“He once said that nowhere felt like home and that he didn’t have many friends. It’s been a lifelong struggle to fit in.”
He grew up in Forties working-class Brooklyn, the son of Polish-Russian Jews. He says of that, “a childhood shapes you and you’re like soft clay when you’re a child, in every respect. If fans are familiar with my music they are familiar with me, because the music is a direct reflection of who I am as a person.”
” I got an emptiness deep inside
And I’ve tried but it won’t let me go..”
He would ride the subway every day to college where he was studying to become a doctor. Having received a guitar for his 15th birthday from his parents, he wrote songs on the train ride.
“The subway was the only time I had privacy and quiet.”
His family were forever moving house in search of better business opportunities, which resulted in him having attended nine different schools at age sixteen. This lifestyle was forced on him by circumstances and it was instrumental in forming his internal, fiercely self-reliant personality. He says it was there, in his childhood that he developed a pathological resistance to any kind of uniformity. Along with that and his singing talent he became somewhat of an enigma to those close to him and he was, without exception, excluded from every circle of friends he encountered. He became a loner, “I don’t fit in” and a necessary condition for his survival. This forced him to create an imaginary friend, as he tells us in ‘Shilo’:
Papa says he’d love to be with you
If he had the time
So you turn to the only friend you can find
There in your mind
Shilo, when I was young
I used to call your name
When no one else
Shilo, you always came
And we’d play….
Even in adulthood, he has retained the ability to withdraw into a protective world of his own, and at the end of 1976, he said: “I still live in a fantasy world sometimes, because it’s safe. It’s a cushion, a protective thing you build, and nothing can hurt me, at least in my own mind.”
He also developed an interest in writing lyrics and realised that music facilitates social interaction and that it helped him to overcome his innate shyness. He would later write ‘Longfellow serenade’ a song of which he was especially fond of, because it took him back to those school days when he was too shy to ask a girl on a date, so he would write her a poem. He would tell us:
“I imagined the poet who writes the words he cannot speak to the woman he wants to woo and win.”
Inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1984, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 2011, his songs have been covered internationally by many performers from various musical genres. With the exception of the period between 1972 and 1976 when he temporarily bade the stage farewell so as to ‘find himself’ (and spend more time with his family), he has, since the late 1960s, drawn millions of people from all over the world to his concerts. In a 2008 performance in Glastonbury, England alone, the audience totalled more than 170,000 people.
“I have to know myself and I have spent my life trying to know myself.”
He is an American singer-songwriter with a career that has spanned five decades, he has sold over 125 million records worldwide including 48 million in the United States alone. Considered the third most successful adult contemporary artist ever on the Billboard chart behind Barbra Streisand and Elton John.
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