Carole King Biography - 1985 to 2007

 

Page 501 - The Two Carole Kings

Carole King at FarmAidThroughout the 1980's, there were two Carole Kings.  One was a genial legend and good-works activist who gave fund-raising performances for Gary Hart during his presidential bid in 1984 and Willie Nelson's first Farm Aid concert.  In image and, increasingly, in real life, she was an environmentalist, taking her earth-motherliness to the next-political-stage.

The other Carole King - Carole King Sorenson - was known only in Custer Country, Idaho, and there she was very much disliked.  She was considered a combative, wealthy interloper with a New York accent that didn't quite get Custer County's values.  "You don't wear dirty jeans to a community meeting, like Carole did - that's what rich hippies do.  You leave your ranch work clothes at home and you wear pressed, proper clothes."

Carole had purchased the Robinson Bar Ranch only after doing research to determine that a road that ran very close to their living quarters was their private property.  In September of 1981 Custer County had declared the road public, and its sheriff issued Carole a criminal citation for placing a locked gate on her road. During the seven years that the case bumped along, in and out of courts, "Carole was very unhappy; she was in a deep, deep depression," a confidante says. 

Reconsidering her city-vs.-wilderness approach, "I jumped; I cast off everything; I ran away from this town," she admitted to the Los Angeles Time's Charles Champlin at the dawn of 1984, with the failure of her fourteenth original album, Speeding Time, fresh behind her.  "I have a way of not doing anything in the middle when there is an extreme available."

Robinson Bar Ranch - Carole King's Idaho home




 

Page 502 - Carole King honored

In 1987 she and Gerry Goffin were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and a year later they received the National Academy of Songwriters Lifetime Achievement Award.  That was what happened when you started writing as a teenager, became a seasoned pro before you could vote, and a superstar in your twenties, then slowly dissolved over ten years: a lifetime achievement award at age forty-six.  Carole was determined to not be "honored" into irrelevance.

In the meantime, she was developing a second career as an environmental activist.  On February 10, 1988, Carole King finally won her bruising locked-gate case.  The victory allowed Carole to widen her focus from her - not particularly sympathetic - personal situation and to come out swinging against the new logging and access-road-building on all the land of her adopted state.  As she succinctly put it: "I protected my rights and now I am working to protect everyone's rights."

 


 

Page 504 - Carole King releases City Streets

In 1989, when she recorded her next album, she named it (and its title song) City Streets.  For its cover she was photographed against a graffiti-streaked brick building: eyes closed, head high, wild haired, an adamant, sensual expression on her face.   Four of the album's ten songs she wrote herself; two she wrote with Gerry, and the rest with various new cowriters.  Capitol promised her - and delivered - major promotion.  City Streets was her strongest-sounding and strongest-selling album since just before the two disasters she'd lovingly produced with Evers.

Rolling Stone praised the album's good intentions and acknowledged the buzz of "comeback" expectation, but then leveled that familiar verdict: "King has yet to re-create the chemistry of her work with producer Lou Adler in Tapestry and its immediate follow-ups in the early Seventies."  The album reached # 10 on the adult contemporary charts.

Carole King - City Streets promotional photo


 

Page 505 - Carole's marriage to Rick Sorenson ends

Her new album, reinvoking New York, heralded a kind of twenty-two-year-later return.  With her youngest child, Levi, about to graduate high school and go off to college, she had more freedom; she acquired an apartment in Manhattan and began testing the waters of living there again.  At some point in 1990 she did a children's play and met a handsome young actor named John Bennet (he went by the name of Johnny B) who had a bit part in the production.  "And they got together," says Roy Reynolds.  "He was a young, good-looking guy.  But he was too young for her."  Nevertheless, she fell for him.

It felt safe for Carole King to have this split life; Rick never left the mountains.  Except when he did.  Trading in his animal pelts for inconspicuous blue jeans, one day Rick drove to Boise, then boarded a plane to Salt Lake City and then another to Kennedy Airport.  The buzzer rang in Carole's apartment.  She was stunned to see him at the door.  Her fourth marriage was now over.




 

Page 506 - Colour of Your Dreams

Carole King released her sixteenth original album, Colour of Your Dreams, in 1993.  A song from the album, Now and Forever, became the theme of the movie A League of Their Own.  Like Carly, Carole saw that scoring films for congenial peers (Penny Marshall, a Bronx-to-L.A. girl, was to Carole what Mike Nichols and Nora Ephron were to Carly) was a way to extend her reach beyond the age-ceilinged limits of radio.

Carole went on tour for the new album and her 1994 live album, Carole King in Concert, was the result.


 

Page 510 - Carole King's in love again

At some point in the mid-to-late 1990's Cynthia Weil heard from Carole.  "She was in distress.  Another relationship" - with Johnny B - had ended, Cynthia recalls.  "It was the first time she called and said, 'Can I come and spend time with you?'  So Barry and I said, 'Please, stay with us.'" 

Carole stayed with Cynthia and Barry for several weeks, during which time Cynthia had the idea of fixing her up with a screenwriter director friend of theirs, Phil Alden Robinson, who was eight years younger than Carole.  "I told Carole, 'This guy could be for you!'", Cynthia recalls.  In a week or so after their first date, Cynthia got a call from Carole and Phil, who announced to their matchmaker, in unison, "We are madly in love."  "Phil is the first guy who has ever taken care of Carole the way she should be taken care of, and who appreciates her in the way she needs to be appreciated." 

Carole King with Phil Alden Robinson

With Phil, Carole returned to her Brill Building social set after decades of self-imposed exile.  Carole's 2001 album, Love Makes the World - of mostly new songs she wrote with others - radiated her new sense of satisfaction.  The title track is as infectious, whole-hearted, and commercial as any of her Brill Building or early-1970's hits, but the album implicitly acknowledges that the music scene has move on, and Carole seems willing to make do with her slightly patronized but affectionate placement in the baby boomer legends market.



 

Page 510 - The Brill Building Pro

Carole King was sixty now and a grandmother of three, by way of her daughters with Gerry.  Sherry a producer of children's records, and her husband Robbie Kondor, had two children; singer-songwriter Louise and her husband, Greg Wells, would soon have their second child.  As for her children with Charlie: Levi, a University of Texas Ph.D. in cognitive science, would soon marry his girlfriend, Bina, and Columbia University-educated Molly was a sculptor.

Carole King with her daughters

After having been the first female rock star to actively campaign for a presidential candidate (McGovern in 1972 with James Taylor), Carole had never stopped being political: she campaigned for Gary Hart in 1984,and worked with Bill Clinton on wilderness issues throughout the 1990s.  For the 2004 election, she actively campaigned for her friend and Idaho neighbor John Kerry, traveling the country and giving intimate concerts in donors' living rooms.  The next year she held a concert in Hyannis, capturing the spirit of the campaign.  The 2005 live double-CD The Living Room Tour (issued by Starbucks) is Carole's retrospective of her forty-year career.

In November 2007, James Taylor joined Carole King in headlining for three nostalgia-filled sold-out nights at the Troubadour.  Danny Kortchmar, Russ Kunkel, and Leland Sklar backed them up; Gerry was given props from the audience.

Carole is no longer with Phil Alden Robinson.  By age sixty-five, she was single again.  Danny had bemusedly noted that the responsible, conventional girl he'd first met as the "Brill Building pro" had-surprisingly-gone on the live "three different lives; maybe four different lives."  To which one might add: "And counting."


Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon and the Journey of a Generation was published in April 2008.