|Day 101: Tori Amos ('97 Bonnie And Clyde)
August 5, 2020
There are two big risks a musician can take: a cover song and a concept album. Tori Amos basically took on both with her 2001 release, Strange Little Girls. Amos takes 12 songs intricately linked to a male perspective, often to the point of misogyny, and reinterprets them from the woman's perspective. It is brave step for a woman who was herself the victim of rape, and a further sign that women need to seize the narratives from male pop stars.
Most of what Amos covers in Strange Little Girls, such as The Beatles' "Happiness Is A Warm Gun," Lou Reed's "New Age," 10CC's "I'm Not In Love," and Depeche Mode's "Enjoy the Silence," are fascinating choices that give her room to interpret the songs. Sometimes her covers fail, either because of indifference (The Boomtown Rats' "I Don't Like Mondays") or because of lack of restraint (Neil Young's "Heart of Gold"). When she gets the cover perfectly, as she does with Eminem's "'97 Bonnie And Clyde," she blows it away . . . perhaps figuratively and metaphorically.
If you don't know Eminem's "'97 Bonnie And Clyde" (sometimes referred to as "Just The Two Of Us"), that may be a good thing. His song is a not particularly shrouded fictional narrative of Eminem killing his wife, Kim, basically within range of their young daughter: "Don't worry, Dada made a nice bed for Mommy at the bottom of the lake." Some reviewers had the audacity to suggest his song was humorous, the most offensive being Entertainment Weekly identifying the song "as the album's funniest slice of black humor."1
As long as there are critics willing to justify murder of women, because remember women are most likely to be murdered by the man in their lives2, then we need women like Tori Amos to reclaim those stories. Boy, does Amos do that here.
From an opening with a few electronic chords and a semi-regular beat to the main melody of a threatening electronic line straight from Jaws, interspersed with piano notes that sound like they could be from Halloween, this is a modern horror story, one that you can see 15-20 times a day on Forensic Files any weekend.
Amos changes no words in her version, the lyrics are all Eminem's. With her almost coquettish vocals, Amos speaks as the dead woman from the trunk, not the psychopathic man in the driver's seat trying to explain the situation to his freaking daughter. Amos basically whispers the lines, whereas Eminem whined them, her voice calling out from beyond. In Eminem's voice, the scene is ludicrous, in Amos' voice, it is incredulous. With the music focusing on strings and keyboards, instead of drums and scratches, the song has an emotional intelligence completely lacking in the original. Eminem's music conveys the violence; Amos' conveys the sadness.
Over and over, we can't avoid that horror movie soundtrack as from the eyes of the dead mother we "watch" aghast when the man asks his child, "here, you want to help Dada tie a rope around her neck/We'll tie it to her footsie, then roll her off the dock." There is nothing acceptable about this line, even less so about the patronizing attitude about the laws that are supposed to protect women like this, "no more fighting with Dad/no more restraining order." Not sure how Amos doesn't just let her anger spill all over the song, but to her credit, she doesn't Courtney Love the song.
Amos always gave her all for her art, whether it was her "Me And The Gun," recounting her rape when she was 21, or her assessment of religion on "God" ("do you need a woman to look after you?"). She did this with Strange Little Girls, each song accompanied by a photo of her in some kind of dress/look that fit the song. Her picture accompanying "'97 Bonnie And Clyde" clearly resembles that of Kim Mathers, Eminem's wife and hypothetical corpse in his version:
Creepily uncanny likeness. Maybe Amos' next CD should be called Doppleganger. It would allow her a whole new horror concept to pursue.
"'97 Bonnie And Clyde." Tori Amos. Strange Little Girls. Atlantic. 2001. Link here.
1Browne, David. "The Slim Shady LP Review". Entertainment Weekly. 12 March, 1999.
2Female Victims of Violence. Bureau of Justice Statistics. September 2009. Retrieved: https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/fvv.pdf
Day 100: Phil Collins "I Missed Again."
Day 102: Red Rider "Lunatic Fringe."->
See full unfinished list here.