Sugarbutch Says: Happy 15th Anniversary, “Boys for Pele”

The title of the album refers to the Hawaiian volcano goddess Pele, and the boys she was tempted to sacrifice to her, but instead focused on these songs, which she calls “girls,” to do the sacrificing for her. It is a take-no-prisoners album about self-discovery and self-creation in the wake of failed heterosexual gender dynamics: “I didn’t want to play seductive little girl or ballbuster any more. With this record I played all those roles until I got to my heart. To find your fire as man or woman you have to take your torch and go to the shadows.”

And go into the shadows she did — and I eagerly followed her, desperate to find some way to make sense of my coming of age, my transition into adulthood, my gender, my sexuality.

I started a Tori Amos fan site, called A Watercolour Stain, a lyric from “Father Lucifer,” my favorite track on the album and still one of my favorite songs of hers. It resided on Geocities for three years, until 1999, where it moved to 189 shows.

Jason Elijah, another Toriphile from that time period who still runs yessaid.org, recently put forth dozens of digital recordings from that tour on his personal blog. Of the Dew Dropp Inn tour, he notes: “She let her voice go wild, belting out the most dramatic and intense performances of her career — hisses, moans, wails, wild improvisations and raw screams. This was a Tori Amos unlike anything you’d ever heard on record or in concert before, and it’s something you’d never hear again after this tour. Tori has even admitted that she is somewhat embarrassed by these intense, wild performances.”

But I wasn’t embarrassed by these intense, wild performances: I was enthralled. It was touching something deep in me and waking up.

See, this album is about men, and women’s relationships with men, and, as Tori herself put it, stealing fire from men: “The album is [...] about the way I’ve stolen fire from the men in my life. And I got tired of doing that ’cause I have my own. But I couldn’t see that for a very long time. And now I can respect them without needing to suck their blood.”

Sure, the many different references to the men in her life having failed her (“shave every place where you’ve been, boy”; “he likes killing you after you’ve died,” “I run and then I run from him and then I run”) spoke deeply to me and my increasingly failed heterosexual relationship, but it was two key lines that squirmed their way under my skin and wrapped around my heart:

“you think i’m a queer / i think you’re a queer” (“Blood Roses”)

“so are you gay / are you blue / thought we both could use a friend / to run to” (“Hey Jupiter”)

At first, they were just fun, poetic lines that spoke to my budding inner bisexuality. But then, I didn’t really want to listen to those lines. They stuck with me. They trailed after me, after every thought I thought and every line I wrote and every quarrel I had with my boyfriend. I needed this album to leave a bad relationship. I needed this album to come into my queerness.

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