When Tapestry came out in 1971, I was a sophomore in high school and “So Far Away” was a staple on KOIL-AM radio out of Omaha. Of course everyone wanted to sing along, but you risked looking like a total dork if you got the words wrong. So it was godsend when the Omaha World Herald printed the lyrics one week in their Friday youth section. Anita Shires brought a copy to the Auburn High School football game and about a dozen of us AHS Pep Club members huddled around her newspaper clipping, staying warm in the stands while we sang “So Far Away” over and over -- blissfully unaware that we were looking like dorks, anyway, even though we were getting the words right.
(Here’s where I metaphorically take my teeth out and rap my cane on the floor and talk about kids today having it so easy, just Googling song lyrics any time they want. Even if you could afford to buy the albums Way Back When, most of them didn’t have the lyrics printed inside, so you had to either be REALLY sure of the words you heard on the radio, or you had to wait for the Omaha World Herald to give you a lovely surprise by choosing your favorite song to spotlight in the Friday paper. On the other hand, my memory is a lot more fun than Googling would have been.)
Anyway, Carole King was just so fabulous. I loved her slightly-husky voice and her piano accompaniments and everything about her. I stopped everything when “It’s Too Late” or “So Far Away” came on the radio, just to marvel at the rich sound of it all – and to sing along, once Anita Shires’ newspaper clipping had allowed that to happen with impunity. I stared endlessly at the Tapestry album cover down at the Western Auto store, the only place in town where we could buy music, and marveled at her photo. She looked shy and uncomfortable, sitting solemnly in the background with her big, curly hair and her cat taking center stage. I decided she probably hated having her picture taken and would have much rather been at the piano, hammering out more wonderful music and adding to her already amazing repertoire of classic American hit songs.
I parceled out enough of my tip money from my waitress job at Wheel’R Inn to go back to the Western Auto and get Tapestry on cassette tape – preferable to the album because of its portability. Over the next few years, I wore out not only that cassette tape, but Rhymes and Reasons, and then Fantasy.
When I went away to college, it was Fleetwood Mac and Emerson, Lake & Palmer who captured my musical fancy, but I always fell back on Carole King as “comfort music,” the auditory equivalent of a grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup on a bad day.
Occasionally I’d see a news or magazine story about her and continue to be starstruck. She named one of her daughters Louise (my middle name! Yay, Carole!). She was often painfully shy. She became an environmental activist and headline attraction at Democratic Party fundraisers. And then there was that great Gap commercial where she looks at her now-adult daughter with such unabashed love and pride…(what my own daughter hilariously calls “the uterus look.”) She’s in her mid-60s and still writing great music. I think I admire her classic hits even more now, just knowing the path she’s taken over the years.
It’s so easy now to hop onto iTunes and quickly find and download all the music that instantly reminds us where we came from. For me, there’s nothing like Carole King. What’s your favorite comfort music?