Gulliver Raider yearbook, 1980, my senior quote: “The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.” Straight from a James Taylor song because I was his BIGGEST fan.
Yeah, I was one of those teenage girls. I had all his albums, made a scrapbook out of every article and photo I could find about him, hung posters all over my room, and saw him in concert countless times; I lived and breathed JT.
So it was with great anticipation (sorry, Carly) that I picked up Sweet Dreams and Flying Machines: The Life and Music of James Taylor. I almost wish I hadn’t.
While the author, Mark Ribowsky, is a talented writer as far as craft, his methodology leaves a lot to be desired. To this reader, it felt as if the author approached this book with a preconceived and very negative agenda. At some point a few chapters in, I wondered if he had a personal axe to grind with James Taylor.
Much of the book focuses on the singer’s long history of heroin abuse and womanizing. Any mention of his songwriting and singing is cast in a negative light, despite the fact that James Taylor has won multiple Grammys and is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And most curiously to me, the bulk of information comes from six people, none of them relatives, with the rest drawn from other books and interviews. As a former journalist and editor, I consider this sloppy reporting.
As I was reading, I vocalized my increasing annoyance over the disapproving tone to my husband, who mentioned that he had just read a book that left him feeling the same way. Lo and behold, the book, Whiskey Bottles and Brand-New Cars: The Fast Life and Sudden Death of Lynyrd Sykynyrd, was penned by the same author.
This approach to music writing doesn’t work for me. A retelling of history that is clearly intended to influence my opinion of a musician is not what I am looking for in a book. And despite this valiant attempt at trashing my girlhood crush, it didn’t work!
You’ve got a friend, still, James Taylor, and you always will.