Single and album, No. 1 in a series: (1971) “So Far Away” and “It’s Too Late,” Carole King / “What’s Going On,” Marvin Gaye. “Tapestry” gets much love from the generation that spent the first half of the 1970s buying it and listening to it, looking deeply into its grooves for solace after the death of the dream of the 1960s, but I never got the chance to sit down and soak it all up in one shot. I mean, I’d hear “You’ve Got a Friend” or “I Feel The Earth Move” or “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” on soft-rock radio growing up, and it’d be, you know, cool. But I was too young to have experienced it like that, swallowed it all whole. So I made do by latching on to the songs I liked the best off that album: the ones that made me feel the most wistful and melancholy.
You know, right away I’m breaking the rules I’ve set up for the list I have. (This is supposed to be the first installment in a series of singles and albums I’ve listened to and loved between the time I was born in 1971 and this year.) As I’ve mentioned before, “It’s Too Late” was the No. 1 single when I was born, but I have to cop to “So Far Away” as well, to feeling it. It’s not like it meant anything in conjunction with stuff, with the people in my life I was literally far away from when I first listened to it (like my dad). The song was about nostalgia, oddly enough. “Doesn’t anybody stay in one place anymore?” I wondered then, ’cause I knew nobody did and yet and still it was something deep to me. Heh.
On the other hand, I picked up on Marvin’s magnum opus more organically, even before I bought a cassette and started playing it over and over. (I remember liking the first side, even though my favorite song — “Inner City Blues” — was on the other side.)
I wish I had something profound to say about him that I could express, that was worth expressing. I did have to pull my car over to the side of the road a month or two ago when hearing “Music,” that Erick Sermon joint on the “What’s the Worst That Could Happen?” soundtrack, come on the radio when I was driving up Shattuck Avenue into Berkeley and parking the car, all set to meet Ankita at Au Coquelet and bam, right between the ears, I’m hearing him. So rarely is he heard in so sublime a fashion; it’s almost always awful tribute albums. I could have died a happy man without hearing those Massive Attack twits aid Madonna in deflating and dessicating “I Want You,” those Soul Asylum flannel flyers coughing out “Sexual Healing,” Neneh Cherry spray-painting rust all over “Trouble Man.”
Where things are ham-handed and clumsy, like when “Just to Keep You Satisfied” (“… it’s too late for you and me … “) turns up in John Singleton’s “Baby Boy” (and yes, I did wind up seeing it — but more on that later), I want to dope-slap someone. And yet the odd tributes — Mary J. Blige and Method Man doing “You’re All I Need,” the subtext Spike Lee adds to “Jungle Fever” with a little help from Samuel Jackson, Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis, anybody’s rendition of the National Anthem and the way it takes me back to the 1983 NBA All-Star Game — stick with me in ways I don’t expect them to.
The whole point of this exercise in navel-gazing is that it’s not too late (” … and it’s too late, baby, yes, it’s too late/’tho we really did try to make it … “) (” … much too late for me to cry … “) to look back, poke around, play with a sound, a song, a side, a memory, a moment, a musical milestone or three or thirty.