TOM McNAUGHT: Good evening, and welcome everyone. I'm Tom McNaught, Executive Director of the Kennedy Library Foundation, and on behalf of Tom Putnam, the Director of the Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, and all of our colleagues at the Library and Foundation, we thank you all for coming.
This is a very special night, as we can see by that standing ovation.
Let me begin by acknowledging the generous underwriters of the Kennedy Library Forums: our lead sponsor Bank of America, Raytheon, Boston Capital, the Lowell Institute, the Boston Foundation; and our media partners, The Boston Globe and WBUR. Tonight we celebrate one of the country's most talented, gifted and totally awesome singers and songwriters of our time. [applause]
Carole King is the recipient of four Grammy Awards, and has been inducted into both the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She has recorded 25 solo albums, the second of which, Tapestry, released in 1971, would go on to stay at number one on the Billboard charts for a record-breaking 15 weeks. It stayed on the charts in some form for a stunning six years. Not only that, Tapestry remained the longest-tenured album in the top spot until it was finally beaten out by Michael Jackson's Thriller in 1982. On a personal note, I would like to add that it was Carole King's Tapestry that saved my sanity and got me through college in 1971. [laughter] It was better than therapy, and I thank you. [laughter]
In her memoir, A Natural Woman, which was just released this week, Carole takes us from her early beginnings in Brooklyn to her remarkable success as one of the world's most acclaimed songwriters and performing artists for all time. Now, A Natural Woman is now on sale in our Museum store, and Carole will be signing her book following the Forum. So I urge those of you who haven't gotten it, go get it.
There is a great line in the book jacket and it reads: "She created the soundtrack of our lives." Which is so true, especially after you read this book. I like to think of President and Mrs. Kennedy tooling around in their convertible on Cape Cod, or sitting back in their private quarters of the White House listening to "Will You Love Me Tomorrow," by the Shirelles; or "Take Good Care of My Baby," by Bobby Vee; or "The Locomotion," by Little Eva; or "Crying in the Rain," by the Everly Brothers; or "One Fine Day," by the Chiffons. And if they had, they would have been enjoying the work of Carole King. [applause] See? Everyone loves you. [laughter]
CAROLE KING: I think somebody should bring some tissues up here. [laughter]
TOM McNAUGHT: Carole King has written or co-written over 400 songs that have been recorded by more than 1,000 artists. I'll just give you a few names, but I'm sure from this audience you probably know most of them: Aretha Franklin, Amy Winehouse, Dusty Springfield, The Byrds, Neil Diamond, James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt, Roberta Flack, Cher, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Diana Ross, Mariah Carey, Barbra Streisand, and, of course, the Beatles. But thank God, by the end of 1970, Carole King began to devote herself exclusively to singing her own songs and 25 solo albums later, we are all richer for it.
Not content with being one of the most accomplished songwriters of all time, Carole is also a respected environmentalist who has been working for the passage of legislation to protect the Northern Rockies in her home. She is accompanied tonight by her daughter, Sherry Kondor, who – where's Sherry? Sherry, would you stand? We're delighted to have you here. [applause]
So you really need to read the book. But you're in for a treat tonight because we have somebody who will probably get more information out of Carole than is in the book, and that's our own chronicler, Mike Barnicle. [applause]
I think it's probably clear for most of the audience who knows Mike, but let me tell you anyway that he's an award-winning print and broadcast journalist, as well as a social and political commentator, who's a frequent contributor and occasional guest host on MSNBC's Morning Joe and Hardball with Chris Matthews. Mike can also be seen regularly on NBC's Today Show. As Bostonians, we all know that Mike is a regular contributor to the country's longest-running, award-winning local news magazine Chronicle, and he's hosted several award-winning documentaries for WCVB.
Mike has been a columnist for more than 30 years, having written more than 4,000 columns, collectively, for the Boston Herald, New York Daily News and The Boston Globe. At The Boston Globe, which we all know, he rose to prominence for his biting, satirical and, at times, heart-wrenching columns that closely followed the triumphs and travails and ambitions of Boston's working and middle classes. He's won local and national awards, both for his print and broadcast work, and his more than a quartercentury of journalism. He is a cut of the cloth of both Jimmy Breslin, Studs Terkel and Brendan Behan. We are honored to have him as tonight's moderator.
Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming Mike Barnicle and the legendary Carole King. [applause]
CAROLE KING: Thank you.
MIKE BARNICLE: First thing I have to do is update the bio.
CAROLE KING: And the first thing I have to do is acknowledge the Red Sox on April 20th.
MIKE BARNICLE: April 20th, yeah.
CAROLE KING: What is the anniversary?
MIKE BARNICLE: 100th anniversary of the ballpark.
CAROLE KING: Unbelievable.
MIKE BARNICLE: I was there at the first game. [laughter] That's how I feel.
CAROLE KING: We'll get you into the mid-century.
MIKE BARNICLE: As a matter of fact, before we begin, I should tell you that once this event was publicized, I received a call from the Red Sox asking if I would ask Carole if she would want to sing "God Bless America" tomorrow during Opening Day at the 7th inning, which she did, but she can't, because she's on to other things. But that's a standing invitation for you at any point in time.
CAROLE KING: You bet. [applause] Thank you.
MIKE BARNICLE: As you heard in the introduction, Carole obviously has had a very successful life that has touched thousands and thousands of lives through what she has done musically and what she has done actually politically, too. We'll get into all of that.
But as most of you are probably aware, many long and successful trips are never as smooth as they might appear to be at the near conclusion of the trip. Life is sometimes a rocky, turbulent road. And Carole King, perhaps many of you don't know, is the daughter of a New York City firefighter. [applause] And she literally took the A train to success.
So why don't we start talking about that ambitious little girl in Brooklyn, who would get on the trolley and cross the river and walk along the corridors of Manhattan, looking for a shot, looking for a chance. What kind of a nerve did you have to think at the age of -- however young you were -- that you could write songs?
