Singer-songwriter Tori Amos is here for Audrie and for Daisy, and she’s bringing a cleansing fire.
“As the song was developing, I began to see and hear the Valkyries were very much coming into the chorus,” Amos says of “Flicker,” the song she wrote for the teen-rape documentary “Audrie & Daisy.”
“There was a defiance that was being woven into the chorus. A bit of Furiosa and the Land of Many Mothers coming into the energy, which is not a passive energy at all,” she says with a smile, citing the “Mad Max: Fury Road” character and her matriarchal community. “It’s an energy that demands for us as a society to look at the fact that our kids are doing this to our kids. As grownups, we can’t turn away and pretend it’s not happening.”
“Flicker” ripples with fire imagery: warmth, light, ashes, burning; flame as a purifying force. Sonically, it builds from Amos’ trademark ethereal piano tremors into roiling guitar distortion, that vengeful Valkyrie ride, threatening to erupt from under the choruses. But a flame, when it flickers, could thrive or go out.
“If you don’t have enough of it, if you don’t get that ignition in the darkness — when things were at their darkest for Audrie, she couldn’t find a way to turn that life force back on,” says Amos. “So her light was extinguished too soon, at 15 years old.”
Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk’s disturbing film tells the stories of two teens, each who claimed to have been sexually assaulted by fellow students at their schools. In 2012, Audrie Pott was assaulted by at least three boys at a party on the fringe of Silicon Valley, who admitted to assault in juvenile court and served time. That same year, Daisy Coleman was a 14-year-old in a small Missouri town when she said she was assaulted. Her accused attacker eventually pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of child endangerment. Each girl was subsequently shamed and bullied by their peers.
Coleman has since gone on to marshal forces in support of sexual assault victims. Pott, 15 at the time, survived the physical attack but not the bullying by boys and girls alike. She killed herself days after the rape.
“The second verse,” Amos says, “‘When neighbors and friends only give you their burning silence / Even with torches raised, part of you can’t feel safe / Shed a little light on this, help me see / Shed a little light on this, please, and on those who excuse this act of violence … ’
“Daisy talks every time we’re at a Q&A about the betrayal she felt from friends. The whole community was choosing sides; grownups choosing sides because they didn’t want to lose their jobs. These were state champion football players” accused of attacking Coleman.
“Bonni and Jon talk about being there, filming there, and people pulling them aside and talking to them but being afraid.”
Amos has been outspoken about her own rape ordeal years ago, even co-founding the anti-sexual assault organization RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network). She memorably composed the still-arresting “Me and a Gun” (1991) on the topic. Now, however, as a mother reacting to attacks against kids — and the horrific culture of public shaming of the victims — her approach was different.
Part of her perceived duty was to light an eternal flame in Pott’s name. Part of it was to help fuel the fire for Coleman and her allies. And part was to “Shed a little light on this,” as she sings, that it can happen anywhere, to support allies and help people see how damaging their actions can be.
“The idea that one of our friends is unconscious and the thought that comes to us is, ‘Let’s rip all her clothes off; let’s assault her, write things all over her body, take photographs, put them up online’ — that’s funny?” Amos says.
When Amos considers the reactions to her song by Coleman and by Pott’s mother, she chokes up for a moment. But only a moment. Then she’s firm again: “Daisy sent a message to me; I hadn’t met her yet. She said, ‘You told my story.’
“She has now become very active with Audrie’s mother, Sheila, in the charity they set up. Sheila’s in the schools, she’s an activist, she’s talking, she’s part of Daisy’s army.
“They’re building it together.”