I took my 17-year-old daughter to see Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, over spring break. Before we went to New York, and in anticipation of the show, I'm happy to say she "pre-acclimated" herself with Ms. King's music and all of its non-Auto-Tuned perfect imperfection. (I made efforts to share it five years ago but she wouldn't have it. Now she will. What a difference a few teenage years make.)
I'm sure you won't be surprised to know how much I identified with a story about a passionate 16-year-old girl who writes songs, comes to the Big Apple to see them through, and makes a name for herself.
Like Carole King, I started out behind a piano staring down at my 88 friends, letting my hands fall where they may, words slipping out of my mouth to marry a melody. They called me a "singer-songwriter." (This was long before the millennial term "topliner" entered the zeitgeist of the music business.) I never made a conscious decision to be a singer-songwriter. It just sort of happened.
That's probably why my eyes widened when at the start of the show a young Carole explained, and I paraphrase, "sometimes we have plans for what we will do with our lives but then something beautiful happens and there we are, doing something else."
Umm. Me too. Me too! Right here. In Orchestra K105! Yoohoo, Carole!
As the story unfolded, I watched her come of age in the Brill Building (the hub of the American songwriting and publishing world in the 1960s) with fellow hopeful hit-makers, Gerry Goffin, Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann. Filled with excitement and ambition, the two partnerships strived to come up with material that would resonate and rise to the top of the charts -- music hungry for words, words hungry for music. In the audience, we were flies on the wall, witnessing rough song starts which would later become, "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling" and "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow."
When I think about it, The Brill Building was a lot like some of the writing camps of today, (except there were only a few back then and now there are a hundred). They followed radio trends and sang "whoa whoas" just like us, only the 1960s version. Much of their process was the same as ours but whether we can come up with songs that will prove to be as timeless remains to be seen.
When Carole announces on stage that she is moving to Laurel Canyon (in Los Angeles) to start a new chapter in her life, I hear a little gasp from my daughter beside me because that's where we live.
Yoohoo, Carole! So much in common!
Then we listen to Carole the recording artist, get up close and personal on her own album, Tapestry -- a record that was a backdrop to some of my very impressionable years -- offering me a heartfelt glimpse into what love might have in store down the line, how some love would make me feel like I was "Home Again" and other love would simply be "too late." I barely understood.
Today, decades later, the same album speaks to a completely different woman. It reminds me that my life has been a tapestry too. And so many things indeed seem so very far away.
As the show came to a close I couldn't help but have some relevant musings:
- 1) I wondered what my daughter's Tapestry will be 20 years from now? Who will be the artist she and her friends remember for having put forth one of the most iconic albums of their time? Adele? Taylor Swift? One Direction? 1a) Will it matter to them if they don't have one? 1b) Does it matter more to me than it does to them?
- 2) Would my songwriting career experience have been any different had I found a Barry or a Gerry (a steady partner) -- someone to whom my lyrics (or melodies) spoke, day after day, someone I never tired of creatively, and who never tired of me?
- 3) Why do I always wind up sitting behind the guy with the biggest head?
During curtain call I felt warm tears well up behind my glasses. I wanted to stand up and shout, "Everybody wait! Don't go yet! I need to tell you something: I am a part of the Songwriter Universe too!"
Of course, I didn't actually do this. Aside from the fact that they'd call security, and my daughter would never speak to me again, the truth is, I am a very small piece of that Universe. How many other songwriters have sat in Orchestra K105 and wanted to do the same? Be recognized? Matter?
After all, whether it's 1940 or 1960 or 2015 most of us would be happy to write just one song in his or her lifetime that makes somebody somewhere feel something they didn't feel before they heard it... a song that someone will remember many years later for having words that changed their life... words that assured them that somebody out there knows how they feel.
And so, we wake up every day and head for our own personal Brill Building, whatever that is -- a full-on studio or a hole in the wall, with a partner, or two, or three, or four -- topliners and singer-songwriters alike, and try to catch the lightening in a bottle that makes the Earth Move in some small way.
Yoohoo, Carole! Over here!