CAROLE KING: Well, writing songs, it wasn't the question of whether I could write songs, it was the question of whether anyone would care. So when I was younger, I think the age I set forth on the journey to have people listen to my songs, I was probably 14, 15. And my dad, being a firefighter, had that wonderful thing that comes along with all the problems being a firefighter, he had a badge that would get him in anywhere. And one of the places I wanted him to get me in was to Alan Freed, to meet Alan Freed, the legendary disc jockey who, at my age – when I first heard him I was 13, and it was just an amazing thing to hear the music he played, because it wasn't this sort of white-bread pop; it was rhythm and blues and very different and very visceral.
So my dad gets me up to meet Alan Freed, and Alan Freed gave this girl some advice. He said, "Well, if you want to get your songs heard, just go pick up the phone book and look up record companies and start calling and see if you can get in to see some of the people." And that's what I did.
Now, when you said what made me think I had no fear. I don't know why. I was never brought up to be fearful or think I couldn't do anything, for any reason, but certainly not because I was a girl. It just was not part of my parents' framework. It was like, "Sure you can do anything, and we will support you. We're going to help you get there."
So I look in the phone book and the first one – I'm in the As – Atlantic Records. Jerry Wexler. Well, it was very new then. It was newly founded; it was only in one room then. And I walked in off the street. I couldn't get an appointment. I just walked in off the street, and my whole attitude was, Someone's going to get heard, why not me?” And they listened.
MIKE BARNICLE: So you do that. It's amazing spunk right there. But this is an age – and I see there are some people out there with the same color hair as mine, what hair I have left – and it's an age of 12-inch Bendix TV sets with rabbit ears on the top, and The Ed Sullivan Show, and things like that. How do you get from climbing those steps up to see Alan Freed on to Ted Mack's Amateur Hour or The Children's Hour? How does that happen?
CAROLE KING: I don't know. I mean, we went. I guess the answer is …
MIKE BARNICLE: You just show up?
CAROLE KING: I showed up, exactly.
MIKE BARNICLE: That's what life is all about, showing up.
CAROLE KING: I showed up. And, evidently, whatever talent I seemed to have finally come to recognize I must have -- thanks to all of you -- is they heard something. I was shy about performing, so the idea of performing was not in my head; I wanted my songs to be recorded.
But when I went to the Amateur Hour, it was, yeah, why not. I have a friend I sing with, a girlfriend from school, Loretta Stone. So suddenly it wasn't about, “Oh, I'm up there and there's an audience out there.” It was me and my friend having a good time singing. And they must have caught that, so we were on the Amateur Hour and for that appearance only, I believe I took the name – my birth name is Carol without an E; I added the E later, and then Klein, K-L-E-I-N. But it wasn't the thing to do, to have ethnic names at that time, so for that appearance only, I changed it to Carol Kane, thereby the same name as the comedic actress who I didn't know about then.
MIKE BARNICLE: And as you're doing this, whether it's in the Brill Building in Manhattan or wherever, you encounter all sorts of people whose names would be familiar to most of the people here. Say, someone like Paul Anka, who is not that much older than you, I would imagine, at that time.
CAROLE KING: No.
MIKE BARNICLE: So what does bumping into Paul Anka, who has a huge hit at the time, a huge hit, what does that do to your sense of ambition, your sense of confidence, if you had it? I imagine you had some confidence then.
CAROLE KING: In my work, absolutely.
MIKE BARNICLE: What does it do to you?
CAROLE KING: Well, I actually never did meet Paul Anka. I met other people. I met
Steve Lawrence. Atlantic couldn't use me right then, so it went in reverse order, but then ABC Paramount -- that's who Paul Anka recorded for -- I was inspired to go to them because I loved his single, "Diana." It had this kind of hooky thing, this [sings notes], and I couldn't tell what instrument was playing that. So I was motivated to go see his producer, which was Don Costa, who also did a lot of work with Frank Sinatra in his later years, and many, many famous artists. So not having run into Paul Anka, but I saw myself as, “Well, he's only seven months older than I am. If he can do it, I can do it.” And Don Costa did see me, and I did get to ask him what that instrumentation was. And he leaned over and he said very conspiratorially, like we were equals or something, "It's a guitar and a sax playing in unison." Who would have ever known that? But what a moment.
MIKE BARNICLE: You have a line in the book, when you were in high school and everybody's dating, many of your friends are dating, and you're sitting at home thinking you are the girl who the guys call to talk about other girls.
CAROLE KING: I'm the friend. [laughter]
MIKE BARNICLE: How does that play out in your life?
CAROLE KING: First of all, I skipped a grade, which they did back then. So I was good at reading and math. They skipped me from kindergarten to 2nd grade. And then I was put in early enough so that I was like the youngest one in the class anyway. So here I am two years younger than everybody and my genetics are that I'm smaller than everybody else. It was all going against me. But they liked me. I was cute. But when you want to be dating the guys and they think you're cute -- not in the hot-and-attractive sense – I was kind of looking for a way to be popular, and I just couldn't seem to find that way.
Until I realized that there was a niche, the James Madison High School Sing, where every class put on their songs. I could play piano. I could teach my friends songs. It was wonderful, it was comfortable. I found my niche and I became popular, but still not in that dating way. I wanted to be the tall blonde with the, you know. [laughter] And it wasn't going to happen. But I did find that place, through my music, where I was liked, accepted, comfortable, and I stopped worrying about whether I was going to date. I was really happy doing what I was doing.
MIKE BARNICLE: And at some point, you meet a young man named Gerry Goffin.
And life intersects with Gerry Goffin, life, music and marriage at a very young age.
CAROLE KING: Yes.
MIKE BARNICLE: Tell us about Gerry Goffin.
CAROLE KING: Well, I met him …At this point, I went through high school and I didn't have any kind of serious boyfriend. And by the way, neither did I have very good lyrics. The lyrics that, when Don Costa eventually recorded me, "Baby, baby, baby sittin' on the, baby, baby, baby, baby sittin' on the, baby, baby, baby." [laughter] There is a punch line, "You know that baby, I mean, he's 17." [laughter] But there were deeper things to go for.
