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James Taylor, Baby-Boomers, and Under the Stars at the MACC
April 13, 2013 - Ray Tsuchiyama
In March this year singer-songwriter and guitarist (and he is an excellent guitarist) James Taylor turned 65 years old, born three years after the end of World War II. His music would influence successive generations, but his biggest impact was on baby boomers. In a metric of his music's influence and impact, Taylor’s “Sweet Baby James” album would be listed at No. 103 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time in 2003, with the song "Fire and Rain" listed as No. 227 on Rolling Stone's “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” the year after.
Perhaps the best-known representative of “baby boomers” or children born as World War II ended is President Bill Clinton, who turns 67 this August.
When the young James Taylor first met the already-iconic Paul McCartney of the Beatles in 1968, the latter star was only a couple of years older than him. Brooklyn-ite Carol King -- the author of Taylor’s 1971 Billboard No. 1 hit "You've Got a Friend" – is 71. Even British rocker (he is in way better shape than me) Mick Jagger turns 70 this July.
So in a sense, my 22 year-old daughter probably looks at James Taylor as I viewed my parents’ following Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Andy Williams – so goes the generational gap.
When at the MACC concert James Taylor recalled singing at the Los Angeles Troubadour* nightclub in the late 1960s with Carole King (whose “Tapestry” album was a global best-seller and contains songs that sound fresh today), there are some individuals on Maui who were in the smoke-filled club audience.
There are also a few on Maui who were at clubs in Harvard Square or Greenwich Village in the 1970s, and probably more who attended Taylor concerts at amphitheaters at large universities, like UC Berkeley, Michigan at Ann Arbor, and Texas at Austin.
There are of course others who listened to Taylor songs on KPOI-FM in Honolulu or on Maui or even in London, Berlin, Tokyo, and Sydney.
There are many who would recall exactly what they were doing when they heard the song first and again and again: the 1970s hit songs are forever in one’s mind, like "Mockingbird" (with Carly Simon), "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)", and "Handy Man", and plus many more.
Based on sweeping and deep nostalgia, a huge crowd assembled at the A & B amphitheater on the evening of April 12: the weather was a bit overcast, but remained balmy, no strong winds.
Five-time Grammy Award winner James Taylor is a professional and generous performer:
He started on time, just a few minutes after 7:30 PM.
He was humorous, self-deprecating during his song introductions.
He was generous in his highlighting of his back-up singers and musicians.
He acknowledged cries of “I love you, James!” from the audience.
He spent ten minutes after the half-way intermission began to allow concert-goers to take photos, give him leis, and engage in easy, unselfish banter.
He said “Thank you, Mahalo” constantly (and referred to President Barak Obama’s Hawai’i roots – he is an Obama supporter).
Taylor deserves his artistic resurgence during the last two decades when some of his best-selling and most-awarded albums (including Covers and October Road) were released. It is not only the music – it is also the viral reputation of the artist.
Given that I have been at concerts where the lead act took agonizingly long to appear on stage (after I paid good money for my ticket), I felt warmth, compassion, and a freshness about the world after hearing his songs – yes, even after playing since the late 1960s, you can feel his enduring life-long love of singing and playing. His herky-jerky motion while enjoying a rock-and-roll guitar riff reminded me of a tall Pinnochio manipulated by a puppet-master; on ballads like “Sweet Baby James” he is still, collected, his voice so unusual in his phrasing, notes, and range.
I joined in the happy crowd’s refrains of “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)”, and returned to my youth, joyfulness, and vigor. It is times like this that I think about how wonderful Life is . . . and is in my pantheon of another “Magical Maui Night”.
*A few years ago Taylor released a CD of his 2010 L.A. Troubadour nightclub performance – with Carole King.
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