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The Dallas Morning News (US)
April 18, 2003
Travels With Tori
by Rob Clark, The Dallas Morning News
There are many chilling moments on Tori Amos' latest album, the challenging and often breathtaking Scarlet's Walk.
But "I Can't See New York" hits especially hard. When Ms. Amos pounds the piano like thunder, and when she unleashes the chorus, the haunting imagery of Sept. 11, 2001, returns.
"But I can't see New York," she sings, "as I'm circling down through white cloud, falling out/And I know his lips are warm, but I can't seem to find my way out of this hunting ground."
Ms. Amos was in New York City on Sept. 11. The strange irony is that she wrote the song months before.
"I really didn't understand it until that day," she says. "I didn't understand some of the visuals I was getting when I was writing it. And then it started to really become 3-D as I was walking around Fifth Avenue, smelling all that burning. The burning that never goes away in your head."
"New York" is an emotional highlight of Scarlet's Walk, which Ms. Amos calls a "sonic novel." It's an intriguing and complicated journey following one woman at least partly based on Ms. Amos herself across the country, searching to discover what America means.
"It cooked for a long time," Ms. Amos says by phone from a tour stop in Grand Forks, N.D. But the material came "fast and furiously" after Sept. 11. She was on tour at the time. Questions began to form in her mind about the nation, which she refers to as the "spiritual mother."
"Who is America, the soul, and is she in the right hands? What is truth and what is not? And where the shadows are lurking. And the question of the hour is, are we really serving the soul of our country or are we serving something else? So that is burning Scarlet through this."
The female characters that Scarlet encounters, from a porn star to a Cherokee woman, are personifications of America, "so Scarlet can get to know her, all her pieces," Ms. Amos says. The men represent the four directions: north, south, east and west.
It's pretty heady stuff. Then again, Ms. Amos has explored the thorny depths of the soul on all of her albums, starting with her powerful debut, 1992's Little Earthquakes. She's daring: reinterpreting works by men even Eminem from a female point of view on her 2001 album Strange Little Girls. And her lyrics have been bold (as on "God": "God, sometimes you just don't come through/Do you need a woman to look after you?"), and bravely personal (her harrowing autobiographical song about being raped, "Me and a Gun").
But without listeners diving into the lyrics and fully absorbing the concept of Scarlet's Walk, the themes and plots can be invisible. Those who get it may find it fascinating. The casual listener will probably miss it altogether.
It doesn't worry her.
"You can't build based on how people will receive it," she says. "I really believe it's none of my business how people will receive things. That's their personal right."
As Ms. Amos talks about the album's meaning, the conversation inevitably tips toward the war in Iraq. But it's in an abstract way. The words "war," "Iraq" and "Saddam Hussein" are never mentioned. She realizes her audience is in President Bush's home state: "I'm very aware I'm talking to Texas right now; don't think I'm not."
Yet she never utters his name.
She also never comes out and declares being against the war, though it's not hard to tell that she is. It sounds different from other statements made by anti-war artists and celebrities. Her words, like Scarlet's Walk, feel more like emotional soul-searching. They even feel motherly, when she expresses her fears for her young daughter, Natashya.
It has caused her to see a whole new meaning in "I Can't See New York."
"When I sing it now, I can't see the feeling of that day. I can't see the feeling that the world had for New York that day. Now, when we're the most hated nation in the world. And only two years ago, we were the ones being attacked.
"You have to understand that the reality of this when we were the victims two years ago and now we're seen as the aggressors how could our spiritual mother be so misrepresented?"
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