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Painter in his studio, Picture by Gerard Dou

When the Jazzman's testifyin'
A faithless man believes
He can sing you into paradise
Or bring you to your knees
It's a gospel kind of feelin'
A touch of Georgia slide
A song of pure revival
And a style that's sanctified

Jazzman, take my blues away
Make my pain the same as yours
With every change you play

                                   Carole King, Jazzman, 1974

    Does anyone remember the Columbia Record and Tape Club? The organization where you got a record in any one of a previously chosen category unless you specified that you didn't want the selection? Although in some ways a scam, it still had a large selection of music and you could get it in different formats - they even offered reel-to-reel until 1982 - and the hook was you got 10 or 12 or whatever many selections for a penny at the price of a several year membership and a barrage of offers through the mail. In a way, it was the Amazon of its day. So I think that many people during the sixties and seventies pumped up their music collection through Columbia house and their '12 for a penny' offers.

This included my mother. And so, growing up with her and my sister in our modest little apartment, there were a number of eight track tapes (naturally) that we listened to. Billy Joel, Chicago, Blood Sweat and Tears, Fifth Dimension, Helen Reddy, even Jethro Tull. And there was always one singer-songwriter who stood out for me, even as I would grit my teeth when my sister tormented me by repetitively playing Helen Reddy's Greatest Hits. But we did agree on this very musical woman. I even liked her during my teenage heavy metal years, although I sort of kept that to myself.

Now I listen to pretty much whatever I want, and this includes this particular pop star. So when her memoir came out, I had to look at it, and wonder could she write as well as sing and songwrite? Well, yes, she can. So put on some of her tunes and open the page.

Ladies and gentlemen, may I present. . .  .Carole King

It is a bit of a change of pace to place someone who is a singer-songwriter - or songwriter-singer - in my pantheon of my favorite authors, but I think Ms King deserves the spot, based not only on her songs, but also on her memoir and autobiography released this year "Carole King A Natural Woman".

It is difficult sometimes to truly evaluate a memoir from a music star - especially one I like listening to, because it is hard to separate the person from the music even when reading. Plus, in a way, I know how the story turns out, because it often parallels the discography. Added to this, many memoirs are ghostwritten or frankly acknowledged, so they sound slick (Many political memoirs suffer from this defect). And even more frankly, many musicians do not cut attractive figures; there is drug addiction, alcoholism, criticism of others and sometimes even an inability to truly talk about what many of us want to hear: how on earth do they manage to craft those fabulous songs.

Well, I am happy to say that "A Natural Woman" is not of that category. Written solely by Ms King (I am sure she had editorial help, but we all need that) it is a disarming, honest and in a way generous memoir that has drawn much deserved praise from a number of sources. It reads, really, like one of her songs.

In fact, lets embed one, and we can listen as we go through the book:

In some ways, the memoir is primarily an enjoyable trip down memory lane of music and events, with Carole King as a genial guide and teaching for those of us less musically inclined. Older readers will appreciate the insights of the music business in the 60s and seventies, and the younger ones will get a picture of the way things once were before itunes, the demise of record stores, and the shitification of popular music (Sorry, but I get angry about that point. I am not as forgiving as Carole is). She was born in New York in 1942 and showed an early aptitiude for music and performing; in fact she went through a period where she considered a career in drama, but found she liked music better. On the suggestion of Allan Freed - the famous DJ whose career would one day be destroyed by payola, but Carole King is far to nice to mention that - she went to various A&R people in New York and auditioned her songs in front of them and got a contract from ABC-Paramount. She was 15 years old. Now that's talent. She then relates her first big hit at the ripe old age of 18 "Will you Love me Tomorrow" that she wrote with Gerry Goffin, whom she had already married. Other hits followed; newcomers to her career are usually astonished to hear how many of the hits of the early and mid-sixties she wrote or co-wrote, including one of the all-time best pop songs, in some way; Aretha Franklin singing (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.

