COLUMN EIGHTY-SIX, MARCH 1, 2003
(Copyright © 2003 The Blacklisted Journalist)
EMERGING STAR ECLIPSES
AN ECLIPSE OF THE SUN
JAMES TAYLOR AT GRANTS TOMB IN 2002
people spilling off the curb into Greenwich Villageís MacDougal Street at noon
on a winterís Saturday in 1970 werenít there to watch the eclipse.
Not until May 1, 2079, will New York be able to see the moon darken the
those people standing in MacDougal Street had come to witness an event that they
obviously considered of greater magnitude. Who wants to look at an eclipse when you can witness an
emerging star? James Taylor was making his only appearance of the year at the
Gaslight, and those people were waiting to buy tickets.
Who is James Taylor, this young, thin giant with long,
dark hair and a wispy beard who walks through the crowds that come to adore him
with a half-smile on his lips and distant visions in his eyes like a Jesus in an
era when we already have too many---and at the same time one too few?
Ask him about himself and he will give you only the barest
outlines of a life that was lived for the most part in hurt. You donít talk to
Sweet Baby James. You listen to his
music. He tells about himself in
the slow, measured phrasing of someone who doesn't want to be misunderstood.
His voice is clear crystal. Whatever
secrets James Taylor has about himself, he thinks his music is big enough to
hide behind. James Taylor steps
upon the stage ready to challenge the gods. He is on his way to the firmament.
Four years ago, he was one of those kid musicians
among the hundreds of groups hustling through the Village for any ear that would
listen to their own particular cries of prophecy in the wilderness. He belonged
to the Flying Machine, a band that is now, as he sings, with sweet dreams in
pieces on the ground. When the
Flying Machine crashed, so did James.
A couple of years later, he turned up in London and
recorded an album for Peter Asher at Apple Records. The album was distributed in the U.S. by Capitol but, as
Peter says, "I got the feeling Capitol never listened to it."
James Taylorís new album, Sweet Baby James,
is on Warner Brothers and, only a few weeks after its release, he is drawing the
kind of crowds you saw standing on the street outside the Gaslight. On that
Saturday night alone, the club had to turn away 2,000 people.
"I can feel it happening," James says.
"I'm starting to feel good about it."
The songs that James sings are his own, born out of the torture
that twice sent him into mental institutions.
His lyrics are, of course, private, personal and mysterious, but, at 21,
James speaks for his generation with the kind of cool authority that seems
destined to elect him one of the spokesmen of his time.
The son of the dean of the University of North
Carolina Medical School, he was born in Boston and raised in Chapel Hill. He was
17 and in boarding school the first time he committed himself.
"I was suicidal," he says.
"It was the only place I could go."
He committed himself a second time after recording his
"It seemed like a good idea at the time," he
What are the secrets hiding behind his music?
Listen to this song he wrote after coming back from England to find a
girl he knew had killed herself:
Just yesterday morning they let me know you were gone
Suzanne, the plans they made put an end to you
I walked out this morning and I wrote down this song
I just can't remember who to send it to
I've seen fire and I've seen rain
I've seen sunny days that I thought would never end
I've seen lonely times when I could not find a friend
But I always thought that I'd see you again. . .
You watch him singing on the stage of the Gaslight,
sounding exactly as he sounds on his album, and you feel his
confidence elbowing you. It's
already a little too close in the room and you wonder if you like being crowded
by his presence. Condensation from a water pipe collects on the ceiling and
begins to drip on him.
"My guitar is gently weeping," he says.
He sings a Coke commercial and everyone laughs.
you got to take enough time to think these days," he says.
he begins to sing again, he tells the audience:
you feel like singing along, don't."
Is James Taylor going to be the next public phenomenon? It's a little early in the cycle for such an event, but that's the league in which James clearly wants to be batting. ##
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