"Ribbons Undone" – Tori Amos (Chapter One Title Explained)

ribbonsundoneimagesI’ll just preface this by saying that there are two sections of my book. The first is called Eclipses, with four chapters about childhood and adolescence before I left for college. These are not named after songs. The next section, Waxing Crescent, is the main body of the book, and I still think of the first chapter in this section as chapter 1. This section (the bulk of the book) is where lyric-as-title comes into play.

In this post I decided to go through my chapters that are named after song lyrics and say why I picked the lyric with the chapter, because I picked them all for such varied reasons.

Chapter One is titled “She’s A Girl Rising From A Shell” from the song “Ribbons Undone” by Tori Amos.

Some songs I picked because that’s what I was listening to at the time I’m writing about. This was not the case this time. I titled this chapter about leaving for college with a line from a song that I didn’t hear until six years after the fact.

Yet this is one of the chapter titles that to me is so perfect it gives me shivers. I thought the whole idea of a girl rising from a shell was such an apt image for my own transition to college from home. In fact, if I could design my own book cover, it would have some image of an albino girl rising from a shell, probably with some bluey ocean color in the background. And moon imagery, of course.

And why I love this song and chapter matching soooo much is partly because to me, the whole song really fits – not so much the song title or the album title, which is the case with other selections – but if I could name the chapter after the whole song, I would, because it just fits seamlessly.

Tori wrote “Ribbons Undone” for her daughter. And just as a side story, I heard this song in spring of 2005, when her album The Beekeeper came out. I was going through another kind of big transition at the time, and I was writing this chapter, and this song was always on my mind. Then that April, I went with a friend of mine to my first Tori concert, in Seattle. She played songs from her whole career, though it seemed namely from Boys For Pele, and I kept hoping she’d play this song. I did that thing where I was trying to send silent mental messages, thinking, “Tori, play it, play it, play it,” over and over. The first set ends and she comes back out onstage for the encore and said something like her daughter had asked her to play “her song” for the people of Seattle, so she did. Seeing it live actually made me cry, and was one of those moments where it seems like everything converges. A gorgeous and profound moment just layered with meaning.

Anyway here are the words to the song:

She’s a girl
Rising from a shell
Running to spring
It is her time it is her time
Watch her run with ribbons undone

She’s a rose in a lily’s cloak
She can hide her charms
It is her right there will be time
To chase the sun with ribbons undone

She runs like a fire does
Just picking up daises
Comes in for a landing
A pure flash of lightening
Past alice blue blossoms
You follow her laughter
And then she’ll surprise you
Arms filled with lavender

Yes my little pony is growing up fast
She corrects me and says
“You mean a thoroughbred”
A look in her eyes says the battle’s beginning
From school she comes home and cries
I don’t want to grow up Mom at last not tonight

You’re a girl
Rising from a shell
Running through spring
With summer’s hand in reach now
It is your time
It is your time
So just run with ribbons undone
It is your time yes my angel
It is your time
So just run with ribbons undone

Run run darlin’
Ribbons undone

So the song is obviously for a much younger girl than I was leaving for school, but still it grabbed me, the whole sense of a girl going from one phase to another, spring to summer, coming into her own, rising, growing. It just encompasses a lot of the feelings I have when I look back at myself at that time. This part particularly tugs hard at my heartstrings:

“Yes my little pony is growing up fast
She corrects me and says
“You mean a thoroughbred”
A look in her eyes says the battle’s beginning
From school she comes home and cries
I don’t want to grow up Mom at last not tonight”

I still have a hard time hearing that part of the song without tearing up. I find it so poignant. I guess what I relate to is the innocence of it, looking back. It’s hard for me to put it into words. That whole idea that the battle is beginning, I have this feeling of looking at her daughter, or any mother looking at their daughter as a little kid, as the battle called life starts up, and I feel the same way, at my age now, looking back at the younger me who left for college – ready as hell to leave, scared out of my mind, that whole push and pull of wanting to grow up and also not wanting to.

I also get a little lump in my throat just thinking of how fragile innocence is. I had NO idea what I was getting into when I left for college, no idea where the journey would take me and what roads I would travel down. It’s like I could look at myself leaving for college and just say to her, “You have no idea what you’re in for, no idea how fucking hard it will be at times, no idea what heights of heartache and happiness you’ll have along the way.” I feel that way looking back at a lot of beginnings, anything I started without really knowing the path (and I mean that in an internal and external way) it would take or where it would lead. There’s something really precious about that setting out without knowing. Something that just kind of kills me, like, “if only you knew…but thank god you don’t.”

I think sometimes, that it’s the only way we start anything or embark on any adventure, is by the grace of not actually knowing what it will entail. Because I know for myself anyway, if I did sometimes know the real cost or impact or meaning of something ahead of time, I wouldn’t be able to take that first step, and then there would be no great meaning or impact or experience. I have a lot of tender feelings around that whole concept, remembering innocence and not knowing. It’s a blessing sometimes.

Says the tarot reader.

Another little story about this song and my book: This was one of the first chapters I named, and it was written in stone for me, cemented immediately. At one point, about two years ago, I was thinking of self-publishing rather than seeking traditional publishing, and so I tried to obtain permission to use some of the lyrics that are in my book, and mailed a request to use the line from this song to Tori’s publishing company. Well maybe a week or two later, I woke up with a ringing phone at 6am or something, and it was someone who called himself “Dr. Amos” wanting to talk to me about the copyright permission. I had been in a dead sleep and tried to get my wits about me, while at the same time wondering, Dr. Amos? Am I talking to Tori’s father or something? I did get the permission (and he even gave me some advice on changing the title of my book, lol). He was on the east coast, which was the reason for the earliness of the call. Anyway, I thought that was cool.

Know what else is kind of cool? It’s snowing.

~Emilia J

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One thought on “"Ribbons Undone" – Tori Amos (Chapter One Title Explained)

  1. You have to careful yelling things at Tori Amos concerts. I don’t know if I ever told you this story, but I went to a Tori Amos concert on winter solstice and she played for about two hour and forty-five minutes. I was sitting in the third row and we were really really close. The girl in front of me screamed out “Silent All These Years” just as Tori Amos was starting in a song. Tori Amos spun around on the piano seat and shouted back “FUCK YOU!” and then went right back to playing. The girl who had screamed her request just crumpled back into her seat. It was awesome!

    I’m so jealous of you in a snowy Orcas. Take lots of walks at 2AM :-)

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