   Check out the generosity of spirit of this performer:

It takes a lot more people to deliver a song than most people are aware of , but you, the listener, are the most important person in the process. You complete the circle. You inspire us to write, sing, arrange, record, and promote songs that move us because we hope they will move you too. There might still be an 'us' without you, but but you make us smarter, and you make us better.
And this after she praises most of the people involved in the recording. I don't see that often.

Unfortunately her marriage to Gerry Goffin fails, in large part because of the hallucinogenics that he takes and the divergence of values; she was never into the drug scene. It is also characteristic of this woman that she moves to California in part to keep her two daughters close to their father who had also moved out there. And we in the musical world are so much the richer for it.

After all, it was in her house that the picture was taken that would grace the cover of one of the most widely bought and widely played record albums in the history of popular music: "Tapestry". She had gotten professionally and personally involved with some excellent musicians out there, and had married one of them, a bass player named Charlie Larkey. She had also met and been heavily influenced by James Taylor (his musical influence is very notable in 'Tapestry'; good artists borrow, great ones steal and I think I have made that point before). He was the one who had gotten her from writing and recording to performing, which is also related. Thanks James. By the way, she notes with thanks she never had to play the late night nightclub gigs as a performer; she says she likes watching the sun come up, but after 8 hrs of sleep, not stumbling home from somewhere after a gig.

And, as a great example of her very engaging style I quote her footnote by which she obliquely mentions her grammys:

"Upon accepting his grammy in 1972 for the Biggest Domestic Cat Ever to Appear on an Album Cover, Telemachus [her cat, named by her ex-husband for the son of Ulysses and Penelope] was so overcome with emotion that he could only say 'Meow". What he meant to say was, "I want to thank my Tom, my Tabby, and all the fat cats who oversaw the investment of my kitty. I couldn't have done it without you".
Tapestry would, as mentioned, go on to sell over 25 million copies worldwide. It was number 1 on the Billboard 200 for 15 consecutive weeks, and held the record for most weeks at number 1 by a female solo artist for over 40 years until it was surpassed by Adele's 21 in 2012 (don't get me started). By the way, the album has been listed on the Billboard 200 for over 300 weeks between 1971 and 2011; In terms of time on the charts, it ranks fifth overall, and in terms of length on the charts for solo musical acts it ranks second. It remains the longest charting album by a female solo artist.

My life has been a tapestry of rich and royal hue
An everlasting vision of the ever-changing view
A wondrous, woven magic in bits of blue and gold
A tapestry to feel and see, impossible to hold

                                               

Two children follow after the album, and of course, there are the follow up works: six more records in the span of five years, each one great, and each one successful; in fact my favorite song of hers 'Jazzman' was done while she was pregnant. But that sort of smash success brings its own drama; her second marriage fails, and she meets someone who will later turn out very bad indeed. And then, she does something interesting, she moves to a very spartan cabin in a very rural part of Idaho with the man who became her third husband. And stays there for years, and stays associated with rural Idaho. I do hope I am not being uncharitable when I say that her performing career never quite regained the momentum it had after she did that, not that she gives any sign of really caring. She gives the standard reasons why: Get away from the grind, the phoniness of L.A, the need for a change, etc. I think there is an even simpler reason. I think her heart was broken

I don't need sunny skies for thing I like to do
'Cause I stay home the whole day long and think of you
As far as I'm concerned each day's a rainy day
So It might as well rain until September

                                               

Carole King is candid about the abuse she suffered at the hands of her third husband - and indeed is good enough to provide the number and the website to the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Said husband was later to die young of a cocaine overdose. This is candid writing taken to an extreme, and must have been very hard on her - remember she as Carole King, the very idea and image of the liberated woman. But she is still human, and she was cruelly used, Im afraid. Fortunately she never lets it darken her subsequent writing; the book has many other things in it that stay engaging; Touching passages of her meeting both John Lennon and Paul McCartney ('Paul came out of his mother;s womb performing, says Carole, and I believe her. It takes one to know one). Lennon was in awe of her talent and on first meeting her, did something really dickish (I suspect he was stoned as well); true to form, Carole never holds it against him when they meet later and her description and elegy to him is touching. As it is to Don Kirshner, the man who signed her to Aldon records publishing and introduced many of us to rock. And she keeps on playing and performing, and even (shades of her first girl ambition) takes on a few acting parts. She is also very honest with herself and with us about work she did that she doesn't think is very good (another thing you don't find all that often). In a way, reading all this, she comes across as a bit of a musical energizer bunny . .  or maybe a musical Timex who takes a lickin' but keeps on ticking; once she fell from an unlighted stage onto concrete and once she fell from a sixty foot cliff. But after an interval for recovery, she is still back out there. I feel the Earth move, indeed.