So I'm looking for a lyricist. By the way, on my way to Gerry Goffin I go to Queens. My family, my parents moved to Queens, and I go to Queens College. The first person I met before I met Gerry Goffin was Paul Simon. I met Artie as well, Artie Garfunkel, but Paul and I sort of started hanging out together. We were never romantically involved at all, but we started making demos together. He played bass and guitar and sang, I played piano and sang, and we made demos for other people. And we had some of our songs, but we never collaborated. I actually asked Paul about that – because we've stayed friends all these years – "Why do you think we never collaborated?" This is in the book and I'm still stunned when he says this, he said, "I was never really good at collaborating, and I didn't really think I was a very good lyricist until 'Sounds of Silence' went to number one.” [laughter] So opportunity missed, I guess. But opportunity found, because I did meet Gerry Goffin at Queens College.
MIKE BARNICLE: Whatever happened to Paul Simon? [laughter]
CAROLE KING: I believe he was here recently, was he not?
MIKE BARNICLE: Yeah, I think he was.
CAROLE KING: This is where we wound up. So that's where I met Gerry.
MIKE BARNICLE: Today, I don't know, Facebook and text messaging and Googling everything and everyone. There's such a lack of institutional memory today. The idea that someone your age and Jerry Goffin, who you have not yet married but you're about to be married, sit down and manage to write these songs that we still whistle and hum and sing in cars today, all these years later, it's kind of amazing to think back. How old were you when you started doing this with Gerry?
CAROLE KING: When I met Gerry, I was 16; I was probably about to turn 17. Now, bear in mind, I had already graduated high school. I was appropriately in the right place mentally. But I look at these pictures that you'll see in the book or the e-book, and this is a child! It's a child you're looking at! Really?
So yeah, it is remarkable. And Facebook, I want to sort of pose a question here, just talking about that. I have a Facebook page. Most people know that I am not the one running the Facebook page. Once in a while I'll have a comment and they'll put it on, same thing with Twitter, and most people know that and accept that it's not me.
How many people in this room are really ambivalent about Facebook?
MIKE BARNICLE: There you go.
CAROLE KING: And yet, how do we live without it in today's world? I don't know the answer. You probably don't because you're all still on it, because that's how people communicate. That's something I think about. It's … can't we talk?
MIKE BARNICLE: How many people tweeted today what they had for lunch?
[laughter] Or what they were doing at 3:00. It's bizarre. We're all living through what I call now the cubicle generation, that there's a cubicle in between where you're sitting and I'm sitting, and I think you're a jerk or you did something that offended me, so I'm going to text you. Instead of getting up, looking you in the eye and saying, "Hey, Carole, you did something that bothered me." I'll text it to you, even though you're two feet away.
There's something really weird going on out there. But again, don't duck the question.
CAROLE KING: No, no, I didn't mean to.
MIKE BARNICLE: You and Gerry. "Locomotion," "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?" You can sing that song tonight. What are you, 17 or 18 when you write that?
CAROLE KING: Let me think a minute. Yes, we were 17.
MIKE BARNICLE: Amazing.
CAROLE KING: I was 17. Gerry was 20.
MIKE BARNICLE: Tell them about "Locomotion" and who sang it and what happened.
CAROLE KING: It's Little Eva. Her name was Eva Boyd at the time. She is sadly gone now, but she had, I think she has five children, 15 grandchildren. We were kind of in touch. But Eva did come to work for Gerry and me. I was a mother of two by then and I really needed some help around the house, and I was a working mom. So Eva came to work for Gerry and me. The legend is that she was pushing the broom around the house and we said, "We must record that voice." But we knew she could sing and we used her on some of our demos. And then Don Kirshner, my publisher, who by the way, I'm going to Cleveland tomorrow, which is why I can't be at the Red Sox. I'm going there to induct Don Kirshner into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. [applause] Sadly posthumously, and by the way, that applies to him, not me. [laughter]
So Donny decided that he was going to start a record company. So we have Little Eva record this song that we had written for Dee Dee Sharp, who had had "The Mashed Potatoes." [sings] So we recorded this demo and Dee Dee Sharp's didn't want or need our song. So Donny said, "You know what? I'm going to start a record label." And so he just took that demo and put it out, and that was "Locomotion." It was just fun. I wrote the music. And most of those early songs, that great lyric of "Will You Love Me
Tomorrow?," which is so often credited to me because I'm a girl, "Will you still love me tomorrow?," Gerry wrote it, a straight man with such an understanding of how women think. [laughter], totally so keyed into how women thought. He wrote the lyrics to "Natural Woman," to "Saving All My Love for You," which I did not write.
Back to "The Locomotion." He wrote this fun dance thing. We didn't even know what it looked like; he just made up the words and off it went, number one three different decades. [applause]
MIKE BARNICLE: When you're writing a song then, in the '50s, early '60s, "Locomotion," "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?," you were at the edge of the beginning of just a huge music revolution in this country. Elvis has been on Ed Sullivan from the hips up. [laughter]
CAROLE KING: Not the first time.
MIKE BARNICLE: Bill Haley and the Comets have been banned from every CYO dance in America. [laughter] What does this music, the popularity of this music, and performers like Elvis Presley do to you in terms of writing, you and Gerry writing? I mean, do you stop and think how can you mimic it?
CAROLE KING: Absolutely.
MIKE BARNICLE: Yeah?
CAROLE KING: Absolutely. That was our MO in those days. Just for the record, take "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?." Their big hit was "Tonight's the Night." [sings:] "You say you're gonna love me, tonight's the night." Right? "Tonight you're mine completely." [laughter] It wasn't like a calculated …
MIKE BARNICLE: What a great song that is, isn't it? That's a great song.
CAROLE KING: It wasn't a calculated thing in the sense that we really had to pick it apart. It just was in our brain and we let it percolate, and we knew that what came out would be probably upside down and sideways the same song. And it was. [laughter]
MIKE BARNICLE: When you would hear, let's pick a group, let's say Dion and the Belmonts, you hear them. Did you want to rush home and sit down at the piano and riff something up?
CAROLE KING: Every time.
MIKE BARNICLE: Really?
CAROLE KING: Yes. That's what drove me. I would hear something that I would admire. And that's true for all artists, I think. All artists are informed by other art. And you take it in. The word "inform" is such a great word. I don't think that came into common use when I was growing up. But so perfect, because you intake i, and it forms you, and that's what we did.
