The Road is My Home. My home, the road
But first, let’s take a step back. Tori Amos is not merely my favorite singer, she's practically a hobby. Having seen more than [REDACTED THREE DIGIT NUMBER] of her concerts in the past 18 years, it's fair to say she's completely changed my life by introducing me to most of my best friends and bringing me on delightful adventures that took me to almost every state, not to mention several foreign countries.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch has been my favorite film ever since I sat transfixed in the audience of the 2001 Sundance Film Festival the day after it won the audience award. Remind me to tell you about the time I earnestly forced my two Midwestern parents to sit down and watch it, because it “meant so much to me.”
And nine years ago, speaking with Tori at a meet and greet before one of her shows, I gave her a DVD of Hedwig and the Angry Inch and explained fruitlessly how much I adore the music and thought she’d love the film. She’s known for her covers, and I was dying to hear her give the Hedwig soundtrack the same treatment she’d applied to, say, her 1992 tender adaptation of Smells Like Teen Spirit, for example. The recommendation fell on very busy if not deaf ears.
Skip ahead to spring 2014. Tori was touring in Europe and her nightly setlist included two cover songs, as diverse and timely as T.A.T.U’s Not Gonna Get Us in Russia or Conchita Wurst’s Rise Like a Phoenix in Austria. “Now’s my chance,” I thought. So much had changed since 2005 that should improve the likelihood of success. Hedwig being a smash hit on Broadway and Tori having written a musical being the two most compelling factors there.
I needed to know what I was up against, so before my U.S. shows had even begun but while Tori was still touring Europe, I asked my French friend to do some recon. On my behalf, she asked Tori if she’d seen the film. The answer was… inconclusive. First she said no, she hadn’t, and then her tour manager insisted they’d watched it together once on the bus. Regardless, it was not the “OMG of course, and I loved it” reply I was secretly hoping for. My battle would be an uphill one, to say the least. But I don't go down easy.
In my heart, I knew Tori would love the film and could easily do an amazing cover of just about any of the songs. So much of Hedwig is also true of her songs and her live shows – laden with references to religion and mythology. Reverent to the titans of music from years past. Deep love for (not to mention loved by) the LGBT community. And above all, fucking badass as hell. But, how to plead such a case?
We Are Talking to Phil Collins' People
I decided to make a formal pitch document, presenting all of this information in an organized fashion. What if Tori had a binder that contained not only the sheet music and lyrics, but also key data points? A little market research on what her audiences would think, maybe some high level analysis of the songs and their relevance to things she cares about, and some extra tidbits like the history of the show and its importance to people she respects? Surely she would be unable to resist complying with my request if I handed her all of this.
I got to work compiling such a document, spending an hour or so a day on its assembly. A few weeks later, thanks to Fedex Office, and much to the chagrin of my skeptical (yet supportive) fiancé, my pitch was ready, just in time for the first North American Tori Amos concert – July 16th in Vancouver, British Columbia.
One thing I didn’t want to do was pick a song for her and say “here’s the sheet music, now go.” She’s so much more than a jukebox to me. And so is Hedwig and the Angry Inch. I wanted her to watch the movie, see what I see in it, and choose the song that best resonated with her. But I know she’s got a lot going on, so I helped her out by narrowing it down to four songs I thought would be best:
The Origin of Love
Wig in a Box
Wicked Little Town
Here’s everything the binder included:
The DVD, taped to the inside of the front cover
The table of contents
The top 15 reasons to cover Hedwig
The market research
The history of Hedwig
The key elements of the four songs I chose
The sheet music
Mp3s, on a Marvin the Martian USB stick, funny considering she has a studio in her home called Martian Engineering.
A CD I burned containing all four songs
From East Berlin to Junction City
|Tour buds review the binder|
I was pretty psyched to give her the binder in Vancouver.
|The photo Tori made me take|
“So, I made you something,” is how I began. She listened with mock dubiousness. “It’s my formal request for you to cover a song from Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” A look of minor recognition passed over her face. As she flipped through the pages that expression turned to glee and at one point she grabbed the book out of my hands and made me take a photo of her holding it. She did not comment that day on whether or not I had a chance in hell, but I did get an enthusiastic “Dor, you win for presentation.” Good enough for me, as a start! At least it will be stuck in her head, I thought.