I mentioned earlier about how I feel about music these days and how I think Carole King would likely be far more generous. Here is a quote that says it, when she is asked about how technology is affecting music (and for the record, I don't think the problem is technology; I think the problem is the raping of the music scene by big corporations, bastardized popular taste, and this idea that we should all be entitled to an artists work for free on the internet. But I digress):

   

"I believe that as long as people have hearts and minds and the capacity to laugh, cry, dance, feel, and fall in and out of love, a good song will always find an audience because it connects us to our humanity. If technology can help people make that connection, Im a fan"
So that's Carole King. I mean, how can you help but love someone like that? I can conclude the memoir, and the diary thus: In terms of women recording artists, there are many styles and many tastes: We can be a fan of Norah Jones, we can be a fan of Barbara Streisand, we can be a fan of Gladys Knight, we can be a fan of Aretha Franklin, we can be a fan of Donna Summer, we can be a fan of Alanis Morrisette, we can be a fan of Pat Benatar, we can be a fan of Billy Holiday, we can be a fan of Joan Jett, we can be a fan of Patti Smythe, we can be a fan of Celine Dion, we can be a fan of etc and etc...but we are all fans of Carole King

And so we will close here with a quote from her song "Music" which is how she ended her book:

Music is playing inside my head
Over and over and over again, my friend
There's no end to the music....

Ah, it's not always easy
But the music keeps playing and won't let the world get me down

Originally posted to Readers and Book Lovers on Mon Aug 13, 2012 at 08:12 PM PDT.

Also republished by DKOMA, Protest Music, An Ear for Music, Musical Moondays, Team DFH, Rebel Songwriters, and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Didn't Carole King write 90% of the music of (10+ / 0-)

    the 60s. It was pretty close to that. She was unbelievable.

    We're fools whether we dance or not, so we might as well dance.

    by PowWowPollock on Mon Aug 13, 2012 at 08:27:39 PM PDT

  •  Yes, I feel the earth move (13+ / 0-)

    Wonderful tribute to an extraordinary writer. Tapestry was released at about the same time I came out, and I added it to my psychedelic rock collection where it bookended Nashville Skyline as the two atypical albums in my collection.

    Thanks for this, Chet.  I'm so glad you published it.

    -7.75, -8.10; All it takes is security in your own civil rights to make you complacent.

    by Dave in Northridge on Mon Aug 13, 2012 at 08:31:54 PM PDT

    •  You're welcome. I somehow feel (11+ / 0-)

      That many people have personal and profound memories and events that somehow wrap around her music; her memoir is so much the reminder of it.

      An empty head is not really empty; it is stuffed with rubbish. Hence the difficulty of forcing anything into an empty head. -- Eric Hoffer

      by MichiganChet on Mon Aug 13, 2012 at 08:39:34 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  liked the post... (0+ / 0-)

        it's a shame the video you embedded begins with an advertisement.  i immediately stopped it because it was 24 seconds long.

        i recall columbia house offers.  i even took advantage of it every time i moved in order to supplement my collections with the classics everyone should have.

        the music industry has changed, and not necessarily for the better.  a whole nother topic, but you can get everything for free these days off of youtube and i can't stand commercial radio, so it's difficult to learn about new music.  the key is performing live and building a fan base grass roots style...   imho... but its changing and who knows how it will play out.

