Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Girls Like Carole, Joni and Carly

On a hot summer day in August of 1973, Carole King performed before tens of thousands of people in the middle of New York City's Central Park. The concert began at 7 pm, but the crowd began to gather hours and hours beforehand. I joined a bunch of friends from my high school to queue for most excellent viewing at about noon. We staked out a choice spot right in front of center stage. A better time you couldn't create if you tried!

Seven hours is a long time. We were lucky enough to watch sound check, at about 1 pm, consisting of a few fragments of Carole's songs performed to a near-empty lawn. We had a chance meeting with one of our very favorite high school teachers Alice Gold. My good friend Doug and I also had a casual conversation with an intriguing long-faced blonde woman who had something to do with the concert. Chatting near the performance stage, with a police department sawhorse between us, we talked about music, about the crowd and about life in general. It was interesting but seemingly insignificant. We didn't think much about our encounter at all.

Carole played a long show including nearly every song from her classic album Tapestry. As the day turned to dusk, Carole's performance shot electricity into New York City. Standing in the middle of a huge meadow, with 60,000 other fellow fans, the feeling was remarkable. New York's music lovers were celebrating in unison!

The show ended at about 9:30 pm and we picked up our blankets and headed home via the subway. It occurred to us that, if we made it home on time, we could watch coverage of the concert on the 11 o'clock TV news. I arrived home a few minutes before 11 and turned on the set. The Carole King story was the big item of the night and detailed coverage was everywhere. We saw footage of Carole performing, people in the audience, and (holy cow,) the blonde woman we talked to during the afternoon. It was Joni Mitchell!

Fast forward 35 years! As if a Freedom of Information Act request had been fulfilled, author Sheila Weller has now revealed everything you ever wanted to know about Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon, James Taylor, David Crosby and the entire neighborhood of singer-songwriters of this genre. Her book, Girls Like Us, feels like a miraculous detailed dream of full-access to the longest rock tour of your life. You are surrounded by all the talent you could ever find in the 60s and 70s. Better still, you know everything about them: their lovers, their passions, their emotions and their struggles with artistic competition. This is an amazing book.

Ms. Weller would make an exceptional private investigator. Her book is filled with meticulous and inquisitive research leaving no stone unturned. She interviewed every personality, every friend and acquaintance and every passerby. She painted her story with the detail of a Where's Waldo? portrait. Not a soul was missed! Everyone is there and the stories are addictive. This is not a casual showbiz biography or the mere tale of three women who defined the music of their age. It is snapshot of an entire era perfectly capturing how life felt before, during and after the Summer of Love.

Sheila really knows how to tell a story. Open her book and begin a 600 page real-life mystery. New revelations abound! (Her vocabulary alone is inspiring.) Curious about Carly's romantic fling in France? Joni's days as a budding fashion model? Carole's teenage days at the Brill Building? It's all here! This book is more fun than a carnival ride that never ends. Trust me! I often felt like a little kid crying "Tell me more! Tell me more!" How I wish every book was like this.

Completely involved in this masterwork, I ordered a copy of Carole King's recently released Tapestry- Legacy Edition two CD set. One disc is her classic album now with full digital clarity. The bonus disc contains the entire album (except for Way Over Yonder) recorded live at concerts in 1973 and 1976 including the Central Park happening. Listening to this live CD brought me full-circle. I had stepped back in time more aware than I could ever imagine. 37 years later, Tapestry is still fresh and delightful.

Sheila Weller leaves no hanging threads! Her coverage of the lives of Carly, Carole and Joni continues to present day. Girls Like Us is only the start. For those who want to travel further, Sheila shares her journal detailing the creation of each chapter and provides an endless bibliography for your use. This book is entertaining, a great source of reference and a keeper. Pick up a copy before it's too late!


Anonymous said...

Not everything.

Anonymous said...

Carol King performed at a black tie dinner about 8 years ago. The crowd was all over 40 and the crowd sang every song along with her. It was fun. I'll take a pass on the book; it sounds stupid.

T said...

Er, no; YOU sound stupid.

Great review, Karl! Terra

Professor Popes said...

Loved this book. Would also LOVE to find some kind of reaction from the these three women. (having trouble finding THEIR reaction to the book). If what Shelia has found is true, I am thrilled to find answers to a lot of my questions. Thanks Karl for bringing this book up as a mention. Well written review and nice personal touch. I reacted similarly to you when Simon and Garfunkels recording of the concert in Central Park came out. I had just moved to NY and a fried said: "hey, lets go over to a concert tonight...". It was a great surprise.
GIRLS LIKE US was wonderful to read but like I said...I want to know...truth or fiction? Where were the lines. THANKS. liz p.