Song of the day: Tori Amos – Me and a Gun

// 10 September 2012

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Cover of Little Earthquakes by Tori Amos. White background overlaid with Tori bending down in an open outward-facing wooden box in the middle. She wears a matching denim vest top and jeans and her hands are holding onto the sides. Woodlike lettering for name at the top with name written in small italics under the boxNB: Most of the direct links in this post contain discussions about rape and/or trauma after rape. The exceptions to this are ‘Tori Amos’ (to her homepage), the Discogs release details, RAINN homepage, plus the NME and Bitch articles (along with a Tiger Beatdown reference for Sady Doyle). The first link contains the lyrics and parts of the post itself contain examples of victim blaming.

Me and a Gun‘ was Tori Amosfirst solo single. It was actually the listed front cover track in its release alongside ‘Silent all These Years’ but placed below it in the tracklist and later slightly repackaged to become the B-Side. This was perhaps due to its serious subject matter: Tori’s horrific experience of being raped, around seven years before.

In other songs, a rape – if they even sung about it – gets a happy ending. In America some radio stations didn’t want to play ‘Me and a Gun’ because it’s too feministic and too realistic. I sing : “Yes, I wore a slinky red thing. Does that mean I should spread for you?” That’s the way it is, yes? But mister judge, she was hitch-hiking in a mini-skirt! Bullshit!” (Quote from Tori Amos in Nieuwe Revu, 2/94)

Despite Tori clearly stating she was raped and talking about it at length (including revealing the gun as one detail that had been changed; it was actually a knife that her attacker held), there was speculation -even as late as 1998- into whether she really was. These claims were strongly refuted at The Dent (a Tori Amos fansite), using quotes from Tori herself alongside a discussion about the definition of rape. The page continues to be cited in writing about the song.

In an analysis of ‘Me and a Gun’, Deborah Finding looks at Tori Amos’ position both within it and beyond it as narrator/survivor/healer, along with the song’s function as “a piece of trauma art”. She says it “takes the listener deep into the heart of the violation” by describing “[Tori’s] state of mind and thoughts during [the attack].” Two painfully random thoughts Tori refers to are that she hasn’t been to Barbados and must stay alive to do so and -of all things- the softness and sweetness of the biscuits in Carolina. These reminders of her humanity in her account of a rapist’s brutal attempt to erase it are, in my view, both bleakly humorous and shocking.

Tori told Rolling Stone that the song later came about after she was deeply affected by the film Thelma & Louise (“I went off and spent some time by myself… And when I came back out again, this song was walking hand in hand with me.“)

The story could have ended there, with Tori’s sharing of her own experience, but her part in helping other rape survivors developed when she was later approached backstage after a gig by a fan who said she needed to join her on the tour to escape her abusive step-father:

Tori was ready to oblige until her producer told her that they would be crossing state lines… which would mean that everyone involved could be arrested for kidnapping the girl. Tori realized these girls needed help, and she couldn’t do it alone. So she founded RAINN (the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network), America’s only nationwide toll free hotline for rape and sexual abuse survivors.” (As Waters Passing By abuse awareness site).

Tori co-founded RAINN with Scott Berkowitz. In Bitch, Sady Doyle reports that Amos has estimated that “one in three women who comes to my shows [has been] raped or sexually abused”, adding that a study by Deborah Finding (her Give Me Myself Again – Sexual Violence Narratives in Popular Music PhD study) found that the rate of sexual assault in Amos’ fanbase was “enough to support the statistic that one in four women has suffered sexual violence”. Along with this, Sady Doyle highlights the power that “a bunch of women coming together to discuss the effects of sexual violence on their lives” has to unsettle patriarchal culture. She also refers to men coming together to talk about being abused (“discussions that also happen at Amos shows”) as a possible aspect in the stigmatisation of Tori Amos fans. (“Indeed, one of the queasy undercurrents in the diminishment of Amos’ fans is that, if they’re not girls, they’re viewed as being somehow too much like girls… it’s hard to underestimate the role that homophobia and gender policing have played in the assessment of her fans.”)

Citing ‘Me and a Gun’ as a “Great Moment in Badass Rock History”, Lesley at xojane.com has described how the song was a “reassuring voice” for many rape survivors. (For example, one of her friends said that hearing it led her to recognize that an experience she had put down to her own bad choices was really not her fault.)

More recently, Lucy Jones wrote about Tori in The NME in honour of her birthday. She also wrote in the context of Julian Assange’s “Evita moment” and recent comments about rape from Todd Akin and George Galloway, saying “perhaps it’s the timeless strength of Amos’ core message – “don’t be silent” – that accounts for the ardent dedication of her fanbase and her career longevity.”

YouTube description: Still picture of the cover of Little Earthquakes by Tori Amos (see image description embedded in picture info).

Comments From You

Sira // Posted 11 September 2012 at 1:55 pm

I’m really glad you wrote about this song. I’ve been a fan of Tori Amos since Little Earthquakes and I still listen to that album a lot.

I know that Tori is unique, but I find the idea of releasing Me and a Gun as a debut single mindblowing. It’s not just that it is unlike anything else out there, in that it’s a capella and it’s about rape, and it has no real resolution. It’s also that it is about her own rape. In releasing it, she would have had to prepare herself for the possibility of hearing that song being played on the radio at any time she turned it on, being blindsided by it.

That she felt she would be able to cope with that goes to show her immense strength and resolve. I think it is a huge contribution to the arguments that feminists make about victim blaming and about speaking out. I do wonder how other survivors feel about it. I would think some might find it too triggering to listen to, but I hope some feel that they have an ally in Tori Amos, especially since she did followed up the song with starting RAINN to provide tangible support to survivors.

I think it’s an amazing song but sometimes I find it difficult to listen to – I do volunteer work in which I support rape and sexual abuse survivors and some days I definitely wouldn’t listen to it. Although I would probably factor it in to my journey to feminism and deciding to take part in that kind of work.

Tori was featured on The First Time on Radio 6 on Sunday 2nd Sept and she talked a little bit about that song. It was a really good programme – it totally focused on her career and music and not on her personal life or appearance. She also talked about Strange Little Girls and her reasons for recording ’96 Bonnie & Clyde. Well worth listening to for any fan of women’s music, let alone any fan of Tori Amos.

Holly Combe // Posted 11 September 2012 at 3:53 pm

Thanks Sira. I hadn’t heard that interview and have just found it here with 4 days left to listen.

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