James Taylor almost sang at my wedding. During the waning days of winter in 1970, we were living in Cambridge with some Harvard Law students. Our friend Lou – a dropout from the Law School – had just gifted us a record album. On the cover was a skinny guy in a rumpled tan suit, wide paisley tie and beige suspenders, lying on the grass against a stone wall. “I grew up with this guy – summers on the Cape,” he had told us. We had never heard of James Taylor, but put the record on out of curiosity. The album on Apple Records had been produced by Peter Asher. Paul McCartney was credited on some tracks playing bass guitar. In retrospect, I see that we should have recognized these “minor” details as a sign. What we did think at the time, though, was, “Not bad for an old friend of Lou’s.”
As we listened to the songs, we became more and more impressed. The album had been produced with each song followed by an arrangement that led into the next so that the entire side was of a single piece. And by the time we got to the last song on the first side, we were in love. And we were in love – set to be married that August. Our plan was a small wedding at my home on the Cape with mostly just friends. My mother was not eager to introduce the family to our unkempt hippie pals, as my father referred to them. So she had opted for a small Cape ceremony with an autumn reception for relatives and family friends at home in the city. We had most of the planning done, but no music had been chosen as yet. And an idea was born. Or should I say, an obsession?
Every song on that album was a gem, but the one that captivated us was the last song on Side One: Something in the Way She Moves. That would have to be the song that accompanied me down whatever aisle we might construct on our back lawn overlooking Rider’s Cove in Chatham. And who better to sing the song than the songwriter himself? So, we set about trying to figure out how to contact him.
We didn’t have to wait long. We were visiting a friend in Hartford, Connecticut, when we saw a flyer for a concert at the University of Hartford. Some rock group – maybe Three Dog Night – was performing that Saturday at 7:30PM. The yellow flyer had a black silhouette of the group with their name below announcing the place and time. But just above the rock group’s name in smaller (much smaller) print, was something that caught my eye. “James Taylor opening for…” He was there! In the same city as we were! It had to be fate. We headed straight over to the University to find our wedding singer.
We parked our trusty blue Volkswagen Beetle with its regal white racing stripe that began at the rear hatch, swept up and over the top of the car, and fell elegantly down the front hood to the bumper. Then we headed over to the gym where the concert was being held. The building was closed but we saw a student in a hooded sweatshirt going in a back door. It turned out to be the rear stage entrance. We gave a loud knock. The hooded student opened the door. I handed him a note and asked him to give it to James, casually acting as if we were on a first-name basis. The note simply identified me as a friend of his old friend, Lou, and asked if I could come back and say hi. In a matter of minutes, the sweatshirt was back and he ushered me in.
James was alone in a locker room lit only by the fading daylight. His long hair hung over his face, a scruffy mustache sat on his upper lip, and I couldn’t take my eyes off of a distinctive ridge on his nose which was most fetching. He wore faded jeans and a T-shirt, the required uniform of the times, and was sitting on an upended suitcase. I sat on a bench beside the lockers facing him and began my pitch.
I said that I lived on the Cape, was getting married that summer in Chatham, and would it be possible for him to sing at our wedding. Lou would be there. And, of course, we would pay. He said he thought he’d be on Martha’s Vineyard – at his family’s place – in August, so he couldn’t see why not. I had neglected to come with a pad of paper. So, I ripped a check out of my checkbook and wrote my name and phone number on the back. He asked if I was coming to the concert and I confessed that we had just arrived in Hartford and had not bought tickets. He told me to collect my boyfriend, to go get a seat in the gym, and we’d be in touch.
I floated back to the stage door, opened it, and let Joe in. We found a seat on the gym floor near the stage and waited for the concert to start. Students began drifting in and finding their spots on the floor around us. They were all paying customers, there to see a rock concert. We were there to imagine our wedding day.
James came out on stage to cheers from an audience that was ready for something – anything – to begin. The sound of the applause pleased him and he made a joyful little leap as he took his place by the microphone, guitar in hand. He launched into his prepared greeting, letting us know that his first song would be one that he had never yet sung in public. He had, he explained, an older brother, Alex, who had just had his first child. The opening song of the set would be one that James had written for his newborn nephew, who had been named after him. Standing alone on stage, he began to sing what would become one of his signature pieces, Sweet Baby James.
It was no more than three weeks later when, back in Boston, I got into my VW Bug and turned on the radio. On came a song that had just hit the charts and was going nowhere but up. What met my ears made my heart soar, then sink. I had already heard that song at a recent concert. I listened in dismay as the song, Fire and Rain, introduced James to his soon to be adoring American fan base. Because I knew what that meant.
Later that week, I called James in North Carolina, to confirm what I already knew. He would not be available that August to serenade me at my nuptials. He’d instead be in London recording another album at Apple Records and shooting a movie. In the end, we hired some folk singers for the wedding to sing some JT, some Simon and Garfunkel, and other hit tunes from the ‘70s. They were fine, but a sorry consolation prize after my high hopes. I have since seen James in concert three or four times and many more times on television. He’s always great, but he’ll never be as great as he was on the day that he told me he could sing at my wedding. When we sat together in a deserted gym locker room and talked about getting together on the Cape in the summer of 1970. When he was just a friend of Lou’s.