|A Hedwig reminder I gave Tori|
I talked to her a couple days later and she didn’t bring it up. Gulp. It was not time to hassle her just yet – I knew I had another six weeks to harp on it. But then about a week after Vancouver, she brought it up all on her own. “We’re just loving the Hedwig book. We have been pouring over it backstage.” YES! She then went on to ask me if I’d shown it to my fiancé yet, who she knows is a filmmaker. I explained to her that of course he’d seen it, but that he was understandably apprehensive about the lengths I’d gone to. “I told him it was outlandish but acceptable in the Tori fan community. He accepts that but probably thinks I’m a little crazy,” I admitted. She was unfazed and leaned in to insist that it might be crazy but that I "might just get all four songs." She then turned to her tour manager and insisted that they really need to watch it. She assured me at that time that the cover would happen, it was just a matter of time before she learned the music. Squee!
|Another reminder I delivered|
The tour continued and the parade of unique and awesome covers continued – Fleetwood Mac’s Silver Springs, PJ Harvey’s We Float, David Byrne’s And She Was, even NIN’s Something I Can Never Have. Meanwhile, I presented her with little reminders, so my Hedwig request stayed top of mind. It didn’t even matter to me that these little gags were likely lost on Tori, who had not yet watched the movie, despite countless long drives in her DVD player-equipped tour bus. Alas.
I sighed a bit when my secret hope for her to play Wicked Little Town at the Greek Theater in LA did not come to fruition. I crossed my fingers that Midnight Radio would show up at the NYC shows, since that’s where the scene in the film takes place.
Hello New York, Hello Missouri
|A pal helped me deliver this|
to Tori before the NYC shows
We did speak in New York. I handed her a print out of an obscure line of the film that references NYC. She seemed to be expecting me to bring it up. There was some bad news – she wasn’t playing it in New York – but that was far outweighed by the good news. “I watched the film after the Philadelphia show!” She proudly informed me. Her expression turned solemn. She stared deeply into my eyes and took my hand before she firmly spoke these next words. “I loved it.” Those sweet, inevitable words were still echoing in my head as she went onto say that she wasn’t going to play it in New York, because she needed to get to know the songs. She'd play them before the end of the tour, she assured me. I could wait. Plus, I was excited to see which song she was feeling the most.
|The NYC Reminder|
Not that this was any particular comfort, though, since she’d recently sworn on her life she was going to cover a certain Queen song for my dear friend. When the show ended with no sign of Freddie’s brilliance, my friend was understandably confused. It wasn’t until he watched a TV interview a couple of days later that he understood, because she looked straight into the camera and mentioned him by name, apologizing for not being able to work up a version of the song that was acceptable to her. So, you can see why I was hesitant to take her word as gold, here.
|Mia did her part for the cause|
Another reason the stakes were high was that I had assembled, online and in person, what felt like a small army of my musical and Tori loving friends who were as excited as I was to hear the cover. Not all of them could make it to as many shows as I did, so many of them cheerleaded with me from the sidelines, or helped me make a case in person when their shows came around. My friends Luis and Mia stand out here as folks from Peru and Missouri respectively who I met through the Tori would but who made the trip to NYC to see Hedwig on Broadway.
My God, I Deserve a Break Today
Once the day of the Orlando show arrived, I felt a little like a kid on Christmas – but one who was pretty sure Santa would call it quits before he got to her house.
My hopes and the stakes were high, only to fall later during the show when she said to the entire audience that nearly the entire show was made up with requests, but some of them she was not going to be able to do. “Don’t take it personally,” she advised. My heart did flip-flops and I squeezed the hand of my Hed-head friend Luis sitting next to me.
By now you must know – SHE PLAYED IT! She chose to play Wicked Little Town. The Hedwig version, not the Tommy Gnosis version. It was tender, sweet, flawed, emotional, and absolutely fucking perfect, all at once. I didn’t scream, but a tear or two did fall down my cheek. I could not have been happier.
|The official Orlando setlist|
In the day or so since the Orlando show, I’ve enjoyed the hell out of all the Internet comments about the cover, and Tori was delighted when I told her about the blogs and tweets and various sentiments expressed. I love that it’s not necessarily a song the entire audience recognized immediately and freaked out about, but that the video is finding its way to folks who don’t just like it but are, like me, incredibly moved by the fact that Tori is singing music they so treasure. As a bunch of other folks have said – it’s just a great fit.
This is going to sound dorky, but what makes me happiest is that Tori loves the movie. My friends must have grown so tired of my nonstop Hedwig request blathering, but I did say out loud more than once that I’d rather she love the movie and not play the request than play one of the songs without knowing the movie. I’ve since learned that Tori actually has watched the film not once but several times in the past couple of weeks, including at least one time since performing this cover. No doubt Hedwig has stolen a piece of her heart forever just as she’s done to so many others.
I say to Stephen Trask, who wrote the music I love so much – you’re going to have to add one more name to the lyric in Midnight Radio listening the greats (“Here’s to Patti and Tina, Yoko, Aretha…”). And I think you know which one.