For Carole King, Songwriting Is A 'Natural' Talent.
Carole King wrote songs for others before becoming a performer and writing for herself. In her new memoir, A Natural Woman, she details the stories behind some of her most famous songs and her relationships with songwriters like James Taylor, Gerry Goffin and Paul Simon.
Other segments from the episode on April 11, 2012
April 11, 2012
Guests: Carole King
TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. My guest, Carole King, has had an extraordinary career as a songwriter and performer. With her first husband, lyricist Gerry Goffin, she wrote many hits for other performers in the '60s, including "One Fine Day," "Will You Love Me Tomorrow," "Up on the Roof," "A Natural Woman," "Take Good Care of My Baby," "The Locomotion," "Chains," "Don't Say Nothin' Bad About My Baby" and "I'm Into Something Good."
In the late '60s, she stepped out from behind the scenes and started performing her own songs. Her 1971 album "Tapestry" broke the record for the bestselling album of all time. She's written a new memoir called "A Natural Woman" that reveals a lot about her music and is also surprisingly personal.
When she was writing songs for other people, she used to make demo recordings in order to demonstrate what the song sounded like. A new album of 13 demos will be released April 24th. The album also includes a few demos of songs she did on her album "Tapestry." Let's start with one of those demos, "It's Too Late," recorded in 1970.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IT'S TOO LATE")
CAROLE KING: (Singing) Stayed in bed all morning just to pass the time. There's something wrong here, there can be no denying. One of us is changing, or maybe we've just stopped trying. And it's too late baby, now it's too late, though we really did try to make it. Something inside has died and I can't hide, and I just can't fake it.
GROSS: Carole King welcome back to FRESH AIR, and congratulations on your new book. I don't want to derail this interview early on, but I just have to ask you something about me, something that pertains to me.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
KING: Please, let - I welcome that, unlike many of your guests.
GROSS: OK, so there's so much fascinating information in your book about music and your personal life, but one thing of special interest to me, which is that I think I grew up about six blocks away from you in Brooklyn. You were on 24th Street, I was on 29th street in the same area. And...
GROSS: You went to Shellbank Junior High, and so did I. Did you go to P.S. 98 Elementary School?
KING: No, I went to P.S. 206.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
KING: Oh my - I had no idea, and I love knowing that.
GROSS: I had no idea, either. So my question for you is: Do you remember - you're a little older than me, so it might not have existed yet, but do you remember the Shellbank Junior High Alma Mater?
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
KING: No, I don't. I went there the first year that Shellbank opened. So no, I don't.
GROSS: OK, it probably wasn't...
KING: Do you?
GROSS: Yes, I'm not going to sing it.
KING: Would you sing it for me?
GROSS: No I won't, but I will recite because I know you love music. I will recite the bridge, which is a march, and it goes: As we entered seventh grade, green as raw recruits, on our journey through the years we planted sturdy roots. We learned about democracy and citizenship's demands. We're firm in our devotion to our parents, teachers, friends.
Then, at Shellbank Junior High we challenge all comparison, blah, blah, blah.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
KING: You know what? When you said Shellbank Junior High, I kind of hear the melody in my mind. So it must have existed. And I have blocked out all memory of it. So thank you. What a gift to me. Thank you, Terry.
GROSS: Yes, a profound gift, yes. So what's kind of relevant about this is that schools, high schools in Brooklyn, including the one you went to, James Madison, often did something called Sing, in which each grade would put on like their own version of a Broadway show. There'd be a storyline, and it would be a musical, and you'd use - you'd use melodies from Broadway shows and write your own lyrics.
And you participated in Sing, and that was probably your first experience actually writing songs that were going to be performed?
KING: I think I did a little of that in my childhood, but in any big way, yes, I mean because my mother put on shows, and she would sometimes include a little something, you know, that I wrote. But my mother was, you know, herself a writer, among many things that my mother was. She was a very talented woman. So I did some of that.
