|King with Gerry Goffin and Paul Simon (right). |
Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images.
I just finished Carole King’s
book, A Natural Woman
. Yes, one of my “things” is biographies and
memoirs about ’60s and ’70s singer/songwriters. This is among
the best—it’s simply and cleanly written, with a friendly sense
of humor and no pretension (except for a slight uptick in
name-dropping toward the end, which is excusable because in her life
she has so successfully resisted the empty trappings of stardom).
It’s the story of a real journey, punctuated by both vulnerability
(an abusive marriage) and conviction (motherhood, living much of her
adult life close to the land, political activism).
And creativity—jeez. Her first big
songwriting hit, the Shirelles’ “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,"
came out when she was 18. And she’d already been writing songs for
years (often forgotten: she didn’t write the words, even on most of
, until later in her career). She composed “(You Make
Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” in about a day when a producer asked
her and her then-husband, lyricist Gerry Goffin, if they could come
up with a song for
Aretha Franklin with something like the title “Natural Woman” (this at a time, the late ’60s, when their
songwriting star seemed to be on the descent). Her description of how
humbling and thrilling it felt to hear Aretha sing it
for the first
time is a reminder that at some point cultural givens
didn’t exist. And then they did—and will forever.
I enjoyed this book so much despite the
fact that, I’m embarrassed to admit, I’ve never listened to
Tapestry, one of the bestselling albums of all time, in its entirety.
One of the things that most struck me
was that King became a star despite her ongoing resistance (for
instance, going five years in the 1980s without recording when she
was living in rural Idaho), but she became one nevertheless—on her
own terms. That’s the element that’s in too short supply today.
In a chapter about her 2005 tour,
she writes: “Why have I spent so much of my life pushing away from
this thing I do that people seem to enjoy, and that I, too, enjoy, so
much? Was it because I wanted to experience other things, other
lifestyles, other adventures, other career paths? Are those such bad
things to want? . . .
“It’s always been important to me
to encourage the best in people, and music has been my principal
instrument in doing that. And yet I kept pushing music away because I
thought it was keeping me from having a normal life.
“At this moment I understand that for
me, music is normal life.”
This realization (at least as written)
comes when she’s 63 years old.
I go through a lot of handwringing
about my own relationship to creativity (including what it’s taken
me a long time to realize is my principal instrument—teaching). I’m
a writer who spends most of his life not writing. Is that normal for
me? Or am I just waiting for the next chapter?
Labels: authors, books, creativity, music, musicians