Men And Addiction – 3 Questions About Career, Drugs and Recovery with James Taylor
By Nick Krewen
In order to enjoy a career that has seen him sell 100 million albums and frequently tour the world to packed arenas, singer and songwriter James Taylor has overcome some major obstacles.
For over 20 years, the five-time Grammy Award winner and member of the Rock ‘N Roll and Songwriter Hall of Fames spent time in a psychiatric hospital in 1965 and battled drug addiction for the better part of two decades.
With a new studio album called American Standard and on the cusp of undertaking a North American tour, Taylor spoke to Nick Krewen about his recovery journey for the Toronto Star about overcoming his demons. Part of this interview appeared in the Toronto Star and part of the text here is exclusive to The Men’s List.
NICK KREWEN: When you’re writing songs is there a standard that you hold yourself up to? Do you compare yourself to other writers and think, I wish I would have written that? Or do you think, this is my own standard and it’s not going to be anything less than what I want it to be?
JAMES TAYLOR: It’s funny, but it’s never really been a conscious process. I don’t direct it consciously myself. It seems to happen to me and come through me as if I’m channeling this stuff.
I do, of course, compare myself to my contemporaries and to the great songwriters, but it doesn’t play into the actual generation of the music. That is such an unconscious process.
A certain amount of a song is like a lightning strike – hopefully you get 25% of the song and a strong idea of what it’s going to be. And then you have to circle back and go to work on the thing. But even that is a voyage of discovery and it’s like going to sleep and going down to the well and drawing up water from deep below the Earth.
What comes up in the bucket is always a surprise. It’s as if the real work is happening at a subconscious level and I just have to be quiet and patient enough and show up for the process so that I can allow it to happen.
But that’s how it feels.
I also tend to go back to the same themes over and over again – songs about my father, songs about my wife, songs about recovery, songs that are sort of spiritual songs for Agnostics; songs for the environment sometimes. I have my themes that I continue to visit and revisit. I write songs about my audience and what it’s like to be in this life, you know?
NK: Speaking of recovery, you’ve been very open about recovery in the past. How often has music saved your life and if someone is in recovery right now, what would be the best recommendation that you could make to them to continue on that path?
JT: Well, I would say – the first question about music saving my life – I think you have to have enough in your life that’s positive and that brings you along that encourages you to move forward and that you don’t want to lose. And music was that for me. It’s such a positive thing for me that I didn’t want to lose it. In that way, I think it not so much saved my life but gave it purpose.
But your second question, about how to actually recover – the first message is that there’s only one real game in town and that is 12-Step programs of recovery. Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous – all of these 12-step programs are really the only thing that can be counted on to work at all Whatever your problem is with 12-step recovery, you’ve got to get over it, and somehow bring the body and perhaps the mind will follow.
And the other thing that is so difficult about early recovery is, how physically uncomfortable it is for people.
Just the drudgery and the constant discomfort and just wearing on you and the inability to sleep and feeling like you can’t stand being in your own skin.
For that, the answer is physical exercise.
For me, physical exercise was absolutely essential to my recovery. I was an opioid addict – and what you get when you recover from opioids is the opposite of what they did for you when you were getting high. You get all of that back – all of that discomfort, that agitation, the anxiety – the clock seems to slow down and creep by and every day is just a trial. And all roads seem to lead you back to your substance of abuse.
But if you can exhaust yourself physically – get to the gym, get on the bicycle, go out into the woods and walk until you’re exhausted, that’s what’s going to save you – physical exercise. That’s the only thing that saved me.
NK: What is your inspiration these days?
JT: My band and my musical family and making music with them is a constant in my life and I’m more and more grateful for that.
The only thing that’s more important is my family and my duty to them and my wanting to be there for my family. My wife, Kim and my kids are twins – who are 18 years old now – and my grown kids, Ben and Sally. That’s my focus. Between work and family, there’s not a whole lot left.
I just count myself so lucky to have all that I’ve been given, you know? It’s really been a remarkable blessing.