Pinkie in the Pink Palace
| Posted 07/31/12 at 09:11 AM||Reply with quote #1 |
|"Carolina in My Mind"|
by Nic Brown
from "Our State" Magazine
More than a song and more than a state of mind, James Taylor's classic speaks to where we've been, where we are, and where we always want to be.
North Carolina's official state song, the five-verse-power-rouser "The Old North State," was adopted as such by the General Assembly of 1927. I'm sure "The Old North State" is a fine song. I've read the lyrics: They defend the state against defamers, celebrate the inner beauty of Carolina girls, and employ the word "Hurrah!" 20 times, all things I am proud to put my support behind. So I mean no disrespect when I say this, but I have never in my life heard "The Old NorthState." James Taylor's "Carolina In My Mind," on the other hand, has snuck into my ears at least a thousand times. It has followed me across the country for years like some nostalgic albatross, appearing when least expected. On car radios. At wddings. In grocery stores. On television shows. The thing is everywhre. And it's beautiful, memorable, and finely wrought; and wistful, sweet, and haunting; and even a little dark at times. Just like our state. And, if it were up to me, it would be our official state song. Because when I hear "Carolina in my Mind," Carolina actually is in my mind.
North Carolina rightfully lays claim to James Taylor as our own. At age 3, he moved here with his family from Boston, Mass., settling in a Chapel Hill home up a wooded rise from Morgan Creek. His father worked at the University of North Carolina's School of Medicine, serving for a time as its dean. As a teenager, Taylor moved north for a fragmented and somewhat disastrous stint in boarding school (nervous breakdown), came home for a spell at Chapel Hill High, moved to New York City, picked up a nasty drug habit, then returned to North Carolina again in an effort to sober up. During these trying times, the state remained for Taylor a geographic remedy. For Taylor, landing a record deal of any sort at this point must have seemed earth shattering, but when he moved to London in 1967 and did indeed sign a record deal, the event was perhaps singular in the changes it foretold: Taylor was the first American on the new label Apple records, founded and run by a small band out of Liverpool called the Beatles. The most famous, most popular band in the world. And so Taylor soon found himself in London's famed Trident studios, where his new label bosses were in the next room over recording The White Album. Surrounded by what surely were some of his idols in the best studio in the world, did Taylor take this opportunity to write a song called "Carolina Will Never Be in My Mind again Because I'm the Hottest thing in the World?" No. In this first blush of heady success, Taylor's mind turned away from the splendor of achievement and trained itself on home. In this almost shocking betrayal of youthful dreams come true, Taylor wrote "Carolina in My Mind"--an unadulterated batch of homesickness distilled into song. The lyrics reflect the incongruity of it all: The song's bridge--you know the one, with that oblique allusion to a "holy host of others"--is both a reference to John, Paul, George and Ringo, those demigods of pop, and an acknowledgement that even they could not keep Tayor's mind off home.
"Now With a Holy host of others standing 'round me
Still I'm on the dark side of the moon
and it seems like it goes on like this forever
You must forgive me
If I'm up and gone to Carolina in my mind"
The whole idea is so audacious he ven includes in the lyrics an apology.
I habitually get the song's name wrong. I'm often tempted to call it "Carolina In my Mind." But Carolina isn't just on Taylor's mind, it's in it. And that small word--in--changes things. Because for those of us lucky enough to claim this hot humid pie slice of a state our own, North Carolina isn't just experianced by our sense, it actually becomes our senses. Conditioned by long leaf pines, pulled pork, Cheerwine, basketball, and hurricanes, our brains become so imbued by home that once we cross state lines, the rest of the world appears to us filtered through some unshakable and smoky North Carolina lens. Other places may appear beautiful, for sure, but it's impossible for a North Carolinian to not, at some point, long for life to come back into focus through our permanent native spyglass. I guess this is how homesickness works for anyone from anywhere, but that's only a guess. I can only vouch for North Carolina. So is it presumptive of me to say this what a 19 year old North Carolina songwriter was getting at when he found himself in England, missing his father, his dog Hercules, and his pumpkin collection back in Chapel Hill? Heck no. It didn't matter that James Taylor was hanging out with the Beatles. The bigger issue is that he wasn't in North Carolina.
"Chapel Hill, the Piedmont, the outlying hills, were tranquil, rural, beautiful but quiet," he told Timothy White in the 2001 biography "Long Ago and Far Away." "Thinking of the red soil, the seasons, the way things smelled down there, I feel as though my experience of coming of age there was more a matter of landscape and climate than people." See? You can heard Taylor edging around that idea that Carolina isn't just on his mind. The place is in his mind. James Taylor's neurons might as well have been made of red clay.
Say what you will about James Taylor, but he's almsot impossible to dislike. Maybe you've heard him too many times, maybe he's just too palatable for a certain sensibilty, but most complaints about Taylor seem essentially based on the face that he is such consistent musical balm. That midrange nasal drawl is somehow also rich and soothing. It's like I get it, but if you think you don't like Taylor, or more specifically "Carolina in My Mind," I challenge you to really listen to it.
(to be continued)
Pinkie in the Pink Palace
| Posted 08/01/12 at 02:23 PM||Reply with quote #2 |
|Start with the original version, the first single off Taylor's 1968 debut.There's no getting around it--it sounds like the Beatles, and there's a good reason why. That bass line, so sinewy and melodic, sounds just like Paul McCartney because it actually is Paul McCartney. The backing vocal--high,thin and winsome--sounds just like George Harrison because it is George Harrison. The track is cool, even edgy (not adjectives often attached to Taylor),although perhaps a bit overproduced. But these days, Taylor's original version is probably heard less often than even "|
the Old North State." The song basically flopped as a single, and then, because of reproduction rights, it ended up being re-recorded for his 1976 "Greatest Hits." It is this second version, not the original, that is so ubiquitious. This is the one we know and love. And why, you may ask, why is the version without the Beatles the most popular? That's easy: The version with Beatles was about Beatles. The second version has an arrangement that never makes you think, "Hey, that's Paul!" or "That's so George!" It just recedes behind Taylor's voice--it frames him, it supports him. This second version isn't about the event of the recording, it's about the song. And the song is enough.
Every state has a song. Ray Charles gave Georgia "Georgia on my Mind" (just on, not in). John Denver penned "Colorado Rocky Mountain High." Even South Dakota was immortalized by the Bee Gees in the stinker "South Dakota Morning." North Carolina has its pick. General Johnson and the Chairman of the Board gifted us with the classic "Carolina Girls," and remember that rap song a few years back urging North Carolina to take its shirt off and swing it around our head like a helicopter? The list goes on, but for whatever reason, "Carolina is My Mind" has become more than just part of our Carolina sound track. Call me a dissident, call me an outlaw if you must, but I am going to hereby declare, even if 1927's General Assembly says other wise, that "Carolina in My Mind" is actually this state's song.
When was the last time you heard it? At a graduation ceremony? During a wedding reception? Find any fresh faced a capella group on a Carolina campus, and you're bound to get a rendition. Is it a love song? Surely. Is it sappy? Perhaps. But so can be love, I suppose, and just tell me who doesn't love love.
You know the song. Go ahead and conjure the melody. Can't you see the sunshine? Can't you just feel the moonshine? I bet you didn't even have to look. It's a magic trick invented by James Taylor and encoded into song. and trust me, you don't even have to tell me what you're thinking about now because I already know: signs that might be omens say you're going, going...
(Nic Brown, "Our State" magazine, July 2012)