I went to see Tori Amos and all I could see were a pair of hoof-like Christian Louboutin pumps attached to her ankles. All through the two hour set, while my ears took in the music, my eyes could only take in the telltale blood red soles of Tori’s black suede pumps, which glowed like menacing devil eyes as she shifted and spun spread-legged on her piano stool. I had a pang of feminist self-reproach: did I really have to reduce a female performer down to a disembodying object? But my guilt was short-lived, as I observed multiple women of various ages and sizes and hippie-dom concentrating upon that crucial inch between their eye and that of their cell-phones. The girls who were losing crucial seconds of Tori’s piano-playing and singing to focus on taking pictures with their cameras were no better and no worse than I: feminine objectification is not what it used to be. The memory-cards in those girls’ phones and my brain contain the same image: a woman bisected by a black block.
Tori and I have come a long way, baby. When she first became “Tori Amos” back in the early 90s, she used to perform in a black nylon swimsuit top and baggy faded Levi’s 501’s, frizzy hair tied back carelessly with a scrunchy. Now she’s in Louboutins. Back in 1992, I couldn’t even afford to go to her concerts. But now at my fourth Tori show, I’m paying $75 for excellent seats (Orchestra, Row E), feeling her voice vibrate through my YSL Besace bag that contained a worn copy of Marx/ Engles On Literature and Art. Yes, Tori and I now have different relationship to feminine objectification than we used to in our twenties.
After the concert, I drew out on paper this Tori in my brain and thought a lot about what it meant to be such a girl cut in two. I thought about a particular lyric of hers: “What if I’m a mermaid/ in these jeans of his with her name still on it” because lately, I’ve been strangely attracted to old Levi’s 501 jeans from the late 1970s to early 80s. With the specific late 70s/ early 80s sizing of 27X34, you get a very special fit. Inseamwise, they are definitely narrow tapering drainpipes, but the silhouette is tight without being skintight: they give you a bit of a wrinkle. They are like lo-fi skinny jeans: tight jeans before they started adding 2 percent or more elastine to every bolt of denim. I imagine these jeans as having the name of Tori still on them—the kind that she wore when she first started out. When I wear them now, some 20 years too late, they make me aware of my body in a weird way that I like. The crotch seam hugs my body way too tightly, so that from the back it looks as though my anus is devouring the seat of my pants. Or, as if I were being cut in two by my jeans.
Being split down the middle by the seam of my jeans forced me to arrange my body in a different way. The tightness of the groin area posed a radically more difficult problem: it was putting my genitalia in relief. When you wear hi-fi skinny jeans, the elastic element of the denim acts as a kind of bandage or girdle that pushes down your bump into a lovely smooth crotch. However, the faded, thinned-out 100 percent cotton of the old Levi’s has an idiosyncratic stretch that just molds around the cock, rather than putting to due submission. As a gal, it made me feel very self-conscious and made me want to start tucking like a true drag queen. But after a few adventurous outings in the jeans, I realized that if I just stick my ass out a wee bit in just such a way, the whole crotch moves backwards while the denim stays forward, creating a little concave in which to nestle the candy: ghetto tucking! It’s precarious jean-wearing, but it makes me walk like a homeless cat (a new amble I like), and the blade of the crotch-seam is a constant reminder of Tori cut in two.
Tori has always been bisected by a black laquered block stamped with gold letters that spell “Bösendorfer.” I’ve just never been close enough to the stage to see it clearly. But if the piano is the thing that produces the objectifying cutting of Tori’s bodily integrity, it is also the thing that has been most closely associated with her. It is the musical instrument of her choice. When we listen to her records, we hear the piano as a tool of virtuosity. But when we see her on stage, the piano is the black bar that comes out from nowhere and takes out the midsection and arms of her body. Then, we no longer see the piano as just an extension of Tori’s musical identity. Instead, we witness the unholy collaboration between two machines—female and piano—that we know colloquially as “Tori.” In being bisected/ objectified in this visual way, Tori does become objectified, as in less human, but I’m not so sure that’s a bad thing.
“The dancer combines with the floor to compose a machine under the perilous conditions of love and death,” write Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. And this is how I think of the “girl” that emerges from Tori and piano. This is no ordinary objectification-by-female-vivisection. Tori must allow her visual self to get cut up by the black bar of the Bösendorfer in order to make the music that fills a huge room. This cutting is the “perilous conditions of love and death” that is necessary for her to accomplish her creative combining with piano. The head provides opening for the voice and houses the brain that remembers lyric and melody; the legs mechanise the Louboutined feet that pedal the piano. If what we’re left with is an object, it is not a corpse, it’s not something that used to be human, but something that a human will be, a revolutionary statement of the contemporary body: all you need is a head and legs to be this kind of “girl.”