MIKE BARNICLE: So this is all East Coast doo-wop stuff. Bill Parcells, the former Patriots and Jets coach and coach of so many other teams, Hall of Fame football coach, loves doo-wop music. And at the end of each football season, whether he was coaching the New York Giants or the New England Patriots, he'd get in his big Cadillac and he had $6,000 worth of CDs, and he'd drive down to his place in Jupiter, Florida, playing that rock and roll music, all down the East Coast. But a sense of it is East Coast music, at least it is to me, although they were huge national hits. When you're still young, you and Gerry, the lure of California, you're drawn to California, you move to California. What changes, if anything, when you move to California?
CAROLE KING: Well, there were external changes. Gerry and I split up when we moved to California. Our marriage was …
MIKE BARNICLE: Doesn't everybody?
CAROLE KING: Split up when they move to California?
MIKE BARNICLE: Yeah.
CAROLE KING: We split up on our way to California. We moved there, literally, separately. And I do want to talk about that in the sense that one of the things that I tried to do in this book was to set my experiences in a larger historical context. That's really important to me, because I see myself as an observer, as you do. I mean, we have that in common, to just sort of see the bigger picture. And, obviously, it's easier to do that when you're writing about it 40, 50 years later.
But as our marriage was sort of developing into not a good one, for lots of reasons, a lot of it had to do with … Any of you here with this color hair will recognize the phenomenon. You get married, you're very, very young at that time, and the world is changing. It's the '60s. Things are starting to happen. You said the lure of California. It was centered in California, but it was happening here, too. One member of the couple sort of got into that before the other member of the couple. And it wasn't always the man first. Kramer vs. Kramer. [laughter] But one member went first and the other one's going, "But, but what?" – and I was that person, and Gerry was so drawn to that and the culture, and the LSD, and the whole more open attitude. So I'm sort of using that to explain how we got to the point of eventually we were going to separate, and we both went to California separately.
MIKE BARNICLE: So you moved to California, I believe, in the spring of 1968.
CAROLE KING: Right.
MIKE BARNICLE: Which is a dreadful year for America, just a dreadful year.
CAROLE KING: Yes.
MIKE BARNICLE: You move out there shortly before Martin Luther King is killed in Memphis, and Robert Kennedy is killed in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles shortly after you get there.
CAROLE KING: And the convention after that.
MIKE BARNICLE: In Chicago.
CAROLE KING: Yeah.
MIKE BARNICLE: We'll get to the psychology, your feelings about it politically, but I wanted to ask you, you were just talking about the breakup with Gerry and everything.
Did you find it difficult to write about it?
CAROLE KING: You mean now, in this book?
MIKE BARNICLE: Yeah.
CAROLE KING: No, not that. There's one thing in the book that we'll get to that I did find it difficult to write about, and we can explain that later. But I didn't find it difficult to write about, because in fact writing about it gave me that opportunity to put it in perspective and to remember not only my personal feelings as a woman feeling this, but we were going to last forever! We were going to live happily ever after! And I was so young when we got married, and so was he.
MIKE BARNICLE: How old when you got married?
CAROLE KING: When we got married, 17 and 20. And then we had our first child – not Sherry, her sister – when I was 18. And again, I have three daughters, and when I saw each of them pass through 18, none of them was ready to have a child! [laughter] Nor was I. But we did. I did, and it was a blessing of my life. Every one of my children are just blessings. And we cope and we do what we do, and we have kept a sense of family through all the breakups, through all the different things. We're a close family.
MIKE BARNICLE: So you get out there in California.
First of all it's interesting, when your children turned 18 and you realized, looking at them, that they were still children, did you have flashbacks about yourself, thinking, “Oh, my God, I can't believe.”
CAROLE KING: I was a child with children, and they know that. There were advantages to it because I was a very cool mom, and I was easier on them in some ways. But there were disadvantages because children need boundaries, and I didn't know where the boundaries were. There was no blueprint; that's what was very confusing. Because now I'm living in California, in the famed Laurel Canyon, which in most cases has not been represented correctly, and I hope I did a good job in doing it, but none of us had a blueprint. The world was changing.
What does a single mother do? Well, also, there aren't a whole lot of single mothers at that age. All of my contemporaries were (a) five years younger than me, so not really contemporary, and (b) they didn't have children and they were just doing whatever. I couldn't do whatever. And I was glad, even at the time, that I couldn't do whatever because I liked that my children kept me grounded. They kept me, I knew who I was because of my children and my music. So whatever happened around me, I always had that. I think I may need those tissues.
MIKE BARNICLE: One of the things that's happening around you as you get out there
-- there are a lot of things happening around you -- the war in Vietnam is raging. Lyndon Johnson has withdrawn, he's not going to run for President. We have the horrific Chicago convention. We have the election of Richard Nixon. Does this trigger anything in you politically? And if so, whatever was triggered in you, does it affect your songwriting, or your view of the world, the words that you put on to paper?
CAROLE KING: Absolutely. Although to be fair, they were Gerry's words. At that time, he always wrote the words and I wrote the music. But I was totally plugged into all those things. We marched, we marched for peace. We marched together, and then even after we separated, there were times when we sort of became working together again and friends again, though never together.
I remember taking the kids on a march in San Francisco, and Gerry's got one of them, probably Sherry – she's remembering, too. And yes, it absolutely affected us. It was almost impossible not to because – and this is a social observation I want to make, and I don't remember if I make it in the book. In those days, the music on the radio, there was kind of a mainstream radio. There were side channels of, like, rhythm and blues, or whatever. And I don't mean to say ‘side’ in terms of importance, but in terms of ‘sides.’ But there was a mainstream pop radio and it became all about that. People were writing songs of protest and Gerry got right on that bandwagon, and I was right there with him.
MIKE BARNICLE: Out in Los Angeles, I don't know how many of you are familiar with the Los Angeles of the late '60s and early '70s, but it seemed almost everything -- other than poverty in places like South Central LA -- it seemed like everything else revolved around the entertainment industry, whether it was the music business or obviously the music business. But you could drive down the Sunset Strip and there was a huge state-of-the-art building then, Tower Records, which is now out of business, and many of the billboards would feature not movies, but LPs, as they were called then, longplaying albums, albums that were about to come out: Carole King's album and all sorts of different albums. So the idea that you're out there in this mecca of entertainment, at one point you meet a young man from Martha's Vineyard, and this young man is still today one of your closest friends.