        No System of Justice Can Rise Above the Ethics of Those Who Administer It. (Wickersham Commission 1929)

        by No Exit on Tue Aug 14, 2012 at 08:18:19 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Columbia Record club! (11+ / 0-)

    Yes, I remember those deals well.  I belonged to it too.

    Carole King is an incredible songwriter.  One of my favorites she wrote with Goffin and performed by the Monkees is Pleasant Valley Sunday.  

    "See Mrs. Gray, she's proud today because her roses are in bloom and Mr. Green, he's so serene he's got a TV in every room"

    Great post.  Thanks!

    •  I remember an old SNL skit with (I think) (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      jolux

      Dennis Quaid, who was doing crazier and crazier things--hooting around, flying in a jet, etc. Toward the end he started to fill out a form (while still hooting and flying, naturally) to join the CR&T club, while appalled commentators shouted "No! No!"

      My wife (then girlfriend) joined in the early 90s, so we have a bunch of Music of the '70s CDs, along with albums that every English-speaking household seems to have, such as "Best of the Eagles" and so on.

      We must use what we have
      to build what we need. -Adrienne Rich

      by Xapulin on Tue Aug 14, 2012 at 05:34:46 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Yup, I was a Columbia Record Club member all the (10+ / 0-)

    way back in the late 60's when I was but a lad; my membership was part of a Christmas present (along with a sweet Hi-Fi portable turntable) from my parents.  I still have a couple of the albums my parents paid for as part of that subscription...mostly Beach Boys, but some other stuff, too.  I somehow lost my original copy of "Tapestry", but I've replaced it courtesy of the magic of mp3 magic and Amazon....

    Carole King, to me, has been one of those almost magical "Wait!1!  He/She wrote THAT?" writers, like Kris Kristofferson, whose songs you've heard a hundred or more times and never realized...

     

    "In a nation ruled by swine, all pigs are upward mobile..." - Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

    by Jack K on Mon Aug 13, 2012 at 09:05:15 PM PDT

    •  love kris kristofferson (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Jack K, jolux

      his first album is one of my desert island discs...

      I was runnin' thru the summer rain, try'n' to catch that evenin' train
      And kill the old familiar pain weavin' thru my tangled brain
      When I tipped my bottle back and smacked into a cop I didn't see

      That police man said, "Mister Cool, if you ain't drunk, then you're a
      fool."
      I said, "If that's against the law, then tell me why I never saw
      A man locked in that jail of yours who wasn't neither black or poor as
      me?"

      Well, that was when someone turned out the lights
      And I wound up in jail to spend the night
      And dream of all the wine and lonely girls
      In this best of all possible worlds.

      Well, I woke up next mornin' feelin' like my head was gone
      And like my thick old tongue was lickin' something sick and wrong
      And I told that man I'd sell my soul for something wet and cold as that
      old cell.

      That kindly jailer grinned at me, all eaten up with sympathy
      Then poured himself another beer and came and whispered in my ear,
      "If booze was just a dime a bottle boy, you couldn't even buy the smell"

      I said, "I knew there was something I liked about this town."
      But it takes more than that to bring me down, down, down.
      'Cause there's still a lot of wine and lonely girls
      In this best of all possible worlds

      Well, they finally came and told me they was a gonna set me free
      And I'd be leavin' town if I knew what was good for me
      I said, "It's nice to learn that ev'rybody's so concerned about my
      health."

      I said, "I won't be leavin' no more quicker than I can
      'Cause I've enjoyed about as much of this as I can stand
      And I don't need this town of yours more than I never needed nothin'
      else."

      'Cause there's still alot of drinks that I ain't drunk
      And lots of pretty thoughts that I ain't thunk
      And lord there's still so many lonely girls
      In this best of all possible worlds.

      No System of Justice Can Rise Above the Ethics of Those Who Administer It. (Wickersham Commission 1929)

      by No Exit on Tue Aug 14, 2012 at 08:22:52 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  A buried treasure from her early career (12+ / 0-)

    I am a proud owner of a copy of the 45 - well worth searching out on eBay!

