Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Carole King weaves juicy, gutsy tapestry

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Turns out we do have a friend. American singer-songwriter Carole King has served up the autobiography her millions of fans hoped she would -- juicy and gutsy with no spin doctors to pretty it up.

The composer of such pop-music classics as (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman and You've Got a Friend, King writes as though she's talking to friends who are open-minded and accepting.

A Natural Woman is long and detailed, but it captivates, with flesh-and-blood revelations, celebrity stories and famous names, not to mention two big sections of photographs.

Better yet, she claims she penned every word herself, unlike such ghostwriter-hiring layabouts like Keith Richards. It deepens the portrait of King provided by Sheila Weller in her 2009 book Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon -- and the Journey of a Generation.

A generation or two of music lovers may feel they know King, now 70, through her famous 1971 album, Tapestry, and the hundreds of loving-and-longing mega-hits she's written before and since for herself and other acts.

But they have no idea. This memoir blasts the roof off her double life as a big-city songwriter and back-to-the-land hippie, however well-heeled, which mirrors each decade of boomers' lives from the '50s to the present.

Unlike other stars who spent a lot of time at hairdressers and expensive spas or, worse, drug rehab clinics, King was still at the top of her game in the mid-'70s when she found an alternative lifestyle in Idaho that "took."

She happily milked goats, broke through ice to get water, lived without electricity for months and, for one winter, cross-country skied everywhere she went.

She has gone back and forth between big cities and her rural retreat for almost 40 years. She still owns a spread in Idaho and is an environmental activist who has lobbied the government on important issues.

She was born Carol Joan Klein on Feb. 9, 1942, in Manhattan, but her parents, of Eastern European Jewish descent, raised her in Brooklyn.

She had an older brother who was mentally challenged. She started school as a grade-skipping brainiac. Her mother was an actress and music teacher who gave her daughter piano lessons, sitting her up on stacked copies of the Brooklyn and Manhattan phone books, to get to the keys.

Carol loved playing all the new '50s music she heard on the radio, and in high school she adored composing songs and harmonies. Only five-foot-two, she was still in her early teens when she would march into Manhattan record producers' offices with her songbook under her arm.

Rock 'n' roll was taking off, and producers needed her songs as much as she needed buyers. She knew she could fill the bill. At age 15, she signed a songwriting contract with ABC-Paramount Records, the label that was also home to Steve Lawrence, Eydie Gormé and Paul Anka.

By 1958, when she was 16 and penning her first singles, she had added an "e" onto her first name and adopting the surname King.

She worked out of New York's fabled Brill Building, where songwriters at the 1650 Broadway address filled cubicles with pianos, coming up with tunes for the burgeoning rock 'n' roll industry.

The Brill was where she met first husband, Gerry Goffin. She got pregnant at 17, married him and had two daughters with him.

Three years her senior, Goffin was as good with lyrics as she was with melodies and harmonies. They co-wrote hit and after hit for others -- their first was Will You Love Me Tomorrow for the Shirelles in 1961 -- until their marriage broke up in 1968. But even after their divorce, King continued to consult Goffin about her music.

King's love life is enough to make a reader dizzy. She's had four husbands and several other relationships. Two of her husbands suffered from drug addictions, and one of them died of a cocaine overdose. That man, Rick Evers, physically abused her.

He was an extremely handsome fellow, King writes, and at first he was wonderful to her. "I had always been judgmental about women who stayed in abusive relationships. I'd always thought, if I ever found myself with a man like that, the first time he struck me I'd be out of there in a New York minute. I would never stay with an abuser. Until I did."

Evers, by the way, was husband No. 3. Hubby No. 2 was a musician, Charlie Larkey, by whom she had two more children. She met husband No. 4, Rick Sorenson, in 1978 and lived with him on an off until they divorced in 1990.

After that she fell for a much younger man, John Gibbons, who played her student on a TV special.

"The math of me at 48 and him at 27 added up to at most a brief encounter," she writes. "That encounter lasted six years."

In her first marriage, King gave Goffin all the credit in the beginning, as most wives did in the '50s and early '60s, so people outside the business didn't know about her. She had a hankering to perform, but never aspired to be a star -- and she refused to tour in support of recordings.

So she wrote for everybody else until her friend James Taylor succeeded at getting her to play behind him at the Troubadour. After that she moved into the spotlight. When Tapestry came out, she was in constant demand as a performer.

Every boomer knows Tapestry, which sold 25 million copies, stayed on the charts six years and includes such hits as Natural Woman, You've Got a Friend and So Far Away.

But she's never stopped writing music in more than 50 years. Her latest success is the 2010 reunion show CD with Taylor, Live at the Troubadour.

To quote Joni Mitchell, King is a woman of heart and mind, and this memoir proves it.

 

Maureen Scurfield, who writes the Miss Lonelyhearts column for the Free Press, bought Tapestry the year she graduated as a teacher from the University of Manitoba and played the vinyl until it cracked.

A Natural Woman

A Memoir

By Carole King

Grand Central, 450 pages, $30

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 5, 2012 J10

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