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Debra Ollivier

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Carole King's New Memoir: 'A Natural Woman'

Posted: 04/10/2012 6:17 pm

Carole King is one of our most iconic singer-songwriters, whose earthy, soulful music evokes rhapsodic memories for an entire generation of post 50s. King's first hit was "Will You Love Me Tomorrow," recorded by The Shirelles, which topped the charts in 1961. But it was the success of Tapestry ten years later that made her a mega-star. In 1971 Tapestry soared to #1 on the charts for 15 consecutive weeks, stayed on the charts for another six years, sold 25 million copies worldwide, and garnered four Grammy Awards. To date, more than 400 of her compositions have been recorded by more than 1,000 artists, resulting in 100 hit singles -- many of them reaching #1.

King was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1987, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990, and the Hit Parade Hall of Fame in 2009. Despite her unparalleled success, however, King was something of a reluctant, accidental star who preferred sewing clothes for her kids and milking goats in Idaho to the glare of the spotlight. And while her music had a certain lush simplicity to it, her life, on the other hand, did not.

In her new memoir, "A Natural Woman," King tells her story from her modest beginnings in Brooklyn through her remarkable musical triumphs to the present day as a performer and activist. She also writes candidly about her complex marriage to Gerry Goffin, which unraveled as his mental health deteriorated; the challenges of raising four children as a very young mother, and the panoply of experiences that shaped her as a woman, lover, and musician.

The following photos and excerpts are from "A Natural Woman," which will be published on April 10.

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  • With Gerry

    "At fifteen, when I was a high school junior, I had come upon a drawing in True Story magazine of a young man with dark hair and dark eyes. It had so epitomized my ideal boyfriend that I cut it out and put it in my wallet. It was still there the day I met Gerry Goffin. In the fall of 1958, when Gerry was nineteen and I was sixteen, he was a night student at Queens College ... One afternoon, while studying for a test in the student union with my friend Dorothy, I was having trouble concentrating ... I was just putting away my books when the door opened and Gerry walked in. My heart stopped. He looked exactly like the drawing in my wallet." <em>From A Natural Woman, by Carole King. © 2012 Eugenius, LLC. Reprinted by permission of Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved</em>

  • Studio, 1957

    One day when King was 15 years old, disk jockey Alan Freed from WINS "told me to look in the phone book under 'Record Companies,' make an appointment, and play my songs for the A&R Man." The very next day, King took the express subway train to Manhattan, walked into Atlantic Records' offices unannounced, and asked if she could play her songs for someone. Moments later, she was performing for Atlantic's legendary founders Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler. "You got talent," declared Wexler, while Ertegun chimed in "Yeah, man, very soulful." <em>From A Natural Woman, by Carole King. © 2012 Eugenius, LLC. Reprinted by permission of Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved</em>

  • With Gerry, Louise, And Baby Sherry

    "In January 1960, I was a month shy of eighteen. The baby's due date was approaching, and all I knew about giving birth was that it would be painful ... As an apprehensive seventeen year old undertaking to learn exactly how childbirth worked and how much it would hurt, I wanted my mother to tell me how painless and uncomplicated her experiences had been. At the same time, I was grateful for her counsel. Had one of my daughters become pregnant at seventeen I would have said, 'You're much too young to have a baby!' but then I would have risen to the occasion, as did my mother." <em>From A Natural Woman, by Carole King. © 2012 Eugenius, LLC. Reprinted by permission of Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved</em>

  • Studio With Paul Simon And Gerry

    "When I entered Queens College in the fall of 1958 I had no idea that Art Garfunkle and Paul Simon were anything other than fellow freshmen until I saw their photo in a magazine with a caption identifying Artie as 'Tom' and Paul as 'Jerry'... Paul and I soon became friends. Among the things we had in common were a similarity of age and a desire to stay involved in writing and recording popular music. Hoping to earn some extra cash, we began making demos together as the Cousins. Paul played bass and guitar, I played piano, we both sang. Some songs were his, some were mine, and some were written by other people. The income was negligible, but we would have done it for nothing." <em>From A Natural Woman, by Carole King. © 2012 Eugenius, LLC. Reprinted by permission of Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved</em>

