Rocky Mountain Activist Carole King

In 1971, Carole King's Tapestry was one of the best selling albums of the year. King's No. 1 hit, It's Too Late, spent 15 weeks at the top of the charts. She won four Grammy Awards for the record, and it became a landmark album for many baby boomers.

Carole King i i

During the height of her success, Carole King moved to the mountains of Idaho and became a dedicated advocate for the environment. Shore Fire hide caption

itoggle caption Shore Fire
Carole King

During the height of her success, Carole King moved to the mountains of Idaho and became a dedicated advocate for the environment.

Shore Fire

Tapestry has since become one of the biggest selling albums of all time.

Now, the singer-songwriter is focused on environmental activism, and is working to push Congress to pass a bill to help the Northern Rockies. Carole King talks with Rebecca Roberts about her work to protect the land and natural resources of the mountain west, and her legendary album.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

REBECCA ROBERTS, host:

Carole King started writing songs young and found solid success writing songs for artists like Bobby Vee and Dusty Springfield and The Shirelles and Aretha Franklin. But Carole King really came into her own when she wrote for herself. Her 1971 solo release "Tapestry" won four Grammys, became a landmark album for baby boomers and is still one of the bestselling albums of all time. During the height of her success, King relocated to the mountains of Idaho and became a dedicated advocate for the environment.

For nearly 20 years, she's worked to protect the land and natural resources of the mountain west. Last week, she testified on Capitol Hill on behalf of Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act or NREPA. If adopted, it would become the second largest wilderness expansion in U.S. history.

We will talk with Carole King about her music and her activism in just a moment. But if you have a question for Carole King about the link between her music and her activism, or if you live in the mountain west and you're concerned about the ecosystem there, our number is 800-989-8255. Our email address is talk@npr.org. And you can join our conversation at our Web site. Go to npr.org and click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Carole King joins us from our bureau in New York. Thanks so much for being with us.

Ms. CAROLE KING (Singer/Songwriter): It's my pleasure. How are you?

ROBERTS: I'm well. I want to talk about NREPA in a moment, but of course first I have to ask you a little bit about your music. "Tapestry," of course, is enormously popular and a lauded album. And artists recently did "Tapestry Revisited" with - paying tribute to you. You reissued "Tapestry" last year. Why do you think those songs have really stood the test of time?

Ms. KING: I don't know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ROBERTS: That's a very honest answer.

Ms. KING: It's quite remarkable because all I was doing then was doing what felt right. And you know, sometimes you do something and it catches on and it's meaningful to people, and that's been incredibly rewarding for me over so many years.

ROBERTS: Well, what's remarkable is it didn't just catch a moment because it is continued to be successful and popular. So it wasn't just, you know, you caught 1971 in a bottle.

Ms. KING: Yeah. But you know what, I do sometimes wonder if those songs or that album - well, first of all, they don't release albums anymore. But if, hypothetically, that album were to be released today, I don't know that it would crack through. There's so much noise, there's so much competition. A friend of mine referred to music these days as a competitive sport.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ROBERTS: Ideally not a violent one.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. KING: Hopefully not. But yeah, I mean I think there was a window in time where people were more receptive to it than - or were receptive to it, and it was a window of opportunity. And I'm very grateful that people still like the music. And I think they - they hanker for, you know, some simplicity, some real basic honest human emotions, and that would sort of cover the general spirit in which I write songs.

ROBERTS: Well, speaking of simplicity, you relocated to the wilderness in Idaho. What drew you there?

Ms. KING: The simplicity of life.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. KING: Really, that's what it was. I was - I grew up in New York. I was living - I'd lived in California for about 10 years, 10 really wonderful years. But I wanted to relocate to someplace with fewer people and more nature, and that resonated for me. I looked all over the West and I kind of landed in Idaho.

ROBERTS: Was it a major culture shock?

Ms. KING: No, not really. I guess a little bit. And one of the things I'm working on - I have a lot of things sort of going on, but one of the things I'm working on is a book, which always seems to take the backseat to my current activities but I'm getting through it. And I talked about the, you know, the experience of sort of going out in the woods and at first being afraid to leave sight of the buildings and people and later on it became being afraid to come back to the sight of buildings and people.

ROBERTS: Well, protecting the Northern Rockies, the NREPA legislation would protect more wilderness from people, from buildings at least. Why - tell me a little bit about the bill and why it's important to you.

