Spectacle: Elvis Costello With...

Season 1 Episode 4

James Taylor

Aired Wednesday 9:00 PM Dec 24, 2008 on Sundance Channel
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Episode Summary

James Taylor
James Taylor joins Elvis for his interview/performance show. The legendary 'singer-songwriter' comments on his life, his times and the writers and musicians who influenced his four decade-long career. Taylor brings along his guitar and interweaves the often intimate conversation with some of his most famous creations (Fire And Rain, Sweet Baby James), as well as songs by several other great writers, such as Carole King and George Jones. And, as always, Elvis joins James in song for some magical, live musical performances.moreless
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  • James Taylor is laid-back, low-key, and philosophical as always.

    As usual, Costello's interviewing technique is to invite Taylor to reminisce about his early, formative musical influences, philosophy of life and other topics. Taylor is a particularly philosophical fellow who can turn nearly any question into a disquisition on the nature of the human animal and universe in general. Some highlights include Taylor's likening of Sarah Palin to Annie Oakley, the performance of the iconic, poetic song of loss, Fire and Rain, and an emotional moment when Taylor explains that the song That Lonesome Road was first used as a spiritual at John Belushi's graveside. Also as usual, the performances are all quite fine, so any fan of Taylor will be satisfied with this entry to the series.moreless

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Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions


  • TRIVIA (1)

    • Song List

      Bartenders Blues (Written by James Taylor)
      Performed by Elvis (Guitar/Vocal), Laura Cantrell (Vocal)

      She Thinks I Still Care (George Jones-Written By Dickey Lee)
      Performed by James Taylor (Guitar, Vocal), Elvis (Vocal)

      Why Baby Why (Written By George Jones/Darrell Edwards)
      Performed By James Taylor (Guitar/Vocal) and band
      (Jimmy Johnson, Steve Gadd, Mike Landau, Andrea Zonn, David Lasley, Kate Markowitz, Arnold McCuller)

      Crying In The Rain (Everly Brothers-Written By King/Greenfield)
      Performed By James Taylor (Guitar/Vocal), Elvis Costello (Guitar/Vocal) and band
      (Jimmy Johnson, Steve Gadd, Mike Landau)

      Fire And Rain (Written by James Taylor)
      Performed By James Taylor (Guitar/Vocal) and band
      (Jimmy Johnson, Steve Gadd, Mike Landau)

      That Lonesome Road (Written by James Taylor/Don Grolnick)
      Performed By James Taylor (Vocal) and chorus
      (Andrea Zonn, David Lasley, Kate Markowitz, Arnold McCuller)

      Sweet Baby James (Written by James Taylor)
      Performed By James Taylor (Guitar/Vocal) and band
      (Jimmy Johnson, Steve Gadd, Mike Landau, Andrea Zonn)

      The Hippopotamus Song (Written by M. Flanders/D. Swann)
      Performed By James Taylor (Vocal) and Elvis Costello (Vocal) - Snippet

  • QUOTES (14)

    • Elvis: When I hear you sing, I can imagine, if you could go in a time machine, we could have seen you in a singing cowboy movie. Did you ever have that dream?
      James: Yeah, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, The Sons of the Pioneers, that kind of … I mean, we were North Carolina as I was growing up, so we heard actual country music, you know. I mean … Grand Ole Opry and … and country music stations. So Hank Williams was familiar fare, I remember Flat and Scruggs … their TV show was on. Porter Wagoner, he had a show on TV that we used to see, so a lot of popular music in the South was … was country stuff … sort of what we think of now as traditional country music, as opposed to modern country.

    • James (talking about the idea that the American frontier is still alive): And it still … that resonates with Americans still, even though the western is, for the time being out of …you know, it's out of style, but, you know, we're still amazingly transfixed by this Annie Oakley figure, uh, Sarah Palin.
      Elvis: Yeah. I hadn't thought of her in … I hadn't thought of her as this … an Annie Oakley figure.
      James: No, no, she is - she's, she's American frontier, she's pi …
      Elvis: And you go to the picture in office and she's got a big dead bear skin in there and, you know …
      James: Yeah, yeah. That's her whole thing. I mean, that's what's being evoked with that, and, I mean, if we have another four years of the kind of government we've had, we'll need to know how to skin a moose.

    • James (on Bartender's Blues): I wrote it as, you know, trying to sound as much like George Jones as ever I could, 'cause I, I was amazed by that type of singing, which to me seemed to be … it's like he didn't learn it from … a human, he learned it from steel guitar or something, you know, how to sing like that.

