Home Books Carole King’s Memoir Should Have Been Called “A Difficult Woman”

The worst interview experience I ever had with a celebrity–and there have been thousands–was with one person I really wanted to like. But in the early 90s, to promote one of her post-success albums, Carole King brought her mother with her to the Paramount Hotel for our lunch. She said, “I figured if I brought my mother, you wouldn’t ask me anything personal.” It was a nightmare. King wouldn’t talk about her Brill Building years or even “Tapestry,” her seminal, watershed album of 1971. She mostly wanted to discuss conservation in Idaho, a subject New Yorkers–this was for the New York Daily News–didn’t much care about. She also indicated that she didn’t care much for Neil Sedaka, her childhood friend and teen songwriting buddy from the Brill era. When the story was published, she fired her publicist, a very sweet woman.

Later, Neil Sedaka told me a story. His adult son had run into Carole on the street and introduced himself. King responded: “Tell your father to stop talking about me in interviews.” Nice.

Now we have a new memoir from King, which I downloaded (publishers don’t send or promote books) for my iPad. After reading “A Natural Woman,” I felt like I needed a Xanax. It made me think about creativity and the people who have it, why geniuses are crazy, and completely self-absorbed. Basically, King marries her childhood sweetheart, Gerry Goffin, and they have tons of hits with music publisher Don Kirshner at the Brill Building. There’s almost no mention of Sedaka, but there’s one interesting section about how she wrote “The Loco Motion” for Little Eva. She has two daughters with Goffin very young–when she was 18 and 20. They move to L.A., he drops acid and loses his mind, she divorces him.

In 1970-71, she meets James Taylor and Lou Adler, records “Tapestry,” has five or six really top charting albums in a row. She marries her bass player, Charles Larkey, and has two more kids. This man must be a saint. Because King drop kicks him, and basically from 1976 through the early 80s relegates him to the parenting of what she calls her “Larkey children.” (The “Goffin daughters” evidently raise themselves.) She moves to Idaho with a homeless psychotic who


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abuses her, marries him, and he dies of a cocaine overdose. Then she takes the younger kids, moves further into Idaho, becomes a Mountain Woman, buys a big ranch, marries again, sues the town over an access road, and makes a lot of enemies.  She gets another divorce. (That’s four marriages.) Larkey, the saint, takes care of the kids in L.A. because they don’t want to live in their own private Idaho.

There’s no mention of Carly Simon and little of Joni Mitchell, each of whom were featured with King in a good book by Sheila Weller called “Girls Like Us.” I have no idea why, after 300 pages, or how, Carole King wrote “You’ve Got a Friend” or “Up on the Roof,” two of the best songs of the modern era.  The book should have been called “A Difficult Woman.” She comes across as the kind of person who willfully makes mistakes, and still defends them. There are a couple of anecdotes about Paul McCartney, John Lennon, and Bob Dylan, but they’re not very informative. It’s a shame.

For someone who supposedly writes personal music, there’s not a lot of introspection.  I mean, she became a grandmother at forty four. That’s pretty young. Goffin just disappears (when in fact he’s been very much around for years). What were the consequences of literal laissez faire child raising? (Well, she’s properly proud and surprised that the two younger kids finished college and one got a PhD.) I was very sorry to read that the coke-addicted homeless husband abused her, and for so long. He also stalked her and terrorized her band. That was a shock. But it only ended because the guy OD’d. Even King can’t say why she allowed it to continue.

A few years ago, Peter Asher resurrected King with his friend and client James Taylor. Asher recreated for six performances Taylor and King’s 1971 shows at the Troubador in West Hollywood. There was supposed to be a DVD issued after that, but it took at least two years because King stalled, hemmed and hawed. Then King parlayed that into a tour, documentary and best selling album with Taylor. There’s no mention of Asher having done this. The book just ends quickly, rushed, as if it were all meant to be. So weird. We hold our teen idols up on such a high pedestal. Carole King is immensely talented singer and songwriter. But “Natural Woman” is better left avoided in order to continue enjoying the music.

And on that music note–this is the real dichotomy of Carole King–she’s also released an album of her rare demos. It includes her version of the Monkees’ “Pleasant Valley Sunday” and a bunch of other gems. I’d buy the album and skip the book. That’s the Carole King I want to know.

