At the age of 67, James Taylor has made his 16th album, his first in 13 years.
8:00AM BST 20 Jun 2015
…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.
Taylor at home in New York with his then wife, Carly Simon, 1971 (JIM MCCRARY/REDFERNS)
All of which makes the lyric of Today Today Today, the opening song on Before This World, his 16th album of new songs, the first in 13 years, starkly relevant. It has him assessing his role in the musical firmament as an older man, with a palpable sense of wonder.
‘Somehow I haven’t died,’ he sings.
‘One of the things you learn as you get older is that you’re just the same’
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.’
Taylor at the Democratic National Convention, 2012 (RALF-FINN HESTOFT/CORBIS)
‘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.’
Before This World by James Taylor (Concord/Decca) is out now