learning love songs

est. 2008


Tori Amos


Yesterday I dove deep into Spotify’s Tori Amos catalog, pouring over every favorite song I’ve heard a thousand times and listening to lesser-known tracks with fresh ears. Tori is a timeless staple for me, she offered me so much comfort and inspiration as an adolescent wanna-be artist, and now, as an increasingly aging person aware of her flaws, aware of the holes and wholes in her life, Tori still provides a new lens

I always loved her literary ways, her mysterious metaphors and brilliant, huge sounds, her passionate piano and throaty, grasping voice. One of the best examples of her strengths is Gold Dust, the 2011 collection with new and old tracks in an orchestral setting. Songs like “Winter” and “Cloud On My Tongue” that I’ve heard for more than half of life still hit me in new ways, while I get to take in “Snow Cherries From France” or the title track with slightly older ears than when I first heard them. So many of her songs serve as this chapter markings for my life, I can remember when and where I was when I first glommed onto them, and now they provide this mirror where I can see how much or little me and my feelings and my life has changed.

Despite my devotion, I don’t listen to Tori a ton anymore. Maybe it’s to keep the experience profound, because the times that I do listen to her take on a spiritual, ceremonial quality. I don’t do anything except listen to Tori, maybe I dance and move a little, maybe I cry. I sing and I hear and I fall into the music, I can’t focus on things like email or mindless internet scrolling when Tori is on. She is the artist who inspired me many years ago to be more than just a person, to be a person who wanted to create and live openly, and while I am still in many ways getting there, she can still light that fire.

“Sights and sounds
Pull me back down
Another year

I was here
I was here

Whipping past
The reflecting pool
Me and you
Skipping school
And we make it up
As we go along

We make it up we
Go along…”

~Gold Dust
Tori Amos, Gold Dust


“For you, there’ll be no crying
For you, the sun will be shining.”

Eva Cassidy, Songbird
Not entirely sure how my day evolved from one of extreme productivity and socializing into sitting at my desk in a stuffy apartment with overheated cats binge listening to Eva Cassidy, but, here we are.

She’s pretty amazing, though at first the recorded setting felt somewhat dated to my overtuned ears. Then I became adjusted, found the performance embedded in the first blush, and was subsequently taken by her unique precision and flawless transitions and exquisite tonality. Live footage memorized further. Her legend is the stuff of a blessed and tragic life, as they so often are. 

I went in looking for “Songbird,” an all-time favorite from the luscious throat of Christine McVie. Her rendition is pure, and I never ever tire of these words, they will always sound like home to me for reasons I don’t dare pinpoint. From there, I wound up finding her “Fields of Gold” cover – a song I had not heard in ages that brought me back to times pre-dating that. Times of dancing in basements in old costumes and party dresses, my cousins and I playing choreographer and artistic director and corps performers. Then I knew this was a pretty song – most everyone does, one could easily argue it is the only true valid post-Police contribution Sting made to modern music. Then I saw a pretty scene of fields and words my mother sang. Now, so much older and lived, I hear it as much more of a sad song, maybe due in large part to Cassidy’s sincere, sustained delivery. Some research (or, um, Wikipedia) tells me this cover was one of two that sparked her success with British audiences that had her album charting posthumously. 
“I never made promises lightly,
And there have been some that I’ve broken.
But I swear in the days still left,
We’ll walk in fields of gold.”

~Fields of Gold 
Eva Cassidy, Songbird
The other song was her “Over the Rainbow” rendition. This is the live one I couldn’t stop watching. This song, the Tori Amos version, was the most important contemporary solo I ever danced. I don’t think I ever placed higher than third in bad local competitions. My rehearsal slot was Thursday nights after the group, winding up at home by 9:30 or 10 or so. Jess screamed at me and my sickled feet, chided me for mouthing the words even though I had  no idea that was a habit, and changed up the attitude turns when I couldn’t get the timing right and wound up overstepping before the next sequence. Not everyone gets a Tori solo, I knew, and I couldn’t mess it up. Years later, Jess would joke to me: “Yeah, and that was a cover.” Cassidy’s version is nothing like Tori’s (guitar, not piano, for starters) but it is stunning in its own right. Her fingers are patient and her choices on when and where to change up the melody, weave in trills and pluck a few extra strings are unique and unexpected and altogether beautiful. Timeless in every way. This one she performed at Georgetown’s Blues Alley, a place I once visited with intense adoration and disguised wide-eyed glee:

“Someday I’ll wish upon a star
And wake up where the clouds are far
Behind me
Where troubles melt like lemon drops
Away above the chimney tops
That’s where you’ll find me”

~Over the Rainbow 
Eva Cassidy, Blues Alley Supper Club, 1-3-96

I am grateful to have found these songs tonight. Perhaps I am sentimental of the highest possible order. Perhaps I am more than a little nostalgic and in awe of the moments that come and go with such meaning while we, so caught up, are none the wiser they are happening to us. Maybe I am just a little melancholy, no surprise there. But how interesting,to hear these three perfect songs that incite so many memories and feelings in a new way, a never before way, an of-the-moment way that leaves me grateful for the present and its joys and sorrows, and ever-moving toward those to come – because if all we know can someday, somehow, in some way sound new again, then aren’t we so lucky, to know what there is to look forward to. 


“Hold onto nothing
As fast as you can
Well, still, pretty good year.”

~Pretty Good Year
 Tori Amos, Under the Pink

I’ve sang this line to myself more times than I can count over the years. How the meaning has changed. How each little word is relevant. Hold on. Nothing. Fast. You can. Pretty good year.

Can’t say it better, really.

On New Year’s Eve so many people seem to expect, or at least hope, something meaningful and magical will happen. It never really does. You never wake up the next day feeling all that different than you did the day before. Not because of a date on a calendar, anyway. Today, for example, I cannot feel my heart. Could I tomorrow? Might the fresh start of a new year make a difference? Past experience with 26 of these symbolic turns of the page tells me no, no, it does not. But that experience also reminds me change is a marvelous constant, possible and plausible to wreck you, ruin you, satisfy you, embolden you, each and every day, just as it proved to be this year… and so it shall be next year, too.


“And I’m so sad
Like a good book, I can’t put this
Day back
A sorta fairytale with you.”

Today I had the brilliant stroke of Pandora-induced luck to discover the demo version of “A Sorta Fairytale.” I think I’ve listened to this song three quarters of the mornings in the past month, the version from “Scarlet’s Walk,”  which is a stunning and moving tale of soulmates gone awry. It’s among my favorite tracks from 2000s-era Tori. But this version, with the solo piano, and the first draft of the lyrics, is much more intimate. And what are soulmates, if not that?

So, today, I heard this, and I danced in a parking lot. I waltzed and balanced with my headphones in my sandals, because it was empty of others and I was wandering and I felt like I was hearing something just for me just when I needed it. Especially with the tone of her voice on a line brand new to me – “this thing we created” – this, which encapsulated all the fretting and pain of the original verse, plus some, and so I broke into a thousand pieces and danced about it, because I was validated that yes, I knew what this tune was all about.

I would write more what I think this song is about, but instead I’ll use this quote from the writer herself, included in “Scarlet’s Stories:”

“I think that there is a place where she [Scarlet] realizes that people come in and out of your life. Sometimes for a day, sometimes for longer. And all of them make you what you are. You can’t separate these people out of you. They form who you are. Even the ones that you kind of say well… you know, I don’t know if I wanna be formed by them anymore. (laughs) But you are in some way. You are. That’s why, maybe, you don’t have to look at them so harshly because they have affected you. At the end, though, you know… it’s us as individuals with our… mm… with our love for the land. For something intangible, that when soulmates come and go, you’re never alone even when you’re standing just you in your shoes, because you carry them with you.”