    By the way, if you haven't already, you might also want to read "Girls Like Us" by Sheila Weller, an assessment of King, Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon and how they changed the music business for the benefit of women since then. It's a bit too conversational and contains a couple of errors that will jump out at rock history buffs, but it's nevertheless a great read.

    Certaines personnes disent qu'il y a une femme à blâmer, Mais je sais que c'est ma faute sacrément.

    by RamblinDave on Mon Aug 13, 2012 at 09:11:14 PM PDT

  •  The Song Carole Wrote (11+ / 0-)

    The Song Carole wrote that made even more famous.  I was happy to attend their concert together.

    The Julianna Michigan Show on Itunes and Podbean.

    by libnewsie on Mon Aug 13, 2012 at 09:23:23 PM PDT

  •  Rare range (8+ / 0-)

    Look at all these stages of love:

    When it's over:

    Stayed in bed all morning just to pass the time
    There's something wrong here, there can be no denying
    One of us is changing
    Or maybe we just stopped trying

    And it's too late, baby, now it's too late
    Though we really did try to make it
    Something inside has died
    And I can't hide and I just can't fake it

    It's Too Late

    When it's giddy:

    I always wanted a real home
    With flowers on the windowsill
    But if you wanna live in New York City
    Honey, you know I will

    Where you lead
    I will follow
    Anywhere that you tell me to
    If you need, if you need me to be with you
    I will follow
    Where you lead

    Where you lead

    When it's a friend:

    Hey, ain't it good to know that you've got a friend?
    People can be so cold.
    They'll hurt you and desert you.
    Well they'll take your soul if you let them.
    Oh yeah, but don't you let them.

    You just call out my name and you know wherever I am
    I'll come running to see you again.
    Oh babe, don't you know that,
    Winter spring summer or fall,
    Hey now, all you've got to do is call.
    Lord, I'll be there, yes I will.
    You've got a friend.

    You've Got a Friend, I Feel the Earth Move, Smackwater Jack. It's a rare, refreshing range beyond auto-tune on and auto-tune off for a power ballad.

    The choice of our lifetime: Mitt Romney, It Takes A Pillage or President Barack Obama, Forward Together.

    by FiredUpInCA on Mon Aug 13, 2012 at 09:56:56 PM PDT

    •  Yes indeed. Reading the memoir (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      FiredUpInCA, bill warnick, jolux

      You can flesh out the meaning behind some of the songs. I would imagine the first two were written, at least in part, with her first husband, Gerry Goffin, in mind - it is the line about moving to New York that I think identifies the source, because she did move with him to NY.
         But one of the marks of great songwriting talent - indeed, of writing talent in general - is to make the specific universal. So everyone can understand, and map it onto their own experiences. Taken that way, "You've got a Friend" becomes not just an aural declaration to a specific person, but a universal paean to friendship.  

      An empty head is not really empty; it is stuffed with rubbish. Hence the difficulty of forcing anything into an empty head. -- Eric Hoffer

      by MichiganChet on Tue Aug 14, 2012 at 04:37:42 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Probably my favorite album of hers (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jcrit, mama jo, jolux

    is Color of Your Dreams.  I'm a GenXer, so sue me.  And it's because of a girlfriend.

    Up On The Roof is also an amazing song.  I was quite surprised to discover it in a Quaker songbook but there's something wonderful and very American about that.

  •  "Tapestry" was a formative album for me (6+ / 0-)

    as it was for so many.  I hold Carole King and Joni Mitchell up as the ultimate songwriting women, for very different reasons.  Joni is more experimental, more artistic if you will, while Carole was the pop songwriting queen who went on to flesh out her own performing skills.

    I love Carole's live collection of a few years ago, "Welcome to My Living Room".  A double album, and as the title song states, "Let's...make this night about songwriting."  What I truly love is that her voice shows all of the experience she has had.  The feeling is still there, the familiar rasp is still there, augmented and tinged with time.  It makes me weep at times.

    She's a genius, I truly believe, or at least a woman of extreme perseverance in realizing her talents.