Ms. KING: Well, first of all, it's not just more wilderness. We're protecting kind of a status quo, a de facto status quo, because what we're doing - I say we. There's a team of people that have been working on this for 20 years and it grew out of science. And it was so visionary then that it anticipated climate change perhaps without knowing it anticipated protecting a carbon sink. But it takes areas that are now roadless - that's a technical designation, but it also means they don't have roads - in our national forests. And it designates them as wilderness and gives them a higher level of protection. But basically, they are in a pretty natural condition now, but they're threatened by roads that are built in at taxpayer expense. And they're also threatened by increasing off-road vehicle use, the recreational burning of oil in these, you know, pristine places. And I'm a snowmobile rider and an ATV user. I just don't think I need to go everywhere.

And this bill, it - the other thing that's really important about this bill -two factors is it protects an ecosystem. It was designed to protect a whole ecosystem across five state lines. So it is - that's why it's taken so long. They came up with this idea 20 years ago. And the other feature is biological corridors, which allow movement of large carnivores like the grizzly bears between the smaller ecosystems within the greater ecosystems, something like the subway between the Bronx and Manhattan and Brooklyn.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ROBERTS: I just got a mental image of a grizzly on the subway.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. KING: But the grizzly is an umbrella species. When the grizzly is thriving, the ecosystem is thriving and the converse is true.

ROBERTS: Well, you mentioned that it's taken a while. This bill has actually been introduced in several Congresses. Why do you have hopes that it will ever be enacted?

Ms. KING: Well, it's - people are becoming more aware of what an ecosystem is and the importance of it interacting, the creatures and people and plants and the land and water interacting with each other. Climate change has become a focus where - I heard this morning that 33 people - 33 percent of people don't believe global warming is a problem. I'm like, okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. KING: But to those that do understand that it is a problem, I would say this bill would preserve a large carbon sink, a place that would protect and sequester carbon which, by the way, turns into money for the taxpayers because we can sell that - those points, I think, if we need to. It's - that's a whole other complicated issue that I don't know as well. But the fact that this would mitigate climate change not only for the - you know, for the whole planet but for the species that live within these corridors. They can use the corridors to get to higher elevations when it gets too warm for them to survive. And that's a key factor.

ROBERTS: Let's hear from Martin(ph) in Santa Clara, California. Martin, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

MARTIN (Caller): Hey. Thanks for taking my call. Carole, a very talented singer. I've been listening to you. I'm probably - we're probably the same age, but just phenomenal over all these years. Still enjoy listening to your music. But my question, or my comment is that your music comes across to me as a very - from a very storytelling perspective as opposed to an emotional perspective. And so, in terms of your focus on environment, did you find yourself approaching it, you know, from that - you know, almost like a logical storytelling kind of approach or did you really feel an emotion and, you know, it's what's driving you to want to do more about the environment?

Ms. KING: Martin, that's a great question. And I have to say I don't think of myself as so much as a storyteller, or at least not in my earlier part of my life. But it was more the emotion but there is also a logic to it. And it attracted me - the cause attracted me, this particular location and this bill and this cause because it made so much sense. And there's a practicality - a practical side that I have as well as the emotional, you know, woo-woo singer/songwriter side, and that's really what I responded to. It's like, why is this going on? Why isn't this protected? And if I'm...

MARTIN: I think - now, I think the word - the term practical is probably better than logical.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: And I certainly appreciate all of your music and certainly your focus on the environment. So thank you very much.

Ms. KING: Thank you, Martin. I appreciate hearing from you.

ROBERTS: When you testified on Capitol Hill, first of all, what's your impression of that whole process?

Ms. KING: Oh, my God.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. KING: Well, first of all, I testified in May. What I was doing last week was just meeting with various members in the House to educate them about this bill. And most of my experience - that part of it is really great and fairly simple. You bring something to people's attention that they don't know about and then you explain it to them and then they look into it and they find out, wow, she really is telling me something I didn't know. And then when they sign on as a co-sponsor, that's the great part.

The difficult part is, you know, what we see all the time. There's just an element. And I won't limit it to party, but there's an element that just doesn't want something to happen. They want to stop it. They don't believe in it for whatever reason. And you get that attitude which we're seeing so much of and it's not collaborative. It's not consensus. It's like, you know, we want to do this, no, we don't want you to do that. And so that's what I'm running into. And the compromises that have to be made change bills from what they're supposed to do to something that's not recognizable from either side. So - and I think, again, we're seeing that a lot.

That's the part of it I find really discouraging. And the only answer to that is you just keep going. You put one foot in front of the other and try to be gentle in persuasion and respectful of each other. And I think that's the key.

ROBERTS: A lot of the objection to NREPA seems to center on the idea that this is coastal elites who have never been to the mountain west imposing restrictions on a culture they don't understand.

