew Drop Inn tour for Boys for Pele, and five days before she debuted “Cool on Your Island” in a medley with “Hey Jupiter.” It went on to feature twenty-six times over the course of that tour—far from one of the most played songs, but in no way one of the least either, and ahead of multiple songs from all three of her albums up to that point. She cooled on the song a bit past that—those twenty-six performances make up nearly half of the song’s total appearances—but once reclaimed it never entirely left her setlists.
Of course, “Etienne” marks only a part of the Etienne Trilogy—on the CD it’s saddled with a synth-heavy opening by Amos and Bullard entitled “The Highlands” that spends about 90 seconds stalling for time before Amos’s piano comes in for the main song, and given a bagpipe-based rendition of the traditional “Skyeboat Song” as an outro that, at sixty seconds, is almost perfectly designed to finish just as you locate the remote to turn it off anyway. These excesses serve to ground the song within the album, where it would otherwise be an odd fit for precisely the reason it had such an easy time being integrated into Amos’s later career: at its heart, “Etienne” is a straightforward piano ballad.
The simplicity of this similarity, however, poses a trap. Asked in a 1998 interview about whether the song represented “more of what you were wanting to do” than the rest of the album, Amos was withering, replying, “Not necessarily, it was more just me at the piano.” When the interviewer attempted to push the point, she firmly rejected the idea of comparing her solo work to “Etienne,” noting that if there was a similarity between it and “Precious Things,” “Waitress,” or “Cruel” then “I wouldn’t have made the four records I just made.” This is a puzzling claim with a questionable understanding of how artistic development works (does she also reject the idea of comparing those three songs to each other?), but it highlights the problems with treating “Etienne” as though it’s some sort of “proper” Tori Amos song orphaned on Y Kant Tori Read.
Amos eventually threw the interviewer a bone, offering that “‘Etienne,’ as a song, was more of what I was doing before I came to L.A.” We’ve already looked at her pre-L.A. work (or at least, people who back me on Patreon have), and there’s a sense to this: the bulk of those songs are love songs in which Amos seems to be going through a writing exercise of imagining different perspectives and narrators to work with.…