James Taylor was the soundtrack for my adolescence. I would sit in the living room and play his records over and over on our big console while I tried to imagine what anyone would ever see in me. There was no other music player in the house. We all shared the stereo. We all had to listen to the same music. My children are unable to comprehend this. "What about a Walkman?" they ask.
Before Ben Hashimoto introduced me to "Mudslide Slim" and "Sweet Baby James" and "Steam Roller" ("a churning urn of burning funk"), I knew only musicals and Frank Sinatra. I was the oldest kid in my family, and I had no close, older cousins to introduce me to the latest hits. In sixth grade, when I heard "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head" on the bus, I thought that was rock and roll. The Monkees and the Irish Rovers were the only other bands that I knew of (and I liked the Rovers mostly because of their accents). My second cousin saw Help four times, which my mother thought ridiculous, and so I was never allowed to know much about the Beatles until I learned about them myself later in high school.
But James Taylor was my junior high high; the closest I could get to an altered state. I would sit and write and cry and listen for hours. I had such a crush on Ben in seventh grade that it lasted until eighth grade. I was 12 in 1970, and the country was at war then too. I used to listen to "Fire and Rain" and despair that Ben would never fall for me. And he didn't. He dated my two best girlfriends, both blondes. I, a brunette, felt so alone. But alone isn't so bad with James Taylor. (Although when James Taylor and Carly Simon divorced two years later, I thought, "What hope is there for romance?")
I even got James Taylor sheet music for the piano and whenever I felt sad, I used to play "Blossom" or "Carolina In My Mind." ("Hey, babe, the sky's on fire, I'm dying, ain't I? I'm gone to Carolina in my mind." I think of one James Taylor lyric and the whole song comes flooding back to me -- why do we equate memory retrieval with natural disasters?)
I put a book cover on my James Taylor book to protect it, and I loaned the book to Ben because I loved him and longed for any connection between us. He was rougher with my book than I would have expected. When I got it back, the book cover was a bit tattered, and the bottom corner of the book cover was ripped off so that you could see the book underneath. My mother took one look at it and said, "That's a breast."
"What are you talking about?" I asked.
She pointed to the exposed bottom right corner. It did look kind of like a breast. I took the cover off and realized that it was James Taylor's elbow.
She said, "They do that. They put stuff like that on covers to sell records; it's disgusting." She was disparaging of James Taylor after that. She also implied that Ben was in on this ruse and had purposely ripped the cover to highlight the indignity.
I went into the bathroom and took a good look at the cover picture. Then I looked at my own bent elbow in the mirror, cupping my other hand around the point of my elbow to see what it looked like. And it looked like a breast. I wasn't sure, but I didn't think it was James Taylor or Ben who was responsible here. Perhaps evolution made the body more sexual than we know. And it took my mother to see it.