James Taylor Essay, Research Paper
When looking at the now 53-year-old James Taylor it is difficult to imagine him as a ground-breaking rock and roll musician. The tall, lanky, bald man with the mild demeanor has made an indelible mark on the music industry and is showing no signs of riding off into the sunset. While his songs acted as a pseudo-soundtrack to the ’70’s generation they are an amazing look into his troubled past.
In addition to coping with his personal demons Taylor has become known for being one of music’s strongest political activists and supporters of causes. He was recently featured in the four-hour documentary titled “Stand and Be Counted” about political activism by musicians.
Taylor is also one of the foremost supporters of the annual concert since 1985 “Rock in Rio” a benefit to help save the rain forest. In addition to his many Earth Day concerts Taylor has become a supporter of many environmental causes, most notably the “No Nukes” concerts of 1979 held at New York’s Madison Square Garden. “Nuclear energy has a really bad track record,” said Taylor (1981, www.james-taylor.com/text/NYT4-81.txt).
Before he could use his prominence to educate the masses on political issues, Taylor had to fight through many of his own personal issues. James was raised in the affluent home of Isaac Taylor, dean of the University of North Carolina’s medical school, and Trudy Taylor, a classically trained soprano. The Taylor family had a strong musical influence the family frequently held “kitchen concerts” in which James played the cello, brother Alex played the violin, sister Kate and brother Livingston played the piano and mother Trudy sang (White, 1981, www.james-taylor.com/text/rs6-81.txt).
Isaac fondly recalls James’ first recording, at the age of two James sang along with his father the song “Little Red Wagon Painted Blue” Isaac recorded on an old wire recorder (White, 1981, www.james-taylor.com/text/rs6-81.txt).
James loved the countryside of North Carolina and relished the family’s summers in Martha’s Vineyard. However at the age of 14 James left home for Milton boarding school in Massachusetts, where he was supposed to gain independence and a plan for his future. James did not fit in well with rigid Milton Academy. Taylor called the school “high powered,” and said “It functioned by means of fear-tactic stuff” (White, 1981, www.james-taylor.com/text/rs6-81.txt).
Taylor remained close to music, at 15 Taylor and friend Danny ‘Kootch’ Kortchmar won a local talent contest. A year later James joined brother Alex in a rock band called, the Fabulous Corsairs (http://artists.vh1.com).
After three years at the school Taylor felt he could take no more and returned to Chapel Hill where he was faced with another stark reality. “I’d lost touch with everyone in Carolina,” said Taylor “I thought, ‘What the hell, finish boarding school and aim for college, because the past has nothing more to offer” (White, 1981, www.james-taylor.com/text/rs6-81.txt).
He returned to Milton, but the situation perpetually got worse. Taylor said he felt like he was “ambling across an abyss”. While living alone in a small room in the schoolmaster’s house Taylor fell into a deep depression. “I got more and more depressed,” said Taylor “and I was sleeping 20 hours a day. Finally, at Thanksgiving, I started thinking about suicide” (White, 1981, www.james-taylor.com/text/rs6-81.txt).
He returned to Chapel Hill for the holidays, but was too afraid to speak of his fear. When it was time to return to school Taylor grew panicky, but returned to school afraid he was going to take his life. While at the school Taylor was encouraged to seek psychiatric help. He did seek help and upon seeing the psychiatrist Taylor broke down and the psychiatrist placed Taylor under observation in a psychiatric hospital (White, 1981, www.james-taylor.com/text/rs6-81.txt).
Taylor willingly committed himself to the McLean Mental Institution as a way to escape both Milton Academy and the draft board. After several months Taylor grew tired of the consultations with the conservative psychiatrists and medication and fled McLean in a friend’s pickup truck bound for New York City (White, 1981, www.james-taylor.com/text/rs6-81.txt).
In New York Taylor re-teamed with Kortchmar in a group call the Flying Machine. During this time Taylor wrote bleak ballads like “Don’t Talk Now,” “The Blues is Just a Bad Dream,” and “Rainy Day Man” (White, 1981, www.james-taylor.com/text/rs6-81.txt).
Now 18 and living in his own apartment Taylor experimented and was soon addicted to heroin. “It was a dreadful, stressful situation James got into,” said his father Isaac “He called me and I flew into New York, rented a station wagon, loaded it with his stuff and we went back to Chapel Hill. Six months later, he went to Europe to seek his fortune” (White, 1981, www.james-taylor.com/text/rs6-81.txt).
While living in a flat in London’s Notting Hill, James was still troubled by his heroin habit. His friend Kortchmar once again came to Taylor’s aide by suggesting he give a demo tape to A&R man Peter Asher, who later became his producer and manager. Asher was looking for talent for the Beatles new record label Apple Records. Paul McCartney liked the demo-record and gave him a recording contract.
“It was an amazing transition, after the failure in America, to get this green light of approval from the Beatles,” said Taylor “I knocked on their door just at the right moment. I had come over here and was barely surviving, moving all the time and sleeping in other people’s flats. I would go down to those pedestrian tunnels that run near Hyde Park and play my guitar for pennies. And then Paul heard my demo, a little acetate disk I made for 8 pounds. The Beatles had just set up Apple as an outlet for new talent. They were open to anything and everything, and they took a chance on me. At the time, however, I didn’t really have a sense that I was launching a career that would last for a long time” (Shelden, 1999, james-taylor.com/text/telegraph7-99.shtml).
