I remember the tears, but I don't know why they came.
I didn't remember the name of the special that aired right after Sesame Street on WGBH in Boston in 1986. I just remember the segment, a cartoon apparently entitled "Pierre I Don't Care," about a selfish, annoying child named Pierre who constantly told his parents, "I don't care!" whenever they asked him to behave. Eventually, his parents grew tired of his selfishness, and left Pierre home alone -- where he ended up being eaten by an escaped lion.
The cartoon made me cry uncontrollably. There was something so melancholy about the whole cartoon, and the song that accompanied it. I never forgot that cartoon, and the sadness it evoked.
Twenty-five years later, I did a Google search for the phrase "Pierre I Don't Care" -- and was shocked to find that the cartoon was part of a 1975 television special, Really Rosie, based on the work of children's author Maurice Sendak. The song that triggered so much sadness was performed by Carole King.
I brought up the cartoon on YouTube, and damn it if I didn't start crying again.
Carole King deserves credit for inspiring me to write whenever I feel I can't complete a piece, whenever I'm convinced a concept isn't working. She's not the only one; music from James Taylor or Carly Simon also helps provide the emotional impetus for giving birth to a thought. However, King's music is the first thing I go to when I need a spiritual boost to finish writing a column.
I am so grateful to King for her new memoir, A Natural Woman, about her life and sometimes troubled times. There is no way to do the book justice. It is a book that cannot be analyzed, only experienced. I'd love to see a movie version, but there's no movie that could possibly encompass just what Carole King means to America and to the world.
After reading the book, I was filled with a sense of gratitude -- gratitude to King's mother and father for bringing her into the world, gratitude to the musicians that inspired King's creativity, gratitude to James Taylor for how he encouraged King to sing her own songs.
There is so much wisdom and drama packed into this book, so much joy and pain. Reading her description of her troubled relationships -- including one relationship wounded by domestic violence -- I thought of fate's relentless cruelty: how could someone who brought such happiness to relationships around the world not find such happiness in her own relationships? Does one have to have a broken heart in order to heal the hearts of others?
A Natural Woman is a work of magic. The stories of her admiration of, and discussions with, Paul McCartney, John Lennon and Bob Dylan are outstanding. Her descriptions of her relationship with her parents and children are nurturing and comforting; beyond her talent, beyond her superstardom, it's clear that King is a moral individual.
Her moral convictions led her to her tireless political activism; having earned a new appreciation for entertainers becoming involved in politics, I thoroughly enjoyed her discussion of her work on behalf of Gary Hart in the 1984 presidential campaign, as well as her advocacy on behalf of the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act. Her description of the 1963 flight that awakened her environmental awareness is as beautiful as the lyrics to any of her songs:
I had viewed images of the Rocky Mountains and the Grand Canyon in magazines, but seeing them in three dimensions from the perspective of an eagle I felt the power of nature on a grand scale. As the vast, diverse North American landscape unfolded below me, the beginning of my lifelong love for our home planet unfolded inside me. I've traveled across the country many times since then, both by air and on the ground, but I've never forgotten my first eagle's-eye view of America's magnificent natural landscape. That perspective would inform my later work to ensure that the remaining wild land in the Northern Rockies ecosystem is legally protected. Back then I saw vast empty landscapes. Since then so much more land has been developed, and so much less of it remains wild. When I tell members of the United States Congress that their grandchildren and great-grandchildren deserve to experience the remaining unspoiled land and wildlife on this earth as close as possible to the way it was thousands of years ago, I'm honoring a commitment I made on that first flight to Los Angeles.
Having seen King's occasional appearances on MSNBC, I'm convinced that she'd make a great pundit. In a time of unrelenting cynicism, it would be nice to hear from someone who, well, believes in humanity.
There is a passage towards the end of the book that filled me with the same sense of (oh, I can't help it) wrap-around joy I felt when I heard "Jazzman" for the first time:
Sometimes I lose hope that human beings will do right by each other, animals, and the planet. Wars continue to be fought. People continue to commit violence against each other. Homo sapiens is the only species I can think of whose behavior includes deliberate cruelty to other beings. This knowledge sorely tests my belief that the human inhabitants of this planet will be able to function as a world community with integrity and compassion.
When I feel this way, it helps to remember my ancestors' journey. My grandparents left their homes and villages and traveled all those miles believing they would find a better world for their children and grandchildren. More than a century later their courage keeps me going. The 'you can do anything' message from my father and mother buoys me. Because of all these people, my life really was a tapestry...With every sunrise I reaffirm my intention to spend part of that day giving back, be it through a smile, a song, a letter to the editor, a friendly email with compulsively correct spelling and grammar (my father would have it no other way), or simply remembering to say thank you.
Thank you, Carole King, for inspiring, motivating, entertaining, educating and enlightening millions around the world. Thank you for writing this brilliant book. Thank you for taking us to a better, higher, more moral, more civil place -- in our minds, in our relationships, in our souls.
Thank you for weaving the tapestry of our dreams.