BERKSHIREEAGLE.COM – James Taylor tops charts again as audio memoir makes big impact
By Clarence Fanto
James Taylor’s groundbreaking audio memoir, “Break Shot: My First 21 Years,” ranks as Audible.com’s most listened-to original production of 2020.
The online audiobook and podcast service owned by Amazon.com announced the No. 1 ranking on its Instagram page this week. Audible Originals, described as a “genre-bending” documentaries combining words and music, released Taylor’s autobiographical production last January, recorded at his high-tech home studio, The Barn, in the town of Washington.
His deeply introspective look at his formative years included his most candid acknowledgement of personal demons that haunted him from his privileged but ultimately fractured family life, suicidal thoughts while in high school and eventual heroin addiction.
“Three of us kids ended up in psychiatric hospitals, and the fourth should have,” he said in “Break Shot.”
He also admitted that “heading out into the world to play music was not a career path, it was an abandonment of conventional ambitions. It was like becoming a hobo and riding the rails. No one was offering the music business as a college degree. Any hope my family might have had that I would pull myself together, go to college, study law or medicine, was now abandoned. I was heading into territory for which there was no map. I was free.”
Barely out of his teens, he arrived in London, singing for Paul McCartney and George Harrison and being the first outside act signed to Apple, the Beatles’ new label, to cut his first album.
Taylor recalled his brief romance with Joni Mitchell, followed by a lifelong friendship with her and with Carole King. He credited his 19-year marriage to Kim Taylor for overcoming multiple personal struggles.
Shortly before the Audible.com release, during a revealing fireside chat with The Eagle, Taylor mused about the long and winding trail, including bouts of depression that led him to spend time at the Austen Riggs Center in Stockbridge.
“Austen Riggs is very close to where I live now,” he commented. “Life circles around.”
Asked about any downsides to fame as a celebrity, Taylor replied: “I think there’s such a thing as too much exposure, being too popular. I see people whose lives are restricted by how well known they are. I can move relatively calmly and comfortably in pretty much any circumstance. People in the Berkshires may recognize me more than they do elsewhere but basically it’s a very comfortable level of fame, it’s really the best of both worlds, and it’s been extremely gratifying.”
Taylor’s year included last February’s release of his 19th studio album, “American Standard,” recently nominated for a Grammy award in the category of Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album.
The recording of selections from Broadway and the Great American Songbook competes against releases by Burt Bacharach & Daniel Tashian, Harry Connick, Jr., Rufus Wainwright and Renée Zellweger (for her soundtrack album based on the film, “Judy”). CBS will televise the annual Grammys award show on Jan. 31.
2020 also marked the 50th anniversary of the release of Taylor’s second album, “Sweet Baby James.”
As for a 2021 tour, rescheduled from 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, his website lists 39 U.S. and Canadian dates, beginning May 14 in New Orleans and ending in Vancouver, B.C., on Oct. 2.
The U.S. performances are with singer-songwriter Jackson Browne, and the Canadian dates feature guest artist Bonnie Raitt. There’s also a July 4 date reserved for Tanglewood (minus Browne), but details of the season at the Boston Symphony’s summer home are not expected until mid- to late March.
In His Own Words…
James Taylor commented to The Eagle via text on his top-ranked Audible.com memoir and other topics:
“My autobiographical piece, ‘Break Shot,’ seems to have reached a lot of listeners: it has been Audible Original’s number one offering this past year (!)
“Along with the Grammy nomination for our album, ‘American Standard,’ we get a splendid bright spot in an otherwise disappointing year: Jackson Browne and I had to postpone our American tour. The same thing happened to the tour of Canada that Bonnie Raitt and I had booked for this past April.
“It seems odd to celebrate in the context of so much suffering and sadness, the great global interruption of COVID-19. Of course, these changes to our plans are nothing compared to the huge challenges that so many people, all over the world, are grappling with.
“But, for the moment, I am deeply grateful for the good news. Congratulations to the terrific people at Audible and to my editor/producer, Bill Flanagan, for the inestimable parts they have played in ‘Break Shot’s’ success. And to Dave Odonnell, John Pizzarelli and the excellent team at Fantasy Records for making ‘American Standard’ such a rewarding recording.”