When we last met, I was having a bit of an identity crisis because I had suddenly started to like James Taylor again. Of course, my hope was that I probably just needed to give it some time to subside, but now, a week has gone by, and I still kind of like him.
It wouldn’t be a problem if I was a girl. For a girl, it’s normal to like James Taylor; but for a guy, well, it’s just not accepted. Usually, if a guy likes James Taylor, it’s either because he’s at the point where he’ll do absolutely anything to get any girl to hang around with him, or because he has lost all self-respect for himself as a man, and he knows that if other men discover his secret, they may descend on him like a pack of lions on an antelope and rip him to shreds. Basically, it’s a sign of helplessness.
A couple of years ago, I turned fifty, and a musician friend told me that at that age, it’s a good idea to get a rectal exam, because a lot of guys get cancer of the colon. In retrospect, he may have just been enjoying a bit of harmful fun at my expense, but at the time I did take him seriously, and (in a relative explosion of responsibility) I voluntarily submitted to an inspection of my nether area.
As you might imagine, I was nervous, and made a bit of a joke to the doctor as he was putting on his rubber gloves that I had really not been looking forward to this event that much. Unfortunately, not only did I not get a laugh -I barely got a reaction of any kind, and at the time I thought, well, the least a guy should be able to do at a time like this is laugh at your jokes!
Later on, though, I decided that not laughing at all might be better than laughing too much -after all, it’s not really a time for frivolity, and heaven forbid he come out with a whole bunch of funny lines of his own. I started to realize that a doctor in this situation is really in a rather precarious situation, audience response-wise. Eventually, I realized that when I volunteer to be put in a situation like this, liking James Taylor doesn’t seem half so bad.
Thinking back, I probably haven’t checked out his last few releases all that closely, though I do have a friend who played me some highlights, which (luckily for whatever minor esteem I have left as a rocker) sounded pretty boring. The last things I remembered liking were in 1975 on an album called “Gorilla”, a cut called “Mexico” and a beautiful ballad called “Sarah Maria.” However, that album also contained the dreaded “How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You”, so I ran like hell, and my past never caught up with me until now, when I find myself once again sheepishly admitting, oops! I like James Taylor.
Listening to his latest, “October Road” (Columbia), was surprisingly satisfying in a comfort food, meatloaf kind of way. He hasn’t changed, and none of the songs are startling or showy, but they still have lots of wonderful voicings and details and great acoustic guitar playing and the modest virtues of great songcrafting. It seemed to me to have more interesting songwriting than I’ve heard from him in a long time, like he’s doing more than going through the motions, though he still has the wisdom to always make it sound like he’s coasting.
The opening “September Grace”, “Carry Me On My Way”, “Baby Buffalo”, “Caroline I See You” -all have classic grace, depth, beauty, and thoroughbred lines; there’s even a much-needed change-up or two, in the funny, Cole Porter-ish “”Mean Old Man” or the anti-war screed “Belfast to Boston” (the latter surprisingly features cameo appearances from Kay Hanley and Michael Eisenstein of Letters to Cleo.) And there’s no age problem at all, seeing as he always seemed like he was about fifty anyway. )I’ll bet his doctor laughs like hell at all his jokes.)
All in all, I actually like the whole album very much.
I must be losing my damn mind.