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on 2 September 2001
The handsome young James on the cover jacket is a lure, to be sure. One finds the story inside to be satisfying and also sour-sweet. Mr. Taylor has weathered a good deal, like his seaman predecessors. As one of Scottish blood, the material on family history was welcome and gave mighty weight to what occurs in James Taylor's American relations lives. The portions on the slave trade out of Montrose were upsetting to read. A lot is covered: going to sea, to America, to fortune, to tragedy, too. The stories of the Taylors and the Simons both, what turmoil! That the characters all speak so directly and honestly to the author and in their correspondence to each other is the essence of this book, which the jacket is for once accurate in calling "spellbinding." Nice in particular was the Apple Records section, and Paul McCartney's thoughts. I loved the music of James as a girl at school. So it broke my heart to learn the true explanation at last behind "Fire And Rain." But I thank the man, his spouses and all the rest, for telling what the songs meant to them as they were becoming songs. We all know what they mean to us. As for the last line in the book, go away if you must James, so long as you come back to us.
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on 3 January 2002
What's rather disarming about this text is that it doesn't presume or decorate with guesses. One has to admire the grandeur in the details and the degree of access that made them possible. The author speaks directly with all the main characters, and so generations of Taylor are interviewed exhaustively. It's a proper bio, thanks, and not a fan souvenir. We have at last got the intelligent overview so sorely needed. The reader who loves history will adore this especially. Regarding a befuddled reviewer's citation about omens in 17th Century Angus, it was in truth an era of pronounced superstition (witches, etc.) and the author sets that scene with specifics. Taylor himself has lived and learned, it seems.
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on 6 January 2002
Being well and truly disposed to dismiss this entry, with its pop idol cover image, a change of mindset set in when browsing through. Not to be cruel, but it's not a folksong book, or a romance novel, and finally deserved the benefit of the doubt. The tale is absorbing and even ripping, with pirates and adventure on high seas and the like in the first parts. Then comes wealth and comeuppance in America. The point, it seems, is that Taylor has a family tree that stood him in good stead for source material. This reader must concur, and say good show to all concerned. Recommended.
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on 8 February 2002
I have grown up with the music of James Taylor. It has been a part of every important passage in my life. So, I admit to a strong bias for the subject and this book did not disappoint. The book is the ultimate back story of all these important songs, and also an intimate portrait of the important life passages of the man who wrote them. I loved learning, in particular, of the sweet and sad story behind Fire and Rain.
James relationships (both personal and professional) make for a satisfying read. I had no idea of the interconnectedness of all the musical artists of that era. It was heartwarming to learn of the sharing and loyalties that you never expect to hear about in that business.
There are many levels to this book and I have read it twice now. The first time I skimmed over some of the social context and musical history to get right to the intimate details. The second time I enjoyed the wondrously detailed account of the Taylor clan's Scottish origins and their resettlement in America that read like a high seas adventure. The musical history of many of the important artists of this period makes it a unique reference book and I am glad for the comprehensive index.
The photos are wonderful. I can't imagine how much fun it must have been to go through the Taylor family archives. Actually, this book gives us a very good idea.
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on 11 January 2002
Great book detailing the entirety of taylors life, through the good times and bad. the first portion of the book delves deep into the history of Taylors ancestors, so deep that i doubt many people know that much about their own family history. Without spoiling it, the rest of the book is great, touching on every topic you'd expect with comments from Taylors family. Great book.
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on 5 February 2002
More than anything else, this is a study of family, a vantage point that's enjoyed a fair bit of scholarly inquiry in recent years. Reading about not just the Taylor family's but also Lucy and Carly Simon's work is surprising when done this way. It was good to see albums like "Walking Man," Simon's "Boys In The Trees" and Alex Taylor's "Dinnertime" given the serious appreciation they unquestionably merit.
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on 26 August 2002
Skipping the first thirty or so pages of a book has to be a bad sign, and so it is with this totally dull Taylor biog. It concentrates far too much on the padding of ancient Taylor family history to the detriment of things that are actually relevant and that fans would want to read about. Family events like the break-up of Tayor's marriage to Carly Simon and the deaths of his elder brother and father from alcoholism are dismissed in a paragraph or two. I can only assume that White wanted to keep Taylor on side for future interviews - either that, or there's so little original source material, and nobody else wants to talk. In which case, why bother writing a book? Perhaps it's because I skimmed so much of this tedious tome that I got very little sense of Taylor the man - and maybe that's the way JT wants it.
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on 10 February 2002
This is a warts-and-all overview, though not unkind. There is sufficient frankness here to cause discomfort, in a musical vein, and in a personal regard. Taylor doesn't seem to mind talking about his addictions, to judge from recollections where he wakes up hung over on some lawn on a Caribbean isle with his dog licking his face. Another time he says he got so inebriated he bit a hole in another fellow's guitar. Such candor makes one so shy truly likeable. But the music world has not been too easy on him either. To learn about the horrible muddle of the almost fruitless contract he made with Warner Brothers was alarming. Those famous records got him so little money! This should be read by the young and impressionable who might be planning music careers, and soon.
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on 31 January 2002
There is far too much Taylor family history in this book, and much of it seems pointless. There are also some very awkward and simplistic attempts to place JT's music in the context of the times, which results merely in a string of cliches. Worst of all, the author has no critical distance from his subject: every album and every song is applauded as yet another example of his genius. White just cannot bring himself to admit that some albums are better than others and in fact some are rather dull and pedestrian. He seems very eager to please JT, and that means that the book will probably appeal to the most avid fan, but it is a bore for anyone else. And why is it so rude toward Carly Simon?
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on 1 January 2002
James Taylor: Long Ago and Far Away
by Timothy White (Omnibus, 2001)
Commiserations to any other lifelong James Taylor fans who found this awful book in their Christmas stocking! A classic case of an author finding the intricate and bizarre workings of his own mind more interesting than the supposed subject of his book. Read it only if you want to find out about "the personal and historical patterns underlying the matrix of a family whose modern music was an often-unconscious diary of its ancestral turmoil". And be warned that if you read the author's pretentious interpretations of Taylor's songs, you might well never want to listen to the songs again! Enter a dream world of speculation, as in the passage where the author describes a meeting between James' mother and her "helpmate" in the early 1950s, in which we are told as if it was a fact the "there was a long wordless pause, interrupted only by the bustle of a rolling breeze" (wow, can't you just imagine it?). If you are a fan of meaningless generalizations, like "The early 1620s on the Angus coast of Scotland was an era of ill omens and uncertain signs", or enjoy the sight of an author hustling for attention with trite sentences like "In a world that tends to hide many of its mysteries in plain sight...", you might find some interest in this book, but I would suggest you first listen to your favourite James Taylor track...
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