Memoir – Music
2012 Sound Library Audio
14 hours, 13 minutes
Reader: Carole King
Rating: 3/5 (So-so)
Carole King takes us from her early beginnings in Brooklyn, to her remarkable success as one of the world's most acclaimed songwriting and performing talents of all time. A Natural Woman chronicles King's extraordinary life, drawing readers into her musical world, including her phenomenally successful #1 album Tapestry, and into her journey as a performer, mother, wife and present-day activist. Deeply personal, King's long-awaited memoir offers readers a front-row seat to the woman behind the legend.
The book will include dozens of photos from King's childhood, her own family, and behind-the-scenes images from her performances.
I was 10 years old when I first heard Carole King’s album Tapestry. It was 1972 and my parents were rather cool, filling our house with the music of Bob Dylan, Jim Croce, Cat Stevens, Carly Simon, and Simon & Garfunkel. I immediately fell in love with King’s album, lyrics memorized, singing along whenever my mom played her album. When I was in my late twenties, I bought Rhymes & Reasons (recorded in 1972) on cassette (long gone now) and loved it almost as much as Tapestry. Love Makes the World (2001) is currently the only album of hers that I own on cd.
I’m a big fan of memoirs, but very rarely (if ever) read any autobiographies written by musicians or actors. However, when A Natural Woman was released, I was curious and decided to give it a try. I found the audio version online at my library and spent a couple of weeks listening to Carole’s personal story, which includes quite a bit of the cultural history.
I wish I could say that I loved this book as much as I love Carole King’s music. Unfortunately, the audio version was a bit tiresome. Carole may have a lovely voice for singing, but I grew weary listening to her not only speak, but sing portions of some of her songs a cappella. There were several occasions in which her voice sounded raspy and hoarse. However, I don’t know if I would have stuck with the written version of this memoir. I didn’t recognize a lot of the people she referred to in the first half of the book and I longed for more depth about her song-writing and her children. She seems to hold her readers at arm’s length, glossing over a lot of the more personal aspects of her life.
But wait! My wonderful (and much, much older) husband read the book as well, and agreed to write a guest post for my blog. So, without any further ado, here are Rod’s thoughts on A Natural Woman:
Every life has a soundtrack, and for many of us ‘boomers, that track included bands such as The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones, The Byrds, The Kinks, The Who, The Doors, and others. It also included singer-songwriters such as James Taylor, Janis Ian, Joni Mitchell, and Kris Kristofferson. And while the turbulent 60s and 70s swirled furiously around us, we listened—first on LPs, then on 8-track and cassette tapes—to the music that helped define us even as we helped define it. It was an ugly time, and a beautiful one—filled with contradictions, filled with anger, filled with hope.But above all, it was filled with music, and Carole King, even before most of us knew her name, helped create that music. King’s string of hits started with 1961’s “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” and continued with pop-rock ditties and ballads that many don’t even realize she wrote: “The Loco-Motion” (featuring the lead vocals of “Little Eva” Boyd, King’s babysitter), “Up on the Roof,” “Take Good Care of My Baby,” “Natural Woman” (written specifically for Aretha Franklin), “Pleasant Valley Sunday” (yes, King wrote songs for The Monkees), and dozens—perhaps hundreds—more.Beginning as a teenager in New York’s famed Brill Building (home of Don Kirschner’s Aldon Publishing), Carole King is a linear descendent of and a direct link to those writers and demo singers who populated Tin Pan Alley in the 1920s, 30s, and beyond—and she brought to her craft the same devotion, talent, and drive that made Tin Pan Alley famous.King’s book, A Natural Woman, chronicles her life and, almost unavoidably, the lives and times of other musicians and artists of the era: David Crosby, James Taylor, Neil Sedaka (whose first #1 hit, “Oh Carol!” was written for and about King), Brian Wilson, Bob Dylan, Don Henley, J.D. Souther, and many others. For someone brought up on the music of the late 50s, early 60s, and beyond, the book is a warm, loving, and sometimes illuminating paean to an era.A Natural Woman is flawed in the way of most autobiographies: In trying to paint a candid portrait, King sometimes goes out of her way to accept blame and to admit her failings. In other instances, though, she’s simply too sensitive—and too close to the subject—to be brutally honest. For instance, King’s relationships with her children are complicated and sometimes contentious, and yet she chooses to gloss over much of that. Certainly she was a loving and kind mother, but one gets the impression that for many years she was simply too busy and too self-absorbed to be a very good parent. Late in life, she has seemingly made peace with that—and with them—and tried mightily to make up for any earlier emotional distance that might have existed amongst all of them.In King’s life, relationships (many of them with much younger men) come and go with astonishing rapidity. When they fail—as all of them eventually do—it’s never King’s fault. In fact, it’s no one’s fault; it’s as if they existed on some plane beyond her ken, to come and go at the whims of distant gods over whom she has no control. Marriages and relationships simply happen. And then they simply cease. No one is to blame. They just, seemingly inevitably, fade away. (Occasionally they become song fodder, providing material for her writing, so at least there’s that.)But these are, in the larger and longer view, minor criticisms that could be said of many (or even most) of us. The fact remains that King is a supremely talented songwriter and performer who has contributed much to the musical tapestry (did you see what I did there?) of our lives, and who has also put her talents and her celebrity to good use promoting worthwhile causes and political efforts.And she is in addition a good writer. King may have had help (certainly her editors provided guidance), but there is no co-writer listed for A Natural Woman. That’s not surprising: The book is well-written, an easy read, and solidly structured. As Carole King has been showing us for 50 years, she knows how to structure a tale, provide a hook, and tell a great story. This time she’s done it using not the piano, guitar, or voice—her usual instruments—but with a word processor.
So, there you have it. If you’ve read the book, I’d love to hear your thoughts. I’d also be interested to know if you have a favorite Carole King song. I’m not sure if I could choose just one, but I do love So Far Away. And Been to Canaan. And You’ve Got a Friend. See? I can't do it!
About the Author
Carole King had her first No. 1 hit in 1961, at age 18, with "Will You Love Me Tomorrow". Collaborating with former husband Gerry Goffin, the team went on to write more than two dozen chart-toppers, including "One Fine Day", "The Loco-Motion", "Will You Love Me Tomorrow", and "(You Me Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman." Her 1971 solo-album, Tapesty, won 4 Grammys, and earned her the record for longest time an album by a female artist has remained on the Billboard Charts (6 years), as well as the longest time holding the #1 position (15 consecutive weeks).
King, in addition to writing more than 100 top-selling songs has recorded 25 solo albums. In 2007 she and longtime collaborator James Taylor reunited and recorded Live at the Troubadour. Released in 2010 the album debuted at number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and The Troubadour Reunion Tour became the second highest grossing Tour of that year. She has won numerous lifetime achievement honors and has been inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, "Hit Parade" Hall of Fame, and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Carole King continues to entertain audiences the world over. She released her most recent album in December, 2011, Carole King: A Holiday Carole, to rave reviews.