There aren’t many people who could come to Washington, praise Noah Chomsky, describe Richard Nixon’s walk as paleolithic, and still leave a bipartisan audience thoroughly charmed, but James Taylor is definitely one of them.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, an advocate for President Obama who performed Thursday night at the lighting of the National Christmas Tree, addressed an audience of media and fans at the National Press Club Friday, where he discussed his political activism (he’s a self-confessed “yellow dog Democrat”), his thoughts on contemporary pop music (“I guess I don’t like it a whole lot”), and whether he knows who the subject of Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain” is (he doesn’t).
The 64-year-old, who’s sold almost a hundred million records during his 40-plus-year career, performed one of the first songs he ever wrote, “Something in the Way She Moves,” which he also performed for Paul McCartney and George Harrison during his audition for Apple Records at the age of 19. “It turned out well,” Taylor told the audience. “George Harrison liked the song so much he went home and wrote it himself.”
Taylor also discussed his long history of political advocacy, which he said he owes in part to former Republican senator Jesse Helms: “As an antagonist, I feel he helped define me politically.” In the past, Taylor has campaigned for George McGovern, Ted Kennedy, and Elizabeth Warren, as well as President Obama, whom he described as “a wonderful President.” And he expounded on why he thinks politics is so dysfunctional these days, saying, “People are looking for simple answers to complex questions, and when you rush in with a simple answer, people flock to you.”
Taylor sang a few more songs, including “Carolina,” and “Sweet Baby James,” which he talked about writing for his nephew. But he disappointed fans who hoped he might one day run for office himself. “With my personal history? It’d be a massacre,” he said.