a natural woman

My mom loaned me Carole King’s recent memoir A Natural Woman over Thanksgiving. I wanted to finish this hefty 450+ tome before I see her again over the weekend of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, so I started it last week. King’s memoir was a breezy read, though, and I ended up finishing it really quickly!

Carole King’s memoir spans from her early years as a middle class child in the New York City suburbs in the 1950s to today. King talks about her family and the beginning of her career as a songwriting team with her first husband, Gerry Goffin, whom she married as a teenager. She discusses her desire for normalcy and her contentedness for status as a songwriter and supporting musician. The book goes through her rising success as a songwriter, mentions many hits recorded by other groups, and her eventually being coerced into performing as a bandleader/soloist (and ending up feeling all right about being in the spotlight).

King’s conversational style and subtle humor make this an enjoyable and fast read. I felt as though an old friend was in the room with me, telling me stories from her amazing life. The number of hit songs she wrote and her professional associations is staggering, and I appreciate her down-to-earth attitude through it all. While I was reading, I would cue up the songs she talked about on my iPod to supplement the narrative.

I had no idea she had four marriages and four kids. She admits to being a less-than-perfect mother, but I wonder how much she was sugarcoating her feelings about her marriages. She had hardly one bad word to say about these men all these decades later, even the one who was a drug addict and physically abused her. Though, really, what would be the point for her in trash talking here? Shocking her fans with sordid, disturbing details isn’t King’s prerogative. And it seems like she tried to stay away from the hard party scene as much as possible. So, if you are looking for a gossipy gripefest of a music memoir, this isn’t it. But it was great to read about her iconic songs of the 1960s and 70s in context with American culture and historical events, and the inner workings of music industry at that time.

My favorite parts of the book were in the first half, from her childhood through the release of her biggest album Tapestry. I also liked reading her memories of meeting people like the Beatles and about her friendship with James Taylor. In the second half, King recounts her admirable retreat to the remote countryside in Idaho and living without modern-day amenities for a few years, as well as spending a few chapters on a legal dispute regarding the road on her private ranch. Perhaps the book is just slightly too long—occasionally King rambles a bit, and the last quarter of the book felt a little rushed to sum up the 1980s and her political and environmental activism. If I could change something about the book, though, I would have loved to read more about the making of Tapestry rather than the legal troubles concerning the road.

While not a perfect book, it was certainly captivating with a friendly, casual tone from an extremely gifted artist and talented musician who maintained her humility through her remarkable career. King’s endless gratitude and admiration for her family, friends, producers, and fellow musicians is really touching and apparent throughout. Thanks for the recommendation, Mom!

Read from December 19 to 22, 2012.

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