The Wordy Birder


When idols grow up
January 26, 2010, 12:12 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

What would my blog be without the obligatory tribute to Tori Amos? Oh, yes, yes, I know she’s been passe for something like ten years now. But real art is not about trends, nor is real admiration. I’m not just going to jump off the Tori Amos bus because you don’t think she’s cool anymore. Granted, I’m not going to do any Tori Amos name-dropping at the next Brooklyn loft party I go to, either, but that’s a whole other issue. I do have to save face publicly, even if privately I’m hollering along that I “never was a cornflake girl” on my evening commute.

What happens to our idols, though, as we begin to age? I remember being so moved by novelist Pat Conroy’s prose about the Carolinas that I quite literally applied to school in Charleston, SC. The vivid quality of his prose and the images of a dying, lusciously beautiful South that he laid bare in the pages of books like The Prince of Tides were enough to send my little New England brain into orbit. Not to mention the fact that the promise of entering into a school in a historic, beachy town where nobody knew my name was thrilling when I was sixteen. Now I see his work as a bit sophomoric and painfully sentimental, but I still feel deeply connected to those novels. They did, after all, change my life.

And that’s the power of our idols. They change our lives, if even in some slight, unknowable way. When you find someone you admire–someone famous, remote, and untouchable–you want to pass that secret to other people, to handle it with care like a fragile robins egg for another to see, know, admire, and pass on. You hoard your idols, collect their works, savor every droplet of inspiration that seeps from the speakers, or the pages, or the screen. They become you, you become them–their ideas become your obsessions, their words your creeds.

….and so it is with Tori Amos and I. The brilliance of her piano playing, the weighty, allegorical lyrics, the stunning, complex beauty of her face and her songs all existed out there in the intangible world of music. Loving Tori Amos was to love an idealized version of myself–stay with me, folks–in other words, Tori Amos was what I would be if I could redraw my own life starting at birth. If I had my way, I’d be an enormously gifted pianist with a penchant for literary lyrics and a wry smile. I’d write about Daisy Dead Petals and the Flying Dutchmen and I’d tickle the ivories and get paid millions to do it. Everyone would want to interview me, and I’d make my nest in some remote English farmhouse, complete with cows and birds and an extensive library filled with the rarest of rare books.

But no. Instead, I have had my years of Carolina thanks to Pat Conroy and my years on the “stage” as an English teacher, and I’m not penning top-charting bestsellers, but I’m writing about birds and laughing with kids as we dissect Shakespeare’s double entendres and life is good, not Tori Amos good, but certainly Tori Amos inspired.

I’m still a Cornflake Girl deep down, and always will be. Even if neither Tori nor I are really girls anymore at all.

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