One of the first songs I ever sang in public was James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain.” It was 1970, I was in Form 4 (grade 10) and I was auditioning for a place in a school concert. I didn’t get in but this should tell you that I have had a long acquaintance with James Taylor, ok at least with his music. So it was really special to catch him live tonight (Feb 21) with darling Bernice and son Mark. It has been 23 years since he came to Singapore. We didn’t know if he would come to Singapore again. Bernice and I both love his music and we had dreamed of going to his concert together. This will be a special memory for us.

He understood that many in the audience came to hear his older songs. He was even apologetic the two times he sang new material. The new songs were good but they didn’t stand a chance against the older songs because the older songs were memory hooks that transported the listeners back to key points in their lives. My first exposure to Taylor was the decade of 1970 to 1980. It was a time of: exams, measles, crushes, intense friendships, worries about your future, leaving home for the first time to go to university, etc. —James Taylor’s songs were a large part of the soundtrack of my life in a period where so much life happened. His new songs cannot transport me back to that time like his early songs can.

James Taylor is 69 now. He has had a successful career by any measure. The reasons for his continuing success are obvious. He has a warm voice that reaches your heart, of course a bit weaker now. He is a fantastic guitarist. He has a self-deprecating sense of humour. (After singing “Fire and Rain,” he said that the song meant a lot to him. Then he said the next song meant nothing to him and launched into “Steam Roller Blues.” Well, you had to be there.) He surrounds himself with top-notch musicians. But finally, it is the songs he sings; both his covers of other people’s compositions and his own compositions.

His songs move you for many reasons. There are songs that powerfully describe the human condition, like “Sweet Baby James” (loneliness), “Carolina On My Mind” (homesickness), “Fire and Rain” (the need for divine help in overcoming addictions):

Won’t you look down upon me, Jesus,
You’ve got to help me make a stand.
You’ve just got to see me through another day.
My body’s aching and my time is at hand and I won’t make it any other way.

You listen to songs like these and say, “yes, that’s right, that’s how it is” and you feel less lonely. There are fun songs that make you laugh, like “Steam Roller Blues”, his parody of blues music that is over-pretentious, and songs that describe what we should be at our best. He is perhaps best known for “You’ve Got a Friend” which was composed by Carole King. It is the best song on friendship I know.

Once in awhile glimpses of the divine appear in his music, like that verse in “Fire and Rain” above. I learnt a new song at the concert, “Shed A Little Light.” It’s a call for humanity to reach out to each other in love, recognising the bonds that bind us together. It’s a message that we desperately need today. The song recognises that human unity can only come about with divine help.

Shed a little light, oh Lord,
So that we can see,
Just a little light, oh Lord.
Want to stand it on up,
Stand it on up, oh Lord,
Want to walk it on down,
Shed a little light, oh Lord.

Can’t get no light from the dollar bill,
Don’t give me no light from a TV screen.
When I open my eyes I want to drink my fill
From the well on the hill,
Do you know what I mean?

We do, JT, we do. Thank you.