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Video: Carole King talks legacy, and her ‘greatest joy’

  1. Transcript of: Carole King talks legacy, and her ‘greatest joy’

    ANN CURRY, co-host: Back now at 8:39 with the legendary singer/songwriter Carole King . She's out with her memoir, opening up about her famous songs, highs and lows of her personal life and the people she's met all along the way. It's called, what else, "A Natural Woman ." Carole King , good morning.

    Ms. CAROLE KING (Author, "A Natural Woman"): Good morning.

    CURRY: That's a hello, how are you? You're smiling already.

    Ms. KING: I'm smiling because I didn't have to look very far for that title.

    CURRY: You know, but the idea of sitting down and over the course you say of -- for 12 years, thinking about your life and writing about yourself and your life. I mean, people say that writing a memoir is incredibly illuminating. What did you learn about yourself?

    Ms. KING: Oh, my gosh. I learned so much, really. A lot of this book is context. I sort of had the overview of why did I actually do the things that I did? And why did I choose the men I chose? And you know, I really kind of go into that with an overview, as well as writing from inside.

    CURRY: How was it that Carole Klein found herself talking to record executives when she was just 15 years old?

    Ms. KING: I met Alan Freed . I wanted to meet Alan Freed , the legendary, you know, disc jockey. My father was a New York City firefighter. He had the badge which could get him anywhere and Alan Freed gave me the advice to look in the phone book and call record companies and go meet. And I was like, somebody can have success, why not me, which is a motivating thing in my life. It's like somebody can accomplish X or Y, why not me?

    CURRY: Why not you?

    Ms. KING: Yeah.

    CURRY: And that allowed you to have a lot of chutzpah, would carry through all the days of your life. And you write about not really necessarily though wanting to be the star. You wanted to be the songwriter whose songs were heard. So what was your reaction when you first heard Aretha Franklin singing " Natural Woman "?

    Ms. KING: In three words? Oh, my God. And that's exactly how I wrote it. And it was just an amazing thing. And as a songwriter, that's what gives me the greatest joy is to hear artists take it to the next level, the level I can't. I can't sing like that. I can suggest how to sing like that, which I did in a demo. I made a demo for her with Gerry Goffin , and you can kind of hear the elements in the demo. There's an album coming out, by the way, in a couple of weeks, April 24th , called " The Legendary Demos ." And so there's a lot of the demos capturing this time.

    CURRY: Right, which is a good map to have the songs emerge eventually. And you know, over this book we hear about your loves, your losses, you married twice, you had four kids.

    Ms. KING: I actually married four times.

    CURRY: Four times, OK.

    Ms. KING: Yes.

    CURRY: And then you had...

    Ms. KING: Hope springs eternal.

    CURRY: Four kids though, right? I got that right.

    Ms. KING: Yes.

    CURRY: And there was a relationship you write about that had to be painful to write about. You say, "Without warning, he struck with his right fist. He hit me hard, as if we were in a boxing ring except he wasn't wearing gloves and he wasn't in a boxing ring ." What did you learn in your life about why a woman stays in an abusive relationship?

    Ms. KING: Well, the writing of this story, I wasn't sure I was going to include it in the book. But I wanted people to understand, people who go through that, mostly women, but some men, that you're not alone. This is a phenomenon that can even happen to somebody like me who was successful, wed, financial independence and what I learned is it's a really bad dynamic and it's very hard to get out. And I put a box in the book that actually says, here's where you can go to get help and it's right there. So that was really the main reason why I included the story.

    CURRY: Hm. And -- in trying to help other people, clearly, in doing that. And it seems to evoke what seems to be a theme, at least I would guess, from this book. When you look at the black and white photographs of you as a young woman , having children at such a young age, to making "Tapestry," your most successful album to even today, the word that comes to mind is evolution.

    Ms. KING: Definitely.

    CURRY: Constant evolution. What makes you so open constantly?

    Ms. KING: Well, you know, before you answer that, I just want to clarify it because I don't want anybody to think the wrong -- the name of the man that was the abusive husband was Rick Evers . It was not Gerry Goffin , it was not Charlie Larkey and it was not the fourth husband, also named Rick . Having said that, I really wanted to make that clear.

    CURRY: Sure.

    Ms. KING: The evolution is just, it's something that happens with age. You know, I've just turned 70 and I really feel the evolution. I finally felt the calmness because people have said, 'You should write about your life,' for a lot of my life because I have such an interesting life. But it was only until just before I was 60 that I just said, OK, I'm ready to embrace this stage of my life. And that's my current stage of the evolution.

