Humans have gathered honey longer than they have recorded their own history. In Prehistoric times as well as today, the beekeeping tradition has yielded the food, medicine and artistic medium through which entire cultures have been sustained. And it is through this lens that singer/songwriter Tori Amos views the mythology and current state of Christianity on her recently released studio effort.
“I needed an entry place that hadn’t been assimilated by Christianity, Judaism or Islam, something that had stayed autonomous through the changes of these religious beliefs,” Amos told The Hatchet. “The beekeeping tradition really just fit the bill.”
Amos, whose father is a Methodist minister, said that she created The Beekeeper (Epic Records) to retell the creation myth from a matriarchal perspective. Above the smoky, piano chord progressions of the album’s 12th track, God’s mother, Sophia, convinces her to eat the forbidden fruit that brings her inside “The Orchard” – one of the album’s six virtual gardens in which she examines her life and relationships.
“That is really the core of the record,” she said. “I was really inspired by the idea of creating a virtual garden. Not the garden where a woman was blamed for the fall of man, but a different garden, one where we’re encouraged to find knowledge and explore ourselves.”
The characteristically subtextual artist explained, “The Beekeeper is really an allegory – a sonic installation of this woman’s short stories as she looks at each of her relationships as a pieces of this mosaic.”
Amos, 41, said that although the album draws off her personal experience reconciling both spirituality and sexuality after the birth of her daughter, it is as much about “the macrocosm” as it is about “the microcosm.”
“We can’t shut what’s happening in the world out of our apartments and homes,” she said, describing time spent in Cornwall, England, when she watched the British Broadcasting Corporation cover how certain leaders used Jesus’ teachings to justify violence and their agenda. “In a time where Christianity is a current subject, it has become something that frankly I don’t think Jesus would recognize.”
Amos, who is known for her ability to convey both feminism and raw sexual power, continued, “There’s such a profanity in sexuality for women who have been brought up in the Christian church. You’re either vulgar or puritanical.”
“Mary Magdalene was a sexual and a spiritual being. But she’s stripped of that sexuality in the Christian myth. And then you look at pop culture – the need to sexualize everything. I don’t know a lot of women that have healthy sexuality and spirituality. The album is really about searching for this missing piece of the femininity that gets lost when women go from one extreme to the other.”
The Beekeeper, Amos’s eighth full-length album, also references the numeric symbolism of a hexagon and the “sacred sexuality” of worker bees. But like some of Amos’ other, highly conceptual work, critics have denounced its artistic distance and superfluous, hidden meanings. At the same time, most agree that even if its thematic message doesn’t resonate, The Beekeeper’s nimble and melodic 19 tracks can be taken at face value.
Amos attributed the soulful quality of tracks like “Sweet the Sting” to the fact The Beekeeper was composed on a Hammond B3 organ, which, “could sustain a gospel choir.”
Released in conjunction with a memoir co-written by music journalist Ann Powers, Amos said that her intent is to motivate readers by sharing elements of her creative process. “A lot of people seem to be demoralized with some of changes that are occurring globally or politically. But instead of banging head against wall, you have to put pen to paper.”
“The only way to combat this destruction is to create. Whether they’re having dry spell or your frustrated with the music industry, I hope that people will feel the fire within their being,” she said. “I’m living my life and responding to these issues. And The Beekeeper is really about chronicling time.”
This article appeared in the March 3, 2005 issue of the Hatchet.