Bookends: Pure gold

5 May 2012

5 May 2012

Even nowadays, a 50-year career in pop music is a rare and wondrous thing, and for a woman triply so. And yet Carole King’s golden jubilee passed a couple of years ago without a murmur, let alone a box set.

You get the impression from A Natural Woman (Virago, £20) that that’s the way she likes it. After writing hit after hit with her first husband Gerry Goffin in the early 1960s, and selling 25 million copies of her second solo album, Tapestry, in the early 1970s, she has enjoyed a steady rather than stellar career, which has given her time to bring up four children and go back to the land and milk goats in Idaho for a few years, because that’s what she wanted to do.

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Her memoir, unghosted, is as female as Keith Richards’s was unequivocally male. (I’m not sure I remember reading much about the school run in his Life.) Husbands go mad or die of drug overdoses, but Carole keeps going, as normal people do. Indeed, she emerges from her book as a fully-fledged human being: practical yet whimsical, clear-eyed yet vulnerable, and above all funny and fiercely bright.

Sometimes she’s almost too matter-of-fact: if you or I had done some of the things she has done, we might be a bit more gosh-wow about it. Her ‘core characteristic’, though, is that ‘I just want everyone to be happy’. This seems to include the reader of her memoir: no bad thing.

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