Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Revisiting One Of The Three Pretty Birds

Today’s post isn’t much. This is just me describing a little thing that started last week and stretched into last weekend, and it is a kind of companion post to yesterday’s post, although the topics are completely unrelated. But they’re both little things that mean a lot to me.

This is a post about music, and the pop music business. And it’s about a topic that I don’t feel I understand much at all. At the same time it is a topic that makes me very uncomfortable, so although I want to understand it better than I do, it is very hard for me to spend time thinking about these things. I don’t mean the music, and I don’t mean the pop music business—I mean the issues I’m going to get to later about very successful women in the pop music business.

And this all started simply enough.

At some point last week I got to thinking about a tiny part of some old classic pop song. I didn’t remember the whole song or who made it. But I’ve always remembered one little snippet of lyrics and one part of the melody because this one little part of the larger song states so clearly—and beautifully—an observation about real life that is important to me.

What I remembered, briefly, was something this:

BAR ONE: (We’re all so) Far away
BAR TWO: Doesn’t anybody stay in one
BAR THREE: Place anymore?
BAR FOUR: (Instrumental)

Because I’ve often found myself humming or singing this one little section of a song, I decided to track down the whole song.

So first I did a Google search for the lyrics “We’re all so far away” and that search pointed to some contemporary performer and some song I never heard of and I didn’t believe that was what I was thinking of.

So then I did a Google search for “Doesn’t anybody stay in one place anymore?” and that immediately pointed to the Carole King song “Far Away” from her “Tapestry” album.

I never owned the “Tapestry” album, but as soon as I saw Carole King’s name, I realized that was the song. She is one of the greatest songwriters of the twentieth century and once you hear a few of her songs—and everyone who listens to pop music has heard many of her songs—her skill with melody and lyrics becomes obvious. I should have remembered it was her song without having to look it up.

(Although I don’t really like the whole song. I like, for the most part, just the lyrics and melody part that I remembered. To me the song is much more powerful if it is arranged to be about everyone always being far away, everyone always going far away, instead of being arranged as ‘just’ a song about a performer lonely on the road.)

Carole King became famous first as a songwriter, a hired-gun kind of writer who wrote hits for other people. She wrote for the Monkees and at one point or another she wrote something for almost everyone.

Then she toured with her friend James Taylor and she started to do solo shows of her own. In fact, the song “Far Away” according to Carole King herself in her autobiography “Natural Woman” was a song she wrote as a kind of tribute to the casual, beautiful lyrics and melodies of James Taylor songs. (In Too Beautiful To Comprehend I have a video of Alison Krauss singing the James Taylor song “Carolina in my Mind.”)

Over at Wikifonia someone put up a lead sheet of “Far Away” and it was fun to compare that transcription to my rough notation of what I remembered.

For people who have no idea who Carole King is, or what this song sounds like, here is a recent video of Carole King and James Taylor reuniting, with her singing the song, “Far Away.”

She is an extraordinary woman.

That stuff having been said, I’ve always had very mixed feelings about Carole King.

Her songs are certainly beautiful. But when you see her perform, she almost never looks good on stage. She almost always looks something almost like spastic, or almost something like a person with mental issues. But she seems to consider herself a reasonably good performer, because she keeps putting herself in the spotlight.

And then, most horribly, there is the business about what she did with her life.

First of all, she was wildly successful very, very young. I think her first hit was in her late teens or early twenties. So she had financial security early in life. And from the very start of her career she had the love and respect of the most successful pop performers of her era. (Even the famously nasty John Lennon has been quoted about how in awe of her work he was.) And businessmen respected her, treated her well and always gave her work.

All of that good will and opportunity for happiness—somehow and for some reason—she repeatedly threw away by getting involved with men who were seemingly one step (or sometimes perhaps only a half-step) above Charles Manson.

In fact I did a couple of posts, starting with Birds And Three Pretty Birds, about a famous pop music business book called, “Girls Like Us.” Carole King is one of the three women profiled in that book.

And I found the book unreadable. In On Not Playing A Synth Workstation #2, I described trying to read it:

I tried to read a book, but stopped. Page after page
was one horrible sound after another, neat,
carefully transcribed into a pleasant typeface.

When people have so much potential—the kind of opportunities most people very literally dream of—and then people throw away happiness by very, very consciously choosing to put themselves in harm’s way and choosing to endure a life of base brutality, and mental and physical violence, my reaction is, in the simplest terms, to say it creeps me out.

But it does more than that.

It makes my hands shake. It makes me want to be not a part of the human race. It makes me wonder if some of the people moving among us really are all human beings or if there are strange animals moving among us that just look like human beings.

I don’t know.

Over the weekend, against my better judgment, I checked out from the library Carole King’s autobiography, “Natural Woman.” Reading it, or I should say attempting to read it, was just like attempting to read “Girls Like Us.” I had to flip through it. It was awful, and, for me, unreadable.

I went back and read some of the reviews on Amazon. Someone—not me!—commented, agreeing with one of the reviews, saying in part:

“Ms. King is talented, smart, attractive, and seemingly utterly without introspection.”

I love that phrase: “...utterly without introspection.”

As I get older I find myself wondering more and more if some of the people moving among us really are all human beings or if there are strange animals moving among us that just look like human beings.

Psychologist Julian Jaynes has speculated and wondered if consciousness itself is even necessary for day-to-day functioning: “Consciousness Not Necessary For Thinking”

And some psychology researchers have taken electroencephalograms, recordings of brain wave patterns, that other people in the medical profession say do not look like human electroencephalograms: “…We Hadn’t Gathered Them From Aliens…”

I don’t know.

I find it incredibly depressing and something like terrifying that what gets called our pop culture “entertainment” business seems to bring these dubious people to the forefront of our awareness.

I wonder: Is it ‘just’ exploitation, because so many of these dubious people seem capable of creating such wonderful art?

Is it some kind of attempt at social engineering?

Or is it monsters just doing what monsters do?

I don’t know. And I probably never will know, because it creeps me out trying to think about it. And there are a lot of things much more pleasant and much more worthwhile that are available to think about.

But I spent last weekend thinking a lot about this stuff. That was enough for a while. That was enough for a long while.


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