Blossom, smile some sunshine down my way
Lately, I've been lonesome
Blossom, it's been much too long a day
Seems my dreams have frozen
Melt my cares away...
It's not my favorite James Taylor song. Really, I barely remember it. But it's the first song on the bargain -- $9.99 for the two-disc DVD and CD -- package of Carole King & James Taylor: Live at the Troubadour, and just hearing that mellow guitar and moonshine voice pretty much unhinged me. My face flushed, my eyes glistened, and there I was, face-planted into my past.
I'm not the only one of a certain age who will watch this intimate concert -- or see King and Taylor on their tour -- and have this reaction. Their music is mostly quiet, but it plays loud in memory; it's what we were listening to in that dump of a decade, the '70s. And it's all those memories: Roe v. Wade. Kent State. Ms. Magazine. That endless war in Vietnam.
And, set against that, the soothing and consoling music of two crooners. In terms of records sold, they're a rounding error for Michael Jackson. But back then, for white kids astonished to find themselves struggling to make decent lives in Nixon's America, they were huge.
They were, as it turns out, huge for one another in the '70s. They first performed together at the Troubadour, a little LA club, in November of 1970. Look at the video, though -- King's playing piano for Taylor in what's clearly a very tentative collaboration.
A year later, when they returned to the Troubadour, he had "Fire and Rain" and she had "Tapestry" and they had mutual, powerful magic. And then, in 2007, they returned to the Troubadour one more time to made a CD and DVD from six shows recorded over three nights. These 15 songs, spread over 75 minutes, are impeccable -- the technology of recording, video and editing has advanced so dramatically that the early videos seem raw and awkward. Not that these performances are slick and cynical. What you get to see and hear is the intimacy of this relationship. Carole King hearts James Taylor. It's all over her face as she harmonizes or just mouths the words to his songs. But then, she's hugely emotional as a signature. Her songs are hits in large part because she's brilliant at distilling deep feelings into simple statements -- "You've Got a Friend" is the gold standard -- and excitable as a musician. When she gets going, she's off the piano bench and playing standing up. The news flash on James Taylor, who has always seemed too accomplished to break a sweat, is how intense he is as a guitarist. King looks at Taylor, Taylor looks down at his guitar -- that unbalances the film until you get used to it, and then you have a fresh appreciation for him as a musician. It's the voices and harmonies that mattered when we first heard King and Taylor. The years have been kind to them. King's voice was always a little weathered, and that, for her, was a strength -- now, after failed marriages and whatever else life has slung at her, that roughness seems like the proof of experience. Taylor, a great singer in his 20s, is now a master; if you can hear a flaw, you've got better ears than I do. The pacing of the show and the positioning of the songs are where this package achieves liftoff. Listening and watching, I felt a kind of peace that had eluded me all day. If you're young, this may sound stupid beyond belief, but if you've got miles and bruises, this is music that connects you to old dreams and affirms every hope you ever had for your generation, your country and yourself. These are, in short, lullabies for adults. Just as I was thinking that, King and Taylor returned on stage for an encore. And, without the band, this is what they sang: Close your eyes; you can close your eyes, it's all right. I don't know no love songs, and I can't sing the blues any more. But I can sing this song, and you can sing this song when I'm gone. It won't be long before another day. We're gonna have a good time. And no one's gonna take that time away. You can stay as long as you like. If only.
[Cross-posted from HeadButler.com]