James Taylor on the Beatles, Sci-Fi, What He’s Learned About Marriage
Last summer, James Taylor released his first album of original material in 13 years, and the legendary singer-songwriter is getting ready to take his new and old music on the road in North America. We caught up with Taylor to discuss his musical heroes, what he’s learned about raising a family and more.
You spent part of your childhood in North Carolina. What’s the most Southern thing about you?
I remember waiting for the school bus and seeing a chain gang across the road. There were a dozen black prisoners bound together at the ankles and guards with 12-gauge shotguns. It was scary. I don’t know when I began to think about Jim Crow, but we grew up knowing what was right and what was wrong.
Who are your heroes?
Musically, Ray Charles. The first time I heard Yes Indeed!, that really took the roof off. I have a strange story, actually: When I was a teenager, I went to a [psychiatric] hospital called McLean, and while I was there, Ray was incarcerated for four or five days. It must have been part of a drug bust or parole. He was in the ward above mine and I saw him during meals for a couple of days. He didn’t talk much. He was not happy to be there – no one was. I just said hello at the dinner hour. I couldn’t believe he was there.
What do you do to relax?
Unless I’m asleep, I have to be doing something. I like to read. Right now it’s Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death. In Annie Hall, when Woody Allen takes her to a bookstore and says, “I think you should read this” – that’s one of the books he gives her. It struck a chord.
What was your favorite book as a kid?
I like science fiction, so I’d say the Foundation trilogy, by Isaac Asimov. It was a series of books about a galactic empire and the future. The empire is falling apart, and a brilliant statistician predicts what’s going to happen. I loved the way it made a new sort of alternate world. I was and am a science nerd.
You’ve been married three times. What have you learned about raising a family?
I don’t think you should get married and have children before you’re ready to settle down. I think it would be best if people could get married in their twenties, freeze their embryos and then, if they feel like raising a family at 40, go ahead. I wasn’t a suitable partner for anyone until I got sober at 35 – and probably not for another five or six years after that.
Your twin sons are now 15. Do they introduce you to new music?
I don’t know what artist does “Marry that girl/Marry her anyway” [Magic!’s “Rude”]. They like that song, and I like it too. I don’t think people get into artists and exhaustively listen to everything they’ve done like they used to.
What’s the most self-indulgent purchase you ever made?
I have a few classic cars. I’ve got a Morris Minor from 1965. A 1950 Ford panel truck, the car I drove across the country in 1965. I lusted in my heart for it when I saw it. I’ve never had a Porsche or a Ferrari. We have a minivan for the kids.
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