Although Carole King did not write “A Natural Woman” for herself (she and her first husband were asked to write it for Aretha Franklin), the song aptly fits her life also.
She grew up in a close Jewish family, attended school where she excelled in performing arts and graduated early. She married young and loved her husbands (four of them) passionately. She doted on her four children and did all the typical mom things- driving them to activities, homeschooling, sewing their clothes. She cooked food that she grew herself and even milked a goat she owned. She welcomed grandchildren and cared for aging parents.
She could almost be any 70 year old woman- except she is a Grammy award winning singer/songwriter who has written over 100 songs, including many of the greatest hits from the 1970s. In 2013 she became the first woman to be awarded the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.
Ms. King was at the height of her career in 1972 when my husband and I met, and found we had a mutual appreciation for her music, and still do. So, even though I don’t read memoirs of celebrities, I made an exception this time. I wanted to know more about this talented woman, and I was not disappointed.
As I listened to the book’s audio version, read by the author, I marvelled at how she managed to live such a normal and successful life while experiencing a series of traumatic experiences starting in childhood. These included
- a sibling with physical and developmental disabilities
- the dissolution of her parents’ marriage
- financial instability in her early career
- the breakdown of her four marriages
- an extended civil lawsuit
- accidents resulting in serious physical injury
- exposure to mental illness and substance abuse
The last issue is noteworthy in that it led to two of her divorces. It also led to several years in which she suffered verbal and physical abuse from one of her husbands, who was mentally ill and addicted to drugs. She candidly admits that she submitted to it, thinking that she deserved it, he didn’t mean to hurt her, and that he would change. Fortunately, one night she literally woke up with the conviction that she needed help. Counselling helped her develop personal resources to resist and stop the abuse. She urges women in similar circumstances to seek help and recommends
I am sad that she experienced such pain in her life, all the while brightening other lives with her music. She said that music helped her cope with the challenges in her life.
Her life reminds us that people who appear successful and accomplished in some areas of life, may be unhappy and hurting in others. We may never know the pain that some have walked through to get where they are.
Carole King insists that she never wanted to be a star or diva, and she zealously guarded her privacy. According to this book, she valued most her family, relationships, writing songs and sharing her music. I am glad she also decided to share this side of her life and the lessons it teaches . Thank you Carole King.
a selection of Carole King’s music (these are affiliate links)
Tapestry Carole King’s first and most successful album
Beautiful: The Carole King Musical the story of Carole’s life and career
Live at the Troubadour Carole King singing with her friend James Taylor