CAROLE KING: Yes.
MIKE BARNICLE: And his name is James Taylor.
CAROLE KING: Please. [applause]
MIKE BARNICLE: Tell us about meeting him.
CAROLE KING: Well, there were two meetings. The first meeting was in New York in 1967 at the Night Owl Café. He was playing with a band that had originally been called the King Bees, but they became the Flying Machine. Danny Kortchmar was in it, Zach Weisner, and Joel Bishop O'Brien. Some friends of mine brought me there to see him -- well, them, it was them, because he was performing as a member of a band.
I met him briefly. When I walked in, Danny was just like, "James, come over here and meet Carole." I had never met Danny, but we were all getting together. And James comes over, ambling, lanky, long, "How are you?" And then he walks away. It was a very weird experience. Then I say, "I should go." And my friends say, "No, you've got to see him." And I’m blown away. You see, what you see today was there then, all of it. There's a documentary, The Rise and Fall of the Singer/Songwriter – not the fall! [laughter] I think it's called The Rise of the Singer/Songwriter. We never fell. But I got to see in that … Morgan Neville, the filmmaker, there's a "Fire and Rain" video of James, one of his first performances. He was magnificent and just stunning. And I didn't stay with him then, I just left to go home because I had small children at home.
The next time I met him was, let's see, that was '67. I met him in 1969 at Peter Asher's house. Peter was his friend and producer by then. Now, it's no secret that James had issues with heroin; he was addicted to heroin when I first met him. By the time I met him the second time, he had cleaned up and he was going to work with Peter and make an album. I walk into Peter's house and I see James, and he's sort of sitting in the crook of the piano, just kind of on a stool, bent over, absorbed in his music. He looks up and he sees Danny. Danny's his old friend and they embrace. And then they introduce him to me, and that time he was fully present. And we sat down to play. Peter just said, "Why don't you guys just play?" We began to play.
I'll never forget because it hasn't changed. It was like we were puppies rolling around; the music was just rolling in and around each other. His guitar and my piano just rolled around. And we just felt like we knew each other and had played together forever.
MIKE BARNICLE: And off of that chord, no pun intended, tell them, again no pun intended, how instrumental … [laughter]
CAROLE KING: We could do this all night.
MIKE BARNICLE: "Sweet Baby James" was in who Carole King became. Because you were playing in his band.
CAROLE KING: Yes. I'm shy, remember.
MIKE BARNICLE: You have written a marvelous song that I think most people here in the audience could probably whistle or hum walking out of the hall on the way home, "Up on the Roof."
CAROLE KING: Yes.
MIKE BARNICLE: So the band is assembled and there's a concert going on, and James Taylor's singing. And there comes a point in the concert when the group is going to sing "Up on the Roof," except James Taylor says you're going to sing it.
CAROLE KING: He tells me I'm going to sing it, and I'm like …He would not let me, I could not talk him out of this. So when he introduces me – normally he introduces his band. He's very gracious and generous that way; he always acknowledges his band. So he did that night just before "Up on the Roof," and I knew he was going to ask me to sing it by then. It wasn't like, "Come on stage." Although I felt that way anyway. Introduces everybody, saved me for last, and then says to everybody, "This woman has written" blah, blah, blah, and he ticks off all the songs that I've written that you all know. Then he says, "And I'm going to ask her to sing this tonight. Ladies and gentlemen, Carole King."
Here are the lights. Here's me. I'm terrified I'm terrified! Plus, I've been watching this man who is so at home on a stage, so comfortable on a stage. He just knows what to do. I don't know what to do. I start singing the song, and as I worked my way through the song – people aren't sure what to expect. They know that I wrote the song, but suddenly I feel this infinitesimal, yet huge shift. Suddenly I'm not sure, and then you're with me. I'm taking it in, and you're with me, and I go through it. From that time forward, I was a lot more comfortable on stage, but there was one other transition, and if you want to lead into it, or I can.
MIKE BARNICLE: Go ahead.
CAROLE KING: I got to perform with James, and I got a little more comfortable about it. Now we get off this college tour. It was a college, sort of weekend tour. We were at Queens College, my alma mater, so I'm really scared. But now I'm good.
So then Peter Asher's going to have James Taylor open at the Troubadour. He's a big star by now; people have really caught on to him. And they ask me to be his opening act. Again I'm like, "I don't know about this." "No, no, no, go ahead." And Lou Adler, who was my producer and manager, talks me into it. He says, "Charlie can play bass with you. You'll be really comfortable."
I do it, but I'm really scared. I'm not now scared about playing. When I was doing "Up on the Roof," I was scared about that. Now, I know that if I play the music, I'm there, I'm into it. But I'm thinking, what am I going to say to these people in between the songs? So I have my glass of water down to the left of the piano, and I went [drinks], Thank you very much. I'm sitting this way, right? No, I'm sorry, I'm sitting this way, piano this way, because that's where the curve is, and you're all out here. "Thank you very much," and get my drink. Then a song goes by, another song goes by. Once I'm playing, I'm fine. Third song is coming up. I don't know what to say, and I know I've got to say something. Over the loudspeaker comes the sound of this stoned guy, California guy, saying, "Carole, I hate to do this, but we're going to have to ask everybody to leave the club in an orderly fashion. It's probably nothing, but there's been a report that there's a bomb in here." [laughter] And I'm saying, "As long as it's not me!" [laughter]
Everybody left, and the tension was broken. What I learned that night, that was the thing that put me over into being the person you see on stage now, because I knew that what the audience wanted and expected of me was (a) to play the hit songs that they liked, or even the songs that weren't hits yet, tolerate one or two, and then you want me to be myself. And this is what you're getting tonight. And that's what you get whenever I'm on stage. So thank you for that. [applause]
MIKE BARNICLE: I've heard James Taylor sing many times. It's always a treat hearing him sing songs that you've written, "You've Got a Friend," things like that. How do you feel? Do you have different feelings when different people sing your songs?
