“Doesn’t anybody stay in one place anymore?”
It’s the silent catch cry of those who hit a certain age where they have finally locked down their circle of friends, lovers, and lounge-rooms, only to look up one day to find the family they built has fled in single file, each in search of different cities, sleepier suburbs, families, and wagons, and adventures, and everything else that simply doesn’t exist anymore in the place they once called home. It’s timeless. It’s inevitable.
While this is often a result of outgrowing one’s younger self, the feeling was also compounded for King by generational changes around her. In the ’50s the path was clear to most: you finish or drop out of school, you either do more study or find a job in the town your grew up in, you marry someone from that same town, you become a nuclear family unit, you wash the sporting jerseys when it’s your turn, you join P&Cs, and share fences, and mow lawns, and argue about finances, and repeat ’til fade. By the late ’60s, the younger generation had seen through this charade, and began flocking to the wild wild west: California, pioneer country, where the skies were brighter and the highs were higher. Convinced there was more to life then moorings and marriage and mortgage, kids tuned out and turned on, wandering from experience to experience, travelling circuses in shitty vans searching for something vague and tantalising they couldn’t yet name – something just over the horizon.
King had made this journey herself, moving from Manhattan to Laurel Canyon in 1968, shedding a husband and a Brill Building songwriter job in the process. She met James Taylor and Joni Mitchell, and started a new chapter as a singer/songwriter.
‘So Far Away’ is from King’s second album ‘Tapestry’, which was released in 1971, and didn’t leave the charts until the twin powers of punk and disco pushed it out of vogue in 1977. Of course, this relegation was merely temporary; ‘Tapestry’ is one of those ubiquitous records that – as Wayne Campbell (of Wayne’s World) said of ‘Frampton Comes Alive’ – “If you lived in the suburbs you were issued it. It came in the mail with samples of Tide”. It sold 25 million copies, and sounds like both a greatest hits album, and a deeply personal collection of tunes about displacement, heartbreak, female empowerment, giddy lust, and everything between. Built from a bar-room piano up, it still sounds so lively 45 years after the fact, you can still feel the breeze in the room, hear the wood creaking, the band playing off each other, her warm, unaffected voice forcing the microphone to crackle. It is a thing of beauty.
King wrote the song while on the road with James Taylor in 1970, homesick and missing her kids and husband – which makes her the one in the song with the dreaded wanderlust. “One more song about moving along the highway”, she sings, noting the well worn theme. She chose this life, but she still feels she hasn’t yet worked it out her way. “I sure hope the road don’t come to own me/ There’s so many dreams I’ve yet to find.”
“I always wanted a real home, with flowers on the windowsill”, she sings elsewhere on ‘Tapestry’ (on ‘Where You Lead’ aka the ‘Gilmore Girls’ theme), before reasoning “but if you want to live in New York City, honey you know I will”. In this case, it’s a statement of commitment to another, but it applies internally, too. It’s the push and pull that tears at so many of us – the comfort of home versus the thrill of new adventures. Movement or anchorage. It’s a choice we all have to make, so I guess the only way to retain some sense of agency is to ensure you make the decision consciously, rather than looking up one day to find that it has already been made for you.