“On my way up north
Up on the Ventura
I pulled back the hood
and I was talking to you
and i knew then it would be
a life-long thing, but I didn’t
know that it could
break so well and clean

and I’m so sad
like a good book
I can’t put this day back
a sorta fairytale with you

Said that day up on the 101
you would be someone
you tried to downplay it
but i knew we had come
face to face with this thing we created

and I’m so sad
like a good book
I can’t but this day back
a sorta fairytale with you
I could pick back up whenever I feel…

 And I was riding by
riding along side for a while
til you lost me and i was
riding along side til you lost me
til you lost me in the rearview

til you lost me, i said

Way up north, i took my day
all and all, was a pretty nice day
and i put the hood right back where
you could taste heaven perfectly.
feel out the summer breeze
didn’t know when we’d back and i
i don’t, i didn’t think we’d end up like,

like this.”
~A Sorta Fairytale
Tori Amos, A Piano: The Collection


“I hate you
I hate you

I do
I hate that
you’re the one who can
make me feel gorgeous
with just just a flick of your finger
it is that easy

yes there was a time
you didn’t always get your way
back there where my heart
was not so easy to invade
when my battlements were strong
before the pilgrims came
don’t forget you were the one
who loved my wild way.”

It only takes three minutes to be perfectly haunted, as learned from the latest Tori Amos record. Something about the way she pairs this fierce and violent phrase – hate – with a delicate vocal tone makes for the most emotive, vulnerable kind of need and emotional conflict. While the subtle orchestral blends with the rest of the album, everything good and moving about this song is contained in very simple phrasing and structure. Restraint gives way to strength, in the form of saddened declaration.

I remember hearing this song when the album first debuted, and finding it rather striking and stilling and classic Tori on an album where she toys with a lot of new territory. I thought it was the saddest, and perhaps the most heartbroken, song on “Unrepentant Geraldines,” a pensive album that deals with relationships and aging and society in a very smart, strong, artistic fashion.  Today, it is all I can replay,with a little of “Tales of a Librarian” mixed in for highlights, like “Silent” and “Crucify.” Today, all I could do was return to the familiar.

“I hate you,
I hate you, I do.
I hate that
I turn into a kind
some kind of monster
with just just a flick of your finger
it is that easy

of course there was a time
you didn’t always get your way
back there where my heart
was not so easy to invade

when my battlements were strong
before the pilgrims came,
don’t forget you were the one
who loved my wild way

I hate you
I hate you
I do
I hate that
you’re the one who can
make me feel gorgeous
with just just a flick of your finger
it is that easy
to hate you
to hate you.”

~Wild Way
Tori Amos, Unrepentant Geraldines


Is there ever a better musical gift from the universe than a new Tori Amos album right when you need it?

On “Unrepentant Geraldines,” Tori Amos gives us who she is, who she always was, and who she is proud to be. Amid plenty of high-culture, full-band and symphony-tinged numbers filled with whimsy and smart lyrical takes on life and society, I cannot help but feel instantly drawn to the softer, piano-led moments of composition-driven narratives, the kind where she channels analytical depths of heart and mind the way she has so many times before, though they’ve only grown with age, experience and time.

There is much to be said about this record, and its many movements and muses, but tonight I find myself completely struck by a mid-album ballad, “Selkie,” which is the kind of song that creeps into your subconscious, lays down roots and digs deep. By Tori standards, it’s a positively uplifting ode to romance and devotion. Characters and scenery paint a story unknown to any but the author, and yet, with the right chords, chorus and metaphor, we recognize its tenants. Tori is difficult for many listeners to understand, but she has never been anything short crystal clear feeling to me. On this record, on songs like “Selkie,” I think we see an artist who, for decades, has honed her natural-born talent and hard work into a sound all her own, one that now is most prominently influenced by the artist’s own body of work.

I’ve listened to this album 10 times through so far, and more tracks are instant classics than I could ever hope to hear. “Selkie” is very likely one of them, because it is delicate and thoughtful, it is straightforward, it is artistic, strange and beautiful.

“Selkie unzips her skin, finally determined
Through a window in the dark, there he sits all alone

I’ve been waiting on the love of my life to find
He’s been waiting on his selkie to come back

He said “I know these shores are not like yours
But will you make your home in my arms?”

Selkie battled tide and wave just to gaze upon his face
Hiding behind rocks to learn if he found a new love

Lorelei sings the song for lovers who were torn apart then left broken-hearted
Lorelei hears the cry of lovers that the sea of fate had separated.

Selkie puts her hand in his, he knows the gift she gives
There inside his cabinet, folded safe her seal skin

I’ve been waiting on the love of my life to find
He’s been waiting on his selkie to come back

He said “I know these shores are not like yours
But will you make your home in my arms?”
Tori Amos, Unrepentant Geraldines


“Make me a day, make me whole again.”

