erasing clouds

King for Kerry: An Interview With Carole King

by matthew webber

Singer/songwriter Carole King's latest tour finds her without a band or any music, stumping for Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry instead of performing her hits. Perhaps best known for her landmark 1971 album Tapestry, King has written and performed music for almost four decades, from Motown standards to confessional ballads. She is a member of the rock 'n' roll and songwriters halls of fame.

At a roundtable discussion in support of Kerry in Kirksville, Mo., Sept. 28, King discussed Kerry's plans for rural America, the war on terror, and the economy. Then she led the crowd in an a capella version of perhaps her most famous song, "You've Got a Friend."

What's more inspiring to you, reaching people through your music or reaching people through politics?

It's not a more inspiring. It's apples and oranges. Both are incredibly important to my life, and I've sort of given up most of this year to be on the campaign trail. It's really great when I meet somebody who's genuinely undecided, and I speak from my heart, I'm telling the truth, and then somebody says, "Thank you. You've convinced me. I understand now why I should vote for John Kerry." I don't have an agenda here except, you know, taking the country out of hands that I think are dangerous on so many levels and putting the country in the hands of someone I know and I respect, and I bring that message to other people.

How would you respond to criticism that it's not a musical artist's job to do that, that they should only be playing music and they shouldn't express their opinions to people?

A musical artist is a citizen. I'm an American citizen who happens to be a musical artist, and if my celebrity happens to bring people into a room for discussion, so much the better. But then I better know what I'm talking about, and I do.

What similarities or differences do you see between this election and elections at the beginning of your music career, when the music was viewed as being more political and challenging to people? Music went away from that for awhile.

I think the music business right now is so corporate. The mainstream music that we hear is pretty corporate, and it's pretty much not that political. But there's lots of political music; you just have to go on the Web to find it. But that's why I have my own record company, because I wanted to put out my own music. My latest album is called Love Makes the World. [At], people can hear it, and they can order it online or whatever. But it's actually not political; it's about love. I sort of like to make a separation; like, I went on tour this summer, did my living room tour, and that was where people came to hear me, and I let it be known that my stage was going to be nonpartisan, and I chose to use my freedom of speech in that way. If someone else wants to use their freedom of speech to speak, you know, about their candidate onstage, that's up to them. I chose this path. Then when I'm on the trail for political purposes to get out there and get a political message out, that's another matter entirely. Both are really wonderfully rewarding.

If there's somebody young who plays music and has political ideas, what advice would you give them in terms of blending them or choosing one over the other? What would you tell them?

Young people have a tool that I didn't have when I was younger, and that's the Internet. I would say if you have a passion, whether it's music or politics or both, whatever your passion is, I think there's room for people to follow it. I think there's room for people to make money actually doing that through the Internet. I mean, it's just- You guys have- I understand it, and I use it, but, you know, you guys were sort of born [that] when you were coming up, so was the Internet. And the ability of people your age to use that, you can do anything.

Issue 27, October 2004

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