Book Review: Carole King, A Natural Woman
The most revealing part of Carole King’s long-awaited autobiography isn’t when she writes about penning some of the most elevated melodies of the 20th century as a spindly teen in the Brill Building. Neither is it when she details the creation of one the most beloved solo albums in the history of recorded sound, “Tapestry.”
It’s when she recalls hiking up to an outhouse in minus 20 degree weather to go to the bathroom. Or getting up at 4 a.m. to milk goats. Or living in a house without electricity in the midst of snow country, where she spends her days chopping wood, tanning hides, and making bread by grinding wheat by hand.
Such arduous tales aren’t part of an elaborate complaint about a rough rearing from which fame and riches rescued her. They’re key components of a life King chose for herself — long after she’d become a wealthy woman of international renown.
In the mid-’70s, following scores of blockbuster hits, King packed up her young children whom she’d reared in the plush Hollywood Hills, to venture into the coldest, most remote parts of Idaho.
When that initial area proved not removed enough, she pushed even further into the wild.
“You could be dining in the finest restaurants, drinking Champagne, eating caviar, taking limos,” a concerned friend said to her. “Instead you’re performing tasks any woman in her right mind, who could afford it, would be asking her ‘people’ to do.”
Yet, it’s King’s decision to shun such things that makes credible the title of her book, “Natural Woman.” (Of course, she also titled it for the classic song she penned of the same name, the one Aretha Franklin made divine.)
Carole King — nee Carol Klein of Brooklyn — never sought fame, just achievement. And she had little interest in the explorations and vices of her boomer star peers. She largely shunned drugs (except for the occasional joint), indulged in little luxury, and, it seems, got into a long-term relationship with just about any man she ever slept with. It’s inadvertently hysterical to read about King’s life in the Laurel Canyon of the late ’60s and early ’70s - a time when everyone else is hooking up and snorting up a storm. She’s the classic wallflower at the orgy.
Then again, her personal life strongly encouraged the role. She was a mother by age 17, and one three times over by her late 20s.
King’s maternal role showed in the music as well. Her recordings exuded a pronounced sense of succor. It’s nurturing and comforting in the extreme, from the eternal vow of loyalty in “You’ve Got a Friend” to the homey longing of “So Far Away.”...
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