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18 replies to this post
  1. Beaten by the man you ‘love’? Shocking. Ms. King is responsible for 2 songs she won’t talk about (tho they were top 40 genre) Here you go: The Crystals…look up lyrics for “He HIT Me..And it felt > Like a KISS”…and the flip side “If you want to hurt somebody > PLEASE HURT ME”?! I lived in Laurel Canyon at exactly the same time she did. ’70-’73 Everyone my age was beaten by their boyfriends. It was routine, completely accepted. Normal. Unfortunately, my boyfriend was a DJ and I had to put her albums back in the jacket after his shift. “The House that Tapestry Built”: odd in contrast. My dream-wish? For her to bankroll a women’s shelter/counseling center for battered women. Or explain how she could come up with those insane lyrics in the 1st place. Mental. Don’t believe me? Read the lyrics. Then imagine yourself at the receiving end of their sick message. I don’t wish physical brutality on anyone, but Ms. King…why did you write/ put your name on those songs, allow them to be released, take royalties from their sale, get a generation of young men (and their girlfriends) to confuse broken faces, ribs, teeth and the terror of stalking > with love? Wow…foreshadowing BigTime.

  2. This is the most biased review of King’s biography. In regards to Sedaka, I found his autobiography most unkind to King, sometimes calling her piano playing two finger; however it is she who influenced generations of popular musicians and songwriters. Sedaka aspired to be a concert pianist, wasn’t an Ashkenazy or Pollini, turned to popular music and still doesn’t have the resonance of a King, who later wrote many of her own lyrics and does give credit to others most generously. Finally, Friedman, no relation to the great concert pianist Arthur, you should find some truth in yourself so that you can report the truth.

  3. When you read this just change all the references to “woman” to “man”, “she” to “he” and all the “her” to “his” and this review is ridiculously dated. King is a genius who just happens to be a female. Get over it Friedman. Going forward just imagine all the females in your life are men BEFORE you open your mouth and BEFORE you have those dated automatic thoughts.

  4. I think I would like to be married to Carole king,she could whisper or humm beautiful tunes in my ear until I,fell asleep….I’ve always liked her music.

  5. I just listened to Carole King reading her own memoir on audiobook and it was amazing. So much musical history in it. If one abused woman can be freed after listening to what she went through, then you should retract your judgemental words!

  6. To quote Roger, “It’s Friedman, Fyllis,I before e, except after c”. Roger darling, I thought you should know that this grammar rule does not apply to proper names, because many proper names are adopted from other languages.

  7. I just read the book. Interesting book, albeit sporadically thoughtful. Roger Friedman not so much so. His commentary is very misleading and deceitful.

  8. You, Roger Freidman, are a judgmental, mean-spirited pompous ass. Maybe someone should write your life story and turn all the events into half -truths, or down right lies.

    And…being a grandmother at 44! Hello…what planet did you fall off of? If she became a grandmother at 44, and the grandchild was from her first daughter…that daughter would have been well into her 20’s at the time she gave birth.

    What’s wrong Roger? Are you jealous that few know your name, or did you get snubbed for an interview by Carole.

  9. I get alot of what the writer is expressing. It does not diminish how I feel about the talent of Carole at all. We all have our flaws, and she was brave in presenting herself, warts and all.
    I would have been somewhat interested in how much money those early songs have generated, though.

  10. Did you ever consider she did not want to talk about Neil Sedaka because of the nasty things he said about her in his autobiography years ago,blaming her for “copying” him and calling her homely. Neil should talk-he is a closet case that has had his own ongoing feuds over the years. Geez.I thought you were a fan of hers. You have written about her over the years since that interview in the 90’s-what happened with you 2 since then?

  11. Ah … another PR-person bites the dust. I’d lvoe to read a book of stories from these forgotten souls … too sad. The title: The Whole Truth … and, Nothing But!

  12. Why would anyone waste ink writing about their contemporaries in one’s autobiography? I’m sure when and if Carly Simon or Joni Mitchell write their memoirs, they won’t be talking about Carole King either. Neil Sedaka has written several unkind things about Carole King over the years. Carole showed much more class than him by barely mentioning him in hers.

    I loved Carole’s memoir, “A Natural Woman,” and I think most folks will too.

  13. You’re doing a disservice to lyric writers everywhere. Ms. King wrote gorgeous music – but she did not write the lyrics to “Up On The Roof” or “Natural Woman”. If those lyrics — and her other songs — touched you as much as they did millions of others, give equal credit to such fine lyricists as Gerry Goffin and Toni Stern.

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