132: James Taylor, ‘Enough To Be On Your Way’

Posted by on Apr 10, 2019 in Personal, Rock, Song Of the week |

James Taylor, ‘Enough To Be On Your Way’

This week was the twelfth anniversary of my only sister’s death, at 62, from lung cancer. She was a denizen of Marlboro country all those years, and succumbed to statistics. Madie was five years older than me, and I loved her dearly. Never, not once in our entire lives, did we fight. Not when we were kids, not when we were adults. As youngsters, we had the age and sex differences to keep us apart, and a mutual enemy to keep us together. As adults, there was a literal ocean between us. From 21, when I left the US, for almost 30 years, I saw her only a few times for a few days each. We would talk on the phone for a short time a couple of times a year, and exchange only sporadic aerograms.

She never came here to visit me in the life I made for myself. For many years it was logistically and financially impractical, and then she got sick. But I understand that she really didn’t want to come, so strongly did she resent my having moved to “the other side of the world”. She loved me simply and deeply and purely, as I did her. She wanted me near her on occasion, in the hard times, in the good times, as she went through her life. But I had removed myself, and she never overcame the resentment of that fact.

Then our folks started getting old, finances and costs changed, and I began visiting every year or two. We’d usually meet in Florida for the best part of a week, without spouses, just the organic family of dinosaurs. She and I would hide out on our parents’ veranda. She’d smoke her Marlboros, and we’d open our hearts to each other.

It was only  long after she’d passed away that I came to understand how she missed me, because that’s how I still miss her. She was the one person to whom I could open up completely unguardedly – one quarter stranger on a plane, one quarter twin personality, one half unadulterated love. Life goes on, with all its blessings and curses, with all its joys and disappointments, with all its tribulations and trials. There’s so much I want to share with that one person in the world through whose veins flowed the same blood as mine. Madie’s absence is a gaping void in my soul.

There’s a song that I associate with my sister’s death. That statement demands some justification. My love for my sister is bigger than any pop song. I don’t equate the depth of my love for her, or my sadness over her absence with dropping a quarter in a juke box. But there’s no denying that that which comes through the car radio is the soundtrack of our lives, as surely as the violinists in a Hollywood tearjerker manipulate our heartstrings. A pop song is just a pop song, and a life is a life. But in our real lives, the two are intertwined, each person with his own background accompaniment.

James Taylor is a few months older than me. I’ve been listening to him closely and attentively since we were 21. James was the second of five children of Trude and Ike Taylor. Ike was a patrician and a closet lush, dean of the Chapel Hill medical school who ran away on an expedition to Antarctica to stay drunk and avoid the real world. Alex Taylor was the firstborn of the five rebellious children, filling the role of convention-breaker and thus drawing the heaviest flack. James moved more comfortably into the role of singer-substance abuser after Alex had broken all the curfews. Alex named his firstborn after brother James, and James in turn wrote the swaddling nephew a lullaby called ‘Sweet Baby James’.  Alex himself was an unsuccessful singer, an accomplished drinker, rough and gruff and unsettled and loveable. In 1993, he died after sinking into a booze-induced coma.

L to R: Hugh, Livingston, Kate, James, Alex Taylor

Here’s a wonderful clip of that “fucked-up family“, the five Taylors singing James’ great song ‘Shower the People’. “Shower the people you love with love.” Boy, triter and truer words were never spoken.

‘Enough To Be On Your Way’ is James’ lament for his brother. “My brother Alex died in ’93 on (not for) my birthday. We all went down to Florida to say goodbye. The day after we flew home (the day after his cremation) a giant mother hurricane followed us north through the Carolina’s; trashing everything in its path and finally raining record rains on Martha’s Vineyard (home). In Paris, a year later I changed his character to a hippie chick named Alice and the location to Santa Fe; but my soulful older brother is still all over this song like a cheap suit.”

The sun shines on this funeral the same as on a birth
The way it shines on everything that happens here on Earth.
It rolls across the western sky and back into the sea
And spends the day’s last rays upon this fucked-up family.
So long old pal.

The last time I saw Alice she was leaving Santa Fe
With a bunch of round-eyed Buddhists in a killer Chevrolet.
Said they turned her out of Texas, yeah, she burned ’em down back home.
Now she’s wild with expectation on the edge of the unknown.

