Staff Picks

Resistance: A Songwriter's Story of Hope, Change, and Courage

Roy Normington

May 07, 2020


Resistance (the book and the act) is not just about standing up for yourself in the world, and the need to take control and continue to have your voice. It’s also about the need to cultivate resistance inwardly, and to resist temptation.

It was the after the release of Scarlet’s Walk in 2002 that I thought that I had lost Tori. I was looking for something to help direct my anger and to confirm my feelings of angst, despair and total loss of power of just not my own situation but that of our country’s as well. I was so angry at our government, our policies, and about how we were dealing with things after 9/11. I had looked forward to Tori’s new album so much. I was finally going to be able to help work my emotions out. Little did I know what would happen when I got to play it for the first time, but more on that later.

People turn to artists, authors, poets to help them understand our world and what is going on around us. Tori is no exception to this. She has always been on the cusp or just a step ahead. I’ve often wondered, how does she do this? Her new book, Resistance, offers some insight into the world and mind of one of today’s greatest composers of original music.

One of the key elements of how she stays current is not just by telling us how we should react, but in listening and observing how people around her react. Sure, some of her songs go right to the heart of raw emotion and there’s no doubt about how we should feel after listening to it. But most of her work happens when she has a feeling, or one of the seeds planted long ago for a song are ready to be picked. Art is ongoing, always changing.

Listening to her concerts is testimonial to that. One concert at one place might be vastly different the next night at another town. Why? Tori listens to people. She gets a pulse as to what’s going on around her, what people are going through, how she can help. People send notes, talk to her before the show and sometimes the set list changes about two to three hours before the show. That’s Tori. She maneuvers her craft to fit life and sometimes life happens to her craft.

Then there are the Muses. The voices that help all artists get to that place of creative flow. Tori’s Muses aren’t always around. Sometimes they need to go help someone else. Her creative process and how she taps into energy to get a song or bits of lyric out is wonderful to hear about. Everyone has a process, but knowing yours and developing that is essential. Know who you are, what your voice is, no matter if you’re writing a song, writing a book, or talking in front of a crowd. Don’t lose your yourself.

A main thread in the book is about ownership of your work, about owning it yourself and not letting others dictate how you should be or work. Too often, especially in our patriarchic times, those in charge tell us what we should like, how we should be, and to not change from that. Tori defies this everyday.

Her first attempt at a recording career was dictated by others and she fell flat on her face. She had to find herself again. Most people don’t try and may never know it. Her words: “If you take away anything from this book, take this: Instruments do not betray us. We betray them and ourselves and our artist souls. Betrayal–that’s all down to us.”

There are many ways Tori approaches her work, and how she creates, in the book. I circled and asterisked so many passages and phrases, but to be honest, you really need to read the book to try to get it all. If there is one thing that I must say about Resistance, it is that it goes there. Deep, personal, dark, political places. Places that you wouldn’t think anything could grow. Death, stagnation, racism, sexual abuse, and loss of hope. But through these things there’s rebirth, understanding, faith, learning, and newfound hope.

As Tori travels around the world and offers us nuggets of her life, she fills the book in between with lyrics from her repertoire over the years. They either go hand in hand with the story or they offer some insight as to how she was feeling or taking in the world. Some are a direct result of life, but sometimes they were told years ago and just found the light now.

As I was saying before, I looked to Tori for reflection, for how I should react emotionally to what was going on. I needed some guidance, and when I bought Scarlet’s Walk, I felt that she had failed me. Where was the anger? I just heard these little songs about “feelings,” about cities across America, about community and about the freedom to write what you want to say, and to say what you want. Okay, it took me a couple times to listen to it, but I got it. This wasn’t the time to be angry, but more about, Alright, this happened, we must remember, we must go on, and what have we learned? Tori actually did give me exactly what I needed at that time.

Resistance (the book and the act) is not just about standing up for yourself in the world, and the need to take control and continue to have your voice. It’s also about the need to cultivate resistance inwardly, and to resist temptation. Like the aunt that offers you a cough drop out of the blue because she knows you need it, Tori offers these gems at just the right time. We need to be reminded that anger is not needed to make us creative, that we cannot force things, and that we should never doubt ourselves.

About Roy Normington

Ever since he was a little boy reading mystery and fantasy books, Roy has had aspirations to share the books he loved with others, to spread books to the masses. After moving to Milwaukee 25 years ago, his dream came true. He started working in Harry W. Schwartz's business division, which has now blossomed into the niche, bulk book sales operation that is Porchlight. Besides connecting people to books, Roy also likes traveling, pets, binge watching TV, tequila shots and, yes, still finding a nice place to sit and read for awhile.

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