Song Analysis

Indian Summer

Friday 9 September 2011, by Cécile Desbrun

Released on the bonus CD Scarlet’s Hidden Treasures, "Indian Summer" subject matter is core to the journey Tori experienced on Scarlet’s Walk.

Indeed, the concept of the album was born as she toured the United States in the Fall of 2001, a couple of weeks after the attacks of 9/11. She wanted to give a space for people to gather and share their emotions and opinions after the tragedy as she felt it was important for people to go out and gather rather than staying isolated in front of the news.

A lot of artists cancelled their tours, but Tori didn’t want to and she even received a lot of letters by fans asking her to go on with her schedule. She spent a lot of time at each venue meeting fans and talking to them before and after the shows and found that 9/11 had triggered something inside people.

"I think people were questioning their relationship with the soul of the country," she said to The Post-Standard on February 28, 2003. "Once you get through the, ’There’s an outside force attacking us and we have to bond no matter what,’ kind of thinking, I saw people saying, ’We have to ask some deeper, harder questions here if we don’t want this to happen again."’ The masks were down and people were communicating in a new and very open way about what they were feeling and thinking.

The most most important thing, however, for Amos was that people started questioning the government and the way the land was represented, the informations they were told and what wasn’t. The sudden awareness, after decades of isolation, that America and its people were seen abroad as bullies came as a shock for a lot of people who wanted to understand why. Unfortunately, the patriotic propaganda became very vivid after the attacks and people against Bush’s projects of Irak War were strongly stigmatised.

"People had questions, a lot of questions. This inner voice was saying, ’If you have any questions, you’re betraying America.’ And it’s like, wait a minute. Not so fast. Last time I checked, we were a democracy. So there was a generation that has not chosen to pick up the torch quite yet, but there are rumblings. That’s what I saw, state-to-state, city to farm. It propelled my story. Scarlet had questions, too."

Scarlet’s Walk was thus an introspective look at America’s history and politics that dealt a lot with the Native American culture and how it was “cleansed” by the forefathers after the settlers took possession of the land.

In this retrospect, “Indian Summer” is really about that questioning, in a holistic sense, and refers a lot to the Medicine Wheel Native American tribes use in their ceremonies as a way to connect to the different sides of self and to the life cycle. The Wheel is a circle divided in four parts symbolizing the four directions and is often divided in six (the medians southwest, northwest, etc.). A lot of different symbols are attributed to each direction: season, colour, and animal, different aspects of the body and spirit, and the different stages of human life.

In the lyrics, Tori sings: “Indian Summer/Through the year/On the medicine wheel/Call me back/Trap me in between/somewhere west/somewhere south."

On the Medicine Wheel, West holds the physical aspect of the self, as well as introspection and insight qualities. It is in touch with intuition, emotions and represent adulthood in the cycle of life, when you become a parent or simply a responsible person who understands "we are responsible to all things and to each other." It is associated with the color black, the sage, the water and the autumn. When one turns to the West, he asks for "ability to go deep within to do the healing necessary."

South holds the emotional aspect of the self, as well as trust and innocence. It is in touch with fire and passion and symbolizes youth, when you’re still in the learning stages. It is associated with the color red, the earth, sweetgrass and summer.

Tori‘s asking to be trapped in the Southwest explains the title of the song. Indeed, what is called an "indian summer" is when the weather is unusually warm in the fall. In this sense, it is between South (summer) and West (autumn). Interestingly enough, Tori’s personal assistant and manager Chelsea Laird revealed in the singer’s autobiography Piece by Piece that she based her pre-show ritual after a southwestern Medicine Wheel.

And even though Tori said in an MSN online chat with fans on October 2002 that she considered she had moved to the West on the Medicine Wheel by becoming a mother, the song acknowledges the youth and the new generation as she addresses the "girls" ("girls take your hands…").

Which is relevant as Tori told over and over in her 2002-2003 interviews that a new generation had to rise. "Through the ages, as you know, some generations have risen, like they did in 1968, and made a decision - they would not be marginalized by the government. They stopped a war. They shifted history," she told The Hartford Courant on November 15, 2002 " It really serves those who aren’t going to be so affected by the world in 20 years that this generation stays marginalized. They don’t want to see happen what happened in 1968.”

She also added about her own position with the album and the following tour: "You can either hold a place for the next generation, be a night watchman, as they pick up the torch, or not. But your job is to hold a space for them to do it, and I have to believe in them, because many of them come to my shows. I’m seeing a grass-roots kind of spark."

Hence the clear reference to George W. Bush in the line: “Can you Mr Bush light the sage.” Of course there is a game around the word “bush” being associated to another plant but the “Mr” and cap on the B makes it clear she’s addressing the then-president of the United States. In Native American rituals, sage is used for smudging: the herbs are burnt and people taking part in the ceremony wrap themselves in the smoke as a cleansing purpose since this plant has purifying properties.

In the context of the song, Tori most than seemingly refers to the right-wing Christian conservative politics of Bush. Using biblical symbology in his speeches to condemn the attacks and emphasize the christic resonnance of the tragedy as well as the role of the USA as “leaders of the free world” on their way to get rid of the Evil, W. Bush is also known as a born-again Christian who stands against abortion or pre-marital sex.