Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Spooky Baby James - A Hypodermic Parody

Still creepy after all these years.

Some people love James Taylor, and flock to a show where he'll speak in that soft-spoken voice, stare with the wacky eyebrows raised, and with a crooked grin, sing a mild song, keepin' it mellow.

His last album scored #1 on the Billboard charts, his first #1 since 1970. Talk show hosts were happy to assure him, and the public, that he was still as great as ever. What a triumph. All that's missing now is a Broadway musical about him, titled "SWEET."

"Sweet Baby James" was such a blockbuster disc in 1970 it led to a cottage industry of Taylors (Livingston, Kate and Alex). None of the siblings could rival the heroic, stoic, sad but sweet James. His solo career gave way eventually, briefly, to duets with his wife Carly. There was the catchy "Mockingbird," and other joyful songs that fans still consider as reasons to be cheerful.

All seriousness aside, the back story with Taylor was part of his success. Everyone knew he wasn't in his right mind, but that he got over it and triumphed with easy-going and gentle tunes. Except he and Carly divorced (he still won't even communicate with her) and he had a terrible time with drugs for longer than he or his publicists would admit.

When you consider that Carly (and Joni and Don McLean and Cat Stevens and just about every singer-songwriter from that era) can't get arrested, Taylor's success with "Before This World" last year is an astonishing triumph. He still tours, and still pretty much looks and sounds like himself. You can't argue with success, even if you might wonder what's with the haunted smile and cock-eyed glazed expression.

These days, Taylor has a family audience. There are guys his age of the hippie-to-Yuppie variety, proud to be off pot and into organic shoes made out of hemp. Back in the day, James primarily appealed to women who wanted to mother him, and wean him off drugs with their big soft milky boobies. He also appealed to a few guys who identified with cracking up, doing drugs, and conning women. That would explain peculiar tribute songs at the time such as "Keep Driving James" from Harriet Schock and "Oh James" by Andy Bown.

Back in the 70's he seemed like he might kill himself, but soon he had that self-confident Anthony Perkins smirk. Today he doesn't look like he'd ever think of doing himself in, but he does look like he could stab somebody in a shower.

Look, even George Harrison once admitted, "I never cared for the Sweet Baby." He said it back in the 70's, perhaps still cringing about Taylor having been originally signed to Apple. George did NOT want to take credit for discovering Taylor. The Beatles were often mentioned in that capacity. It's possible he also found something formulaic about Taylor's "pity me" numbers, his predictable strumming, his rather limited singing range, and his limited subject matter. Aside from sunshine and rain, Taylor actually figures people want to hear an ode to "branch water and tomato wine, creosote and turpentine, sour mash and new moon shine, Down on Copperline.").

Yes, here in Illvllle, we acknowledge a survivor, and James Taylor is that. He also turned in a beautifully sardonic turn as an egocentric and somewhat evil God in Randy Newman's "Faust." While sweet dreams and flying machines crashed along the way, and Carly was quite exasperated with the guy, he became that rarity, a living legend.

What becomes a legend most? Parody. Back when he was super-hot, James was given a "tribute" via the National Lampoon "Lemmings" show.

These guys saw through the sensitive singer-songwriter, and as they also did with Neil Young and the countrified Bob Dylan, found reason to be realists, and laugh at their less-than-perfect heroes.

The show was helmed by John Belushi, but the prime star was Christopher Guest, who co-wrote and performed the skewering takes on both Dylan and Taylor. Just how skewering did it get? Well, even in Illville, and even after all this time, a line alluding to Taylor's hypodermic use is cringeworthy. It goes beyond the jabs at Taylor for being a sell-out and womanizer. Listen to the "soulful, moody" Taylor get stubbed via "Highway Toes"…

SKEWERING James Taylor

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