I had the most surreal experience on Tuesday, April 10: I met my musical heroine that I've admired since I was just entering high school at the age of 14, the ever-talented singer-songwriter Carole King. She appeared at the Barnes and Noble in Union Square for a book signing for her new memoir, A Natural Woman. It felt like a dream -- I could not believe I had the chance to talk to the woman who dramatically changed my life and constantly influences my life and music.
My mom, Aunt Donna, and I arrived at Barnes and Noble at 3:30 to wait in line, assuming there would be a huge pack of fans waiting. We stood in line and shared stories about our favorite Carole King songs, when and where we saw her in concert, and the many accomplishments she's achieved since her teenage years. My heart was in my throat and my cheeks rosy because, to quote the movie Almost Famous, it was all happening. After five years of admiration and listening to Tapestry and Thoroughbred, I was meeting the creator behind such acclaimed songs as "Will You Love Me Tomorrow," "Only Love Is Real," and "You've Got A Friend." We were eventually seated (third row -- not too shabby!) and waited until 7 p.m. for the arrival of the natural woman.
As the hours passed and turned into final minutes, an audience ranging from ages 4 to 64 stood up, roaring with excitement: enter Brooklyn-bred singer-songwriter Carole King! She glided onto the stage and stood, clasping her book against her body, as she was introduced. As tears began welling up in her eyes, she told the audience with down to earth appreciation, "I'm a little verklempt!" With her countless accomplishments and status in the music business, she demonstrated such a humble personality. Here was the woman who poured her whole heart and soul into her music and she was thanking her fans. My family and I were a little verklempt ourselves, to say the least.
An employee had my mother lead our row in line behind the velvet ropes, and we were one step closer to climbing the stairs to meet Carole King. My knees started to shake uncontrollably -- I have a history of fainting, so plopping down on stage was a great possibility, but I kept it together because I knew I would never have this opportunity again. After my mom and Aunt Donna proceeded to express to their longtime heroine how much they love her music, it was my turn.
I approached the signing table and a recognizable voice asked me, "Are you Kayla?" I stood there for a few seconds, realizing it was Carole King saying my name. I forced myself come back down to reality and exclaimed, "Yes!" I shook her hand of melodic fulfillment and managed to express a speech I recited in my head all day.
"This is so surreal," I nervously explained. "You are my ultimate musical inspiration. Whenever I write a song, your inspiration flows through me and out comes a song of my own."
She looked me in the eye and responded with words that will forever be burned in my memory, "You think I am, but you are."
That did it. The singer-songwriter I had been listening to for years, seen in concert, and viewed on TV -- all at a distance -- was sitting at a table across from me, telling me the inspiration was inside myself. I then told her, "Thank you for all the timeless music, you are so wonderful. Thank you, thank you, it was such a pleasure." Then I closed the deal by shaking her musical magical piano hand once again.
On my taxi ride home from Union Square to the Upper East Side, I put my window down and felt the cool, April breeze on my rosy cheeks. I couldn't come to terms with what just happened: I was on cloud nine (and still am!). I replayed what she told me over and over again: "You think I am, but you are." Carole King told me I am my own inspiration, the greatest advice from the ultimate source.
Before I met her, I'd listen to Tapestry over and over again in my room and her music taught me about how powerful music can be on its own without all the bells and whistles. Now, after shaking hands and sharing words with the natural woman, I have learned to find the power within myself to express music.
Carole King is and always will be my favorite songwriter, and I am beyond fortunate to have had the opportunity to tell her how much she has meant in my life. My Aunt Donna put it best when she said, "Thank you, Carole King, for writing the soundtrack to my life."