A few thoughts on the Pike, JT and CK, and friendship

A few days ago I drove out to Cooperstown, NY to visit some close friends who have a home there.  My route took me along a stretch of the Mass Pike, and when I passed signs for Stockbridge I immediately thought of James Taylor and these lines from the title track of his 1970 album, Sweet Baby James:

The first of December was covered with snow
So was the turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston
The Berkshires seemed dream-like on account of that frosting
With ten miles behind me and ten thousand more to go

I called Boston home for 11 years over the course of the 80’s and 90’s, and always felt so happy–and still do!–singing along to that verse naming a city I love.

james-taylor-sweet-baby-jamesTaylor was close to the surface of my thoughts on the drive to Cooperstown because just the night before, I’d watched a PBS broadcast of a ceremony and concert, held at The White House, honoring the incomparable Carole King, who had received the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song from the Library of Congress.

From the documentary "Troubadours"; courtesy of Keyston/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
From the documentary “Troubadours”; courtesy of Keyston/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Taylor was among the several musicians who appeared to salute King and perform one or more of her songs; he did “Up On The Roof” and, with King, “You’ve Got a Friend”.

The two are longtime friends and collaborators, and the depth of their affection for each other was apparent as they sang.  There really is no safer haven than the one we find among friends.taylor480-blogSpan

The full concert is available here; to see the Taylor/King duet, skip to 47:45. (Bonus: President Obama delivers a great laugh line starting at 34:15).

During one stretch of my drive back home from Cooperstown, I did something I rarely do: channel surfed among commercial radio stations, searching for some music to transport me.  I got my wish, a song I hadn’t heard in a very long time: “Fire and Rain”, also from Sweet Baby James.  The acoustic guitar intro was recognizable after just three notes and elicited a surge of emotion, like getting together with friends you haven’t seen in much too long (which was the case with my Cooperstown visit).

The song, which Taylor wrote when he was just 20, alludes to some difficult experiences in his life: the suicide of a friend; struggles with drug addiction and depression; the dashing of youthful plans.  He’d already been through a lot a young age.  The arrangement is spare (King is at the piano), and the song is, for me, all the more powerful because of it. (Taylor discusses the song in some detail with NPR’s Noah Adams in this 2000 interview).

I’ve always loved how Taylor sings the line I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend a bit differently–with a bit more emotion–the third time around, and I’m grateful that, in my life, I’ve never been in a position to sing those words.

Just yesterday morning they let me know you were gone
Susanne the plans they made put an end to you
I walked out this morning and I wrote down this song
I just can’t remember who to send it to

I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain
I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end
I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend
But I always thought that I’d see you again

Won’t you look down upon me, Jesus
You’ve got to help me make a stand
You’ve just got to see me through another day
My body’s aching and my time is at hand
And I won’t make it any other way

Oh, I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain
I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end
I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend
But I always thought that I’d see you again

Been walking my mind to an easy time my back turned towards the sun
Lord knows when the cold wind blows it’ll turn your head around
Well, 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

Oh, I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain
I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end
I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend
But I always thought that I’d see you, baby, one more time again, now

Thought I’d see you one more time again
There’s just a few things coming my way this time around, now
Thought I’d see you, thought I’d see you fire and rain, now


large_ve0C1oH31ApJOS4Sk4LUY1ls7bRTrivia tidbit:  “Fire and Rain” and its attendant emotions are used to memorable effect at the end of Sidney Lumet’s 1988 film, Running on Empty.  Judd Hirsch and Christine Lahti play former student radicals who have lived their adult lives on the run from the FBI following their involvement in a bombing.  This rootless existence has started taking a toll on the older of their two sons (River Phoenix), and they realize that they have to let him go, to begin forging his own path through life.

2 comments

  • As I’m sure you know, JT left Stockbridge for London, where he was signed by Paul McCartney as the first of the artists for the Beatles new label: Apple Records. He was signed at the urging of Peter Asher (of Peter and Gordon fame) who was the brother of Paul’s girl friend, Jane Asher (And I Love Her, etc). Alas the single JT cut – with Peter as producer – “Carolina on My Mind” languished in the confusion that was Apple. Peter went on to produce most of JT’s albums and fell in love with an opening act of early James: Linda Ronstadt.

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  • Reading this on my way back from Tanglewood where my girls performed with Norwalk Youth Symphony. We loved most of the pieces, but Reid gave a thumbs down to the Mahler

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