When I was a kid, James Taylor was the guy my sisters liked to listen to. I liked punk and ska, and I was much too cool to like music like his. But then I started dating my wife. She didn’t like anything I liked musically, not even Neil Young (I know, who doesn’t like Neil Young?). On one of our first dates, we went skiing, and she wanted to listen to some music. I dug around the floor of the car and found That’s Why I’m Here, which my roommate had left in there. “Who’s James Taylor?” she had asked, but she had instantly fallen in love with his music. She has often said that “You Are My Only One” from that album is “our song.” And sometimes when she was having a bad day, I would sing “Something in the Way She Moves” to her, and it would always make things better.
Over the years, we’ve found a few artists we both like (Alison Krauss, Diana Krall, the Beatles), but she’s always had a real connection with James Taylor’s music. The first CD I ever purchased was James Taylor Live as a gift for her to go along with the CD player I bought her. A couple of years ago, I came home to find her crying while she was listening to his Christmas CD, which she had just bought.
So, as we have aged, we’ve watched Mr. Taylor lose his hair and age as well. 1998’s Hourglass has some really lovely moments of wistfully approaching aging and death without the comfort of faith.
This year for our 21st anniversary, my wife bought two tickets to see James Taylor and his “band of legends” at the Usana Ampitheatre in Salt Lake City. One of my wife’s coworkers said she wouldn’t go to a concert like that because it would make her feel old. I figured that the last three concerts I went to made me feel old, so maybe this one would make me feel my age. We ended up spending two nights in Park City and then drove down into the city on Monday for dinner at the Market Street Grill and the concert.
It was very hot and dusty when we arrived, and the crowd was, as I had predicted, mostly middle-aged folks who had grown up on “Fire and Rain,” but there were a lot more young people than I would have expected. We sat on the fifth row, just to the left of center, behind two twentysomething boys who didn’t quite look like James Taylor fans. It turns out they were there with their mother, who sang along with every song while her sons looked bored.
The sun was still blazing hot when Taylor emerged with his band (electric guitar, keyboards, sax, trumpet, drums, bass, and latin percussion, plus four backup singers). And yes, he did look sort of shockingly old at first, his bald head fringed with gray hair, his perpetually gangly build seeming more fragile, and his face looking worn and slightly wizened. But once they got going, he seemed to regain some of his youth, and he was clearly enjoying himself.
He is promoting a new CD of covers (called, strangely enough, Covers), so he opened with the Temptations’ “It’s Growing.” Mixed in with the usual hits were Junior and the All-Stars’ “(I’m A) Road Runner,” Jimmy Webb’s “Wichita Lineman,” George Jones’ “Why Baby Why,” and a decidedly un-Elvislike “Hound Dog,” which he said he had patterned after Big Mama Thornton’s 1952 version. I have to say that the musicians were uniformly excellent, and Taylor’s voice seemed as clear and sweet as ever.
At one point he mentioned that his drug use had obliterated part of the seventies for him, and I remembered having read how he had shaken a heroin addiction and had cleaned up in the eighties. His music had always seemed so mainstream and consumer-friendly to me, but his life had apparently not been so mainstream. He seems to have regained his footing and put things back together. I thought that my life has moved in the opposite direction (well, minus the drugs and alcohol, anyway): I look like the same old put-together Mormon I used to be, but my life has unraveled in fits and starts, and sometimes I feel like I can relate to those lost years of Taylor’s life. Thankfully, the music was too good, and I was having too good of a time to dwell on my life’s failures.
What I noticed the most was the broad grin on my wife’s face, which never broke, not even during the break between the two sets. Yes, she was disappointed that he didn’t sing our song, but it really didn’t matter. We held hands, and she stood and danced and clapped, moving to the music, still smiling. That was all I needed. I wouldn’t have cared where we were or who was singing. It was just one of those great moments. It’s good growing old with her.