Tori Amos, Manchester and growing old

One of the most wonderful things about Manchester is that it is a major venue for all the big names in music. Aside from producing lots of the greats who return regularly, it attracts most artists on a worldwide tour. In recent years I have seen more bands and artists than I can remember, most notably Neil Young in 2008.

Last night I went to see Tori Amos at the Apollo. A long time fan of Tori, I had been to all her concerts in Manchester and each time there had been a different theme. Sometimes she has a full band with her, sometimes it’s just her and a piano. Last night she excelled. Her creativity just shines out of her in what some would describe as quirkiness. I recognise it as that awkward expression of the animated nature of giving something unique to the world, a merging of your inner thoughts with a wider audience, that Tori Amos makes look so painless. The highlight of my evening was Northern Lad, a song of great significance to me and a few tears were spilled.

However, when Tori came on stage, something was wrong and there were audible gasps from the audience. Formerly a supporter of more curvy women, she appeared to have lost a lot of weight and toned up. She was a shadow of her former self. More obviously, her face had changed so much that she hardly resembled the former Tori. Whispers of ‘having work done’ Mexican waved through the audience momentarily taking the attention from the music.

I doubt that Tori Amos really cares what anyone thinks and that she has her own reasons for having work done, if indeed she has, but it brought up an interesting discussion about authenticity after the show. I was discussing it with a friend later and she asked me if, now I am ‘older’, I would consider having work done. I told her I wouldn’t, mainly because I am scared of the pain, and she confided that she had breast implants five years ago. Another friend regularly has botox injections and another has had vaginal reconstructive surgery.

Personally, I don’t see age as pathological. But, as with everything that is relational, it doesn’t matter what I think. ‘I’ am what is private to me, my inner thoughts. It’s the ‘me’ that I show to the world that is aesthetically relational; in this case it’s what other’s think that cause a mirror for consideration. As ageing is something that we cannot really escape, no matter how much ‘work’ we have done, and is common to all of us, it’s surprising that so many people are grasping at immortality.

Again, it comes down to egocentric thinking. We all want to look and feel good, preferably in as short a time as possible, and with a little effort. The way that the (Western) world is organised is around youth being valuable, an asset that deteriorates with time over a set of superficial milestones that we, amazingly, set for ourselves!

We actually start ‘ageing’ around twenty-five when cells begin to decline faster. And there is nothing we can ever do to get younger on a molecular level. This concept is inherently linked with our obsessive measurement of ‘time’ which gives us a rough baseline for how long it will be before we die. The tightening of skin and adding of bits can do nothing to the holistic, symbiotic, ageing being ‘I’ am, except provide a more aesthetically acceptable model of the ‘me’ measured against the value of youth.

For Tori, who spends much of her time being photographed and performing, aesthetics are part of the day job. But for a woman who wrote this song with such an amount of awareness, it begs the question of why she feels her relationship with the world needs redefining to such a major extent?

For the rest of us, who perform only in our day to day lives, plastic surgery is no less a quick fix than taking tranquilisers to cure anxiety or drinking to block out the world; at the end of each day we all become a little older. Getting to the root of the problem and going the long haul to reframe that into something acceptable for us is, perhaps, more rewarding for the soul. Plus, surrounding oneself with people who are gentle, uncritical and understand that youth is merely an unattainable psuedo-prize that is held up by consumer-driven market forces and at odds with living. No one can fix the eternal dread of our daily march towards death, but wouldn’t enjoying each minute instead of counting time in pathological years of ageing stretch the time we do have left and be more productive?