📚 Break Shot: My First 21 Years by James Taylor

Reviewed Jan. 2020

Narrator: James Taylor
Length: 1 hours 33 minutes
Publisher: Audible Original⎮2020

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Summary

"I’m James Taylor and I’m a professional autobiographer. So begins the tender audio memoir Break Shot: My First 21 Years. Through decades of songs by the celebrated folk legend who brought us Fire and Rain and Carolina in My Mind, James Taylor has doled out details of his life in the poetry of his work. Taylor says his early life is the source of many of my songs and Break Shot is a tour of his first 21 years in rich, new detail. Combining storytelling, music and performance, this one-of-a-kind listening experience also features a crop of musical gems, including an unreleased recording of the beloved hymn Jerusalem, selections from his newest release American Standard, as well as new original scoring by Taylor specially recorded for Break Shot and more.

Recorded in his home studio, TheBarn in western Massachusetts, Taylor tells the deeply personal story of his youth, which is entwined with the story of his family. What started as an idyllic tight unit soon became a family sent to different emotional corners – like a break shot in the game of pool, he says, when you slam the cue ball into the fifteen other balls and they all go flying off.

By the time Taylor released his breakout second album in 1970, Sweet Baby James, he had seen the disintegration of his parents’ marriage and his family crumble in the aftermath. He had committed himself twice to a psychiatric hospital, battled depression, a heroin addiction, suffered a relapse, and traveled far away from the wood smoke and moonshine of the North Carolina landscapes in which he came of age. Despite it all, he was also on the cusp of superstardom and on his way to bringing light and joy to millions. He was 21.

In this Audible Original, Taylor lays bare the emotional turmoil he and his family fought through when he was first finding his musical path. At last, he creates an audio memoir illuminating the tenuous first act of a life he’s spent decades learning to fully live. Journey with James Taylor to a time before he became a Grammy Award-winning, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee, a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors and both the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the National Medal of Arts; as well as one of the best-selling musicians of all time.

Special Note: This title is free to members and free with trial through April 2, 2020.

The Audiobookworm's Review

Rating: 4.5 Stars

As a lifelong North Carolinian, James Taylor has always been on my musical and pop cultural radar. His hit "Carolina in My Mind" is the real state song, ask anyone. I've picked up bits and pieces of his life's story here in there, mostly in behind-the-music tidbits. I don't for right into the non-fiction genre often, but when I do, it's usually about a pop-culture figure of specific interest to me. Given that and my love of music history, it's no surprise that Break Shot was such a hit with me.

Since most of Taylor's songs are autobiographical, some curiosity into his personal life is natural.  James himself points this out in the opening sentence of this Audio memoir. He says, “I’m James Taylor and I'm a professional autobiographer.” And from that moment, the very first sentence, I was hooked. I thought “Huh, I've never thought of it that way, but I guess he's right.” Singer-songwriters divulge so much of their personal lives to us through song. Hearing Break Shot made me realize just how much of a vulnerability that is.

Taylor was one of the first singer songwriters on the scene in the 60s. He credits the Beatles with kickstarting his career and discusses making music and hanging out/doing drugs with them in London. One particular line in the memoir that made me laugh out loud is "I'm sure glad I didn't kill John Lennon that night." I'll leave that with you without context as bait for picking up this Audible Original yourself. It's free to anyone with an Audible membership or free trial until April 2, 2020 (it's $7 otherwise and well worth it).

I've always loved music history and the cool thing about Break Shot is how Taylor tells his story: Through song. I'm not sure why I was so surprised by that, especially because it's how he's always told his story to us. But this seemed different because it was music inserted into an oral story, not the other way around. Taylor would tell us something about his family growing up or an experience from his childhood and then seamlessly flow into the song that was written about that same thing. In most cases, the songs were well-known, but the light in which they were shown was entirely new.

To say that this listening experience was enlightening would be a terrible understatement. Between his anecdotes and his songs, Taylor helps us connect the dots that form his life. Some of the information was familiar, but most of it was not. I remember wondering how I could have practically grown up with this man (pop culturally speaking), yet hardly seem to know him at all. His story was right there in the lyrics of his songs all along, but sometimes when you grow up with something, you never really see/hear it until decades later.

Break Shot clearly states that it's the story of his first 21 years, which makes me wonder if a continuation  is in the works. I sincerely hope so, because my only slight disappointment in this was the lack of mention of singer-songwriter Carly Simon, Taylor's first wife. As a fan of both of them, I was hoping to hear stories of their time together, but Simon was pretty much left out all together since they didn't marry until a few years after the end of Break Shot. So it was a bummer that there was nothing about Carly, or their two children (who must be insanely talented).

Still, the fact that Taylor would open up in this way after refusing so many autobiographical opportunities in the past is a treat. He's an intensely private person, preferring to express himself in song, so the audio platform suited his tale perfectly.

Narration review: James Taylor's voice has always soothed me, usually in song. But this time, however, it was his speaking voice that provided a wonderfully comforting experience. I'm so glad that he voiced this himself. The brief interruptions of song were perfectly timed for maximum poignancy. It added so much to the listening experience and proved that, whether singing or speaking, James Taylor is the ultimate storyteller. ♣︎

Let me know what you think!

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