The first few minutes of morning are usually my favorite. I like the quiet. I like the light. I usually leave the curtains open a little so I can let the sun greet me, waking me up with beams and shadows. But mostly I like how those first few moments of consciousness are the clearest of the day. They’re still pure. They haven’t been flooded — ruined — by reality yet.

This morning finds tears falling before my head leaves the pillow, finds me seemingly paralyzed beyond collapsing on the floor. Being OK is not an option. I cannot seem to find a new song sad enough, so I listen to the saddest songs I know I can find and make some coffee and practice my arabesque, because what else is there to do. To keep moving is to keep from breaking. We’re long past those first few minutes of morning now.


I have listened to this song for approximately 12 years and I did not understand the meaning until today. I watched this performance and heard not only the song, but the artist’s story, connecting to it and understanding the reasons for telling it.

Here is another performance of the same song from 20 years later. Once the orchestra intro subsides, the audience applauds at the familiar melody. She is singing from a different place now. The wounds that once bled out the song’s initial inspiration are no longer fresh. Yet they are memorialized here, justly and elegantly so. The words and tones are as precise as ever, supplemented with the lushness of strings, gallantry of horns and delicately placed ornamentation. Dynamics of this strength are mastered by a truly in-sync group of accomplished musicians, who are not only listening to each other but feeling the physical rise and fall of the song.

“Snow can wait
I forgot my mittens
Wipe my nose
Get my new boots on
I get a little warm in my heart
When I think of winter
I put my hand in my father’s glove
I run off
Where the drifts get deeper
Sleeping beauty trips me with a frown
I hear a voice
“Your must learn to stand up for yourself
Cause I can’t always be around”
He says
When you gonna make up your mind
When you gonna love you as much as I do
When you gonna make up your mind
Cause things are gonna change so fast
All the white horses are still in bed
I tell you that I’ll always want you near
You say that things change my dear

Boys get discovered as winter melts
Flowers competing for the sun
Years go by and I’m here still waiting 

Withering where some snowman was
Mirror mirror where’s the crystal palace
But I only can see myself
Skating around the truth who I am
But I know, dad, the ice is getting thin

When you gonna make up your mind
When you gonna love you as much as I do
When you gonna make up your mind
Cause things are gonna change so fast
All the white horses are still in bed
I tell you that I’ll always want you near
You say that things change my dear

Hair is grey
And the fires are burning
So many dreams
On the shelf

You say I wanted you to be proud of me
I always wanted that myself

He says
When you gonna make up your mind
When you gonna love you as much as I do
When you gonna make up your mind
Cause things are gonna change so fast
All the white horses have gone ahead
I tell you that I’ll always want you near
You say that things change
My dear

Tori Amos, Little Earthquakes


Yellowcard’s Ocean Avenue Acoustic may just be one of my favorite reissues I’ve ever heard. These songs sound so beautiful and the stripped down, less punky more patient treatment reveals the meaning that all us fans heard back in the day when this record was a soundtrack to summer nights with friends, fall afternoons alone, hallway head phone listens and so much after.

Truly love how they kept structures the same, as the songs were not rewritten. But the violin solos ring a little more mournful over acoustic – the setting on “Empty Apartment” is gorgeous – and the meaningful moments are spotlit with all this new space, like the “Believe” intro and the entirety of the title track. It’s also mixed and produced extremely well in terms of clarity.  These songs could be played in front of me right now and the guitar would sound just as clear, drums just as crisp. And I can hear harmonies I don’t recall, though that may be more my own distance from the original.

It’s not easy to revisit songs (as I noted recently about the goddess herself Tori Amos) and I love that Yellowcard, a band that was a pivotal listening point for many music fans today, was able to do so without sacrificing their integrity or musicianship.

“There’s a piece of you that’s here with me
It’s everywhere I go, it’s everything I see
When I sleep, I dream and it gets me by

I can make believe that you’re here tonight
That you’re here tonight
If I could find you now things would get better
We could leave this town and run forever
I know somewhere, somehow we’ll be together
Let your waves crash down on me and take me away”

~Ocean Avenue
Yellowcard, Ocean Avenue Acoustic

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