A Natural Woman

I don’t know if I’m one of those, but I just finished reading a memoir with this title by singer/songwriter  Carole King. In the 1970’s, I had an eight-track tape of her album, Tapestry, and my favorite songs were “I Feel the Earth Move,” “It’s Too Late,” “So Far Away,” and “You’ve Got a Friend.” When I was in college, our choir sang a rendition of “Jazz Man.” 

I was amazed to learn that Carole King was born the same year as my husband Bill, 1942. In her memoir, she talks about growing up in Brooklyn, New York, where she was born. She learned to play the piano at an early age. When she completed kindergarten, she was sent directly to second grade. After that, she describes how being older than her classmates made it hard to be popular. As a teen-ager, she spent a year at a performing arts high school, but because she missed her friends and longed to be a normal adolescent, she finished her education at a public high school. She got her first recording contract a year or so later.

She describes her career from the 1950-s to the present, a life that took her from New York to Los Angeles, Idaho, Japan, Ireland, London, and back. She explains how she married and divorced three of her four husbands and gave birth to four children: two from her first husband and two from her second. She details the abuse she suffered at the hands of her third husband who died of a drug overdose after she fled to Hawaii with the children. She describes buying a ranch in Idaho with her fourth husband and winning a battle with the county she fought for years because she wanted her ranch road to remain private. After she and her fourth husband were divorced, she had two other relationships that never became serious.

While all this was going on, she wrote, sang, and recorded songs and performed in numerous movies, television programs, and on Broadway. She describes how she started out writing songs for other artists such as the Shirelles and the Everely Brothers. She wrote “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman” for Aretha Franklin in the 1960’s but didn’t perform it herself until 1971 when she recorded Tapestry. She describes meeting and performing with other celebrities including James Taylor, John Lenin, Yoko Ono, and Paul and Linda McCartney. She talks about her environmental and political activism and how she participated in concerts to raise money for such causes as Paul Newman’s Hole in the Wall Gang Camp for kids with cancer.

I downloaded a recording of this book from Audible. Carole King does an excellent job of narrating and even sings the songs she mentions a cappella which I found disappointing. It would have been nice if she had accompanied herself. She does provide piano interludes she wrote, inserted between parts of the book and at the end. The recording comes in two parts, each with its accompanying PDF file containing pictures. It can also be purchased from her Website in CD format. This version includes twelve CDs, the PDF files, and a video conversation with Carole. The book is also available in print.

I was also surprised to realize that I have a few things in common with Carole King. I was born in New York and learned to play at an early age. However, because my parents exposed me to a lot of classical music, my first notes on the piano, according to my mother, were the opening strains of Beethoven’s fifth symphony. The first thing Carole tried to play was a popular song she heard on the radio. Like Carole, I wanted to be a singer, but my family left New York a year after I was born and  never returned. I did most of my growing up in Colorado, Arizona, and Wyoming and didn’t have access to record companies like Carol did. I can’t help wondering. If My family had stayed in New York, would things have been different?

After all these years, I think Carole’s best song is “Beautiful.” I heard it on her Tapestry album when I was about eleven, but it’s one of those songs to which children don’t pay much attention. After hearing the song again as an adult, it means a lot more to me. This and other songs realistically reflect on relationships and other topics. I not only recommend her music but also the book, even if you never wanted to be a star.

 

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

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2 thoughts on “A Natural Woman

  1. Abbie–Since I, too, was a fan of Carole King and especially her LP Tapestry, I was very pleased to read your post and learn more about her book. I hope you will have a chance to travel to New York City within the next year or so–perhaps, for a writers’ conference and a trip down Memory Lane. Thanks for the book review–Alice

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