Something’s wrong here. James Taylor isn’t supposed to be old. Neither are Carole King, or Paul McCartney, or heaven forbid, Mick Jagger. Rock ’n’ roll icons don’t age. It’s an axiom of life.
Or so I thought until I watched a recent tribute show and came face to face with reality. Time has not forgotten these giants of popular culture. They’ve got some mileage on them. And so, alas, do their adoring fans.
Remember when age was just a number? Guess what. There isn’t enough Botox in the universe to confound the law of gravity. Plastic surgery has come a long way, but there are limits even my entitled, relentlessly self-referential generation must accept.
And yet. I sit in front of the TV tapping my foot to “Take Good Care of My Baby” and resisting the urge to get up and dance. The years fall away. It’s 1965, and in the eyes of New York state, I am an adult. I can drive the family Mustang convertible at night, on any highway I choose. I can order a drink, or join the military, or get married without parental consent. With my brand new high school diploma, I could probably even get a job and support myself.
I used to think perfume was the ultimate time machine, a whiff of Arpege that would deliver my mother in a black cocktail dress, circa 1956, or a faint scent of Antilope on an old linen handkerchief: my grandmother, ageless, soft-voiced, certain. L’Air du Temps was college, party weekends and new pastel formals. Caleche was early married life and motherhood, eking out the last drops from a nearly empty bottle, hoping for a refill under the Christmas tree.
Now, though, sitting in my den and listening to James Taylor cover the Everly Brothers’ “I’ll Do My Crying in the Rain,” I believe it is music that transports us.
Long before iPods and Spotify and Pandora and Sirius, there was just plain radio, playing dessert-plate sized 45s. There were local DJs like Murray the K and Cousin Brucie, full of smart-mouthed patter, and for high-tech pioneers, there were pocket transistors with ear pieces.
But despite the quaint delivery systems, the hits kept coming, defining an era. I remember my first record player, the size of a suitcase, and the stack of albums on my bedroom floor: Herman’s Hermits, the Four Tops, the Shirelles.
I was a little too young for Elvis, but just in time for the Beatles. They graciously provided the soundtrack for my first real romance, carried on long distance and fueled by songs like “P.S. I Love You.” Fifty years later, the opening notes of “If I Fell” are better than a home movie. It’s a summer day, and we’re driving to Jones Beach with a picnic basket and a radio, and the earnest, touching belief that life would always be exactly like this.
Next came the Stones, darker and more dangerous, narrowing their eyes at convention and making defiance the cornerstone of cool. There was no veiled suggestion, no careful code in “Let’s Spend the Night Together.” Change wasn’t on the way. Change was here, loud and clear.
The tribute show winds down. James Taylor, balding but still—let’s face it—hot, takes the stage with living legend Carole King. She’s 71 on paper. Tonight, though, she’s about 23. They dust off “You’ve Got a Friend,” just for old times’ sake. The harmonies are fainter, but still sweet and soaring, refined by years of trial and error, miles of road. I take a deep breath, whisper the final bars with them. There’s nothing wrong here, after all.