When my father was dying – in the waning days of 1970 and the early days of 1971 – one of the songs I heard most frequently on the radio was James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain.” I remember it playing while driving on the Mass Pike, in dark and snowy weather, shuttling back and forth between Worcester and Boston, where I was in my senior year in college and juggling an apartment, a puppy, and grad school applications, and where my father lay dying in Boston’s Chinatown’s New England Medical Center.
Worcester, for those few months, was where I spent my weekends taking care of my kid brother Rick (15) and sister Trish (11). My cousin Barbara, her two little ones in tow, looked after my sibs during the week. I spelled Barbara on weekends. (My mother had moved in for the duration with my aunt and uncle – Barbara’s parents – who lived just outside of Boston.) My sister Kath, who’d been my fellow chargé d'affaires – we had sporadic but considerable responsibility for taking care of things household and younger kid-related throughout the course of my father’s long (7 year) illness – was married, teaching, and living in Georgia. My brother Tom had just started college. Classic middle child, he didn’t have a real role to play, other than as himself, as the family drama played out. So I was the one in Green Hornet (a dark green Galaxy 500; our cars had names) on the Mass Pike listening to “Fire and Rain” and wondering when my father was going to die and how I was going to break it to the little guys when it happened. (The other song I remember being played, and replayed, was Elton John’s “Your Song.”)
So. “Fire and Rain.” As if the song weren’t sad enough...
My favorite James Taylor song is “Sweet James.” Not only does it mention Boston and the Mass Pike, but my husband was a James. While those might be enough reason right there, the REAL topper is that it’s the only song I know of that mentions my birthday. (“Oh, the first of December was covered with snow. So was the turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston.”) Trifecta!
On Wednesday, James Taylor performed both numbers in his concert at Fenway Park, which I attended with my sister Trish.
I’ve always liked James Taylor well enough – well enough to buy his albums back in the day – but I’d never seen him in concert. Well worth the wait.
It was a lovely evening. James played most of his classics (his own and covers) – “Handy Man”, “Mexico”, “Up on the Roof”, “You’ve Got A Friend”, “Carolina”. And, of course, both “Fire and Rain” and “Sweet Baby James.” His voice sounds the same to me as it did nearly 50 years ago when I first heard it. (This would be unlike the case with Paul Simon. If his rendition of “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” performed at the DNC last week is any indication, he’s lost his.)
James Taylor also looks pretty much the same, other than that these days he’s bald. At least he looks the same head-on. From the side, he looks like an old man. (Taylor is 68.) His old man, in fact. I didn’t know Dr. Isaac Taylor personally, but someone pointed him out to me once, and I used to see him around the neighborhood walking what I thought were his grandkids to school. They weren’t. They were his kids from a second marriage to a much younger woman. This was in the early-mid 1990’s, and Dr. Taylor looked to me at that time to be a man of great old age. I just checked the record, and, when Dr. Taylor died in 1996 he was only 75. All I can say is that, twenty years on, 75 just ain’t what it used to be.
Anyway, the concert was quite wonderful.
I have not been to all that many stadium concerts. As a folk/Celtic music fan, most of the the concerts I’ve seen have been in smaller venues.
But I’ve been to a few biggies – Stevie Wonder, Bruce Springsteen (4 times now) – and there’s something to be said for being with tens of thousands of fellow fans, singing along. A priori, you wouldn’t think that James Taylor would be a candidate for a large-scale stadium concert. His songs are mostly soft and intimate, his guitar mostly acoustic. But it worked. And the audience – which contained a larger proportion of non-baby boomers than I would have guessed going in – seemed to appreciate it.
The opening act – well publicized in advance - was Jackson Browne. Never a big fan, but he was fine. Here’s a funny thing: The concert was scheduled to begin at 6:30, either in deference to the neighbors or to the creaky, early-to-bed boomer fans. Amazingly, the concert began on time, and as Trish and I neared Fenway, you could hear Jackson Browne singing amplified away. As we walked beneath the stands looking for our location, a guy in back of us said, “That sounds like Jackson Browne.” Well, duh!
Me? I was there for JT, not JB. Spent all yesterday humming “Sweet Baby James.”