Carole King - 1972 to 1984 (Chapter Thirteen)

Page 377 - Carole King Central Park concert

On a damp twilight in late May 1973, Carole strode onto the stage in Central Park's Great Lawn and even before she hugged Mayor John Lindsay (who'd proudly introduced her), the more than 70,000 assembled fans let out wild, grateful cheers.  "We love you, Carole!"  "Sing Natural Woman!" "You've Got A Friend, Carole!"  they shouted.  In the VIP section sat Jack Nicholson - and Joni Mitchell: living in Bel Air now and having recently had a brief fling with the ubiquitous Warren Beatty, Joni had been absorbed into young A-list Hollywood.

Carole King in Central Park 1973

Tapestry officially stood as the biggest-selling rock album in history and was still as well loved now as when it had freshly hit the airwaves, and this was Carole's first hometown performance since the scope of her triumph had seeped into the city's jaded consciousness.  As she pounded out the opening chords of Beautiful, the audience went crazy with applause.  Carole hadn't toured since giving birth to Molly.  She'd turned down almost every publication, even declining the cover of Life magazine - and her stiff refusal to give interviews during this current tour seemed too curious for the press to miss.  The Washington Post's Tom Zito noted: "Carole King, who has sold more than 15 million albums in the past three years, would rather not talk about it."


 

Page 380 - Rhymes & Reasons

Rhymes and Reasons had been released at the end of 1972, quickly shot to #2 on the Billboard chart, and stayed there for five weeks.  It had a noncommercial, almost piano-bar feel, and Carole's voice has an undertone of vulnerability, even weariness. 

Come Down Easy is the breezy plaint of a post-1960's woman for whom "enough space...enough time...pieces of fruit and glasses of wine" are happy compensation for being alone.  The heroine of the dolorous waltz My My She Cries disappears - what effort it takes to stay balanced, confident, and visible in the brand-new normal of extended female independence.  Peace In The Valley's narrator duns herself for gossip and self-absorption.  The infectious Feeling Sad Tonight features an everywoman on a bar stool, "always feeling half right and half safe."  The First Day In August is a love song Charlie and Carole wrote together - he, the words; she- the melody.  "And nothing will come between us," they vow, against substantial odds. 

Carole wrote six of the songs herself, and these are strikingly, if casually, confessional.  In the scatting Bitter With The Sweet, she grumbles about the invasion on her time and privacy; in Goodbye Don't Mean I'm Gone she unapologetically tells old friends that her inaccessibility isn't swelled-headedness, rather, "It's all I can do to be a mother."  I Think I Can Hear You expresses her belief in a deity, likely reflecting her devotion to Swami Satchidananda; Stand Behind Me describes her resistance to the "blinding dazzlement" of her shocking fame, and her reliance on her loved ones.  But it was the more polished Been To Canaan that became the album's Top 10 hit.


 

Page 382 - Carole King releases Fantasy

After Rhymes & Reasons, Carole released Fantasy; a pop opera explicitly remining those issues (race, poverty, longing) that she and Gerry had had to tiptoe around ten years earlier.  Fantasy was a "concept" album, the tracks bleeding into one another much in the manner of Marvin Gaye's brilliant What's Going On, of two years earlier, and with a sound that echoed (the insuperably humane) Curtis Mayfield's recent Superfly soundtrack.  

The album, with its one hit, the peppery Spanish-language Corazon, was released in June of 1973 and promptly went gold.  But artistically it didn't touch the Tapestry bar, and her once greatest champion seemed the most keenly disappointed: the L.A. Time's Robert Hilburn would eventually write that her two-post Tapestry albums, "while...polished and nicely crafted, sounded so much alike to most critics and fans they could barely suppress the yawns when talking about them." 




Page 383 - Jazzman

Turning her thoughts to a next album in 1974, Carole came to terms with her stretched limits: she had written all of Fantasy by herself, had just finished an exhausting tour, and she and Charlie just found out they were going to be parents again. She needed a cowriter to relieve some of the pressure.  She turned to ex-Myddle Class member Dave Palmer.  Dave had been the vocalist for a new band led by Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, who named the group for the dildo in William Burrough's Naked Lunch: Steely Dan.  Dave sent Carole and Charlie a prerelease copy of the Dan's Can't Buy A Thrill, and Carole knew it would be huge.  (Dave lost his job with the Dan after it was decided that Fagen's voice best expressed his and Becker's compositions).

One of the first lyrics that Dave sent Carole was a smartly internally rhymed piece about a person coaxing a saxophonist, "Jazzman, take my blues away," which Carole set to an urgent, rocking melody.  Jazzman would hit # 1 and become the second-biggest single she ever recorded (It's Too Late being the first).  Dave and Carole ended up writing the whole album, which would be titled Wrap Around Joy, together.  Midway through, Carole paused to have her baby - a boy! - whom they named Levi.