  • With Lou Adler And Hank Cicalo At A&M Studios

    "People often ask if I knew, when I was recording <em>Tapestry</em>, that it would become one of the biggest-selling albums in popular music, or that it would touch so many people. How could I know that? I was simply doing what I'd always done -- recording songs that I had written or co-written ... If quality of songs and integrity of presentation were factors in <em>Tapestry's</em> success, so were the timing of its release, an extraordinary confluence of good luck, and the determination of Lou Adler to ensure that the album would be heard by as many people as possible." <em>From A Natural Woman, by Carole King. © 2012 Eugenius, LLC. Reprinted by permission of Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved</em>

  • Recording 'Tapestry' With Danny Kortchmar, Russ Kunkel, Charles Larkey And Ralph Schuckett

    "I didn't want to be a star ... Everyone around me thought I was out of my mind. I was being offered an opportunity for which so many people had been praying their whole life and all I could say was, 'Please believe me. I don't want to be a star.' My rationale was that I viewed success and stardom as two different things. Successful recording artists were played on the radio, were respected by the public, and had longevity. The songs they sang moved and inspired people. Stars were hounded and mobbed, their privacy was nonexistent, and they were under constant pressure to reach #1 and stay there... I didn't realize that I was expressing a guiding principle of my career. I was hoping for career longevity and to my utter amazement and eternal gratitude I achieved it. And if that weren't enough, one of my albums would actually reach #1 and stay there for a very long time. But Danny (Kortchmar) and I engaged in such conversations before <em>Tapestry</em> was released, when I had no way of knowing what my future held. I just wrote songs, worked hard, created each day's blueprint from scratch, and hoped to high heaven that I was doing all the right things to give my daughters and myself a good life." <em>From A Natural Woman, by Carole King. © 2012 Eugenius, LLC. Reprinted by permission of Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved</em>

  • With James Taylor And Joni Mitchell Recording "Will You Love Me Tomorrow"

    "I was so deeply involved in the making of <em>Tapestry</em> that it's difficult for me to describe those happy, productive weeks in a logical or linear fashion. But these random scenes remain vibrantly alive for me in memory snapshots: -- James (Taylor) and Joni (Mitchell) sitting on adjoining stools, their heads almost touching as they whisper to each other and share a private moment before Hank is ready for them to sing background harmonies on Will You Love Me Tomorrow. Though James and Joni are singing on separate mics, their closeness is an almost physical presence. I can't tell you what specific frequency it occupies, but the intimacy between them can still be heard and felt on this recording.

  • Grammys, 1972

    "I attained the highest pinnacle of success to which a recording artist and songwriter could aspire: I was awarded four Grammys for my work on <em>Tapestry</em> ... (but) I didn't know what to do with my success. I didn't want the problems that came with being famous, and I didn't want my private life to be public. I just wanted to do what I'd been doing as a wife and mother ... I made clothes or everyone in the family, tended our small garden, and occasionally went to sushi lunch in Little Tokyo with my friend Stephanie. I taught at the Integral Yoga Institute and attended cooking classes at The Source. I continued to embarrass my Goffin daughters by bringing their vitamins to school. And I continued to bring home health food instead of the Cokes, Pepsis, and potato chips that Sherry wanted." <em>From A Natural Woman, by Carole King. © 2012 Eugenius, LLC. Reprinted by permission of Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved</em>

  • Homeschooling Levi, 1978

    King left the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles in the late '70s for the rural lifestyle of Idaho. For several years, King and her family lived in a cabin so remote that in the winter their only communication with the outside world was via something they called "ski-mail." King explains "visitors on cross-country skis brought our mail, and we sent mail out with them or other skiers ... We kept up with current events through a radio powered by two alternate twelve-volt car batteries that our neighbor periodically charged for us. In some ways our life at Burgdorf was complicated, but in other ways it was simple. Living this way brought everything down to basics." <em>From A Natural Woman, by Carole King. © 2012 Eugenius, LLC. Reprinted by permission of Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved</em>

  • Testifying In DC For The Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act

    "Over the seven decades of my life, my acts of giving back have included canvassing for civil rights in the 1960s, flipping burgers at a county fair, reading to children, reporting for a television news program on both the environment and illiteracy, and performing at benefits at locations ranging from grand hotel ballrooms to raise money for worthy causes to playing guitar on a flatbed trailer in a parking lot to raise money for a neighbor burned out of his home. But the project that has occupied literally half my time for over two decades has been educating staff, members of the United States Congress, and the public about the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act." <em>From A Natural Woman, by Carole King. © 2012 Eugenius, LLC. Reprinted by permission of Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved</em>