But yeah, the Sing was the big thing, and as I write in my book, the Sing turned out to be my - it became my place of identification because I was a few years younger than most of my fellow students, and I really wanted to be popular, and I didn't see a vehicle or way in which I could be popular. Nobody really took me seriously. They said, oh, she's so cute. And not in the sense that they mean it today, like hot or attractive, but like dismissive.
And I was like, no, I don't want to be cute, I want to be beautiful, and everybody should see me as beautiful and smart and whatever. And that wasn't happening, and then I connected through music. So music became a way of identifying my particular niche. How lucky for me.
GROSS: I was struck, reading your book, by how much courage you had as, you know, a young teenager. You used to go to all the Alan Freed shows, and Alan Fried was a very famous disk jockey, like rock 'n' roll and R&B disc jockey at the time. And he would have these rock 'n' roll shows in which the top acts would perform, like lots of them in each show.
KING: Yeah, like a list of each show was like a who's who of who was popular then or who was going to be popular, and sure enough, they all were.
GROSS: And you wanted to be part of that world. So you had your father, who was a New York City firefighter and could kind of get access to people. He set you up a little meeting with Alan Freed, and you told him you wanted to write songs. And I'm thinking, like, wow, that really takes courage.
KING: I - you know what? When I was younger, I was kind of fearless. I think it takes more courage to do things when you know more. I was completely naive, and I was like: Why can't I do anything I want to do? You know, go for it. And you know what? I still feel like even in today's world, I feel that that's something that I want to say to people.
My whole attitude was: someone's going to get the thing or the opportunity that I was looking for. Why not me? And the other side of that is: If you don't try, you have no chance at all. So that was the attitude I had as a teenager in terms of advancing my interests.
GROSS: So you had your meeting with Alan Freed. He told you to look up the names of record companies in the phonebook and then find an A&R man, an artist and repertoire man, who signs people and perform some songs for him. And so you found Atlantic Records in the phonebook and got a meeting there. What were the songs that you were performing then, because you also met with Don Costa at ABC-Paramount. He gave you a contract. You recorded I think a couple of singles for him.
Can you just sing a few bars of one of those really early songs that are pretty...
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
GROSS: Is that because you don't want to sing or because you don't want to expose the songs?
KING: No, no, yeah. I think I just feel silly singing those songs, but they are available, widely on YouTube, as I've found out. I mean, there's songs like "Going Wild" and "Baby sittin'" and "Under the Stars" and "The Right Girl." Those are the titles of the two sides of the two singles. But no, I don't want to sing them today.
GROSS: Do you mind if we play one?
KING: Not at all.
GROSS: OK, which one would you like to hear?
KING: I can't pick one. You go ahead and pick one, honestly.
GROSS: OK, let's try "Baby sittin'."
KING: OK, I have a story about that, which is to say if you hear the lyrics to "Baby sitting'," you will know why I desperately needed a lyricist, and I found one.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
KING: I found one in Queens.
GROSS: OK, so let's hear "Baby sittin'," and then we'll talk about finding one.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BABY SITTIN'")
KING: (Singing) Baby, I love me baby. A lot of baby, I love you so. Baby, baby, baby, baby sittin' on my baby, baby, baby, baby sittin'. You know the baby I mean, he's 17. Crazy, crazy, crazy, baby sittin' is so crazy, baby, crazy baby sittin', is so crazy, baby, crazy, baby sittin', you know the baby I mean. He's 17. Rob the cradle, (unintelligible) crazy. Listen by the craddle, I guess you know I love my baby so. Baby, baby, baby, baby sittin' on my...
That's one of Carole King's very early songs, before she met her first lyricist, Gerry Goffin, who became her husband. Carole King has a new memoir. It's called "A Natural Woman."
GROSS: So it's a great story how you found Gerry Goffin. Tell us how you found him.
