John Moe’s Pop Song Correspondences
John Moe writes and collects letters to and about some of his favorite musical performers regarding some of their more notable songs.
James Taylor Issues
an Update on
“The Friendship Ring.”
BY JOHN MOE
[Originally published June 10, 2004.]
As you know, I’ve always been there for you over the years. But I regret to inform you that, as of July 1, I will no longer come running when you call out my name.
I realize this comes as a shock to some of you, especially those who seem to have had occasion to call out my name several times a day, thus forcing me to come running with all due haste. While I hope that you will still think of me as a friend, I know it will be a blow to not have me at your disposal. You may be angry. But this change in policy must take place.
When I originally recorded “You’ve Got a Friend,” in 1971, it was meant to reach a select audience of people to whom I was actually very close. Having been endowed with certain abilities (super speed, ultra-hearing, a pleasant singing voice, and a loving nature), I decided to use my powers for good and provide assistance to others in the form of a sort of “super friendship.” While other superheroes chose to fly, catch bank robbers, patch up dams, and the like, I decided that James Taylor would be the most powerful and loving friend this world had ever known. And, hopefully, maintain a successful recording career at the same time in order to pay the bills and have a creative outlet.
The plan worked well. The song became a hit, selling millions of copies, and was distributed around the world. Since it was a song from my heart (even though Carole King wrote it), I was pleased by its success and hoped that listeners would think of it as a sentiment to be shared between two friends, neither of which would necessarily be me. For the most part, that was the case. But soon there emerged a growing group that cracked my code, realizing that “You’ve Got a Friend” was not just a song but an implicit contract. Almost none were really my “friends” to begin with, but they started calling out my name. I would be in the middle of tuning my guitar or making tea in my kitchen at the Martha’s Vineyard house and my ultra-hearing would pick up a desperate “James Taylor!” from someone who had just had a fight with their boyfriend, or binged on ice cream again, or lost out on a promotion, or needed someone to hold the ladder while they cleaned the gutters, or whatever. When that happened, I would dutifully come running to see them. Again.
For a while, I was fine with this. My superpowers made it all feasible, if a bit time-consuming. I was seeing the world and I really seemed to be helping people. Sure, I never knew the boss or the family member that they were complaining about, so I couldn’t give advice really, so I just listened (a lot!), and that seemed to be what they needed anyway. But by the late ’80s, I noticed that my recording career was tapering off. Billy Joel or Christopher Cross would call me up (using the phone, thank goodness) to record something, but I would be too busy responding to a farmer in Iowa calling out my name or a banker in Tokyo who decided to yell “James Taylor!” as loud as he could because he felt “uneasy.” And boom, because I was being a friend, I lost out on the gig.
By the ’90s, things were clearly out of control, but a deal was a deal. I had told people that I would be there, yes I would. But I was going days without sleeping, eating whatever food I could grab on the road, rarely seeing my family, who wondered, quite fairly, why I never seemed to be around for them. And it was always the same people calling out my name. Four or five times a day. Occasionally, in desperation, I would bring them puppies or kittens, something else to channel their love to, but they would never get the hint. Free copies of the Sweet Baby James album were rarely accepted enthusiastically.
Finally, after a particularly harrowing beginning of 2004, I’ve decided that enough is enough. Was it Mrs. S of Minneapolis who had taken to calling out “James Taylor! And grab some ice cream! Strawberry!”? Might have been. Could have been Mr. F in Melbourne who screamed my name at two in the morning and then changed his mind when I got there and told me to leave. The entire classroom of first graders to whom Ms. W taught the “James Taylor trick” certainly didn’t help matters.
But in reality it’s all of these cases. And so many more over so many years. Because while I have been a friend, I don’t think most of you know the meaning of friendship. So the deal is off. As of July 1, if you call out my name, all you’ll hear is the sound of your own voice. I will be taking time to work on a new album and touring some colleges in the Northeast with my good friend Art Garfunkel. Between now and June 30, however, the deal still stands, but I do ask you to use it judiciously and perhaps begin to taper off.
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