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James Taylor, Baby-Boomers, and Under the Stars at the MACC
April 13, 2013 - Ray Tsuchiyama
This March singer-songwriter and guitarist (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; his biggest impact was on the generation born after the War or "baby boomers".
In a revealing metric of his music's enormous influence, Taylor’s “Sweet Baby James” album is listed at No. 103 on Rolling Stone magazine's "500 Greatest Albums of All Time", with the song "Fire and Rain" listed as No. 227 on Rolling Stone's “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”.
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 -- which reveals how quickly the Beatles became a global music phenomenon. Brooklyn-ite singer 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 and probably weighs the same when he was 25) Mick Jagger turns 70 this July.
Our 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 I still think of myself as hip and cool, listening to pop tunes on the radio.
Appearing at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center recently, James Taylor recalled singing at the Troubadour* nightclub on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood in the late 1960s with Carole King. King would skyrocket to fame with her “Tapestry” album, a global best-seller and contains songs like "You've Got a Friend" that sound startlingly fresh today. Looking around the Maui audience, there were some individuals who may have been in the smoke-filled Troubadour club audience.
There are also others on Maui who heard Taylor at clubs in Harvard Square or Greenwich Village in the 1970s, and probably more who attended Taylor concerts at concert halls 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 (I did) or in London, Berlin, Tokyo, and Sydney.
There are many who would recall exactly what they were doing when they heard Taylor's song first and again and again: the 1970s hit songs are forever embedded in one’s mind, like "Mockingbird" (with Carly Simon), "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)", and "Handy Man", plus many more.
I was among those outside wearing nostalgia like a second skin in the Maui crowd: the weather was a bit overcast, but remained balmy, fortunately 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.
During his song introductions, he was humorous, self-deprecating.
He was generous in his highlighting of his back-up singers and musicians -- naming them and allowing them to take bows to the audience's applause.
He acknowledged cries of “I love you, James!” from the audience.
After the half-way intermission he spent ten minutes 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 definitely an Obama supporter).
Taylor deserves his artistic resurgence during the last two decades when 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 as performer, as embodying the spirit of a generation, the "baby boomers".
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. Even after playing thousands of conserts 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 collected, vibrant, connecting, 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 James Taylor released a CD of his 2010 L.A. Troubadour nightclub performance – with Carole King -- reprising a duet of decades ago, still strong and wondrous, years before our daughter was born, another time before her own life began.
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