“I’m trying not to move,
it’s just your ghost passing through,
I said I’m trying not to move,
it’s just your ghost passing through,
it’s just your ghost passing through.”
History lesson: Putting the Damage On is a ballad featured as the 17th track on Tori Amos’ 1996 album, Boys For Pele. The song may have been initially considered as a single for the album, because copies of the album were accompanied by a sticker listing this song, along with Caught a Lite Sneeze and Talula, as feature songs, but of all five singles released from the album, Putting the Damage On was not one of them. In the song, Amos is accompanied by her own piano playing, and by the Black Dyke Band (which decades earlier had provided the brass band segments in The Beatles song Yellow).
Tori Amos, on Putting the Damage On: “And of course ‘Damage’ speaks for itself. The song, being herself damaged, it’s trying to teach myself about graciousness, and I have such a hard time with that. I have a very hard time. ‘Damage’ was so essential for me to sing, it’s one of the most difficult ones for me. I can look and have love and feelings for some of these people but…”
Tori lies back on the couch and takes a blessed moment to stare at the beige ceiling before returning to her whirling thoughts. “Again, all I can say is I still have feelings. A part of me wants to rejoice in their happiness; they’ve worked hard, but sometimes I feel like… ahhhhh… I am looking at strangers, how they are looking back at me. I am very aware of the things that dawned on me over the past year and a half with people who knew me. I am trying to learn how to be gracious,” she admits.
After another rejuvenating pause Tori grows more animated, exclaiming, “You know it’s not going to work, you know all these things, but you still have feelings… but it’s just not appropriate to acknowledge them. And more than anything I find it interesting what I still find attractive. That’s the whole thing that came when I sang that… ‘you still look pretty’ which… that can mean a lot of things,” she sighs. (B-Side Magazine, May/June 1996)
Likewise, Neil [Gaiman] has said things to Tori, which, unknown to him at the time, would later appear in her songs. The example he gave was when he once told her a story about how Groucho Marx had told his daughter to go out shopping. She blatantly refused but, he insisted that she should go shopping. Eventually, under protest, she conceded and headed for the stores. Some hours later, Groucho’s daughter returned with a poodle and a Corvette and he vowed never to send her shopping again. This story stayed with Tori as it later appeared in the lyrics to “Putting the Damage On” from Boys for Pele. (Take to the Sky #10, 1997)
Personal reflection: (An unsent letter to a past me, and a past him, never to be sent)
I think you still remember me as a girl who taught you to drive, and I know I remember you as the boy who helped me learn to trust. I know we still close our eyes and see the kids we were, driving down the coast every other day because we had nothing else to do. Back then they all knew us for what we showed them, and you knew how to fit in with anyone and everyone. They all loved you, and as you held my hand I felt bold and brave, and almost healed. You would light my cigarette and laugh at how fast I smoked, kiss my lips and tell me I was pretty. We were so pretty together.
And yes, I remember that night, twisting up the road in all that fog, you telling me to pull over to the side of the road. I turned to face you and the tears fell, as you half-whispered to me things that night that no one else knew. I took your hands in mine, felt how much you were shaking, and, I showed you all my scars then. We traded the stories and let each other breathe them in, and we held each other until we were stronger. I think we sat there for hours, together, thinking back it felt like days and days.
And later, sitting at your extended family’s house, we smiled at each other and I knew right then that I loved you with every piece of who I was. Yeah, I remember it, of course I do, how could you possibly think I’d forget? But, we were kids, and we have grown. I have learned to breathe and be brave all on my own now, even though I do miss you, well hell, I will always miss you.
But, these new things you see, I wonder if it is really me, or just a memory of who I used to be. Have I just become a symbol of the things you feel you may have lost? Because sometimes the past can be seen that way, a fading black and white image of what came before; and that less then vivid picture can often seem so much better than what is now. You were right, though, when you wrote me that I am tired of being a symbol, and that I just want to be seen as me. Once upon a time you saw me as me, more than anyone ever had before. But, I wonder if the only me you see now is that once upon a time me. I am guilty of it, too. I know I see you as that boy from before, the one that was near impossible to let go of, and perhaps that is the point of this all, to recognize what we meant to each other and say goodbye.
Because boy you sure look pretty when you’re putting the damage on, but it did leave us oh so damaged, don’t you remember?
Putting the Damage On (live) :: Tori Amos