To Venus and Back

I was finished with my first year in art school when I moved out of the dorm into my own apartment with another person from my dorm. It was in a neighborhood that had not been gentrified yet, and myself and my fellow art students were the vanguard. Three months into my lease, having not purchased any apartment insurance, I came home from my job at the MTV department in the Viacom Entertainment Store to find them boarding up my windows.

There had been an electrical fire that turned all but what was behind the closed bedroom doors into a bubbled and charred mess.

I stayed at a friend’s apartment a few L stops away until I wore out my welcome listening to The Bends. (It was probably more that I left one of the roommates waiting on a sketchy doorstep for too long.) I sent an email to some of my friends letting them know my situation – essentially homeless.


A girl from one of my summer classes responded that I could stay with her at her parents house.

I had been relatively un-jaded and expected such charity to be a given, as that such charity was what I was taught. I have come to realize that beyond the obviousness of her welcome being beyond magical (she had a preternatural ability to anticipate needs), it was one of the many times in my life that in the face of disaster I have been buoyed by the grace of others.

I managed to find another place with my roommate not far from where we had initially landed, but it took two weeks, and my mother draining her savings. By the end of the school year I was transferring out of art school to go to a proper liberal arts college to get a respectable degree and a summer job working at Sam Goody and Urban Outfitters.  Both experiences granting me an enhanced music selection with a venerable discount.

From the Choirgirl Hotel by Tori Amos was assaultive. The cover art disturbed and fascinated me. It’s Tori Amos, lying on a giant flatbed scanner. It looks exactly what you’d expect of a woman pressed against a flatbed scanner in 1998. The beautiful, tinkling piano that marked her previous albums started to recede into a heaviness.

When To Venus and Back came out I loved and hated it. We had  promotional copy that we played on heavy rotation. It felt more familiar than Choirgirl, but also muted, dissociated. Like the last sip of a bottle of generic Robitussin before you start having a histamine reaction. Before you realize that everything actually sounds the way it’s supposed to, and what’s the use of dissociatives if you dissociate naturally from years of untreated PTSD.

I find both Choirgirl and To Venus and Back to be my favorites after all these years. I admit I stopped following her work closely as I started to favor more electronica, dark wave, EBM and goth. Those albums still hit me in the right way. The song Datura reminds me of a few things, mostly, though, the garden outside of my studio apartment that seemed to have purposely planted datura inoxia in the flower beds. When I would come home from work, usually around 10pm or so, the streetlights illuminating their night-blooming white trumpets, the orangey scent would carry me the last block home. And I’d smile appreciating how deeply beautiful, and literally intoxicating and poisonous, those blooms were.

Datura proliferates, and is considered a weed, and its toxicity, among the other things, would have seemed to exclude it from a garden breaking a street into two parts. The intersection of Malden and Sunnyside. Its presence in the time I spent in that apartment stands out twenty years later.

I was living in that apartment when I went to Massachusetts and then visited NYC for a party during a Thanksgiving weekend twenty years go this November.

Where I met Jon.