Whose idea was it to go see James Taylor anyway? When the question was thrown out on the table, we had a hard time answering it. Between us we could only come up with half a dozen of his songs and the tickets were horrendously expensive, even for Dublin. But we were celebrating one of De Wimmen’s birthdays and no matter whose idea it was, James Taylor got to come along, too.
My walk through the IFSC to the Point (or the O2 or 3 Arena or whatever it’s known as now) was an eye-opener. It’s a village in the heart of Dublin’s docklands, another world. Not for the first time this week did I feel like a tourist in a city I grew up in. Most peculiar. Pre-concert vino and eats at Lagoona primed the stage for what would be an emotional evening.
Born in 1948, Taylor was just 20 when he signed for Apple Records – the first non-British musician to do so. He had all but given up on making it in the music business when his fortunes turned. He was recording his first album in the studios at the same time the Beatles were recording The White Album. Paul McCartney made a guest appearance on his recording of Carolina in my mind. He admitted, amongst other things, to stealing shamelessly from the Beatles. His easy banter and pleasant disposition shrank the packed arena to the size of a living room where each of us felt as if we were the only ones there. I’ve not seen than happen in a while.
Reading of his life, it’s a miracle that he’s so together. Early battles with depression and heroin took their toll. Breaking both hands and both feet in a motorcycle crash didn’t help either. And while he still fights with his demons – which he describes as ‘an inseparable part of [his] personality’ – the man we saw on stage on Tuesday night was lovely, simply lovely. Ordinary, down to earth, human. There was no changing outfits – he wore his sweat stains like a man, and that’s what he was: a man and his guitar in conversation with a crowd.
I’m the world’s worst when it comes to recognising songs and who sings them, yet it’s a constant source of wonder to me as to how a particular song can transport me back in time and unleash a tide of emotions that I’d thought were long since buried. Everything about James Taylor that night touched a button. It was electric. [And this is even more amazing considering that there were many times in the last few months that I’ve had to check my diary for his name and really had no idea whom I was going to see.]
At one stage I was bawling shamelessly. His hit Fire and rain about his time in mental institutions and the suicide of a friend was a favourite of my best mate Lori who died a couple of years ago – and that line ‘I always thought I’d see you again’ pushed me over the edge. I always thought so, too, and I didn’t. The biggest mistake we make is thinking we have time. In my mind’s eye, as he sang, I went through the years of our friendship and what I lost when she died. An emotional roller-coaster.
James Taylor looked so like an old boyfriend of mine that I pulled out my phone and texted him (said boyfriend, not JT!) – something I’ve not done for years. Too long. And that sent me down a whole other path related to whys and wherefores, reasons and seasons, and the passing of lifetimes.
And when he sang Shower the people, something else kicked off: Shower the people you love with love, show them the way you feel. Was there a full moon that night? I wonder. Whatever was in that man’s music pulled me every which way. His How sweet it is has to be one of the simplest love songs out there. Clean and uncomplicated, which is interesting given that his own love life was far from being either. He was married three times, most famously to Carly Simon and most recently in 2001. Third time’s a charm.
Then his classic rendition of Carole King’s You’ve got a friend took me back to my first year in college to revisit the huge life change that happened in 1983 – a year of unrequited love and teenage angst that left an indelible mark on my psyche. And I was off again. [Did you know that Joni Mitchell did the backing vocals on the original recording?]
It was a magical evening spent with great friends in the company of old memories. This week, I’m grateful that I made the trip home just to see James Taylor, even if I didn’t realise it was him that I was going to see not having made the connection between the man and his music. The night itself and the conversations that resulted the following day helped me turn a corner. You know who you are – thank you.