KING: Well, I - my family announced - we were living in Brooklyn, and my family announced that we were moving to Queens, and I have a line in the book: Queens? What could there possibly be in Queens? Well, as it turns out, you know, quite a few wonderful things, including Paul Simon, who I met first, before I met Gerry.
Paul Simon and I went to Queens College in the same, you know, class. We were both freshman, as was Art, but I didn't know Art very well then. And Paul and I sort of got together and formed this little group that we called The Cousins. We didn't actually do anything except help other people with their demos or, you know, play - he played bass and guitar. I played piano. We both sang. And we helped people out making demos.
And sometimes they'd pay us $25, which Paul said we'd have done it for free. But Paul and I never wrote together. It is astonishing to me now, but he - when I asked him years later, he said he wasn't much of a collaborator, and he didn't think he could write very good lyrics until "Sounds of Silence" went to number one, hello.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
KING: But so that was not where I found my lyricists, oddly enough, but that's - I met Gerry Goffin at Queens College, and that is where I found a great lyricist. He was just outstanding.
GROSS: So you started writing songs together, you the melodies, he the music. Did you know right away, like, this was your lyricist? And what was it about his lyrics that made you realize he was good?
KING: In order of questions, yes, I did. And what made him so extraordinary as a lyricist was his ability to say in really simple words big ideas, big feelings, big thoughts. And the thing - for example, "Will You Love Me Tomorrow." You just listen to the lyric of the first verse: tonight you're mine completely, you give your love so sweetly, tonight the light of love is in your eyes, but will you love me tomorrow? Is that not what every teenage girl is thinking?
You know, it's - he - and he had the ability, he's, you know, he's a straight man, and he had the ability to get inside a woman's head and say the things women were thinking. "Natural Woman" is another example. And when he didn't write with me, "Saving All My Love For You."
GROSS: Was he as sensitive to your feelings as a woman as he was sensitive in the lyrics? Do you know what I mean? He had these insights into women in the lyrics, yeah.
KING: No. No.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
KING: But, you know, to be fair, I wasn't - I was so young. I was barely a woman. When we met, I was 16. When we married, I was 17. By the time I was 20, we had already had two children. And so I was really young and didn't have the ability, A, to identify my feelings or where my feelings fit into a marriage, and I didn't - I couldn't have communicated them to him. So I think that would be fair. I think he might have been sensitive to them had I known enough to communicate what I wanted and needed, but...
GROSS: And as you pointed out, it was before the women's movement, and a lot of what you might have articulated later was unarticulated in your mind.
KING: That's right, and unidentified in my mind. I couldn't even have identified what I felt was wrong.
GROSS: So you're writing songs with Gerry Goffin, and you're signed by Aldon Music, which was Don Kirshner's music publishing company.
KING: With Al Nevins, yes.
GROSS: With Al Nevins, and they gave you an advance, which seemed like a lot of money at the time, $6,000 over three years. But you had to sign over ownership of your copyright. What does that mean?
KING: OK, I'm not sure I have this right, either, but what I understand it to mean is that the publisher holds the copyright or did then. And I think that's the way it still is. And now when people have their own publishing, they hold the copyright.
So everything, all the requests go through the publisher, and the publisher receives all the money, and then the writer gets a share of that. And in those days, it was 50-50. So the publisher kept 50 percent of whatever, you know, pennies came in on a record sold, and the other half would go to the writing team.
So Gerry and I were one unit. We split - let's say it was two cents. OK, the publisher got a penny, and we got a penny split, but Gerry and I mingled our money, so it was, you know, we got the other half.
But the publisher does own the copyright, and you can negotiate how much control you have over that, which over the years I've been able to negotiate more. But some of those old songs, most of those old songs are still published by the chain of who bought Aldon and who bought the people who bought Aldon, so - which I believe has landed with EMI has just been bought by Sony. So Sony is actually my new publisher.
