Song Analysis

I Can’t See New York

Monday 12 September 2011, by Cécile Desbrun

(Coming soon! In the meantime, read Tori’s quotes about the song)

"She thinks she’s got it all figured out, and then she goes to Boston airport, and that is when the thread leaves her and follows another woman on a different plane. And Scarlet takes a little plane, and she gets into New York, and she gets into New York City, where she sees this plane where this other woman is on, that the thread followed and tied itself to.

She sees this plane uh, crash, above New York City. And the thread comes back to her while she’s on the ground, and then the panic and the chaos that happens. She’s able to see and hear what this woman went through before she died. So she takes that thread with her. And she doesn’t want to leave New York, I think it’s almost like um... feeling a friend that’s wounded, not wanting to leave their side. At a certain point, though, she goes. It’s time for her to go." (Scarlet Stories CD)

From Boston, the story switches to New York, where Scarlet witnesses a plane crash in mid-air. Tori was in the city on September 11 and I Can’t See New York is a story with obvious echoes of that fateful day. "When they watched it on TV, people had to remind themselves that it wasn’t a movie. Being there and being able to smell it, you knew that it was reality." (Scarlet’s Walk bio)

From there, Scarlet embarks on an adventure that eventually finds her on a plane heading from Boston to New York. "And another woman gets on another plane, but her plane doesn’t make it down. Then my character feels what she felt before she died."

Amos says she came up with the plane-crash scenario before 9/11, "but I didn’t know what it meant. I didn’t know what some other references I was coming up with meant, either." (USA Today October 31, 2002)

"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?" (The Dallas Morning News April 18, 2003)

I think a core theme running through, though, is the outer betrayal versus the inner betrayal. The polarity of that, so in ’I Can’t See New York’ [in which Scarlet witnesses a plane crash in midair], we see the culmination of outer betrayal that may have stemmed from some kind of inner betrayal.(Dallas Voice April 18, 2003)

"That song flashed in my mind as soon as disaster struck New York on Sept. 11," Amos said. "I was in New York that day. I was walking down Fifth Avenue and I could see and smell what was happening downtown. I couldn’t shake my song from my head." (Asbury Park Press August 22, 2003)

“Do I think songs have a time line ? Can a song’s meaning and the response by a listener change because of when it’s presented ? Well, obviously. ’I Can’t See New York’ was perceived and will always be related to the September 11 plane crashes, even though it was written in May 2001. When ’I Can’t See New York’ walked into the room, slid into the wood through the strings, claiming the keys, which in turn played me, I did not choose to project actual events onto the song creature herself; otherwise I would probably have superimposed my perception of the TWA800 disaster of 1996.

Sometimes you have to order your own pictures to leave your mind, knowing that they are a tainting influence on the translation -talk about being lost in translation. This is a focus, a skill, a meditation of sorts, to keep a clean slate, to keep Tori Ellen’s opinions out of the way when a song walks in full force, almost completely intact -this is definitely about taking dictation. These songs happen rarely for me, hearing one pretty much as a finsihed song for the first time, and hearing it very much how the public will hear it for the first time in a completed form. Only when I was walking down Fifth Avenue on the afternoon of September 11 did I understand -in song language- the subtexts and energy of death and loss from the point of view of a plane victim. As the song played over in my head, I kept walking toward the burning.” (Piece By Piece, pp. 111-112.)