In the summer of 1971, I listened to Carole King’s Tapestry album at least once a day, sometimes more. I simply could not get enough. There had been no other album like it before, and few since, that have captured me as much as that did during the summer I was turning 16.
Something happened between me and Tapestry later. I had it in vinyl, yet never bought it in compact disc form — although by all measures it should have been one of the first ones I purchased when converting all vinyl to CD in the 1980’s. Maybe by then I felt like “It’s Too Late” had been played so many times it lost any charm and relevance it once had. I don’t know. All I know is that I hadn’t listened to Tapestry in full for decades when I downloaded it from Amazon Prime and played it yesterday morning while I was writing in my journal.
How fresh and wonderful Carole sounded. (Recently, I had seen her on PBS special with James Taylor and she had lost her voice considerably. All those years of smoking must have caught up with her.) Yet, the album stands firm in its defined strength and power — a woman’s voice, a woman’s songs.
That album –that moment in time — is clear and concise and moving in unexpected ways. When making note of that, I realized it paralleled beautifully with a book I was reading, Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. These two ladies and years apart, but there is a splendid and unmistakable connection here.
Carole was 21 years old and already a hit songwriter by the time Jacqueline was born in 1963. Carole is a New Yorker by birth. Jacqueline became one by way of Ohio and Greenville, South Carolina. Carole is white. Jacqueline is black.
What they share is the inner knowing that they are writers and women; Carole, a woman making her way in a man’s industry, a woman that would take advantage of the Women’s Liberation Movement to change the trajectory of music in the early 1970’s. As a teenager during that time, this meant a great deal to me. It made its mark on me.
Jacqueline had to struggle with trying to make sense of her parents separation, the difference between being a Northerner and a Southerner, how the stirrings of being a writer in love with words kept poking at her during the years of chaos and Jehovah Witness training and the Civil Rights Movement that was playing out all around her. Her writing in this memoir is everything Carole’s is on Tapestry: direct, questioning, authentic, and full of recognition and naming of realities. It’s daring to be human at its finest.
What I have done here is make connections. I am taking the main lines from each song on Tapestry and connecting a piece of text from Brown Girl Dreaming. The text in bold is from Carole. The italicized text is from Jacqueline with page numbers included. Let’s see how this turns out!
I feel the earth move under my feet/I feel the sky tumbling down
I am born in Ohio but
the stories of South Carolina already run
through my veins (2)
So far away/doesn’t anybody stay in one place anymore
So many years have passed since we last saw
our father, his absence
like a bubble in my older brother’s life,
that pops again and again
into a whole lot of tiny bubbles
of memory. (103)
It’s too late baby/now it’s too late/though we really did try to make it
Maybe the memory of Columbus was too much
for my mother to save
Maybe the memory of my mother
was a painful stone inside my father’s heart.
But what did it look like
when she finally left him? (40-1)
Sometimes I wonder if I’m ever gonna make it home again/it’s so far and out of sight
I do not know yet
how sometimes the earth makes a promise
it can never keep. Tobacco fields
lay fallow, crops picked clean.
My grandfather coughs again
and the earth waits
for what and who it will get in return. (101)
You’re gonna find, yes you will/ you’re as beautiful as you feel
There is nothing more beautiful than P.S. 106.
Nothing more perfect than my first-grade classroom.
No one more kind than Ms. Feidler, who meets me
at the door each morning
takes my hand from my sister’s, smiles down and says,
Now that Jacqueline is here, the day can finally begin.
And I believe her.
Yes, I truly believe her. (158-9)
Way over yonder/that’s where I’m bound
I want to write this down, that the revolution is like
a merry-go-round, history always being made
somewhere. And maybe for a short time,
we’re a part of that history. And then the ride stops
and our turn is over. (309)
Winter, spring, summer, or fall/ all you have to do is call/you’ve got a friend
All the dreams this city holds
right outside — just step through the door and walk
two doors down to where
my new best friend, Maria, lives…
Her hair is crazily curling down past her back,
the Spanish she speaks like a song
I am learning to sing.
Mi amiga, Maria.
Maria, my friend. (209)
Where you lead/I will follow/Anywhere that you want me to
My mother arrives in the middle of the night,
and sleepily, we pile into her arms and hold tight.
Her kiss on the top of my head reminds me
of all that I love.
Mostly her. (136)
So tell me now, and I won’t ask again/Will you still love me tomorrow?
Sometimes, my grandfather says,
Sing me something pretty.
And when I sing to him, I’m not
just left of the key or right of the tune
He says I sing beautifully.
He says I am perfect. (235-6)
Smackwater Jack he bought a shotgun/cause he was in the mood for a little confrontation
…but as quickly as THAT! he can become
a number. Like Robert Leon Irby is now
so many numbers across the pocket
of his prison uniform that it’s hard
not to keep looking at them,
waiting for them to morph into letters
that spell out
my uncle’s name. (271)
A wondrous woven magic in bits of blue and gold/ a tapestry to feel and see, impossible to hold
I am thinking if I can hold on to the memory of this song
get home and write it down, then it will happen,
I’ll be a writer. I’ll be able to hold on to
each moment, each memory
You make me feel like a natural woman
And somehow, one day, it’s just there
speckled black-and-white, the paper
inside smelling like something I could fall right into,
live there — inside those clean white pages.
I don’t know how my first composition notebook
ended up in my hands, long before I could really write
someone must have known that this
was all I needed. (154)