Weekend Listening: Tapestry by Carole King
Released: 1971 by Ode Records
Recommended if you like: unabashedly heartfelt wailings mixed with pop songs worthy of the 1970s, not the 2010s
Notable Tracks: “Smack Water Jack,” “You’ve Got a Friend,” “It’s Too Late,” “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”
I don’t remember, exactly, when I became friends with my mother.
There was a girlhood fascination, when I would beg her lipstick and try on all her shoes, especially these pink high heels she rarely wore, and wrap myself in her sweaters and parade around her closet. There was a teenage irritation in which I denounced her opinion on absolutely fucking everything and stopped talking to her about anything important. There was a young adulthood fuck it and you and everything that generally applied to all the things that made up my life to that point, including her.
Then there was a moment, driving down the snaky roads that wind through the Alabama countryside that was my home for 23 years. This moment, driving and thinking about my imminent move to upstate New York, the move that would forever take me out of my home state and so many miles away from her that it would be a Big Deal to visit, and Carole King’s “So Far Away” came on the oldies station, and I had to pull the car over because too many tears blurred the asphalt.
It’s funny, the things that we hate about the people we love, those things that slowly become what we love about them. Much of my childhood was spent in a car; my family moved often when I was a child, with each year of elementary school bringing a new city, new friends, new Way To Be. Each time my brothers and I would laze around the back of the van we named Hannah, lying under seats and playing GI Joes while miles of the Alabama pine trees passed our windows. Often, my parents controlled the radio, playing music like Eric Clapton, Fleetwood Mac, and the Allman Brothers, punctuated with our groans, eye rolls, and pleas to turn off the terrible “fart music” they were torturing us with.
Oh, I hated Carole King when I was a kid.
But at some point this album transformed from an annoyance to part of the soundtrack of her and me.
Much of my childhood was spent in a car, and sometimes that was driving just to be with the parent I love and away from the parent I have never loved. During those trips to the grocery store where we would take the longest route possible so as to be away from home for more time, I started singing along with her. There is power in the opening track, “I Feel the Earth Move,” and we took on King’s shattering experience for our own when our voices couldn’t be heard. When you’re young and feeling things you can’t yet name, shouldn’t have to name, songs like “You’ve Got a Friend” give you space to be more grown-up than you should be. She would put her hand on my knee, and I would hold it, confused about why she, why we, needed this so badly. Our voices would fill the car, hers a throaty alto, mine a tinny child’s, time and again.
King’s Tapestry reads like a palimpsest of my life, rewritten as I grew older and left her house, taking this, among many other things, with me.
It was from this album that I first understood what a cover is, as I heard Aretha Franklin sing “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” and asked, confused in all my eight-year-old wisdom, who this fool trying to be a King impersonator was.
Years later, I stood, a pregnant twenty-five-year-old, trying my damnedest to assemble a crib because I was too impatient to wait for my then-husband to come home, singing through my frustration at my own clumsiness and thinking how I would show the daughter growing inside me the beauty of “Home Again” one day.
Lying in a strange bed, unconvinced that anything would dull the unnameable pain of just leaving the man that gave me that daughter and, later, another, I listened to “Way Over Yonder” and pretended that one day I’d recognize the face in the mirror again.
Standing in the kitchen of my boyfriend, only a couple of years ago, mixing biscuit dough and grating baked potatoes for hashbrowns, I found myself singing along to a Buffy St. Marie album, who I’d never heard before, but does an amazing cover of “Smack Water Jack.”
I didn’t even know I knew that song, but there it was on my Sunday morning, a lifetime away from the little girl that rode unbelted in the front seat and eavesdropped on the catharsis that was her mother freely singing and driving and not crying over a man who was cruel to her for sport.
In the beginning of the end of that relationship, when he stopped touching me as we slept and I started seeing impatience in his eyes at my stupid jokes, my smoking after dinner, my tendency to make a friend no matter where we went, did I find “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” again. The sweet opening piano belies the vulnerable awareness of a dying love that King questions with raw honesty, backed by the restrained power of James Taylor.
A few months later would find me singing and swaying hips to “It’s Too Late” as I washed dishes and sewed fallen hemlines, puttering around my house, content once again with seeing movies alone, with sleeping with a pillow beside me, with looking into the hours of an empty Sunday and smiling, untethered rather than unwanted.
Two weeks ago, in a dusty thrift store with a $1 record sale, I found an unblemished copy of Tapestry while thumbing through stacks of Sing Along with Mitch and unremarkable Christmas albums, and I came home, sat in the near dark of my living room, listened to the album in full, and called my mom.