If the definition of sacred music is a series of chords that helps you reach the transcendent, than please place James Taylor and Carole King in my personal choir loft.
I've resisted musical nostalgia for years -- unlike most friends, I've avoided bulking up on digital remasters of tunes from my teen years out of sheer dread over the awkward memories they were likely to conjure up in my brain. But recently I have begun to relent: I got the new Beatles box collection, and a concert set by Simon and Garfunkel, which includes a DVD of their performance that unavoidably drove home the fact that time marches on relentlessly.
Then last week, I picked up a CD of Carole King and James Taylor, performing live last year at the Troubadour club in Los Angeles -- a music hot spot they first played together in the early 1970s.
I slipped the CD into my player, opened the doors to my patio and sat outside to listen, as I watched my kids play on the lawn. Soon enough I was enveloped completely in a dense fog of memory, regret, triumph and failure as song-after-song moved along: "Too Late Baby," "Something in the Way She Moves," "Up on the Roof." The combination of King's now-raspy voice and Taylor's still-honeyed vocals took me away to a place I hadn't visited in far too long a time, for far too many very good reasons.
Then "You've Got A Friend" came on -- this is a song that threatens to lose all meaning thanks to excessive repetition by endless saloon cover bands and Saturday night karaoke machines. And yet this rendition hit me like a strong chord at the opening of a fresh song. Within twelve bars, I found myself someplace else (mostly in a place far-too-occupied by moments with my dreaded college girlfriend). But, just as I was about to descend into a world inhabited only by characters in Tom Waits tunes, I was pulled out.
My daughters heard the song. And they began to sing along with James Taylor and Carole King. They knew the song, my girls did, because when they were toddlers, it was part of our bedtime ritual. After reading a book chapter, I'd pull out my old guitar and sing a few songs: "House on Pooh Corner" was one, "Every Day" by Buddy Holly was another. But I would end each session with "You've Got a Friend" -- about as decent, hopeful and reassuring a song as has ever been written, perfect for sending little ones off to eight hours alone with their dreams and fears.
And my girls remembered. And they sang along. And, honestly, the tune was suddenly new and different and sacred.