While the Beatles were recording the White album McCartney produced Taylor’s first self-titled album. The album featured “Carolina in My Mind,” referring to his childhood days growing up in Chapel Hill. “I think of that early time in London when I sing ‘Carolina in My Mind.’ I was homesick when I wrote it, and the ‘holy host of others standing round me’ refers to the Beatles. The lyric dealt with being somewhere else, which has always made me feel real good, and it encouraged me that I could write a song that strong. I can always count on a goose pimple or two when I sing it,” said Taylor. Despite having “Carolina on My Mind” and “Something in the Way She Moves” on the album it was not successful (White, 1981, www.james-taylor.com/text/rs6-81.txt).
Taylor returned to America, depressed and still hooked on heroin. Taylor checked himself into the Austin Riggs Mental Institution. At the same time Asher moved to America due to frustrations with the disorganized Apple Records. Asher helped Taylor obtain a contract with Warner Brothers Records (http://artists.vh1.com).
While in the institution Taylor wrote many of the songs for his next album Sweet Baby James. The album was received well by both critics and fans and elevated Taylor to super-stardom. The album spent two years in the US charts and contained his most memorable song “Fire and Rain”. The song which tells of three bad times in his life has recently been ranked at number 85 on VH1’s top 100 songs of the century. The album came in at number 77 on VH1’s top 100 rock albums.
The first section of the song deals with his time in London during the making of his first record. “I’ve seen lonely time when I could not find a friend, but I’d always thought I’d see you again,” is how Taylor puts it in the song. A girl who was a friend of James’ died, but his friends held out on telling him until the record was finished, because they thought he would be unable to deal with the loss (1971, www.james-taylor.com/text/time3-71.txt).
The second stanza relates to his troubled times in New York City. “Won’t you look down upon me Jesus you’ve got to help me make a stand, you’ve just go to see me through another day,” goes the song (1971, www.james-taylor.com/text/time3-71.txt). .
The final stanza relates to 1968, when James left New York, to escape his heroin addiction, bringing an end to his band the Flying Machine. “There’s hours of time on the telephone line to talk about things to come, sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground” (1971, www.james-taylor.com/text/time3-71.txt).
With his follow-up album Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon Taylor added to his prominence. The album featured Taylor’s acclaimed cover of Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend”.
Taylor was drug-free while making One Man Dog, which contained “Don’t Let Me be Lonely Tonight.” At the same time Taylor worked with Beach Boy Dennis Wilson on the cult drag-race film Two Lane Blacktop. Also at this time, 22-years-old, he was on the cover of Time Magazine (1981, www.james-taylor.com/text/NYT4-81.txt).
In 1972, Taylor married fellow singer Carly Simon in one of the most publicized weddings of the time. The two went on to record a top five hit with “Mockingbird” in 1974. In the mid-’70s Taylor finally underwent a successful cure for heroin addiction (1981, www.james-taylor.com/text/NYT4-81.txt).
The marriage was strained as Simon enjoyed the glamour of show business, while Taylor was not as comfortable. The marriage produced two children son Ben and daughter Sally before dissolving in 1983 (Shelden,1999,james-taylor.com/text/telegraph7-99.shtml).
Taylor went on to produce 14 more albums including a greatest hits album that has sold more than 10 million and is still a best seller. So far in 2001 James Taylor’s Greatest Hits has sold more copies than Britney Spears’ Baby One More Time and the Backstreet Boys’ Millennium (Wright, 2001, dailynews.yahoo.com).
Twenty-four years after his first greatest hits collection, Taylor released Greatest Hits – Volume 2, summing up 23 years of recording at Columbia.
On October 8, 2000 Taylor was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, OH by Paul McCartney.
Taylor is currently working on his follow-up to the Grammy award winning (Best Pop Album) Hourglass. He is also planning on making an album of the cover songs which he frequently plays on tour.
Touring is what Taylor loves to do and what he does best. He has become known for his live performances. His tours are very successful and a pilgrimage for many fans. He is currently preparing for a summer tour which will take him to over 50 stops. Much of the proceeds from his public concerts are donated to many charities, including the Hopi Indians.
Personally James recently got married for the third time to Boston Symphony publicist Caroline Smedvig. After six years of dating Taylor and Smedvig got married at a small ceremony in Boston’s Back Bay. The two are awaiting the delivery of twins by a surrogate mother. A close family friend underwent in-vitro fertilization and the babies are due in April (Fee and Raposa, 2001, www.bostonherald.com).
After all that James Taylor has been through he is genuinely thankful to be doing what he loves. “I’m lucky to be here, I’m lucky that I didn’t die, or that I didn’t hurt somebody else more than I did or do more damage than I did. I should have died about five times,” said Taylor (Shelden, 1999, www.james-taylor.com/text/telegraph7-99.shtml).
At the age of 53 it is natural to ask the question ‘how much longer he you go on?’ “I know songwriters do dry up, and it’s important to not just crank out dried fruit,” said Taylor “It’s important to know when to stop. But I think I still sing and write pretty well – and once that’s gone I’ll face it and turn to something else” (Shelden, 1999, www.james-taylor.com/text/telegraph7-99.shtml).