Ms. KING: I can answer that very easily. The bill was drawn up by local scientists, local economists. It is supported by many, many people in the region. But you have the louder voices of the industrial interests that feel threatened by it, which is I think almost always the case of why people, you know, oppose - not all people - but there's a - that would be a primary kind of opponent.

And we saw this - we didn't, but our grandparents saw this when the national parks were first created. Ken Burns has this wonderful documentary, �The National Parks: America's Best Idea,� in which he points out that it took 100 - over a century to get the national parks designated. And it was the same kind of opponents, similar opponents. And then once those national parks were designated, people loved them, the same people. You know, the people in the local communities, they do business on those national parks.

People come and spend their dollars in those adjacent communities. And that's what is true about NREPA. So it does kind of, you know, frustrate me that it's called an elite bill. It's not. It's really for people like my neighbors in a county in Central Idaho who, you know, who will do so much better when this bill is passed because there will be economic input. It'll be an economic engine for generations.

ROBERTS: My guest is singer/songwriter and wilderness activist Carole King. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

After 20-plus years in Idaho now, right?

Ms. KING: I've been in Idaho over 30 years.

ROBERTS: Over 30 years.

Ms. KING: Yes.

ROBERTS: Are you still considered a transplant?

Ms. KING: They're beginning to sort of warm up to me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. KING: Some folks who, you know, were kind of negative at first are, you know, are being - are saying very kind things about me. And I appreciate that.

ROBERTS: Let's hear it from Katie(ph) in Port Charles, Florida. Katie, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

KATIE (Caller): Hi. How are you?

ROBERTS: Good.

KATIE: Good. My question is for Carole. I am the original founder of Women's Music Association and I share the same interests as you. Right now, I'm seamstressing for the Rolling Stones so it's been a tough road for me as you can imagine. We share a mutual friend, Gary Burr. And I appreciate your work that you've done with Gary Burr. He's very talented.

Ms. KING: He is.

KATIE: But I just wanted to say to you, my interest is the Tongass National Forest up in the Upper Rockies, up at the Alaska region. I was wondering if you've ever considered expanding your vision farther up toward the Northern Rockies up toward the Tongass where I think they could use something like that.

Ms. KING: Well, as far as I know - first of all, my focus is the Northern Rockies in the continental United States. But I think there has been some work done in the Tongass already. It's probably not enough and will have to be incremental, but don't, you know, I was going to say, don't quote me, but everybody is hearing me say that...

(Soundbite of laughter)

ROBERTS: Too late.

Ms. KING: Too late.

But I want to qualify that by saying, I don't know that much about the Tongass. I've been there. It's amazing. And that's about all I know about it. But legislatively, I really can't speak to that.

ROBERTS: Let's hear from Erin(ph) in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Erin, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

ERIN (Caller): Hi. How are you all both doing?

ROBERTS: Good.

ERIN: I just wanted to - I have a question for - or a comment for Carole. But I really have enjoyed your music. I'm only 26 years old but I've been brought up around your music since I was a little kid.

Ms. KING: Oh, bless you.

ERIN: One of my favorite songs of yours is the song called "Now and Forever." It was from the movie "A League Of Their Own." And my grandmother passed away 11 years ago of heart disease. And when she was living, that was one of her favorite songs and one of our favorite movies. So I just really appreciate the connection that it has brought between my grandmother and I.

Ms. KING: Oh, thank you so much. I appreciate that. And the movie is of course "A League Of Their Own," which is what I wrote that for. But it - you know, when you said that to me, I just - all I could do was like, grab my heart. I'm so touched. Thank you.

ERIN: Oh, thank you so much. I really do appreciate your music and what you're doing for the environment right now.

Ms. KING: Thank you.

ROBERTS: You must hear all the time that people think that you were writing about them.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. KING: Well, some people, I guess, think that. But, you know, some of the songs - it's interesting. People say, how do you write a song or which comes first, the lyrics or the music? Every song is different. And one of the ways some songs come is they just come. They come through me rather than by me, you know? And then I kind of tweak them up and do the crafting part. But that's like the inspiration part. And so, in many cases, it might not be that I wrote it for them but something did.

ROBERTS: Carole King, thank you so much for joining us.

Ms. KING: Thank you.

ROBERTS: Carole King is a Grammy award-winning singer/songwriter and an environmental activist. She joined us from our bureau in New York.

(Soundbite of song, �You've Got A Friend�)

Ms. KING: (Singing) And I'll be there, yes I will. You've got a friend. Ain't it good to know you've got a friend?

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