Column

The Reading Room

Writing about writing about music.

Henry writes about music and music books for ND, The Bluegrass Situation, Country Standard Time, Publishers Weekly, and more.

The Reading Room

Writing about writing about music.

Henry writes about music and music books for ND, The Bluegrass Situation, Country Standard Time, Publishers Weekly, and more.

Considering James Taylor via “Sweet Dreams and Flying Machines”

The wine and cheese crowd? Ouch.

Indeed. If you haven't got anything nice to say...

When I sit around and play music with friends, people always want to hear James Taylor stuff...I learned a bunch of his catalog a long time ago...you can play his stuff anywhere and it goes over well, and I find that people 30 or 40 years younger than I am are very familiar with him, they'll request songs like "Fire and Rain", their parents played his records...I really learned a lot of it because he used some different chords than most of the folkies and he fingerpicked, which I was interested in doing better (He's an underrated guitar player I'd argue, his chord voicings are unusual and prominently featured in his recordings)...I don't know what his legacy really is, but I know the best session players in the world are in his band and love playing with him, and that other successful artists revere him as well...the book sounds like an intersting read...

To be hated by Lester Bangs was truly an honor, the Creem days were great ones...his take on Springsteen was “[Springsteen] sort of catarrh-mumbles his ditties in a disgruntled mushmouth like Robbie Robertson on Quaaludes with Dylan barfing down the back of his neck.”

Classic!!

 



 

      The great majority of pop songwriters since the rock and roll era seem to have done their best work by the time they were thirty.  It doesn't mean that they don't continue to write some good songs, it's just that whatever unique insights they had seem to have been mostly revealed by that time.

     James Taylor has a particular style, a marriage of his voice and guitar, that was initially very appealing.  Over a period of time a particular style can develop into something of a prison.  It becomes what the audience expects, and ultimately seems to be what the artist feels impelled or compelled to deliver.  Bob Dylan and Neil Young over the years have made every effort to subvert this notion by repeatedly attempting to shift gears and musical direction.   This too can become a device if it doesn't come from the sort of woodshedding and questioning that are routinely a part of the development of the best artists in jazz.  Maybe that sort of developmental process simply isn't a part of the starmaker machinery that continues to define the lions share of popular music.

To answer your question: Yes people still do listen to James Taylor.  I'll go a step further and say that I enjoy wine and cheese....sometimes bread with it, but I'm not part of what I think you mean by "the wine and cheese crowd".  That epithet would seem to arise out of the reviewers insecurities about what music he likes.  Why do I love James Taylor?  I guess because he's a great song writer and guitar player.  That's why I listen, not to revisit my youth.  And I freakin' really don't care how popular is or was, or is again.  Hey, the blues seems to be making a bit of a comeback.  I saw some members of the wine and cheese set listening to it the other day.  Good for them.  Good music is good music.

It's hard to touch him in terms of greatness. He still rules.

Well, there you go...I believe you are correct...people (of all ages) still love the songs, go to the shows, and other musicians and singer songwriters love to do his songs and have him do theirs...he does indeed rule...among the wine and cheeze crowd, the craft beer crowd, and the good music crowd...

My son graduated from UNC on Sunday and during the ceremony an a capella group sang "Carolina On My Mind".  I guess I never ever really listened to the lyrics.  "Can't you just feel the moonshine?" is he singing about moonshine or white lightning?  

And the moonshine crowd Hal!

On the James Taylor live record, he sings "can't you just feel the moon shinin"...since it immediately follows "can't you feel the sunshine" I'd say it's actually moonshine and not bootleg liquor, but it could be either or both I suppose...

And there is that movie "Carolina Moon"...you are the Tar Heel Hal, so perhaps you know better why someone in London would write a song about missing home and the Carolina Moon...or since you asked, maybe it's just like the moon everywhere else...

Thanks, Jim! We are obviously among the few intelligent observers of the music scene.

You'd actually find many of those people out here on this site Ben, but James is indeed an artist that has had staying power and multi-generational appeal.  What that is worth in critical circles I'm not sure, and it doesn't matter all that much.

I shouldn't tell this story, but I will...when I was in my late 30's and still working at General Motors, we had a summer student work with us...I befriended him immediately and found him to be quite a music fan, but very much a product of the 80's, Kiss, and rap music...we were talking the first time about music, and he looked at me and said "you look like a guy who'd be a big James Taylor fan", and he definitely didn't mean it as a compliment...he put me on the spot, a moment of truth...if you admit you like James Taylor to this kid you might as well be a dinosaur...so I said, "yeah, as a matter of fact I do like James Taylor, and I know how to play a bunch of his songs."...he looked at me contemptuously like there was no hope and said, "if I loan you one fo my CD's will you listen to it once"...I said sure, and he brought me "Straight Outta Compton"...so later he asks me what I thought and I told him I definitely got the rebellion part and that felt authentic to me, but wasn't comfortable with the misogyny, etc...he thought that was pretty good that an old geezer would bother with that...we became good friends, and I still talk to him once in a while...and I showed him how to play a couple of James Taylor songs...he actually liked JT, but he baited me with him anyway...