    • James (on George Jones): I mean, the way he … rolls the words around in his mouth and twists them out, you know, it's sort of like … a singing fist or something.

    • James: I never really … you know, the idea of fame or the idea of representing other people with your own life, in other words, having a life that other people watch because it somehow … represents them, you know … That's, when you identify with someone, I think that's what happens a little bit, and that must be a little bit what celebrity and fame is about, is … finding somebody who represents you in the world, you know, in the wide world.
      Elvis: But it isn't tremendously poetic a lot of the time. It's mostly just falling out of a nightclub and showing your knickers or something like that.

    • Elvis: The one thing is that when you strike out in writing about your own experiences or out of your own life, your skill in doing it is to describe something and make it believable and emotional to other people, but the risk surely is that you put specifics in there which you may later regret.
      James: I loved you line "sticky valentine." You know, it's … it is a little sort of schmaltzy sensitive from time to time but, you know, but every once in a while it transcends that and actually … something works, something actually happens.

    • James: It seems to me that the dynamic of (performing) is … the rigors and the exceptionally intense , sort of personally risky aspect of that, that's something that … in a normal civilian life I think you would experience maybe once a year or once every other year at a job interview or maybe at a …when … if your kid is … makes it into the playoffs in the little leagues or you have an experience like that … a tax audit or … a divorce or something like that, so … and to have something like that every night, and the way you feel afterwards, the exhilaration and then the release that you feel afterwards, it's … it's a lot of mileage to put on.

    • James: That transition from being very … private sort of event, and doing it, you know, I was a sort of autobiographical singer-songwriter, and so it was … it's a very intimate sound and it's a very close conversation, as you say, and to then take that to market and to somehow find it, you know, blown up and … expanded, that's a transition that's been a challenge to a lot of people, and I think it … you know, you could say that it killed some people … that it was just too much.

    • James: That transition of becoming the product, you know … and being somehow at the center of the popular culture … for a moment … That's a big deal and it's a shock to a lot of people. You know, I mean, it's obviously what we want, it's what we're … aiming for. We want to be heard by as many people as possible and have an affect on as many people as we can, but still, when it happens, it's hold on to your hat.

    • (James is speaking about his son, Benjamin, following him into 'the life')
      Elvis: Are there any areas where you're fearful for him?
      James: Sure, I think it's a really risky … you know … by all rights I really shouldn't be here at all and …about five times, I should have …you know, just stupid mistakes really, but … and the life, the way I was living, and so that terrifies me a little bit, you know the, uh, just the possibility of a drug overdose or a car wreck or … It's just a … It's a … It's a wild …It's a wild life.

    • Elvis: At times, I know I have a mythic map of my father's hometown in my head in which I move characters around in songs. Is it always a real Carolina that you're speaking of in songs? Or is it sort of a place where longing goes? Is it an imagined place? (James nods his head) It is.
      James: I think that that's a very good way of describing it. It's the sort of context of my longing, yeah.
      Elvis: You have to connect to the rest of the family, surely, to be a complete writer.
      James: Yeah, I think so, I mean, I think that we are experiments in individuated consciousness and I think that we … we assemble the world inside our heads and that removes us from it. We don't live in it, we live in our representation of it. Our sort of secondhand, second generation construction of what the world is.

    • James: So we live in a representative context. We live in a … we live separated from the reality that we really live in. People are always looking to get back, they look, they strive for oneness, you know, that thing? And that's because only we can get lost. I mean, maybe there are other animals that can get lost a little bit, maybe a dolphin can get lost, but it seems to me as though only humans can really get lost.

    • Elvis: When we sing of those that we love, I mean, some people find love songs, songs about children, songs about loss, songs about survival, as sentimental. Some people want everything to be in the darkness all the time and never come out into the light again. But to my way of thinking, singing songs about those you love makes you stronger, not weaker.

    • Elvis: James, I was a … I'm a … fallen Catholic alter boy and … I, that's my confession, and I - I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time trying to write Protestant hymn tunes, you know? Maybe it's true that the Devil has all the best tunes.

  • NOTES (1)

    • This Week's Guest Musicians

      Mike Landau (Guitar)
      Jimmy Johnson (Bass)
      Steve Gadd (Drums)
      Laura Cantrell (Vocal)
      Andrea Zonn (Fiddle, Vocal)
      David Lasley, Kate Markowitz, Arnold McCuller (Vocals)


  • 10:00 pm