James Taylor

On this date in 1948, musician James Taylor was born in Boston and grew up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. He first took up the guitar while at Milton Academy, a boarding school in Massachusetts. He began writing songs during an early bout with depression in 1965, and became addicted to heroin, a habit he had kicked by the mid-1970s. Taylor's breakthrough album was Sweet Baby James (1970), and his best-known song was "Fire and Rain," which stayed in the Top 10 from 1970-1972. Rolling Stone magazine has called Taylor "the archetypal 'sensitive' singer/songwriter of the seventies" and The New York Times dubbed him "a Troubadour from the 70's." Taylor told Time Magazine (May 19, 1997) that he is "a lefty like my pop," a physician and "Adlai Stevenson Democrat." Taylor has done benefits for several causes, such as a rainforest concert at Carnegie Hall. He has been married three times, notably to Carly Simon for 11 years. Taylor wrote some of the songs for the Broadway musical, "Working," based on the work of Studs Terkels, and appeared as a truck driver in the PBS version of the play. Taylor's 17th album, "Hourglass" (1997), contains "spirituals for agnostics," he has said. The song "Up from Your Life" begins: "God's not at home." "Growing up in North Carolina, I missed the boat on most religions. My dad was basically an atheist or at best an agnostic," he told The New York Times (May 18, 1997).

“. . . when individuated consciousness comes up against the idea of individual death, something’s got to give. That’s why people invent afterlives, and versions of the afterlife, which there is absolutely no evidence for whatsoever [laughs]. . . . I think God is the name of a question. God is not an existing thing.” [Blue Railroad interview]

Rolling Stone: One of the themes of this record is disbelief --trying to make sense of life without believing in God. In 'Up From Your Life,' you sing, 'For an unbeliever like you/ There's not much they can do.' In 'Gaia,' you call yourself a 'poor, wretched unbeliever.'

James Taylor: Well, I find myself with a strong spiritual need--in the past five years, particularly. And, certainly, it's acknowledged as an important part of recovery from addiction. Yet it's hard for me to find an actual handle for it. I'm not saying that it's not helpful to think of having a real handle on the universe, your own personal point of attachment. But. . . I think it's crazy. But it's an intensity that keeps us sane. You might call a lot of these songs 'spirituals for agnostics.'

RS: Does not having faith in a personal god make it harder to stick with a 12-step recovery program?

JT: Twelve-step programs say an interesting thing; Either you have a god, or you are God and you don't want the job.

—James Taylor, interview, Rolling Stone (June 24, 1997)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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