GROSS: OK. My guest is Carole King, and she's written a new memoir called "A Natural Woman." Let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Carole King, and her new memoir is called "A Natural Woman." You did some great demos, and in fact a bunch of your demos are being released very shortly, and it's fascinating to hear the demos that you made for other artists because when you and Gerry Goffin were writing together, you were writing for other performers, and you'd have to kind of - you describe in this book, like you'd channel their voices in your mind and write a song that seemed suitable for them, and then you'd do the demo.
And in some of the demos, it was just like you and the piano. And you can hear, like in the one I'm going to play, which is the one you wrote called "Take Good Care of My Baby" that Bobby Vee had a number one hit of in 1961, you hear the whole arrangement in what you're playing on the piano. And I assume you overdubbed the piano?
KING: I probably started with the piano and then overdubbed my voice if I overdubbed at all, which I usually do. So, yeah.
GROSS: But it sounds like there's two piano parts, one overdubbed on the other.
KING: Oh, yes. Again, yes, if that's the case. I haven't actually listened to it for years, and it was just hard for me to go through that whole process, probably for the same reason I'm not comfortable singing a record that I made when I was 15.
GROSS: What I find most interesting about the demos is how you often had the whole arrangement in your head, that you're not just writing melody and chords, you're hearing the arrangement that's later fleshed out with, you know, full instrumentation.
When a song comes to you, do you usually hear it fleshed out like that?
KING: Not always. It comes in stages. And also, again, credit to Gerry who, though not musical in the ways we know people as musical, like, he can't really sing very well, and he had a way of communicating to me what it was he heard. And so, it's not just my vision. It's his that's incorporated, which our vision actually became one thing, which is probably why we were a couple.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
KING: But the - it comes in stages many times, and I describe later, later in the book, I go to "Tapestry," and I actually sort of share some what I call memory snapshots of what it was like to record "Tapestry." And one of the things that I do back in the songwriting day and later when I was an artist is things do come to me, and often I don't know what the next thing is going to be until I lay down the first thing.
So I do that with laying down the piano, and you mentioned the overdubbed piano. I do that with layers of voices, which Lou Adler, when I was making "Tapestry," had the ability to just quietly make a suggestion: Why don't you layer your voice?
And with each new layer, I heard new parts. So it's a wonderful process for me.
GROSS: So I want to play a demo that I think is particularly interesting, and so I'm going to play "Take Good Care of My Baby" from your new demos album and then play the hit version by Bobby Vee. So the hit version was from 1961, and you demoed it just before that. So here's Carole King, followed by Bobby Vee.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TAKE GOOD CARE OF MY BABY")
KING: (Singing) My tears are falling because you're taken her away, and though it really hurts me so, there's something that I've gotta say. Take good care of my baby. Please don't ever make her blue. Just tell her that you love her, make sure you're thinking of her in everything you say and do....
BOBBY VEE: (Singing) Take good care of my baby. Now don't you ever make her cry. Just let your love surround her, make rainbow all around her. Don't let her see a cloudy sky. Once upon a time, that little girl was mine. If I'd been true, I know she'd never be with you.
(Singing) So take good care of my baby...
KING: I love that you did that because to me as a songwriter and the maker of the demo, that is my joy. If I hear the vision, and I get it onto a demo, and they run with it, that is my joy.
GROSS: Carole King will be back in the second half of the show. Her new memoir is called "A Natural Woman." Her new album of demos will be released later this month. Here's a demo she made in 1966 of a song she co-wrote with Gerry Goffin that was recorded by The Monkees in '67. You can also hear it streaming on our website, freshair.npr.org. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I FEEL THE EARTH MOVE")
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Carole King. She has a new memoir called "A Natural Woman," named after the song that she wrote with her first husband Gerry Goffin, that was a big hit for Aretha Franklin. That song is also included on her new album of demos that will be released later this month. When we left off, she was talking about the joy of recording a demo of a song she composed and then hearing another artist run with it.