    CURRY: You have had more than 400 compositions recorded by more than 1,000 artists, you've had 100 hit singles, many reaching number one. You've got five grandchildren, a life clearly as we see in this book that is as rich as a tapestry. How do you want to be remembered? How do you want people to think of you and what you've done with your life now that you've looked back on it?

    Ms. KING: Well, first I want to say one word to everything you've said: gratitude. And as how I want to be remembered, I -- my goal every day is to try to be a good person, to try to do kind things, to try to make the world a better place in the ways that I can. And if I have influenced one person in a good way, that's good enough.

    CURRY: And I think that's what we feel when we hear your music.

    Ms. KING: Oh, thank you.

    CURRY: And when we read your book and hear you play with James Taylor , this is theme of your life. I think your right. Carole King , thank you...

    Ms. KING: Thank you.

    CURRY: ...for the gift of you. And the book is called " A Natural Woman ." And of course, her album is coming out that you just mentioned in a few weeks. It's a collection of previously unrecorded songs.

    Ms. KING: "The Legendary Demos."

    CURRY: Yes, right. Legend is the right word for you.

TODAY books
updated 4/10/2012 8:40:28 AM ET 2012-04-10T12:40:28

Legendary singer/songwriter Carole King opens up about her life, her struggles and her art in "A Natural Woman." Here's an excerpt.

Chapter One

The Name of the Father

In the first decade of the twentieth century a man and a woman from Poland, another man from Poland, and a woman from Russia undertook to cross a continent and an ocean with little more than a fierce determination to find a better life in America. They were my grandparents, and they found that better life in Brooklyn, New York. Had my grandparents not emigrated when they did, I might have been born Jewish in Eastern Europe during World War II, or I might not have been born at all. Instead, I was born in 1942 in New York City.

The story I heard was that when each of my grandparents landed on Ellis Island, an American immigration official wrote down his or her name. My paternal grandparents’ surname, Glayman (pronounced GLYE-man), was written down as Klein, which means “small” in German. Though not German, my grandfather, David, was of small stature and, at four foot eight, his young wife, Mollie, was even shorter. Their DNA and the similar stature of my maternal grandparents would foreclose a prepubescent dream of at least one of their future American granddaughters. Predestined to reach a maximum adult height of five feet two inches, I would never grow up to become a tall, slender fashion model.

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My name at birth was Carol Joan Klein. It would take me five decades to appreciate my surname and the history that came with it. Along the way I would add an “e” to Carol and acquire several more surnames.

Note to self: wanting to change your surname is not a good reason to get married.

My father’s name was Sidney Klein. Everyone called him Sid. My mother’s name was Eugenia Cammer. Everyone called her Genie. They met in an elevator at Brooklyn College in 1936. Dad was studying chemistry; Mom’s majors were English and drama. They were married on October 6, 1937, after which my mother rechanneled her considerable ambition and intelligence into running a household on a weekly budget of fifteen dollars. My dad left college before graduating and worked briefly as a radio announcer, thereby setting the precedent of a Klein in front of a microphone. He didn’t stay in that job very long. With job security on his mind during the Great Depression, he went into civil service and found his calling as a New York City firefighter.

Grand Central Publishing

My dad liked helping people and solving problems. He did both every time he pulled someone out of a burning building. My father’s captain proudly described him to my mother as “always first on the nozzle,” a revelation that brought little comfort to a fireman’s wife. Though many of his colleagues died saving others, my dad lived for many years after his retirement. When I was very young, his shift at the firehouse kept him away from home for several days and nights at a time. I missed him, but the upside was that we were able to do things as a family on his days off. Sometimes we went to Coney Island, a short bus ride from our house, where Mommy and Daddy would sit on a bench nearby while I played in the cool, damp sand under the boardwalk. After a while I’d climb up onto the splintery wood and let Mommy brush the sand off me. Then I’d skip along the boardwalk between Mommy and Daddy, holding both their hands, until we arrived at the stand where Daddy always gave me a nickel to buy a huge sugary mound of cotton candy.

But the thing I remember most about Coney Island is Daddy, Mommy, and me crowded into one of those primitive audio recording booths to record my voice on a black acetate disc so they could preserve the moment for posterity. That was my first recording experience. I no longer have that disc, but I still remember my three-year-old baby voice saying, “My name is Carol Joan Klein, and I live at 2466 East 24th Street in Brooklyn, New York.” I sang “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” And then I began to cry.

Copyright © 2012 Carole King. From the book "A Natural Woman," published by Grand Central Publishing. Reprinted with permission.

© 2012 MSNBC Interactive


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