CAROLE KING: Almost always good. The one time I remember a horrible, horrible version of a song. I will not mention the name of the artist, it would be disrespectful, but almost every time …are we running out of time?
MIKE BARNICLE: No, no, no.
CAROLE KING: Oh, okay. Oh, questions.
MIKE BARNICLE: My wife wants me to go home. [laughter]
CAROLE KING: You can't leave. Tell her you're at a Red Sox game. [laughter]
MIKE BARNICLE: She knows my schedule. Does it ever sound weird to you, strange to you, hearing your songs?
CAROLE KING: No, it's only better. It's the next level. I'm always, even now, I'm first, last and always a songwriter. It is my greatest joy to hear someone else sing my song. And don't forget, here's the thing about me being a singer. How I became a singer, well, okay, James pushed me forward. I was a singer of sorts, because we have this album that we just put out, or it's going to be out in a couple of weeks, the 24th, called The Legendary Demos. These are the demos that I made with Gerry, but I'm the singer and the executor of it. Executer? However you say that. And it's all there. The ideas are all there. I listen to it now. Really? How did you do that? But I was a singer then. I have to present the song if it's coming from me, and then the artist takes it to the next level. So with Tapestry and the albums around that time, they eliminated the later step.
MIKE BARNICLE: So how can you tell? You record Tapestry, or you record any song, you record a song today, you record with James Taylor, whatever, for a CD or whatever. How can you tell what you're listening to yourself is good? What's your ear like? Tell me about the other-room-listen, as you talk about that in the book. How do you tell?
CAROLE KING: Well, that doesn't go to how good the song is, that sort of goes to how good a mix is. The other-room-listen is when you hear it through the big speakers and then you put it through the tinny speakers, because that's how people will hear it in their cars, or the monaural speaker. Then there's still a way that works for me. I go in the other room. I'll talk to somebody, I'll have a conversation, the thing is playing. I have a thing in my brain that absolutely catches that one wrong note, or that place where the strings need to come up, or that place where the vocals aren't blended right. And so, that's that. But as far as how do you know a song is good? We like to think we do. We don't always, but we like to think we do. We never know. We never know. It's a fickle, crazy thing.
MIKE BARNICLE: At this time, we're now in the early '70s or so, are you married to Charlie at this time?
CAROLE KING: No. Oh, you mean in the early '70s? I thought you were asking now.
MIKE BARNICLE: I know you're not married now.
CAROLE KING: Happily single. [laughter]
MIKE BARNICLE: Tell them about Charlie.
CAROLE KING: Charlie was the bass player in a band that Gerry and I sort of found in New Jersey. He was one of the guys actually, the two guys that brought me to hear the Flying Machine. After Gerry and I split up, Charlie and I get together and he comes and moves in with me in Los Angeles. He's the one that says, "Why don't we put together a band?" And I'm like, "I'm not going out and performing." "Okay, it'll be a recording band." And then we became The City; that's my first album. But it had a group name to it.
Then Charlie and I get married. We have our two children. It was Louise and Sherry with Gerry, and then Molly and Levi with Charlie. We just had a great time. We loved playing music together, we loved our family, and everything was cool. Our situation, we split up because Charlie was really into playing music. He loved playing music and playing in bands and that was not my scene. He got into that scene and hanging out, and hours, truly, it was hours. We loved each other. There was no other issue except that he was living the life of a musician and I was living the life of a domestic housewife, and ultimately it wasn't working.
MIKE BARNICLE: One last question, and then I'm going to hit you with several names of people you've encountered across the decades. And then we'll take some questions that have been provided by the audience. But sort of the last question is, I talked to you about this earlier, there comes a point where you're living on Trancas Beach, which is on the Pacific Coast Highway in California. There's Malibu and then Trancas and it's beautiful, it's a beautiful area.
You're living there, and late one evening -- 10:30, 11:00 at night – and a guy by the name of Don Henley lives right up the hill, the Eagles. There's a party going on and they come down, and say, "Carole, come on up to the party, because it's from here to the end of this room and your kids are okay, they're sleeping. Okay, you can leave for a few minutes.” And you walk up the hill and Don Henley's outside and JD Souther is outside, great musician. And you meet a guy …Well, tell us who you meet.
CAROLE KING: I meet a man named Rick Evers. And just some clarification: my kids were asleep but they had a babysitter there. [laughter] Just a clarification.
MIKE BARNICLE: Jesus, DSS is not going to call, Carole.
CAROLE KING: No, I just want you to know that's who I am; I would never do that.
Also, setting the time, 1975, November 1975. I am by now already well known. I think Thoroughbred was the album that was just out around that time. And I don't like the fast lane. I still have my house in Laurel Canyon. I decided to go out and live at the beach and get another house; at the time they were affordable. Well, to me, anyway.
And Lou Adler has all these famous friends. Jack Nicholson back then, still. Lakers games back then. And I find that's the people I'm hanging out with. Charlie is doing his music thing, and I'm completely untethered, except for my family, except for my kids.
So I have in my mind this dream, this thought, that I really want to get away from LA. The trite phase is "back to the land," but it was. I want to get someplace closer to nature, away from so many people, away from the LA ethic of when people get together they talk about who had what plastic surgery, and which places do you go …
MIKE BARNICLE: Who did?
CAROLE KING: I don't remember.
MIKE BARNICLE: I want to know that.
CAROLE KING: I don't remember. And what places do you go to see and be seen, all that conversation. That's not true of everyone in LA. By the way, even then, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, very intelligent man, knows so much about music and jazz history and, of course, sports. Even then, we had a wonderful conversation one night.
But I want to get out. I walk up the hill and I meet this man, Rick Evers. His picture is in the e-book and probably in the print book. Well, first of all, you see him; you could go Brad Pitt in Legends of the Fall, right? We start talking and he's from Idaho, and he's telling me about all these places he knows -- Idaho, Colorado, Utah. "I can take you around and show you great places to live." I was hooked.
MIKE BARNICLE: And you're still in Idaho.
