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James Taylor: ‘A big part of my story is recovery from addiction’
By Paul Sexton The Telegraph
Excerpt from above article:
At the age of 67, James Taylor has made his 16th album, his first in 13 years. After spending his early career addicted to heroin, he’s surprised he made it this far.
In the centre of Florence, a short walk from the Ponte Vecchio, a rangy, bespectacled figure in a baseball cap clutches a cup of coffee and slips back into his hotel unrecognised. He is perhaps the definitive singer-songwriter of his generation, he has come to represent everything noble and dignified about American artistry, and he is preparing to tell me how he is amazed to be alive.
At 67, James Taylor has an air of low-key statesmanship that most senior politicians can only aspire to. A lifelong Democrat (‘I inherit my politics from my father, and my aesthetic, probably, from my mum’), he has sung for presidents, calls Bill and Barack by their first names, and is vehemently backing Hillary Clinton’s bid for the White House.
His learned demeanour is rooted in his 1960s upbringing, during which musicians were not just allowed to have opinions, but required to. Like most of his peers, Taylor played every benefit and protest gig going, from Greenpeace to No Nukes. The articulate conscientiousness he brought to the table was somewhat at odds with his image as the soft-pop king of songs such as You’ve Got a Friend, Fire and Rain and dozens more.
Yet, away from the stage, his personal circumstances were a train wreck even before he was famous. He was a heroin addict and a psychiatric patient in his teens, and his narcotic dependency fuelled the ultimate failure of perhaps America’s favourite celebrity music marriage of the 1970s, Taylor’s to Carly Simon. He did not finally get sober until his mid-30s, when he started the reinvention that makes that untamed past impossible to recognise now.
Nevertheless, when we chat at length in his hotel room, Taylor – whom I first interviewed more than 20 years ago, and who remains hugely engaging company – admits that he still knows the version of himself who almost did not make it here: the man whose friend and fellow sybarite John Belushi let it be known that he was worried for him, a comment put into sharp relief by Belushi’s own fatal overdose soon afterwards in 1982.
That was the wake-up call Taylor needed. In his 1985 song That’s Why I’m Here, written following Belushi’s death, he sang, ‘John’s gone, found dead, he dies high, he’s brown bread. Later said to have drowned in his bed. After the laughter, the wave of dread, it hits us like a ton of lead.’
‘A big part of my story is recovery from addiction,’ he says now, matter-of-factly. ‘One thing that addiction does is, it freezes you. You don’t develop, you don’t learn the skills by trial and error of having experiences and learning from them, and finding out what it is you want, and how to go about getting it, by relating with other people. You short-circuit all of that stuff and just go for the button that says this feels good over and over again. So you can wake up, as I did, at the age of 36, feeling like you’re still 17. One of the things you learn as you get older is that you’re just the same.’
He laughs at the absurdity. Today Today Today glances back specifically to the time when Taylor was a teenager.
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