KING: "Natural Woman" has a story about that. I mean, in the book I have the story of how we got the title of "Natural Woman" from Jerry Wexler and then we went home and then we made the demo and then they took the demo and ran with it. And all the people and all the layers and, of course, the great Aretha Franklin recorded it. And it's just a remarkable feeling to hear a song of yours come back with all the embellishments that you didn't quite imagine, but you sort of had in your head and there they are, only even better. That's joy.
GROSS: But you knew all those gospel chords. You can hear that on the demo.
KING: Yeah. I did. I was listening to a lot of what they then called black music.
GROSS: So, let's hear those two versions back to back now - your demo and Aretha Franklin.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NATURAL WOMAN")
KING: (Singing) Looking out on the morning rain I used to feel uninspired. And when I knew I had to face another day, Lord, it made me feel so tired. Before the day I met you, life was so unkind, but you were the key to my peace of mind. 'Cause you make me feel, oh, you make me feel, you make me feel like a natural woman.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NATURAL WOMAN")
ARETHA FRANKLIN: (Singing) Oh, baby, what you've done to me. What you've done to me. You make me feel so good inside, so good inside. And I just want to be, want to be close to you. You make me fell so alive. You make me feel, you make me feel, you make me feel like a natural woman, woman. You make me feel, you make feel, you make me feel like a natural woman, woman. You make me feel...
GROSS: That was Aretha Franklin, and before that, we heard Carole King's demo of the song, which is the original recording of it. And that demo is one of the demos released on a whole new album of demos.
You had been so used to writing for other people's voices, channeling their voices in your head. When you became a performer yourself and you were writing songs for yourself, did you know who you were as a performer so that you could write songs for that person, for Carole King, performer?
KING: The answer is no, not really. Some of the songs were written with other people in mind and I wound up doing them - and honestly, I can't remember who the people were now. I talk about "You've Got a Friend." I don't know if I fully write this in the book, but that song, pure and simple, came through me. I sat at the piano. The song came through me. People say did you write it for James - James Taylor, and no. I mean I didn't, I didn't. But what I did is - the whole "Tapestry" time, I was heavily under James's influence. I was playing piano in his band. I was out on a limited, sort of, college tour with him before I wrote and recorded a lot of the songs on "Tapestry." And I think "So Far Away," and then "You've Got A Friend" were written, just with his voice in my brain. I wasn't writing for him, because God knows he didn't need other people's songs, but his voice was in my brain and he had such a profound influence on my writing.
GROSS: So your memoir "A Natural Woman" is a lot about music, but it's also about your personal life. And I think you have some really interesting things to say as a successful woman in a career that very few women worked in - the music business - writing songs. And so let's talk a little bit about that side of your life, if that's OK?
GROSS: So let's start with your marriage to Gerry Goffin. You know, you were collaborators and life partners. That's in the best of circumstances, I think, a...
KING: A challenge today, yes.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
GROSS: Yes. Exactly. Exactly. And you started off as teenagers, to add to the challenge. And to add to the challenge again, it was during, you know, during the marriage that, you know, the whole, you know, counterculture starts to explode. And in the meantime, like you're married, you have a couple of children, you're living in the suburbs. He didn't really want that life.
GROSS: He wanted to be part of, you know, the revolution. And so he starts heading in that direction and you feel like you're tying him down, and at the same time, you're not being like the kind of wife that would allow him to be free, you know, like home, making food, you know, doing all that stuff - because you're a professional, you're working. And again, like you didn't have the language yet to articulate all that. And then to add to that, he started getting paranoid and having, you know, psychological problems.
What made you realize that these were, just like, real psychological problems that had to be dealt with?