CAROLE KING: And I'm still in Idaho. Rick is gone. Rick actually left this planet. And I will touch on this. Remember I said there's some not-so-good. In this book, I write about what I experienced with Rick Evers, which is physical abuse. There's a whole dynamic – and this is a story I'm not going to tell here, because it was really difficult to write about. I wrote about it because my wonderful first editor, Colleen Daly, said these words: "Just write."
And I wrote. I wasn't sure I was going to include it, but the reason I did is because if one woman – or some men, I know, are also victims of abuse, forget about children, that's a whole other category – but if one woman read it and said, "Wow, she had all this money. She was famous. How could that happen to her?" I describe in the book the dynamic of how it happens, and more to the point, why you stay. I not only stayed, but I married him after multiple times of being physically abused. And when I look at that I would say, “What were you thinking?” But in the writing of it, I came to understand what I was thinking, what women who are victims of physical or sexual abuse – there was not sexual abuse, just physical – just, merely, only. So that was why I put it in the book and really, if there is one woman, then my work here is done and I'm glad to have it out there. [applause]
MIKE BARNICLE: John Lennon.
CAROLE KING: Ah, that's all you have to say. So I'm with that Rick. And by the way, there are two Ricks, because after this Rick …The end of that story is that I finally realized that at some point he had begun to shoot cocaine. When I realized that he was doing that, the minute I realized he was doing that, I took my remaining kids that lived with me – Louise was already gone – and left. But while I was gone, he overdosed. He just overdosed, so he took himself out.
But I'm still with him at this point, and we're in New York City and I'm doing a business meeting. Rick came everywhere with me, everywhere, everywhere, that kind of possessiveness. And I meet Yoko Ono in the bathroom of a movie theater. [laughter] So I come out of the stall, she's already washing her hands at the sink, and there's a mirror. And I see her and she sees me and guess what? We didn't have to introduce each other. [laughter] And we talk. They just had Sean, baby Sean, and she tells me that. And she says, "Would you like to come over to our house, our apartment?" She says, "our apartment." And I said, "Sure, can I bring my boyfriend?" She says, "Of course." And she tells me the plan. We're going to go watch her. When she and John get up – there are two security guys with them – we were to get up and leave, too. They leave before the end of the movie. In those days, I guess they didn't have screenings or video or whatever. They never got to see the end of a movie! [laughter]
But while I'm thinking about this, I'm watching, they get up, we go and nobody's there, and it's totally without incident. We wind up at the Dakota, and we go into their apartment and everything is like white on white, very minimalist. It looks like you would expect their home to look. We're sitting and talking, and baby Sean is with a nanny; I never got to see him. We're sitting and talking, and Rick is feeling very comfortable with Yoko, because remember, Yoko is the one who took our John away from us, and not a lot of people like her. And Rick was in the same position. So they're bonding.
I have to go back to 1965. This was in 1976, I believe. 1965, when I was in New York and the Beatles were here -- it's their second year here -- somebody gets me into a party at the Warwick Hotel in New York. It's a Beatles party and I'm like, great, because it's my goal to meet every one of the Beatles. By the way, I know that they know who I am, because they've said they wanted to be the Goffin and King of the UK. [laughter] Which doesn't mean they wanted to get married and live in New Jersey. [laughter]
So I go up and I make my way around the room, and I meet each one in turn. And each one is absolutely lovely. Ringo is Ringo, and then somebody pulls him away. Then I meet
George and he's very not-a-lot-to-say, and then somebody pulls him away. Then I meet Paul, the opposite of not-a-lot-to-say, and every word delicious and every word wonderful. He said, "Oh, I love your music! You and Gerry," starts rattling off all the songs we wrote, "What an influence!" He was sweet, and then somebody pulls him away because that's how it goes.
Now, I only have John to meet. I go over to where John is. He's standing with two women, neither of whom was Cynthia. And he looks high; he looks like he's totally stoned, whacked out of his mind. I go over to him, "Hi, John, I'm Carole King. I'm really glad to meet you." Honestly, I cannot remember what he said, but he was so rude. It was like a smack. I'm like, I'm getting out of here. I left. All those months or years, I had wondered, what was up with that? So here I am in the house with a very happy John. He tells us how happy he is. He's so comfortable being a house husband. [laughter] And he's really happy. So there's this big elephant in the room that nobody sees but me.
So I broached the subject. "John, do you remember meeting me at the Warwick Hotel?" [laughter] And he says, "Remind me." So I'm thinking he must not remember, he's met how many people? I said, "Well, you were very rude to me and I was just wondering, I mean, I was just curious, why? What was going on?" And he says, "Do you really want to know?" So I'm thinking, he does remember. He says, "You and Gerry were such great songwriters. I was intimidated." [laughter/applause] So I say, "Oh, don't worry about it. It's all right, it's all right."
Then we go on to talk about other things. He says, "Let's hear from your man." And my man starts talking to John about these – he's a total survivalist. He wants to take us away from society, where I make my income and where my children live, and he wants to just do whatever you can imagine, like when they retreat from the world. I'm horrified hearing this, because it's the first I've heard about this. [laughter] I'm getting chills listening to this. John listens to this and his comment, after Rick finished laying it all out, was, "Well, I couldn't do that. I'd have me a bag of rice, but what about everyone else?" [laughter] That's our John, that's the John that wrote "Imagine."
I was just wrapped in this blanket. I don't remember what was said after that. Just wrapped in this blanket of the warm, caring, wonderful person that John Lennon proved to be. And as we know in "Give Me Some Truth" or "Run For Your Life," that wasn't the John. But we know the John and who he really was. I'm so grateful that I had that evening.
MIKE BARNICLE: We have some questions from the audience.
CAROLE KING: All right! [applause]
MIKE BARNICLE: You wrote many songs that others sang. But not until the late '60s and early '70s when Laura Nyro, Joni Mitchell and Carole King came along, women didn't get recording contracts to sing and record their own music. We take it for granted now. Do you think about that, and what do you think about that?
CAROLE KING: I think there is some truth to it, but I have to say that women … Songwriters didn't get to record their own music, but there was always the beautiful person in the front of the band, the lovely woman who sang the songs. But this was a different thing, this was ownership. So you're right, whoever wrote that, you're absolutely right. It was an era where we, who created the songs, were given the opportunity to record them.
