The show is about to begin. James Taylor and Carole King at the Hollywood Bowl. I’m there with Dr. M and her friend, Wanda, who was tenacious in her efforts to procure tickets, and had generously footed the bill.
Seated at the end of the row, I spot two women standing in the aisle, waiting to get in. I get up to allow them to pass. As I do, I yawn.
Responding to my yawn, one woman exclaims, “The night is young!”
To which I immediately shoot back,
“But I’m not.”
It was a spontaneous response, and not a little embarrassing, it being the truth, and all. Minutes later, an alternate “comeback” bubbles to mind, something clever and moment-rescuing.
“It was a yawn of excitement,” I imagined myself saying.
That’s a funny response, putting “yawn” and “excitement” in the same sentence. Those words don’t belong together. That’s what makes it funny.
He needlessly explained.
The problem is the line sounds forced, a face-saving cover-up. By the way, those two jokes demonstrate an essential truth about comedy: It can reveal, and it can conceal. I chose to reveal. Actually, no, I didn’t. There was no choice whatsoever. I just opened my mouth, and out the thing came.
The show begins. Two sixties legends, impressively doing their thing. I heard someone say, “They’re the Lawrence Welk of our generation.” That bothered me. If they’re Lawrence Welk, what does that make me?
Old. Is what it makes me. Very, very old. And, as a bonus, out of touch.
My response to the concert is enthusiastic. This is not surprising. Though, over time, many albums passed through my car’s CD player, three CD’s remained immune to replacement for almost twenty years, two of them being Carole King’s Tapestry and James Taylor’s Sweet Baby James. (The third was Cat Stevens’ Tea for the Tillerman.)
I was a member of this concert’s core demographic. (Though, looking around, so was pretty much everybody else there.) Someone asked if I thought the audience would be partaking of drugs and alcohol, to which I replied,
“If their doctors will let them.”
To my ear, the two performers seemed minimally diminished by the passing decades. Their musicianship was impeccable, their voices (especially Taylor’s) as clear and evocative as ever. Carole King’s voice may have betrayed some time-tarnished roughness. But she easily made up for it with her remarkable energy.
The concert offered no updated arrangements, no Dylanesquely rejiggered rhythms. Just the old songs played the fondly remembered way. Close your eyes, and it’s 1971. And your heart doesn’t have a ring around its recently repaired mitral valve.
It turns out, however, that the L.A. Times reviewer perceived the proceedings decidedly differently, his displeasure reflected in his critique the following morning.
Some sample quotes:
“James Taylor and Carole King made no effort to disguise their ages Thursday Night…”
“[The] show offered depressingly little of value to anyone not pre-determined to relive good times gone by.”
“King and Taylor didn’t disappoint Thursday because they’re too old to make a fresh impact on listeners. They disappointed because they seemed so uninterested in trying.”
The reviewer had missed the point of the enterprise. The concert was specifically billboarded as a reconstruction of the song list featured in the couple’s first onstage pairing at L.A’s Troubadour back in 1971. King and Taylor didn’t disappoint its audience. It gave them precisely what they’d purchased tickets to hear.
Also the reviewer, who I imagine hails from a younger generation, was oblivious to the show’s fundamental message, a signal that spoke loudly to the entertainers’ assembled contemporaries:
“Look at them. They’re up there. And they’ve still got it.”
The music critic may have seen ho hum and business as usual. I saw two sixty-somethings who were still around and doing all right.
Make that three,
If you include the yawner.