I submitted this to a publication who rejected it. The editor suggested I center it around an anniversary of some kind. I did. Tapestry was recorded in 1971 and I wrote this (and submitted it) in 2021. It’s my Golden Anniversary tribute to that landmark recording. Fuck that editor.
The Summer of 1971
Battles brewed in the summer of 1971: one at our house and one on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. In both match-ups, young mothers were drawn to the call of liberation while the recalcitrant male order insisted on dominion over all. Apropos of summertime, things would get heated.
Twenty years older as well as chronically overweight and underemployed, he was a “fixer upper,” like an old house with “great bones.” I could do something with him, she thought when they met.
The first battle simmered in a small farming town where my mother, already in her mid 20s and divorced with two young children, fashioned a stable home life with her new husband. He had stumbled through his own first marriage, kids, and divorce. Twenty years older as well as chronically overweight and underemployed, he was a “fixer upper,” like an old house with “great bones.” I could do something with him, she thought when they met. Within a few years, he was settled into a steady job as a mid-level bureaucrat. Mom had finagled a way for us to live on the spacious. rustic homestead of her youth. We grew up wild, running through fruit orchards and climbing hills while she sewed our clothes, canned our food, and worked her own full time job. In his young wife, Dad not only found a “looker,” he also found an “earner.” Life was pretty good for him.
A thousand miles to the South in Los Angeles, Carole King had recently released a new solo album, Tapestry, her second. She wasn’t yet 30, also divorced, with two daughters approximately the same age as my brother and me. Carole had relocated from New York City to Laurel Canyon where she settled in among the legendary minstrels of the 1970s soft rock scene: Graham Nash, Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell and the musicians who would form The Eagles and Buffalo Springfield. The photo shoot for the cover of Tapestry was taken in her living room with a barefoot Carole perched in the window seat. Rays of sunshine filter through her curly brown hair and in her hands, a piece of needlework, the kind my mom liked to work on. That’s where the title of the album came from.
Carole and her ex-husband, lyricist Gerry Goffin, had laid down their swords after the divorce and, instead of going their separate ways, traveled together across the country where the music business had also migrated. They would continue working separately and their daughters could see both parents. Carole quickly landed a record deal and Gerry spent most of his time with women and altering his reality, seeking better living through chemistry and sex. He had lost all interest in being a family man.
When the Beatles first came to America, they asked to meet Goffin and King.
Quite a contrast from their early traditional suburban life in Long Island which Goffin later portrayed as suffocating and small-minded in the Monkees’ hit “Pleasant Valley Sunday.” By the early 1960s, King and Goffin songs became woven into the life of the American teenager. “Up on the Roof,” “The Loco-Motion,” and “Take Good Care of My Baby,” played at dances, on jukeboxes, on portable record players, and on radios behind steamed-up car windows. When the Beatles first came to America, they asked to meet Goffin and King.
During that summer of 1971, while Carole raised her daughters, promoted her album and vied for gigs at the Troubadour in West Los Angeles, my brother and I marked time until the last day of school. We had a single common desire: spend every possible moment at the City Pool.
So my initial memories of Carole King’s first hit from Tapestry — a two-fisted power medley of “I Feel the Earth Move” and “It’s Too Late” — involve sun-bleached concrete and chlorinated water. All afternoon, the local Top 40 radio station blasted from bullhorn-shaped speakers mounted on the roof of the blue and white striped cement block building that housed locker rooms, showers, and an office. The music was only interrupted when lifeguards instructed us to clear the pool and it became the soundtrack for hours of underwater handstands and somersaults.
He wanted listeners to feel like they were joining Carole in her living room and she was singing just to them.
Surrounded by an all male posse of engineers and musicians, Carole and her producer Lou Adler locked down two or three songs a day, completing Tapestry in just three weeks for $22,000. Adler assumed King was just burning off the second of a three-album deal. He wanted listeners to feel like they were joining Carole in her living room and she was singing just to them. She authored the songs, wrote arrangements, played piano, and sang all the lead vocals. The only other woman photographed at the sessions was Joni Mitchell, accompanying then boyfriend James Taylor.
