Carole King was born in 1942. While she was still in high school she began writing songs for Don Kirschner’s company Aldon Music. By the time she was 17, she was married to her songwriting partner Gerry Goffin and commuting back and forth from Brooklyn to Manhattan to take her place in front of a piano in order to provide catchy melodies for Gerry’s lyrics. Together they wrote hits for Dusty Springfield, Little Eva, The Four Seasons, and Aretha Franklin. And that was just her first marriage!
King’s autobiography, A Natural Woman, is written in a free-flowing chatty style. You immediately feel that she is speaking directly to you. Her voice is warmer and friendlier than that of some would-be storytellers, and the reader is drawn right into Carole King’s world. As you read, you sometimes wonder at her naivete, and then marvel at her toughness. She seems to wander into relationships accidentally, and she never hesitates to share all the intimate details either. She holds nothing back about her various marriages. Her second one to musician Charles Larkey fell apart due to “disparate schedules,” but the third short-term marriage was a particularly devastating time.
Rick Evers was a wannabe rock star. Hanging out with Don Henley and Glenn Frey (of Eagles fame), he was introduced to Carole at a party. At the time, Evers was crafting leather jackets for the in-crowd, and hoping to break into the music business. He went home with King, and convinced her to follow him into the Rocky Mountains. Before long, he was abusing her both emotionally and physically. It got so bad that her band threatened to leave her in the middle of a tour. Only an appeal from her manager, and their affection for King herself, kept them going. The details, as she matter-of-factly presents them, are shocking and upsetting. Evers died of a heroin overdose less than a year into their marriage.
Her fourth husband, Rick Sorenson, to whom she remained married to from 1982 until 1990, led her into another of her passions. He moved her further into the Idaho Rockies where she quickly developed a love and respect for the wilderness. She continues to this day to be active in protecting the Northern Rockies Ecosystem. One of the key themes of the third part of the book is her simple life in the mountains. She walked away from the “busy-ness” of downtown Manhattan, away from the rock’n’roll world of Laurel Canyon, to a place where she had to get up in the morning and milk the goat, and then home-school her children. And through it all, find time to write, record and tour some of the most memorable songs of our era. “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” “Take Good Care of My Baby,” “Chains,” “The Loco-motion,” “It Might As Well Rain Until September,” and of course “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” all written with Gerry Goffin. But then there was her monster hit Tapestry with songs co-written with Toni Stern such as, “It’s Too Late” and “Where You Lead,” plus songs she wrote herself, “I Feel the Earth Move,” “So Far Away,” and “You’ve Got a Friend.”
Whether sung by herself, or by any of the innumerable artists who covered them, Carole King provided a songbook for a generation, maybe two generations! In A Natural Woman she shows us the woman behind the songs. A natural woman indeed, but also a strong and gifted writer who promises more stories yet to come. I, for one, can’t wait.
– David Kidney has reviewed for Green Man Review and Sleeping Hedgehog. He published the Rylander Quarterly (a Ry Cooder-based newsletter) for 8 years before turning it into a blog, at http://rylander-rylander.blogspot.com. He works at McMaster University as Director of Learning Space Development and lives in Dundas with his wife.