    "A liberal is a man or a woman or a child who looks forward to a better day, a more tranquil night, and a bright, infinite future." - Leonard Bernstein

    by outragedinSF on Tue Aug 14, 2012 at 02:53:59 AM PDT

  •  Heading over to Pleasant Valley as we speak. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    MichiganChet, boudi08, jolux

    You know, where the Monkees sang about in Pleasant Valley Sunday.

    It's here in West Orange, NJ.  Carol and her husband lived here when that song was written.

  •  Her songs have been the background music (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    MichiganChet, gramofsam1, jolux

    of my life, and i made sure my own daughters
    were introduced to Carole at a young age.
    They learned the alphabet with this--
    [teamed with Maurice Sendak, one of my favorite
    children's books authors, what's not to love?]

    Thanks for this, MichiganChet--i enjoyed reading very much.

  •  The "Tapestry" album cover is forever fixed in my (5+ / 0-)

    mind.  When I look at it, the memories of a particular culture in a particular time, the 1970s come flooding back.

    It was a time when women wore long crinkly hair and long crinkly skirts, did their own thing--whether with music, writing, pottery, or sculpture--and lived in spartan digs with cats and trailing avocado plants, with sunlight pouring in through the uncurtained windows.

    It was a time when people, at least in the artistic community, weren't focused on money.  I also think of the Mamas and the Papas as part of this era.

    It's saddening to learn that Carole King had such a difficult life.  I hope everything is all right now.

    I've always wondered what an unnatural woman would be.  Perhaps she meant women who look like Barbie dolls.

    "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

    by Diana in NoVa on Tue Aug 14, 2012 at 05:02:56 AM PDT

  •  Carole's House in LA (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    MichiganChet, jolux

    Where the photo was taken for the Tapestry album.

    Link

    My sister and I went through two copies of that album, alternating Carole with Joni Mitchell.  Both were at the peak of their careers then.

    Her book is on my list.

    "We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty." Edward R. Murrow

    by Betty Pinson on Tue Aug 14, 2012 at 05:41:11 AM PDT

  •  Tapestry was the first record I ever bought (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bill warnick, MichiganChet, jolux

    with my $10 a month allowance.  I forget how much I paid but I knew I could get an album a month at KMart and still have enough left over to make it through the rest of the month.  I was astounded how much I liked it.  I knew it was a phenomenally successful seller, but the musicianship and the honesty of her voice and lyrics made quite an impression on 12-year-old me.

    "Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that." ~George Carlin

    by JIffyboy on Tue Aug 14, 2012 at 06:42:38 AM PDT

  •  Loved the book, loved the Artist (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    MichiganChet, jolux

    Great diary!  I also can't get enough of James Taylor and Carole King together at the Troubadour - great DVD-CD combo.

    Also she's a great Democrat, of course.

    76.7% of all statistics are made up.

    by threegoal on Tue Aug 14, 2012 at 08:37:40 AM PDT

  •  I lived in California for 2 years (5+ / 0-)

    in Tahoe City. I worked as a cook, and tended bar one night a week.

    One night during slow season, a group of people came in to the bar.They had some drinks, had some food, and they were very clearly having a great time. They were a lot of fun to wait on. One of the guys in the group told me about halfway through the evening that a shy, older woman with them was Carole King. She was in her Idaho period, and these were younger people that she had some kind of business going with.

    We got her to sing. She was so gracious and genuine. It was a magical night.

    "Never kick a fresh turd on a hot day." ~ Harry Truman

    by susanthe on Tue Aug 14, 2012 at 08:56:48 AM PDT

  •  Thanks for this diary. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    MichiganChet, jolux

    I was just starting my life as a professional musician when "Tapestry" came out and my girlfriend (composer/songwriter) and I were blown away

  •  I've met Carole and one of (5+ / 0-)

    her daughters a few times.  She one of the nicest, warmest people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting.  

    After meeting her the first time, someone gave me a plaque with the lyrics of You've Got a Friend on it.  I sent it to her, and she sent it back signed to me.  I'll treasure it always.

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