Why Mariah Carey’s ‘Never Too Far’ Could Have Been a Post-9/11 Anthem (Column)

Mariah Carey and her legion of fans (lovingly referred to as “lambs”) have tried to to get #JusticeForGlitter before, but now, 18 years after that soundtrack album’s initial release, the time has never been more right to celebrate it — or at least “Never Too Far,” the song that transcended Carey’s catalogue and deserved to become an anthem.

The “Glitter” album, a soundtrack to the film of the same name in which Carey starred, was the pop diva’s least successful album when it dropped, netting barely more than 115,000 copies in its first week of sales. But of course it did. “Glitter” came out on Sept. 11, 2001, the day the world changed.

After four planes were hijacked and treated like missiles, with terrorists trained as pilots hell-bent on flying them into landmarks, the American public was scrambling to feel safe, not going shopping.

“Never Too Far,” which was the 10th song on the soundtrack album, was written long before the events of that fateful day. In fact, the album was originally supposed to drop in August 2001, but was pushed after Carey was hospitalized for exhaustion following a controversial “Total Request Live” appearance, in which she shed clothing, and some troubling messages she left on her own website. But, played after those events, they seemed somehow more poignant and perhaps even prescient than Carey could have imagined while penning them alongside James Harris and Terry Lewis. The song is about lost love, with lyrics that include “I won’t let time erase/ One bit of yesterday/ ‘Cause I have learned that/ Nobody can take your place,” and held against the backdrop of Sept. 11, the flood of emotions that it brought were ten-fold. At least for me.

On 8:45 a.m. ET on Sept. 11, 2001, I was standing in line at the Borders in the World Trade Center with a copy of the “Glitter” soundtrack in hand, eager to purchase the newest album from one of my favorite singers before I had to start my day at Stuyvesant High School so that I could listen to the songs in between classes. One minute later it was my turn to pay, but as I stepped forward, the lights flickered, the computers blinked off, and the building shook. American Airlines Flight 11 had hit the North Tower. But we didn’t know that yet.

Remembering the 1993 bombing, security guards were on high alert and quickly ushered everyone out of the store, telling us to cross the street “just to be safe.” The album, still in its shrinkwrap and security tag, was left on the counter. I did not get to go back for it.

Listening to that security guard, I crossed the street to see a burning hole in the New York City skyline. I ended up calling my home, where my mother promptly informed me that because it was only the fourth day of school, I could not miss class. So dutifully I trudged to Stuyvesant. Standing at the base of the bridge that crossed the West Side Highway and led to the magnet school’s doors, I questioned whether I should go inside when United Flight 175 roared above my head and hooked around to crash into the South Tower. It felt like those flames licked my face six blocks away.

Whether you were in lower Manhattan or Washington D.C. or the fields of Pennsylvania where the planes crashed that day or not, everyone knows what came next. I ended up walking miles north along that West Side Highway after the towers fell, trying to get as far away from the cloud of debris as possible. I walked with other students from my high school, some of whom stopped to peruse magazine stands once we were miles away from Ground Zero and feeling somewhat safer. Carey was on the cover of one, but I couldn’t bring myself to buy it. I couldn’t bring myself to stop in a different music store, either. My mother ended up going to our local The Wiz in the days after Sept. 11 to procure my copy of “Glitter,” though, and for weeks after, “Never Too Far” was on repeat on my Discman.

Perhaps it was because “Hero,” which was originally released in 1993, had become such an iconic piece of Carey’s catalogue already (It was Carey’s eighth No. 1 hit, which also finished as No. 5 on the year-end chart for 1994 and has since been certified platinum), or perhaps it was because it would have felt too self-serving to perform something off the new album, but it was that almost decade-old single that became something of an anthem after Sept. 11. Carey performed it during “America: A Tribute To Heroes,” the New York telethon that took place to raise funds after the terrorist attacks. It was not an unworthy tune, as it inspired everyone who had been through the trauma of the attacks to look inward to find strength to push through. And certainly that was the message most needed to hear — and certainly the message those in the media wanted to project. And yet, for those who needed to sit with the pain a little longer and grieve a little harder, “Never Too Far” seemed tailor-made for the time.

(Eventually Carey assembled “Hero” and “Never Too Far” into a medley, releasing it as a single a few months after Sept. 11, with proceeds benefitting the Heroes Fund, which was set up in the aftermath of the attacks to benefit first responders and their families. She also added it onto her set list for her recent “Caution” tour. But it has still not received its mainstream due.)

Now, though, 18 years later, “Never Too Far, the “Glitter” album itself and the events of Sept. 11 are 18 years behind the world. And with such time and distance comes wisdom, growth and healing — but also more loss. Almost 3,000 people were lost on Sept. 11 — inside the planes, the towers and the Pentagon, as well as on the ground as a part of relief efforts. And in the subsequent years, that number has slowly but steadily ticked up, due to the number of first responders and survivors in the affected areas succumbing to illnesses related to the air quality and other injuries sustained on that day.

As Carey herself sings, while an experience may be too painful to talk about right when it happens, when your heart mends, you come to understand that “A place in time/ Still belongs to us/ Stays preserved in my mind/ In the memories/ There is solace.” In other words, what may have been too raw for many in the initial days, weeks and even months in late 2001 is more than worth a second look — well, listen — now.

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