The other night I cried my way through a TV PBS special… a stinkin’ PBS special! Heavens to Murgatroyd, but I can be such a sap sometimes. The special was a reunion concert of James Taylor and Carole King at the Troubadour, filmed about a year and a half ago. The last time it happened, I was 10 years old, 1971. This time around, they played the same songs they played together 39 years ago, along with the original band. As I watched, I had the peculiar sensation of having old friends suddenly appear at my doorstep. We are older, grayer, wrinkled, and still so alive.
It was clear, watching Taylor and King on stage together, that there was some deep and abiding love between the two, a bond that went deep enough that there was no awkwardness even after all those years. After about every other song, Carole would get up from the piano bench and walk across the stage to hug James. Performing, the two of them looked content, and boy howdy, they sounded fabulous.
About halfway through the concert, Taylor set up his next song. He quipped (to wit), “When I first heard this song, I knew Carole had something good there. She was kind enough to let me record it, even though she was in the middle of recording Tapestry and it was on her album. So, I recorded it. Little did I know I’d have to sing it every damned day of my life! But this song has taken me all over the world, so I’m not sorry. I’ve thanked Carole over the years, but now I get to thank her personally.” And with that, he launched into a tear-inducing You‘ve Got A Friend.
I thought… what a beautiful thing that this friendship has survived 40 years, that the two of them are still here on earth to share their beautiful spirits with us in music, that my life would have been minus two very important soundtracks had I not “discovered” them as a pre-adolescent. Carole King released her Tapestry album in 1971, right about the same time that James Taylor released Sweet Baby James. Back then I had them as record albums, those big ol’ easily scratched discs from days of yore, and I played them until they were completely worn out. In the 80’s I bought the two albums on cassette tape and wore those out as well. In the 90’s I bought both of them on CD. They’ve come along with me to grace my iTunes and iPod.
I don’t have any other albums I’ve done that with, at least not as completely. I know every word of every song on both albums. Their music has sustained me and been the soundtrack to so many moments in my life. While there is music from every era in time that touches me, none does so as perfectly as these two albums. I feel that, between the two of them, I do indeed have friends, a couple of soulful gypsy spirits that have been looking out for me over the years.
We’re all getting older. Carole still has those beautiful curls, but they’re entirely gray now. She still has that wonderfully warm smile, but it’s well accented with wrinkles now. James has lost almost all of that gorgeous long hair he had, he’s mostly bald. He too, still has that great smile, those killer twinkly blue eyes, along with plenty of wrinkles. But their voices, oh, their voices… there’s nothing lost there. As they played their final song I couldn’t help but think, “Oh, my friends… stick around a while longer, will you? I’m not at all ready to say goodbye to either of you.”
Whether or not the Troubadour is still standing in another 39 years, I doubt that the three of us will be. But maybe, someone will be digging through ancient internet files and will stumble across this blog post, and like a gentle breeze will hear three voices together in harmony, softly singing, “When you’re down and troubled, and you need a helping hand…”