33 1/3 #135: Tori Amos’ Boys for Pele – Amy Gentry

Although I was really looking forward to reading about Tori’s Boys for Pele (I’ve been sort of obsessed for 24 years with all things Tori) I found myself glazing over whenever the discussion moved into a discourse about the nature of disgust or how the concept of taste can be, I don’t know, something about Kant and aesthetic philosophy. I blame myself; I saw Tori on the cover and neglected to read the blurb where it warned me that this book was a “blend of memoir, criticism, and aesthetic theory”.

Sure, I understood where the author was coming from when she explored disgust; the image of Tori suckling a piglet in the album artwork did elicit a WTF response from me when I first saw it in 1996. Perhaps you need to be smarter than I am to fully appreciate the connections between Tori’s music and the philosophical and sociological treatises mentioned in this book but it came across to me as kinda pretentious (sorry!).

In the end, Bourdieu’s sociological lens merely neglects what Kant purposely excludes: the body’s role in aesthetic experience.

I know a lot of people call Tori ‘pretentious’ as well but I just wanted to hear about her songs. I already knew the early Tori biography and had read a lot of the articles referenced. I also didn’t want to keep hearing about Wilson’s book about Céline Dion. I’ve got nothing against Céline (I quite enjoyed her Deadpool 2 music video) but I was here to read about Tori.

While it wasn’t what I was hoping for this book is definitely thoroughly researched and well written, and I expect a lot of Toriphiles will love it. The sections that actually deconstructed Tori’s songs were interesting and I did learn some new (to me) meanings behind lyrics and background information about the media’s portrayal of her. There were several passages I had to highlight including:

Process and product are never far apart in Amos’s music, which is, I suspect, one reason why her answers to questions about what the songs mean can often sound like additional lyrics rather than explanations. For Amos, it seems, to sing and play is to think through a complicated problem out loud, and that thinking is never really finished. Neither is the song; neither, perhaps, is the woman.

I was very disappointed that, in a book about a specific album, some of its songs were barely mentioned, including some of my favourites. In particular, Putting the Damage On is mentioned in passing twice and Talula is only mentioned once! Songs that aren’t even on this album were given more air time.

This series has been on my radar for a number of years and I expected that after reading about Pele I’d be bingeing the rest but it turns out they’re not for me and I’m really bummed about that. I usually have to buy any book written by or about Tori so this is a first for me.

Word of the Book: Abject. Abject and abjection are used a combined 47 times, although it felt closer to 100.

Thank you to NetGalley and Bloomsbury Academic for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

It’s hard to think of a solo female recording artist who has been as revered or as reviled over the course of her career as Tori Amos. Amy Gentry argues that these violent aesthetic responses to Amos’s performance, both positive and negative, are organized around disgust – the disgust that women are taught to feel, not only for their own bodies, but for their taste in music.

Released in 1996, Amos’s third album, Boys for Pele, represents the height of Amos’s willingness to explore the ugly qualities that make all of her music, even her more conventionally beautiful albums, so uncomfortably, and so wonderfully, strange. Using a blend of memoir, criticism, and aesthetic theory, Gentry argues that the aesthetics of disgust are useful for thinking in a broader way about women’s experience of all art forms.

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