April 17, 2017 | « back

LATECERA.COM — James Taylor: “Dylan’s Nobel was a victory for our whole generation of singer songwriters.” (Translation)

Author: Claudio Vergara
Translator: Romy Sutherland

One of the most successful musicians of the seventies, James Taylor (69) speaks with La Tercera about his recent return to Chile along side Elton John. He recalls The Beatles and Bob Dylan and turns to the present to praise Taylor Swift and to express his apprehension over Trump.

Taylor’s world changed seven days ago when he launched his South American tour, which will take place in venues with crowd capacities of over ten thousand, a number that couldn’t be contained in the theaters he’s accustomed to, which typically hold about half that crowd.

“My music is intimate, but I think it works in these contexts, because we have even performed in stadiums. My ideal number for a show is four to five thousand, but the most important thing, even if there are many more than that, is that everyone is having a great time,” the singer commented over phone from Sao Paulo, where he performed on Thursday, preceding his arrival this Monday the 10th to Movistar Arena.

In this concert, and throughout his South American tour, Taylor will perform with Elton John, his contemporary with whom he is touring for the first time, now that both of them are well into the mature phase of their respective trajectories. “I’ve known him for years and we’ve worked together several times, but mainly for benefit events. I admire him a lot, his music is the most sophisticated and passionate of pop. I always thought it was a very good idea to tour together. Our managers are friends, the idea occurred to them and we said ‘Sure, why not?’ We began our careers at the same time, he perhaps six months or so earlier, but both of us were recording our albums in London at the end of the 60s, so you could say we were in the same graduating class.

One of the most sudden changes the songwriter has had to confront took place yesterday when he woke to the news that the president of his country, Donald Trump, had decided to bomb Syria, an event that confirmed the worst fears of an artist who was a passionate campaigner for both Obama and Hilary. “[Trump] must not know much about military strategy. I remember when Kennedy was advised by the military to attack Russia with nuclear weapons, and I was grateful that we had someone in office wise enough to say no. I think all of this is disastrous, I just pray every day that we can survive his terrible time in power.”

The baby boomer Taylor, a sensitive and intimate singer-songwriter who survived the cold war, addictions, the deaths of his friends Dennis Wilson and John Belushi, and the threat of being forgotten by his public, sounds genuinely alarmed, almost distressed. Despite that, the most significant event of his career this century, has not been South America or, even less so, Donald Trump, but “Before This World,” (2015), the album that became his first number one on the Billboard chart and that revived his earlier catalogue rooted in gentle acoustics, such as his hits “Fire and Rain,” (1970) and his cover version of Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend.”

“It’s a great injection of energy when you’re recognized once again after an absence. I was very well known in the 70s but the exposure took my music to very commercial places. It was quite disruptive personally because for a long time I was an artist who was fiercely protective of my privacy, but then I became somewhat iconic. It was a powerful experience. I was never interested in prizes or the Rolling Stone lists, such as ‘the 100 most influential artists of our generation.’ It isn’t a competition. I only wanted recognition to then be able to live calmly. I can easily go to the supermarket, dine out, or take an airplane without any problem, but at the same time my fans always support me.”

In your shows you sing “Carolina on my Mind,” which you recorded in 1968 for Apple, The Beatles label. Did you feel fortunate at that moment, or did it feel like a burden?

No, no, for me The Beatles will always be the musicians who did things the best. When I went to London looking for opportunities, I landed an audition with them, or more precisely with McCartney and Harrison. I sang them my song “Something in the way she moves,” which was inspired by their work, and they not only liked it, Harrison took those lines for the classic he composed a year later. I felt very honored by that.

“Fire and Rain” speaks of your drug addiction, of psychiatry, and of a friend’s suicide. Why did you dare sing about such topics in a period when they were taboo?

It wasn’t difficult to sing about such things. Songs are the simplest way to deal with complicated emotions, and it’s the way people have always confronted difficulties. My intention wasn’t to write an essay about what had happened to me, but rather to let my feelings flow. I did it to feel better. I didn’t want to present information about depression or drugs.

Were the songwriters of your generation more honest?

We wrote about what we were living, the unrepeatable world of the 60s. We were idealists and our work reflected that. What I was doing was folk and there were so many doing the same that I couldn’t think of myself as the first or the initiator of anything. But I like a lot of current musicians, such as Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran. They are both more than just good singers. And I know that they grew up listening to us.

What do you think about Bob Dylan having won the Nobel?
It’s a victory for our whole generation of singer songwriters. I feel very proud of him, because his lyrics are pure literature. It’s an absolutely deserved prize.

Do you recall your first show in Chile in 1994, with Sting in a show that was delayed for hours for technical reasons?
Absolutely. I remember how late it started, the place, the excellent welcome from the public, how animated they were. Is it the same venue where we’ll play this time?

No, that was in a stadium called San Carlos de Apoquindo, the one this time is a smaller arena.
So that’ll be perfect, I love to play in spaces like that. I’ll be with a great band, so you’ll get to see how good they are.