Taylor and Mitchell sang back-up vocals on a slowed down version of “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” a Goffin/King hit for the Shirelles in 1960. Like Tapestry a decade later, that song had captured a certain zeitgeist — the shared angst of young women about the fickle nature of young love and the dread of unwanted pregnancy. It was in the air. A Summer Place, starring Sandra Dee and Troy Donahue as an unwed expectant couple was the hit movie of summer 1959, around the same time Carole, already several months pregnant, married Goffin. My mom’s own doomed “shotgun” wedding followed a year later and she didn’t finish high school with her class either.
It was James Taylor who first brought King out in front of audiences when she played piano for his college campus tour in 1970. King claims Taylor’s style and voice were in her head when she wrote “You’ve Got a Friend” and “So Far Away,” which was also a mournful message to her daughters about the loneliness of life on the road.
My mother also found herself surrounded by men in her work. She had parlayed an early career as a legal secretary into a job as a court clerk, and her office hosted a continuous parade of judges, lawyers, and state patrol officers who wanted to share a cigarette and flirt with a pretty young woman. Always in control of the finances, my Dad came to her office each payday to collect her check, and for years he insisted on being the sole driver in the family.
Around the spring and summer of 1971, my parents began to fight, always after my brother and I had gone to bed. Vicious hissing and snarling sounds travelled up through a large brass grate to the second floor where we lay on shag carpet in flannel pajamas, our ears resting on the cold metal. The visceral intensity of their fighting made me nauseous and we both imagined the worst: divorce. Instead, Mom staged a psychological resistance campaign by bringing home a new pair of shoes almost every day. “Huggins had a great sale,” she would chirp while Dad seethed. My favorites were the low-heeled red pumps with small argyle patches on each side that tied in the front with red leather shoestrings. Very stylish. Very Carnaby Street. Especially for our little town. Her closet began to fill with brightly patterned dresses of paisley, polka dots, and stripes and she wore slacks without a girdle. Eventually, the fighting ceased after Mom appeared in the driveway with a used ice blue two-door Mustang hard-top and — buried in her macrame purse — her very own checkbook.
Carole King told Adler she didn’t want to do promotion or touring to support Tapestry, but somehow she made it to London to perform on the BBC with James Taylor in February 1971, the same month the album was released. She wore a long calico “granny” dress with white leather sandals and a smudge of green eye shadow on her lids. Her curly hair was frizzy and her voice was reedy: an everywoman sound that made her both unique and approachable. By today’s industry standards, Tapestry’s popularity was a slow-building phenomenon — her first single didn’t reach the charts until June 12, where it landed at #6. A week later, it reached #1 and stayed there. Turns out millions of people wanted to hear Carole sing to them in her living room.
The City Pool opened the first Monday after school ended in mid-June, and my brother and I were regulars. I wasn’t a natural swimmer — I failed the Guppies class twice at the YMCA and never made it to Sharks. For some reason, neither of us learned to breathe underwater, so we relied on rubber noseplugs, which made us feel nerdy and stupid and left a thin white stripe across our tanned faces. It didn’t help that I was chubby, so wearing a swimsuit in public was an enormous act of social courage. I probably loved the pool because my body felt hidden under the water and, like the daredevil penguins in an exhibit at the zoo, I could float, twist, twirl, zoom and fly, unhindered by the realities of gravity.
Armed with towels and quarters, we waited for the doors to open at 1:00 and we were the last to leave at 5:00. For 75 cents we swam all afternoon; another 25 cents rented a locker. In our rush to be the first ones in, we rarely stopped to shower before our speed walk across the sizzling concrete while the signage screamed at us: No Running On The Deck! By the time Mom picked us up, we had lost our sense of smell from the chlorine, our eyes were bloodshot, and our skin was taut, shiny, and brown.
I realized then that the cards were stacked: no amount of talent, energy, beauty, or love could keep a woman afloat if a man was determined to hold her under.