KING: Well, when you have someone in the family with those kind - that kind of problem, you do have to deal with it. And, you know, when I was first having to deal with i,t I was 23 and he was 26, and we had these two little children. And it was definitely - there was no blueprint. I had really no one to turn to for that. But I also want to say - I mean the psychological problems, I don't know which triggered what, but he also took LSD. And I think somebody slipped it to him, but I can't go beyond saying I suspect, but - 'cause I don't know - but that was part of the trigger too. But I also want to say that the times. I know I have since found out that, you know, that a lot of my contemporaries, at that time - maybe each person or couple thinking that they were alone in feeling these things. You have a couple where one member of the marriage or relationship was drawn to the counterculture and the other was like, but wait. What's happening? You know, we were a couple and now you want to go do all these things that the '60s, you know, invited.
GROSS: You divorced in about 1967, was it?
KING: Yeah. And that was, again, part of the times. It just - we just couldn't stay together. It just wasn't going to happen. And what happened was Gerry decided to move to California and I saw California as my future, as well, and I made the move, also. And most of all because I didn't want my daughters - our daughters - to be far from their father. So that's what got me to California.
GROSS: So you not only didn't have a husband, at that point, you didn't have a musical collaborator either.
KING: Not at the time. But I had met somebody, Ms. Toni Stern, I always have to put the Ms. so we know she's a female. I had met her and worked with her, prior to Gerry's and my breakup. And so, I began working with her and she wrote "It's Too Late." She wrote the lyrics "Where You Lead," she wrote the lyrics to that and I think those are the two on "Tapestry." But we had some hits together, including the Carpenters "It's Going to Take Some Time This Time." So I really had, kind of, a new lease on life, a new hope. And Gerry and I stayed in touch. You know, we had the children and our divorce was not a contentious divorce in any way. He had his issues to deal with and, you know, I had to work around however he was at a given point, but we were never adversarial. Never. It was just hard for me to work with him for a little while. But then I started working with him again. I worked with Toni and then I worked with David Palmer, who was in a group called The Myddle Class that we had met and worked with when we lived in New Jersey.
GROSS: And that was the band that your second husband was in, right?
KING: As it happens, yes.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
KING: My second husband was the bass player in that band. That was Charlie Larkey. And what a great - we had a great time while we were together. We had a great musical experience, a great relationship and we are still, I call our relationship an unconventional success story, because we didn't stay married but we stayed friends and cooperative co-parents and we even made music together after we were not married anymore. And we're still just great friends and we still love each other, and it's just a wonderful thing to have in one's life.
GROSS: I love hearing that. So at what point did you think I'm going to write lyrics myself?
KING: Well, the first time I thought that was when Gerry and I were having problems when we still lived in New Jersey, and the lyrics were abysmal. I hated what I was writing and I was like, don't even bother. The second time was when I was in California, and under James's influence and out on the road with him in these college gigs, and I found myself missing Charlie. By then Charlie and I were married, and I wrote "So Far Away" with Charlie in mind, personally, and James in mind, musically. And I thought, you know, I think this is going to work. I'm going to keep writing - and inspired by James, truly inspired by James. That was the beginning of my career as a solo writer.
GROSS: So why don't we hear "So Far Away." And this is from Carole King's "Tapestry" album.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SO FAR AWAY")
KING: (Singing) So far away. Doesn't anybody stay in one place anymore? It would be so fine to see your face at my door. Doesn't help to know you're just time away. Long ago I reached for you and there you stood. Holding you again could only do me good. How I wish I could. But you're so far away. One more song about moving along the highway. Can't say much of anything that's new. If I could only work this life out my way. I'd rather spend it being close to you. But you're so far away. Doesn't anybody stay in...
GROSS: So that's Carole King "So Far Away" from her album "Tapestry." And Carole King has a new memoir called "A Natural Woman."
Let's take a short break here and then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Carole King. She has a new memoir called "A Natural Woman." And she has a new album of her demos that are soon to be released called "The Legendary Demos."
You write about your relationships in the book. And after you split up with Charlie Larkey you had a relationship with a man named Rick Evers, who you met through Don Henley from The Eagles. And at the time, he was living in a van and knew a lot about the parts of the country that you were really interested in, 'cause he wanted to do the whole back to the land thing. And he knew all about Idaho and Montana, I think, and...
