Jeanne Recommends: “Silent All These Years” by Tori Amos

My parents came late to cable television. It was 1991 or 1992 before we got it at our house, and only then because we could no longer get a reliable signal with just rabbit ears and my father couldn’t live without the news at the dinner table. My teenage self was thrilled. Back then, MTV and VH1 still played music videos and The Real World was edgy stuff. (I watched the first season faithfully.) Weekends, sick days, school holidays, and after school afternoons were replete with my first love: music. I would bounce between the two channels to see what videos were playing — if MTV was showing something I was sick of hearing, I’d flip over to VH1 to see what was going on there, back and forth, ad infinitum.

One bright morning, I was watching VH1 and a music video came on that I hadn’t seen before. A woman in a vivid purple slip with even more vivid red hair was seated in front of an upright piano, and I watched as she drew the now-familiar opening riff from its keys. Then she started singing, and I dropped the remote.

Excuse me, but can I be you for a while
My dog won’t bite if you sit real still
I got the Anti-Christ in the kitchen yellin’ at me again

I thought of my father. I didn’t yet have a name for his mental illness, nor had I begun to think of the way he had always treated me as abusive, but the image of “the Anti-Christ in the kitchen yellin’ at me” felt true in a way I had yet to fully understand.

So you found a girl who thinks really deep thoughts
What’s so amazing about really deep thoughts?
Boy you best pray that I bleed real soon
How’s that thought for you?

My mind pinballed to every pathetic boy I’d ever had a crush on. Damn, this woman got me. I was never quite good enough for any boy — too chubby, too smart, too weird. I’d had my first real kiss by then, but the boy didn’t want to be seen with me afterward.

Hey, but I don’t care ’cause sometimes, I said sometimes I hear my voice.
And it’s been here silent all these years

Every cell in my body breathed a sigh of relief, the kind that only comes when something — art, music, writing — spreads into the deepest corners of my being and works a kind of magic. Ms. Amos opened a doorway for me that day; a doorway between girlhood and womanhood, between fear and bravery, between keeping silent and speaking truth.

(Song recommendation by Jeanne Sharp)

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