It's been nearly a year since one of the biggest moments in my life.
In July 2016, I went with my partner to watch Carole King performing live in Hyde Park, London.
It wasn't just that I'd been a fan, no a super-fan, of Carole since Lord knows when, probably my early teens if not earlier, or that her words and music resonate with me on the very deepest level. It wasn't even that I was here with my partner when for many many years the very thought of having someone like that in my life seemed to be beyond the remotest possibility. It was the fact that for those few hours in Hyde Park with 65,000 other super-fans, I was experiencing the very essence of contentment. Finding quiet contemplation in a crowd of 65,000 people would seem impossible and yet, here each one of us was inwardly connecting with our spirit through music and outwardly sharing a wave of joy, laden with melancholic poignancy, singing along at the top of our voices, remembering how it was when we first heard the music and realising that we were still alive, lucky and blessed to be hearing the music still.
Carole King was now 74 years old and her voice perhaps a little more fragile than back in the day, but age is irrelevant. This was about being here with the woman who spoke to us through the years, who reassured us through her words and caressed us with her melodies. It was about comfort. Because it reminded us how lucky we were to be here at all, after the journey we each had made.
As she sang her way through Tapestry, her iconic 1971 album, we were all transported back to a time when life felt more simple. When we could imagine a world down the line where the sun might shine every day. A place, where to quote Carole's own words... “Way Over Yonder......trouble's gonna lose me, worry leave me behind”.
But, although time softens the memories, it was always a struggle.
I don't know if I've ever told anyone this but I first 'came out' as a gay man on Carole King's own website.... several years ago, when the internet was in its early days and there was a forum for Carole's fans. I decided that there may be some sympathetic, perhaps like-minded souls there and yet I could also remain more or less anonymous.
In the world in which I lived, where I felt that others were judging me constantly, I was terrified to admit, even to myself, that I was gay. And yet years earlier, one of Carole's own songs had encouraged me to acknowledge this part of me even if I wasn't to admit it fully for some considerable time. The song In The Name Of Love advised me to “..do the things you believe in, in the name of love – and know that you aren't alone, we all have doubts and fears”. That remains one of my favourite songs because it helped shape who I am.
Indeed, in 1986, I wrote a play based on the lyrics, a muddled tale about a closeted gay married man whose wife discovered his secret. The naïve play wasn't going anywhere but in retrospect I can see that it was my unconscious admission to myself about who I was - or who I might become. Or maybe even a conscious admission....
After I had handed the script of my play over to a theatre in Liverpool which had shown an interest, I became consumed with doubt and anxiety. I was terrified that my secret might come out. On some level I wanted it to but at the same time I was utterly petrified. And I returned to the theatre, retrieved my script and tore it up into little pieces. I withdrew to a dark place deep inside myself and there I remained for the next few years, afraid and lonely.
But anyway, after the dawn of the internet, on the Carole King website forum I felt safer. I ventured a modest post admitting that Carole's music was helping me to come out. I didn't expect a response, it was an exercise in gaining personal confidence in my identity. However I received many messages of support, some kind strangers were even congratulating me on being gay. This was a revelation for me and I realised that actually the whole world was not against me, there were others out there like me, we had found the same path through Carole's music and they were willing to encourage and share.
Now, in 2016, the concert in Hyde Park was in some ways a distillation of the journey for me. I hesitate to call it the culmination, as that might imply the journey is over and it isn't, though the biggest part of it surely is.
But here I was, standing with my partner at my side, in a park in London, listening to a woman who helped shape my life, singing from the heart for me - and thousands of others who no doubt each had their own tale to tell. With truth and openness, this woman really had provided the soundtrack to my life.
As Carole sat alone at the piano and sang Will You Love Me Tomorrow, my emotions welled up and spilled over, and the memories of years of uncertainty, pain and real heartache made me cry, tears for the young man I was back then, the man who was struggling to find out who he was, but also tears of pure joy, celebrating the man I am today. And all that had happened in between.
And as I looked around me, on that fair summer's evening while the sun set in shades of orange and red over the horizon, and as Carole sang words from her heart to mine, I saw that 65,000 other people were crying too.
“..do the things you believe in, in the name of love – and know that you aren't alone, we all have doubts and fears”.
It's probably the best advice I have ever had.
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