In addition to the hugely successful Jazzman, the album yielded a second hit in Nightingale, on which Carole's daugthers Louise and Sherry sang backup.  Change In Mind, Change of Heart featured graceful, contemplative lyrics and Carole's wistful delivery and gospel piano chords.  "I know you're going to be skeptical," Robert Hilburn backhanded-complimented, "but Carole King really does finally have another album you're going to like...her most satisfying work since Tapestry.


 

Page 384 - Really Rosie

Stepping off the outdo-or-at-least-equal-Tapestry treadmill, Carole King collaborated with seventy-year-old Brooklynite Maurice Sendak on his animated children's TV special, Really Rosie.  Sendak, whose sweet, fanciful (and genially perverted) children's books, such as In The Night Kitchen, were beloved by progressive parents, had created a nostalgic cartoon opera about the spunky girl he'd glimpsed through his Sheepshead Bay window as a young man.  Plunging herself back into her girlhood world, Carole delivered a soundtrack full of bulabasta brio, ethnic shtick (including a chorus of "oy vey!'s"), and piano pounding on songs with names like Chicken Soup With Rice, The Ballad Of Chicken Soup, and Avenue P. 

The New York Times's John Rockwell, having joined the chorus in feeling that her post-Tapestry albums had been "something of a letdown," seemed relieved to be able to rave again: Really Rosie was "absolutely delightful."


 

Page 385 - Carole King's Thoroughbred

In 1975 Gerry Goffin and Carole King once more sat down to write together. Carole's marriage to Charlie was crumbling, and judging from the poignance of the songs they now produced - especially the wistful, elegiac High Out Of Time (which stands as one of their best songs ever) and the unusually personal Only Love Is Real - might have been the reason why these songs were so emotional.

Recorded at the end of 1975, and graced by collaborations with Gerry, Thoroughbred would be the first solo album she made without Charlie, and her pressing, questing voice seems to be searching the room for that missing comfort.  It's as if the tracks (with background help from James Taylor, David Crosby and Graham Nash) are saying, Here I am, single again, with four children, adjusting the things that matter to this behemoth: fame; what is next for me?

Carole closed Thoroughbred with an optimistic rouser, It's Gonna Work Out Fine, which she wrote alone.  The song's attitude essentially predicted her first six months of 1976.  She had a romance with singer-songwriter J.D. Souther; she and Stephanie spent the summer on the beach with their kids.  But the lighthearted ease of summer was not to last.




 

Page 389 - Rick Evers meets Carole King

Rick Evers was released from jail in late 1967.  "Rick was a tough guy," Randy Stone says.  "He was known for breaking a few jaws.  We got into an argument about something stupid and he popped me so hard, all I saw was black.  It was a pretty tough punch.  Right after that he split."  By the mid-70's Evers  started hand-tooling leather goods and fringed buckskin jackets, and he fancied himself a guitarist and songwriter - so he packed up his leather goods and guitar and took off for L.A. to seek his fortune. 

Serendipity struck. "Rick was stranded on the sidewalk of Wilshire Boulevard," Roy Reynolds says, "and he was wearing a beautiful coat he had made and carrying a load of leather and furs.  The Eagles happened to be driving down Wilshire and they spotted him."  Their at-home-in-Death-Valley image (and bleating-lost-boy-in-expensive boots sound on Hotel California and Take It Easy) had become era-definingly successful.  "They liked Rick's coat," Roy continues, "and so they picked him up and took him to a Hollywood party."  Maybe Evers seemed like a real cowboy to these pseudo-cowboy millionaires.

Carole was at the same party to which Rick Evers found himself invited.  The superstar and the hitchhiker were immediately attracted to one another.  According to the account Rick gave to a friend, as he and Carole started talking, they both confided that they'd been celibate for a while; then Rick suggested they go back to her house "and be celibate together."   And so it began.  "Carole and Rick fell madly in love with each other," says Roy.  "They both had been lonely, and they just...found each other."


 

Page 391 - Simple Things

People in L.A. saw Carole becoming besotted with Rick, but Carole's friends couldn't stand him.  The Eagles viewed him as a hothead.  As for Lou Adler, he tersely allowed, "Rick Evers doesn't have one redeeming quality."   Rick would get angry for no reason - when, say, he didn't get "respect" from someone at a party who was talking to Carole, making him feel excluded.  Because Rick's temper was so hair-trigger, "he  would make Carole seem stupid by her having to constantly defuse those situations he was creating," a friend says.  "His attitude was: she's just my bitch.  The relationship seemed to go against everything you knew about her."

