February 25, 2021 | Arts and Culture
tapestry at 50
politics & peoplehood amidst a pandemic
On February 10, 2021, one day after Carole King turned 79, her legendary second studio album, Tapestry, celebrated its 50th birthday. Upon its release, her sophomore LP retained the #1 slot on the Billboard 100 for 15 consecutive weeks, transforming an era of music and generations of listeners, myself included, into its own tapestry of heart, grit, and authenticity. The semicentennial of her album reflects both the timelessness of the project’s sound and the timeliness of King’s free spirit and liberal activism at this pivotal moment in her country’s history. At its core, Tapestry is about finding yourself through reinvention despite isolation and hardship—a message King never could have guessed would be so topical 50 years later, in the midst of a global pandemic.
According to the Los Angeles Times, King declines almost every interview request she receives. But, despite her wish to live a modest life far from the public eye, she has not let her love of privacy get in the way of her progressive activism, beginning with her early support of John Kerry and the environmentalist movement, and continuing through her personal connections to many politicians today. I was lucky enough to witness the performance of a lifetime from King in November 2019, in what is likely her favorite stage: the living room of an old friend’s Los Angeles home, in front of fewer than 100 passionate Democrats, in support of Senator Ed Markey’s re-election campaign. After warning the intimate crowd that her voice might sound a little rusty, she sat up straight at the baby grand piano situated in the center of the room and belted out vocals that sounded just as fresh as they did on Tapestry 48 years prior.
I was in a state of absolute shock. When my grandparents invited me, I had pictured a few hundred people gathered in a lavish backyard, with King playing one or two songs on a stage far in the distance. Instead, my hero was within arm’s reach. After she demolished hit after hit and personally thanked everyone for being there, I hovered for a few minutes until she had a free second. I tapped her on the shoulder. “Carole,” I said, stumbling over my words, “I just needed to let you know that you changed my life. I’m sure you hear this all the time, but maybe less often from people in my generation. I saw Beautiful live, I read your memoir, and I spend most of my time with my vocal coach singing your songs.” I stammered about strong female role models and authenticity, until she cut me off and said, “You read my memoir? Wow. And you’re here today? Where are you in school?” “Brown,” I replied. She told me that out of everyone in that room she was most excited to see the few young people who showed, because we are finally recognizing how much our votes and voices matter. “Got any friends registered in Massachusetts?” she asked me, wondering who I could recruit to support Markey. “Tons,” I told her, beaming.
Since that life-altering, serotonin-inducing interaction two and a half years ago, Ed Markey was re-elected, Trump was not, and between those two events, King has continued singing her heart out at political fundraisers—from Barbara Boxer’s PAC to a pre-inauguration virtual concert hosted by the Biden administration in January. The 50th anniversary of Tapestry comes at an opportune moment both to look forward to all that King continues to do for the world, and to look back at all the obstacles she overcame. King escaped several abusive relationships and marriages, challenged race boundaries in music by beginning her career writing songs for Black R&B/soul acts in Motown like Aretha Franklin and the Drifters, and moved from New York City to Los Angeles in 1968 after divorcing her husband and writing partner, Gerry Goffin. These experiences ignited a spark that inspired an entire generation of women to reevaluate their personal relationships as well as their relationships with phenomena such as motherhood, sex, careers, religion, and marriage.
The stripped-down sound and iconic album cover of Tapestry represented a personal shift as King moved across the country to start a new life, and came to symbolize a new era for women. 1971 and the release of Tapestry saw Joni Mitchell’s Blue and Carly Simon’s self-titled album; it was a year of new sounds and horizons for female musicians in Hollywood. Specifically, it was the age of Laurel Canyon, a neighborhood tucked away in the Hollywood Hills, known by most as home to artists from the Byrds and Buffalo Springfield to the aforementioned women in the ’60s and ’70s, but known to me as the windy road I drove down to get to my weekly voice lessons. King’s discography remains realistic and emotionally raw about both platonic and romantic relationships, making her music accessible to all audiences—resonating with me from a young age long before I would go through most of the events described in the lyrics of pop songs.
According to her dear friend James Taylor, King has always been an underdog who forged her place in Hollywood by never giving anyone enough time to question her place in it. This kind of confidence and zeal radiates throughout A Natural Woman: A Memoir, and the musical, Beautiful, and is what made King such a role model to me, as a young Jewish woman also aspiring to pursue a creative career in Hollywood. Her refreshing aura and raspy charm made her music appear effortless and approachable, yet still full of authentic emotion. Songs from Tapestry have enveloped my life, from performing “You’ve Got a Friend” with my second grade class to hearing “Where You Lead” every time my mom and I watch an episode of Gilmore Girls together, to singing every track in between on Sunday mornings with my high school vocal coach, in the car, and in the shower.
When I was sent home from Brown due to the COVID-19 pandemic almost a year ago, I had Tapestry on repeat as I packed up my freshman year dorm room, tears filling my eyes. “It’s Too Late” made me nostalgic for all of the memories I would have made that spring on College Hill, while “So Far Away” helped me acknowledge the pain of the physical distance between me and all of the friends I had made. I can only imagine how many other people have found solace in King’s relatable lyrics and soft melodies throughout quarantine. Within the discography of Tapestry lies a dichotomy of seclusion and empowerment that transformed ‘70s pop music and remains just as relevant 50 years later. When I close my eyes and listen to the album from start to finish, my friends, college campus, and Carole King herself are just within reach.