Tori Amos is a dynamic performer, brilliant songwriter, accomplished pianist, and all-around cool, cool lady. But sometimes, deciphering her poetic song lyrics can be a puzzle, especially her Silent All These Years lyrics.
I’m a big Tori Amos fan, and I’ve done my best to synthesize the Silent All These Years lyrics. Here’s a little bit of history, and the lyrical analysis I came up with….
The Song was released as the second single on Amos’s first studio album Little Earthquakes, although she wrote it much earlier when she was recording Y Can’t Tori Read. By 1992, it was picked up by RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) in the UK to promote awareness for the organization, and was re-released in the US in 1997. Tori claims that the song is not entirely auto-biographical because she wrote it in order to place it with another artist at the time. (Songwriters oftentimes do this when they’re starting out.)
In my opinion, however, the song is biographical in a non-literal sense because it’s about an artist giving up her voice, or her essence as a woman. This interpretation is supported by the fact that Tori was admittedly inspired lyrically by “The Little Mermaid” by Hans Christen Andersen, in which a mer-woman gives up her voice in order to catch a prince. As an artist who was trying to “make it” by pitching songs to other artists to sing, I think it’s a reasonable assumption that Tori was this symbolic woman giving up her voice to another.
A more literal and completely different interpretation, but not necessarily auto-biographical, could be that the singer has just found out about an unplanned pregnancy, and is forced to give up her voice or essence during the agonizing decision-making process of whether or not to get an abortion. Perhaps the singer has been “Silent All These Years” because she feels shame in having aborted it, coupled with the shame in not having talked about the emotional pain it caused her all these years.
Here are some lyrical references that I think support this interpretation:
“the Antichrist in the kitchen” is one of her parents screaming at her, and she’s “saved by the garbage truck” because she’s exposing her emotional “garbage” or messiness now by confessing these experiences through song.
“Boy you best pray that I bleed real soon”….telling her lover that she might be pregnant.
The “paper cup” could be a pregnancy test.
“Years go by, will I choke on my tears” may refer to the singer’s suspicion she may live to regret an abortion later in life, even if it’s the only solution right now.
Whether or not you agree with my literal and non-literal interpretations of Tori Amos’s “Silent All These Years” lyrics, it’s hard to disagree that it’s an intriguing multi-faceted song.