MIKE BARNICLE: Here's a question if you choose to answer, which I'm sure you will, I also have an answer to it. Why are there no antiwar songs in protests now as in the '60s?
I touched on that a little bit earlier. I think there are. I don't remember the song, but I remember a few years ago, Pink wrote a wonderful – what's it called? "Dear President." So they're out there. But what is missing and what is different is everything is so narrowly cast. Everybody listens to their little niche. For the most part. I mean, I know people make playlists from different genres. But there isn't that central culture that we had in those days. And that's what's different. They're still being written, just not heard.
MIKE BARNICLE: Well, don't you think also that when you consider the fact that we have been at war for over a decade with less than 1% of us fighting that war, that you can go days, weeks and months putting gas in your car, getting a cup of coffee, doing your grocery shopping, going to Mass or church, or whatever you do, going to parent/teacher nights, and never encounter a single family with someone serving in the military. There is something deeply, deeply wrong with that. [applause] And thus, no songs. Not enough songs.
CAROLE KING: Not enough songs, but also, Mike, no draft.
MIKE BARNICLE: Right.
CAROLE KING: That's a big thing.
MIKE BARNICLE: I mean, the Vietnam War ended when there was an orange Volvo station wagon from Wellesley, Massachusetts, that said "Another Mother for Peace" on the bumper sticker in 1968, when that casualty count started coming up. And that's when that war started winding down.
Here's another one: What was it that lured you to Idaho after so much success, beyond any boyfriend? How did that affect your songwriting, moving to Idaho?
Well, the boyfriend wasn't the reason I moved to Idaho. The boyfriend was the vehicle I chose to sort of help me get out. I could have gotten out myself, of course, but did I know that? No.
I really always loved nature. Growing up, my dad was a firefighter, but he and a bunch of firefighters bought a top of a mountain for like $500 and built a summer place where the wives and the kids could get away. I spent a lot of summers there, and I learned to love the environment. And up here in New England, oh, I love New England so much. [applause] Right on! I got my love for the environment there. So I was already going, I already wanted to go. And I've been living there now for longer than I've lived anyplace else. I moved there in 1977. And what nourishes me is the space, the sense of closeness to things we don't have a lot of control over, like how the river flows and what the weather's going to be. Everybody has some of that, but in the cities, the government helps us deal with some of those things. There, you're kind of on your own. Or neighbors.
MIKE BARNICLE: I just thought of another person I'd like to ask you about before we end it up with one more question from the audience. Tell me what you can about Van Morrison.
CAROLE KING: Very little actually, because I met him …
MIKE BARNICLE: Make it up. [laughter]
CAROLE KING: No. That's what you do. [laughter/applause] Can I tell you? I love
New England and I love Mike Barnicle. [laughter] That's why I have to bust his chops. No, I actually was busting his chops about writing a book. He's got to write a book, right? But he will, he will. We won't push him.
MIKE BARNICLE: I can't even finish reading one. [laughter]
So Van Morrison, very little that I can say. I performed with him,
that's the only time I remember meeting him, on stage as a guest, fellow guest, with Bob Dylan in Dublin. He's not very talkative, but man, does he put it all in his songs. What a great songwriter. Great songwriter.
MIKE BARNICLE: And the last question of the evening from the audience: Who do you listen to?
CAROLE KING: Well, let's see. I listen to Maroon 5. I listen to Adele. I listen to a lot of the old stuff, because it's still good. But there are great songwriters still out there. There really are great songwriters and great singers. But again, they're harder to find because there's so much noise! There's so much noise. And it's not just in music. There's noise, sensory overload everywhere we go. Marketing. This room is great, there's not marketing; there's just us and the exit signs. And there is marketing. [laughter] I wasn't just looking at it. But you know what I mean? You go to the airport and you put your shoes in the bin and it says Zappos. Then you can't see your wallet that you leave in there because it's hidden by the Zappos logo. So there's a lot of noise.
MIKE BARNICLE: I lied, I have one last question for you and it's off of that answer. You grew up in Brooklyn, took the subway. You write all these great songs, and you write even more when you move to California. Do you think, when you listen to rap music -- if you do listen to rap music -- that it obviously, it sounds different to the ear than a lot of the music we've been used to hearing. But in its own way, is it not a reflection of the environment that the rappers are all a part of, the same way that Cole Porter, what he wrote about reflected the environment that he was a part of?
CAROLE KING: Absolutely.
MIKE BARNICLE: That perhaps some of the songs that you wrote, maybe all of the songs that you wrote were a reflection of the environment that you were a part of.
CAROLE KING: Absolutely. And that's one of the things I talked about. I like to set things in historical context. I remember when rap was just starting to emerge, I want to say, was it in the '80s?
MIKE BARNICLE: Yeah.
CAROLE KING: There was the other crazy, big hair and metal going on. And it did emerge out of African American communities. I remember seeing in New York the guy on the street corner with the boom box and just standing there and just kind of being innocuous and moving, just dancing. Then suddenly I noticed that it was taking on this anger and the attitude, today that's the attitude that sells, "Yeah, I'm tough. I can do anything." I can't rap, but I'm trying to convey the attitude. Well, I do a little bit. [laughter] But "I'm tough and I'm pissed off," and as teenagers will do, as anybody will do when they want to reject the establishment culture, they make up words for things. I have no idea what they're talking about, and they want it that way. And when I say they -- this isn't an African American thing, it's the people who write that music which at this point is everybody. Kids in rural Idaho are, "Yo!" And they wear the pants down and it's like, “Wait a minute, you don't know what you're talking about.” [laughter]
It has permeated the culture, and I don't think it's a bad thing. I don't think it's a bad thing, because it was a genuine outlet for people that were angry and really did have a right to be pissed off. So I admire that, I respect it. I could never do it. But I don't diss it. [applause]
MIKE BARNICLE: I think we're all glad that you got on that subway all those years ago and opened up those Yellow Pages. [applause] Thank you for coming.
CAROLE KING: Thank you. I could go on all night. You're the best. This was so much fun. Thank you. [applause]