Mom loved to be outdoors and the minute she got home, she changed into shorts and a swimsuit top and headed back out to work in the yard. Dad usually followed, more out of guilt than ambition. One blazing hot afternoon, she was hand watering half-barrels filled with petunias and marigolds when an unexpected car full of friends appeared in the driveway. She waved as the visitors climbed out of their car and onto the lush green front lawn and ambling toward the house. Dad moved in close to her and hissed, “Put something on!” I couldn’t tell whether she heard him at first, but after a few seconds her face melted into a stony frown. Slowly, she turned off the nozzle on the hose, let it fall to the ground, and walked with cold precision into the house.
I felt sick.
All I ever wanted to be was beautiful like my mother. I loved her long lean freckled body with her favorite white bikini top contrasted against her bronzed skin. Whenever she came to school, the other kids always said how pretty she was. And now, my Dad, who had taken such pride in having her as an arm piece, made her feel ashamed. She had fought hard for her independence, but his nasty command reduced her to a servant, a possession. I realized then that the cards were stacked: no amount of talent, energy, beauty, or love could keep a woman afloat if a man was determined to hold her under.
Carole King dominated the top Billboard spot for five consecutive weeks, fighting off challengers like The Carpenters, John Denver, and The Cornelius Brothers. By mid July, Paul Revere and the Raiders took over for a single week followed next by Carole’s own composition, “You’ve Got A Friend,” performed not by her, but by James Taylor. The male British trio, The Bee Gees, spent all of August at #1 with “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?” which added a poignancy to summer’s end. Strangely, their breathy, wavering vibratoes gave their sound an undersea quality.
For the entire year of 1971, Carole was one of four female solo acts to top the charts. The others were Janis Joplin, Cher, and Melanie. The year before, there was just one: Diana Ross. And the year after Tapestry, only Roberta Flack and Helen Reddy. Carole took home four Grammys for the album. Actually, the men who accepted on her behalf took them home to her where she was nurturing both a new infant and a new marriage.
Through Tapestry, women could share a warm heart-to-heart with someone who had been there; a comrade who pulled the pins out of her beehive hairdo, wiped off her make-up, peeled off her panty hose, and slipped into a comfortable pair of blue jeans.
Tapestry went on to become the top selling album in the US and held that spot for three decades. Insightful lyrics paired with gospel, jazz, and folk reached into the hearts of young women seeking a path toward adulthood and the souls of older ones who witnessed Carole’s personal evolution from Jersey suburban housewife to California earth mother. Through Tapestry, women could share a warm heart-to-heart with someone who had been there; a comrade who pulled the pins out of her beehive hairdo, wiped off her make-up, peeled off her panty hose, and slipped into a comfortable pair of blue jeans. In the soft focus cover photo, Carole stares directly at the camera, reflecting a confidence and contentment that makes us believe she needs only her cat for company. The cat, it turns out, was also male. Oh, and the iconic photograph? Right. Taken by a man.
In 2016, Carole threw a 45th birthday party of sorts for Tapestry at London’s Hyde Park and 60,000 fans showed, singing most of the lyrics word for word. In a pre-show video, Tom Hanks (another man!) said, “There wasn’t a woman on the planet earth — sometimes your mom — who didn’t hold the album to their heart and say, ‘This. This is me’.”
But, when projected through the lives of my mom and Carole, the promise of Tapestry feels more illusive than real. The bold sexual claim staked in “I Feel the Earth Move” and the resolute ending of a relationship in “It’s Too Late” were replaced by a continued dependence on men. Both of them would marry four times. Despite early battles for independence, they both remained forever anchored by the 1950s doctrine: only through a man can a woman truly find home.
Perhaps they grew battle-weary. You can only fight so long before you must rest. One of the most heartfelt tunes on Tapestry is Carole’s gospel-soaked “Way Over Yonder” which expresses the continuing struggle to find “true peace of mind” that — even as both women reach the age of 80 — might still come.
I’ll find my way
To the land where the honey runs
In rivers each day
And the sweet tastin’ good life
Is so easily found
Way over yonder
That’s where I’m bound”