KING: Colorado and Utah. Yeah.
GROSS: Yeah. And so that - you wanted to make a new life in a place like that and you made a new life with him in Idaho. And into that life you realize - well, let me read something that you write. You write...
(Reading) It's difficult for me to write this. Rick Evers physically abused me, not just once but many times. This is even more difficult to write: I stayed.
That, it just really surprised me to hear that and I'm sure, in a way, you might have been surprised that you wrote it.
GROSS: It was probably a really hard decision for you to make whether to write that or not.
KING: Well, you've actually hit the nail on the head about a hard decision to write it, because when I began writing the book, when I got to this part of my life, I was like am I going to write about this? Am I going to include this in the book? And my first editor, Colleen Daly, said just write it. You can always decide not to leave it in. I did leave it in, and the reason I left it in is because there are women - and some men - who experience domestic abuse who, you know, who feel ashamed, who think it's their fault, who don't think they deserve to be safe or don't remember what it's like to be safe. And I thought if women and men out there - again, mostly women - read this and say, wow, she was successful. She had financial independence. She had it so together and she could be in a relationship like that? Maybe I' not so bad. Maybe it's not my fault.
And that's why I wrote it, to send that message out. And I even include in the book a box where it says if you're in this situation, here's how to get help. That's why â the biggest reason why I included it. Because if I can find, you know, if this book finds its way to one woman out there, one person experiencing abuse, and that person goes and gets help, then my work here is done.
GROSS: You and Gerry Goffin wrote the song "He Hit Me (And It Felt Just Like A Kiss)," which The Crystals recorded.
KING: Good point.
GROSS: Yeah. And I always hear that song and I think, like, wow, big difference between being slugged and being kissed. And I wonder, like, after having experienced abuse, what you think of that song.
KING: I wrote the music to "He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss)." Obviously, I'm complicit in having written that song. I kind of wish I hadn't written any part of that song, but Gerry wrote that lyric after hearing an African-American woman that we knew say â come, you know, just come right out and say that.
And I think in some ways â I'm only speculating â that for some women that may be the only manifestation of what they perceive as love. And that's certainly true for the woman in that song. And you know, that's all wrong. So, again, I do â that's one song I kind of wish I hadn't had any part of writing.
It wasn't speaking for me, but it was something that Gerry wanted to write because he felt the same. And he was like, really? And then his way of getting it out there, maybe he had a little irony going in his mind because he was really intelligent and had that irony thing going. So maybe that's why it got written.
But however it got written, that's not the message I want to convey.
GROSS: When you started writing songs, you were one of the very few women pop songwriters, you know, along with Cynthia Weil and, oh, "Chapel of Love." Why am I blanking out on her name?
KING: Jeff - Ellie Greenwich.
GROSS: Ellie Greenwich.
KING: And Jeff Barry.
GROSS: Yeah. Yeah. So do you feel that doors were closed to you at any point because you were â I mean, you were barely a woman. You were a teenager, you were a girl when you started. Did the men running the business take you as seriously as they would've if you were male?
KING: Probably more so because I was so young and I was a female. They probably took me more seriously in a way. Not seriously as an equal but as that's pretty remarkable that you're this good and you're so young and you're a girl. I mean, that's, I think - was the attitude. But I was always treated with respect.
In the book I describe how Don Costa welcomed me into his studio and, you know, introduced me to everybody. So I never experienced the disrespect that so many other women have experienced in my workplace. I have to say that.
GROSS: Do you remember the first time you heard one of your records on the radio?
KING: Yes. I do. It was "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" and Gerry and I were in what was his, and then became our, '56 Mercury Monterrey. And we're listening to this coming out of the tinny speakers and we're like, oh my god, I can't believe this. We were just through the roof and to the moon. It was just such a thrill. But I'll tell you what â that doesn't go away.
