You’ve got a friend

Published 7:19 pm Tuesday, July 13, 2010

I have never been in a place where there we so many people just like me.

Men all over the place were turning gray, bald or with thinning hair and thickening waistlines. Women were dressed in their casual fun clothes. It seemed every one of the 15 or so thousand people there were within 10 years of my age more or less.

You could feel the energy building as the anticipated hour drew nearer. First all the advertising billboards went dark. The music slowly gained energy. Then the lights in the gigantic hall went dark.

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For two hours last weekend, Mary Lou and I were transformed back to the early 1970s as we listened with absolute delight as James Taylor and Carole King performed at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis. It was sheer delight as the crowd became mesmerized by the songs of our youth and early adult years.

Out of the 30 or so songs performed, there was only one that I didn’t clearly remember. That’s not too bad when you consider we are talking about a 40-year gap between then and now.

Taylor’s voice was crystal clear just as King’s was gravelly and strong. I didn’t remember how many of the songs each of them had written only to be performed by others. The first hit written by King was in 1960 and has been recorded by a dozen performers; “Will you still love me tomorrow?”

Taylor’s first big hit album came a decade later with the still popular “Sweet Baby James,” which he recorded with Carole King. It contained his first top 10 hit, “Fire and Rain,” which reflected on the suicide of a friend and his own experiences with drugs and psychiatric institutions.

The following year he sang his first No. 1 single, written by Carole King, “You’ve Got a Friend.” These songs were during my final years of high school, but King and Taylor’s success continued throughout my college years.

My roommate in college, Bill Moench, and I had a huge stereo system and shared all our albums. Collectively, I suspect we had every James Taylor or Carole King album written during those years.

It was somewhat fitting then that Bill and his wife, Pam, attended the concert with us. The concert was an item from Mary Lou’s bucket list and a surprise for her birthday. Attending with my roommate, someone that I shared so much of that time with made it that much more special.

In fact, I was struck by the fact that everyone in attendance seemed to be sharing that time together. We were taken back to a time that was tough for many with the Vietnam War and the various movements of the day. Taylor himself came out of serious drug issues to later sing songs of hope for many who were there.

Not only did I always remember their many hits of the time and continue to periodically listen to them, but they later had a second resurgence in their popularity. It has been topped by the popular success of their last album, “Live at the Troubadour,” which is also the name of this year’s reunion tour.

Ten semi-trailers parked outside the arena carried the massive stage set and lighting. The stage revolved in a circle so everyone had a good seat. The lighting seemed to come from everywhere. There were jumbo screens showing close-ups and a gigantic circular screen that carried images from the times of their songs.

I could remember almost every album cover that flashed at some point across that screen. I could remember when and where and sometimes with whom I heard them sing; at parties, in my room, sometimes alone in the car. I have heard those songs on eight-tracks, cassettes, LP albums, AM and FM radio, and finally on my beloved iPod.

Mary Lou and I would look at each other when yet another song from our past began; smiling, singing, and reliving those moments. People around us did the same over and over again.

Once we got back, we dug out our old albums that have long given way to clearer digital versions. There was something about the dusty covers and inside jackets. The words to every song were printed somewhere in the album cover; something that I had forgotten.

I also pulled out my old book of piano music for the “Tapestry” album. It was the first popular contemporary music I ever played in public after many years of classical piano. At one time I could play every song by heart. After these many years, they still come back to me.

“Something in the Way She Moves,” “I Feel the Earth Move,” “You Can Close Your Eyes” and “Will you Love Me Tomorrow” were all part of the youth that Mary Lou and I shared. They were part of our courtship. The year we started seriously dating, Taylor sang “How Sweet It Is to Be Loved by You.” They are more than just songs or words to us; they are reminders for our great memories of then and now.

We all recognize those feelings and whether we know it or not most of us seek some of the pleasure that comes from sharing music with friends and strangers. It is just sometimes comforting to know that “You’ve Got a Friend.”