Simple Things - album interior

 

In December of 1976, Carole King left Lou Adler's Ode Label and signed with Capital Records and would make her albums with Rick now: they would co-write songs, he would play guitar on her records, and more.  Indeed, on the double-fold interior of her next album, Simple Things, the higher photo was not of Carole but of Rick, gazing beatifically skyward amid an illustration of galloping horses, as if this hagiographed man is a glorious stallion himself.  Lower down and larger, is a very unflattering photograph of Carole, who looks as homely as he looks beautiful.  Early in the summer of 1977, Carole moved with Rick to Idaho.




Page 394 - Welcome Home

Rick had summoned hippie preacher Larry Norton to a clearing in the Boise mountains, where Carole King had happily become Carole Evers.  When the newlyweds returned to their ranch at Robie Creek, a sign Sherry painted was draped from the main house's roof: "Welcome Home!"  From that point on, the homestead was called Welcome Home Ranch.

And it did feel like home to Carole.  One day, when the women were canning and gardening and the men were hammering Rick Evers on the cover of Carole King's Welcome Home albumthe planks and watering the horses, Carole was seized with the beauty of the commune.  "The sight of everyone working together, building things and feeling good - just being friends in the sunshine - was too much for me."  She ran to her piano and composed a joyous song, Everybody's Got The Spirit."  Another time Rick wrote a poem about a "sunbird" whose innocent, perfect freedom he - a former jailbird - was emulating.  Carole was greatly moved by the words that expressed her husband's striving and she set them to music.  The two songs would be among those collected in her next album, Welcome Home.

In January of 1978, she and Rick went to L.A. to record Welcome Home.  The moment was fraught: Rolling Stone had just named Simple Things "The Worst Album of 1977."  To save her plummenting career, Carole took control of the recording session.  L.A. was flush with cocaine, and Rick was flush with Carole's money, with bombast, and with anger.  "He was jealous of Carole - he wanted to be a star - and he was controlling," says Roy Reynolds, who was serving unofficially as Rick's minder and Carole's protector.  This time, it wasn't good enough for Rick that his image be inside the album jacket, it had to be on the cover.


 

Page 397 - A Memorial to Rick Evers

On March 19, a drugged-up, stormingly jealous and angry Rick grabbed Carole and tried to hurl her through the glass door of her home.  Roy interceded, alarmed.  "I took Carole and put her on a plane, the next day, to Hawaii," Roy says.  Carole's friends were greatly relieved.  The day after she flew to the islands - on March 21, 1978 - Rick went to a Beverly Hills apartment (perhaps a dealer's or a drug buddy's) and show himself up.  Speed, coke, heroin: "Everything you could possibly think of was found in his blood," says Roy, who was called by police to identify the body.  Roy had Rick cremated, in accordance with is wishes, and he sprinkled his ashes at Robie Creek.

Rick Evers and Carole King at the Welcome Home ranch

Released in May, Welcome Home was a memorial to Rick Evers.  Family-album-style photos of Carole and Rick, with Molly and Levi, filled a four page inset, and Carole wrote a eulogy in the liner notes.  Rick, she wrote, "often stretched beyond what some of us could understand.  He didn't always do 'sensible' things.  He often got angry and frustrated about things that many of us couldn't see."  But, she made clear, there was another facet.  "He had more love to give than anyone I've ever known."  Carole's friends assumed that this would be the end of the Idaho mountain men in her life.  They were dead wrong.


 

Page 401 - Carole marries another Rick

Carole released three albums in the next two years - Touch the Sky in 1979 and Pearls in 1980, both on Capitol, and One to One in 1981, or Atlantic.  Only Pearls, which was comprised of her and Gerry's classics, gained any traction; Carole's rendition of One Fine Day was a hit single.

But between the album-making forays to big or medium-sized cities, Carole King's life was mostly enmeshed with Rick Sorensen in the deep forest.  In 1981 she purchased a former dude ranch and mining camp, the Robinson Bar Ranch, on 118 acres of forest in Custer County, Idaho.  Sixteen miles from the tiny town of Stanley, it afforded the kind of solitude Rick liked.  Carole milked her cows and Rick went out shooting.  Carole wrote a song called Golden Man for Rick, praising him for teaching her the "pain" of the earth.  In it's emotional, torch-singer-like long cadences, she calls him "son, lover, brother, father, and friend."  The lyrics are as exceedingly romantic as her songs for Rick Evers had been.  Toward the end of the summer in 1982, in a sunrise ceremony in their mountains, Carole King made Rick Sorensen her fourth husband.