As the most successful female songwriter of the rock era, Carole King has been a central figure in two of pop music's Golden Ages. In the late '50s and early '60s, she and lyricist Gerry Goffin--her husband at the time--wrote some of rock's most enduring songs, including such No. 1 hits as the Drifters' yearning "Up on the Roof" and the Shirelles' "Will You Love Me Tomorrow."
Then in 1971, King's landmark "Tapestry" album helped usher in the era of the "soft-rock" singer-songwriter--such as her friend James Taylor, who reached No. 1 with her song "You've Got a Friend." "Tapestry" won four major Grammys and stayed on the sales charts for six years.
King, who sought a balanced life instead of pursuing stardom, has quietly issued a steady output of albums over the past two decades. The 1990 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee has also been writing music for films, and has turned her attention to acting, appearing in plays, movies and TV shows.
King, 51, divides her time between homes in Los Angeles, New York and rural Idaho, and has been involved in the fight to change national forest logging practices. She makes her first Los Angeles appearance in four years on Sunday at the Universal Amphitheatre, in support of her current "Colour of Your Dreams" album.
Question: When you were making "Tapestry" did you have a sense that it was something special?
Answer: No. I just did what I always do, which is write songs, put them down on tape and throw it out there.
Q: You became a symbol of a change in your generation's attitude--a retreat from '60s turmoil toward a soothing, reassuring stance. Did you take that role seriously?
A: No, I just have the attitude of I am what I am and if somebody wants to analyze it or characterize it, it's someone else's job.
Q: Why did you became reclusive at the height of "Tapestry's" popularity, when you turned down interviews and performed sparingly?
A: I'd seen what extreme fame had done to many people. I was grateful for the appreciation of my work, but I wanted no part of the intrusion on my life. I just absorbed myself in my family, and regarded that other thing out there as my work. Just as anybody else would go to a job, that was my work.
Q: But didn't you have some ambitions for success? Do you have any regrets that you didn't handle things differently?
A: Absolutely no regrets, and I've tried to conduct my life in a similar fashion up to this day. . . . I'm ambitious for success to the extent that I want my work to be appreciated by as many people as possible. But other than that I'm just as happy to concentrate on the process, to concentrate on experiencing life outside of being a rock performer, and if record sales suffer as a result, so be it. That may have happened, but I made my deal, and I have everything I want. I'm very happy.
Q: Have you encountered many barriers because you're a woman?
A: None that I was aware of. It never occurred to me that I would have any problems in the business because I was a woman, and therefore never had any. But I do want to say that I am told I am one of the lucky ones, because that is not the norm. The norm seems to be women having problems.
Q: You're 51, and your shows now seem to have more energy than they did in the "soft-rock" '70s. Does that surprise you?
A: I'm so tired of reading articles and reviews that talk as if people of my generation have to prove they've still got it. That's not the perspective I see. I see us as survivors. We have survived, we have transcended generations. We're not poor things desperately holding on.
Q: Do you hear any quality songs in today's music?
A: Some of the people I admire today are U2, Annie Lennox, Peter Gabriel, Daniel Lanois. And of the younger groups, Soul Asylum, I really like their work. A great song is a great song.
Q: Did you take pride in hearing your influence on such acts as the Beatles?
A: Yes. I liked when John Lennon said, "We want to be the Goffin & King of England." . . . I'm always meeting people who tell me what an influence I was on them, and of course it's incredibly gratifying.
Q: How serious are you about acting?
A: I love doing it, they say I'm good at it. I hope to be taken seriously at it, but sometimes it's hard to overcome this patronizing attitude--"Oh, she's a singer." I figure if I go on and I get the shot to read, they'll see what I can do. The people that hear me tend to take me more seriously.
Q: How did you become an environmental activist?
A: I've been working on wilderness issues since about 1984. There are many many causes that call out to me. AIDS, the homeless--you name a form of injustice and I'd like to be doing something. But the one I seem to have been called to do is to protect what wilderness is left in the northern Rockies. I've been working with Congress and I think we're going to get some legislation to protect that area.
Q: How do you deal with the public's skepticism about celebrities attaching themselves to causes?
A: You know how I overcome that? It's like the acting. Any preconception people have of me can best be overcome by ability. And when I'm questioned about these things and I get attitude about it, ask me a question about the issue and I usually come back with an answer that earns respect. I know what I'm talking about, I'm not just doing this between jobs. In fact, lobbying in Congress has become my second job. I'm recognized by many members of Congress--"Oh God, is she here again?"
Q: Your daughter Louise Goffin has a music career, and now her sister Sherry is in your band and writing songs. Did you encourage them to follow in your footsteps?
A: No, I discouraged them. I warned them about all the dangers, the personal and emotional dangers of doing it, but it's what they want to do, and having been warned, if they still want to do it, I am really happy for them.