When I made an album called "Love Makes the World," the first time I heard the single "Love Makes the World," which I wrote with two guys in New York, two New York hip-hop guys, I felt the same feeling of, like, wow, it's out there, it's on the radio.
GROSS: Carole King, thank you so much for talking with us.
KING: Thank you so much.
GROSS: Carole King's new memoir is called "A Natural Woman." You can read an excerpt on our website freshair.npr.org. Let's hear her version of "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" from her 1971 album "Tapestry."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WILL YOU LOVE ME TOMORROW")
KING: (Singing) Tonight you're mine completely. You give your love so sweetly. Tonight the light of love is in your eyes. But will you love me tomorrow?
TERRY GROSS, HOST: Nobel Prize winner Nadine Gordimer has just published her 15th novel. It's called "No Time Like the Present" and our book critic Maureen Corrigan has a review.
MAUREEN CORRIGAN, BYLINE: Nadine Gordimer's trademark characters live for politics, the struggle. You get the feeling they would be sick to their collective stomachs if they ever even tried to bite into a gourmet cupcake.
And yet the dilemma of Gordimer's latest novel, called "No Time Like the Present," is this - that with the end of apartheid and the creation of something like the promised better life for all in South Africa, also come the well-deserved rewards of retreating into the private realm, pursuing personal ambition, and even succumbing to the occasional frivolity.
Gordimer's characters here live in what they keep referring to as the aftermath, which turns out for them to be a much more morally ambiguous place than the land of apartheid. The complex and conflicted main characters in "No Time Like the Present" are an interracial married couple named Steve and Jabu.
They met as combatants in the fight against apartheid. Steve, who is white, used his professional skills as an industrial chemist to concoct explosives for sabotage operations. Jabu, the daughter of a Zulu Methodist minister, spent hard time in prison for her activism. When Steve and Jabu first fell in love, their relationship was illegal. Now they're married, and the personal life they fought to enjoy threatens to swallow them up.
The novel follows them over the course of about 20 years as they become parents and achieve professional careers. Steve becomes a university professor, Jabu a lawyer. Along the way, they deliberate between themselves and with a ragtag community of former comrades about the ethics of taking a vacation, sending their kids to private school, and buying a nice house in the suburbs when so many of their fellow citizens still seek shelter under tin and cardboard.
"No Time Like the Present" is not so much a novel about selling out as it is about sanely navigating around the pitfalls of normalcy, about remaining committed without fossilizing into a zealot. And as this novel underscores, there's still plenty of reform needed in South Africa before anyone can fully relax into self-righteousness.
Gordimer weaves in topical commentary here about the ongoing AIDS epidemic, the refugee problem, and the country's sky-high crime rate. A horrific home invasion all but shoves Steve and Jabu into the decision to emigrate with their kids to Australia.
Like Steve and Jabu and their friends, Gordimer herself refuses to kick back in the La-Z-Boy and let up on the intensity of her social vision and language. So many quick passages in "No Time Like the Present" convey the jolt of authenticity. Thinking, for instance, about his disappointment in politics, Steve contents himself with the thought that at least his teaching is going well.
But Gordimer slyly prods us readers away from sharing Steve's complacency. She writes: What's called in psychological jargon job satisfaction's a distraction from political disillusion.
Most novels these days don't look farther than their front yards for their subject matter, or sometimes just the bottom of the protagonist's shot glass; Gordimer, however, like her great Eastern European contemporary Milan Kundera, sees history, power and a gnawing desire for something secular yet encompassing entwined in every mundane gesture. The personal remains political even when the great political struggle has been won.
GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She reviewed Nadine Gordimer's new novel, "No Time Like the Present." You can read an excerpt on our website, freshair.npr.org, where you can also download podcasts of our show. And you can follow us on Tumblr at nprfreshair.tumblr.com and follow us on Twitter at nprfreshair.
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