Wednesday, May 29, 2024

James Taylor: “If Obama summons me, I appear”

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It is not a star to use. On his website,, he offers free guitar lessons. It also includes videos showing how to light an old stove and other tasks typical of a resident of the snowy woods of Massachusetts.

These are not the boasts of a descendant of the pioneers, as he himself says: “You see me driving a forklift but what I wanted was to communicate that we were recording a new album in my barn.”

That really deserves to be highlighted: so far this century, James Taylor (Boston, 1948) has only published one collection of new songs, October Road. Something that causes him remorse: “In my most productive times, I was not one hundred percent of my faculties: I was involved in heroin. And perhaps I would still be there —or would have died— if it hadn’t been for my visit to Rio de Janeiro in 1985. That changed my mind: 300,000 people respectfully listening to the autobiographical songs of a gringo. Later, Caetano Veloso showed me how Brazil celebrated the recovery of democracy, after twenty years of dictatorship. There I understood that the songs have a life of their own: maybe you sing to try to connect with your original motivation but the public has their own reasons. You shouldn’t wait until you release a record to go on tour. I am not one of those musicians who complain about traveling. And I have a debt with the European public”.In Obama’s America, James Taylor has become something of an official singer-songwriter. Without much finesse, John Kerry, the current Secretary of State, took him to France last January, to interpret You’ve got a friend (that is, You have a friend ) before François Hollande and the mayoress of Paris, in an attempt to make amends for the slight of the low level of US representation at the rally in solidarity with Charlie Hebdo . He also played music at the White House dinner during Angela Merkel’s last visit to Washington.

How do you consider these institutional gigs? Do you investigate, for example, the musical tastes of the German chancellor? “No no no. I assume that this has already been studied. I have supported Barack Obama for president; if he summons me, the least I can do is show up, even if etiquette calls for a tuxedo. It was a sacrifice, that day was terribly hot. If this profession has a secret, it is that you must hide that you are uncomfortable or nervous.

And James knows a lot about that, who at the age of twenty was signed by the Beatles for their label, Apple Records: “It is something that you value now, when you understand that you were at the center of the greatest musical revolution of the 20th century. In those days, you saw how bad they were having, with the death of their first manager , Brian Epstein, and it didn’t occur to you to mythologize them. That George Harrison was inspired by a verse of mine to write Something ? If we were to return everything we copied from them, we would still be paying.”

“Perhaps I would still be a heroine if it weren’t for my visit to Rio de Janeiro in 1985”

At 23, Taylor was on the cover of Time , embodying what the magazine saw as a return to introspection and domestic values ​​after the excesses and riots of the psychedelic era. Was James aware of the political value attached to her songbook? “Actually, I’m afraid they misunderstood the phenomenon of singer-songwriters. The big break was the presence of female voices, from Carole King to Joni Mitchell. For the first time, they told their feelings in the first person. We men always expressed our vision but half the world was silent or sang masculine compositions”.

Perhaps James Taylor’s only aesthetic lapse was his insistence on recreating soulful themes , music that—it must be said—was beyond his means. “You mean my Motown or Stax covers? Well, you always want to improve yourself, test yourself. Besides, it’s hard for me to write lively, danceable songs. But in the end I am a folk musician. If things were bad for me, I could dedicate myself to acting alone with my guitar ”, he comments.Can you imagine a life of constant concerts, like that of Bob Dylan? “Yes, I have to admit it: I envy your Never Ending Tour . My last children, Rufus and Henry, arrived when he was already in his fifties. Without those family commitments, if there was a demand for my services, I would also give a hundred concerts a year, without problems”.

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