James Taylor: “The idea is of somebody who can’t get home, who can’t find home late in their lives. As you get older- and I’m pushing 50—you grasp that the loneliness of the human condition stems from a wholeness from which we seem separated. Consensus, just the sense of connection with other people, feels so great, and it motivates an awful lot of what we do. The more successful or thwarted you are as an isolated individual, the more you need reconnection.”

Oh it’s enough to be on your way
It’s enough just to cover ground
It’s enough to be moving on
Home, build it behind your eyes
Carry it in your heart
Safe among your own

They brought her back on a Friday night, same day I was born.
We sent her up the smoke stack and back into the storm.
She blew up over the San Juan mountains and spent herself at last.
The threat of heavy weather, that was what she knew the best.

It woke me up on a Sunday an hour before the sun.
It had me watching the headlights out on highway 591
‘Til I stepped into my trousers, ‘til I pulled my big boots on.
I walked out on the Mesa and I stumbled on this song.

James, Alex, Sweet Baby James, Kate Taylor

James made a rare slip in taste in a creating a video in which he portrays the details of this song literally—the old lover Alice (played by Barbara Hershey), the Moonies, the Chevy, the mesa—you get it all, premasticated and spoon-fed. I watched it once, and I’m sorry I did. The only thing it’s good for is to deplete the magic from a magical song. I’m not going to give you the link for it. Go find it yourself if you must.

James says the song is about striving for reconnection. Well, even that’s pinning it down too much for me. Those so-beautiful, so evocative lines – “Oh it’s enough to be on your way/It’s enough just to cover ground/It’s enough to be moving on.”–what do they evoke? Lots of sadness, lots of love, lots of regret, a very strong desire to find some reconciliation with the pain of the loss. I’d rather not parse it. The song is best left with its magic.  I’m best left with my love and my longing.

My  grandchildren are all good siblings, but they’re normal kids. When I see them squabble over whose turn it is to clear the table, say harsh words to each other, raise their voices in anger, I feel a physical pain in my gut. That most treasured gift of a sibling. Who can appreciate how precious it is?

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:

046: James Taylor, “Never Die Young”

056: James Taylor, ‘Secret O’ Life’

112: James Taylor, ‘Yesterday’

291: James Taylor, ‘Valentine’s Day’

136: James Taylor, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel – ‘Wonderful World’

205: James Taylor, ‘Something’s Wrong’

139: The Swingle Singers, ‘On the 4th of July’ (James Taylor)




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Mar 30, 2012 at 1:15 pm

A moving sotw Jeff.
And ya gotta love Sweet Baby James.

Apr 1, 2012 at 12:30 pm


You move me every time I read what you write about music, about life, and now
about how you miss your sister. I, too, lost my sister when she was only 62 and have listened to J.T.’s song with the same “kvitch” in my heart .. I know exactly how you feel (only 3 years for me but I know that empty place that will always be there). Y’hee zichran baruch.

And speaking again of JT, I am schlepping Shmiel & his wife to see him in concert in Barcelona in May. Now THAT will be a happy day!

Take care,
Sue (Yaks)

Apr 1, 2012 at 12:34 pm

Thanks very much, really.

Charle Cicirella
Apr 20, 2012 at 8:29 am

I quite literally just stumbled upon your blog when Googling Laura Nyro and I just wanted to say how much I am enjoying reading your writing.

nir eliav
May 15, 2013 at 10:57 am

dear jeff,
i also stumbled on your blog, asking myself why for god’s sake JT my beloved songwriter, kisses an actress on a videoclip of such a touchy and sincere song, especially after reading his words about his tragic brother. It was good to know there are people like you who like the misty unclear words that hang around in the air and you can apply them to all sad things that happen to you and the surroundings.

Jill Seale
Apr 1, 2015 at 3:03 pm

For some reason this song came to mind this morning so I gave it a listen with the most open ears I’ve ever given it. Got me wondering the story behind the song and a it led me to your post – your writing is incredible and poignant and it moved me as much as the song. Thank you for putting yourself out there. Sharing so we can all take pause and connect.

Feb 2, 2017 at 11:50 pm

Thank you for writing your experience with this song…it was lovely. This is a personal favorite from JT, it always brings out my love for my sisters when I hear it, and I was wondering what his writing story was. I am so thankful I read your story first before anything else, least of all watching the video 🙂 Now I know the story and I love that others feel a connection with this song like I do.

Jan 6, 2018 at 6:55 am

One of my very favorite songs. This was such a good read and so earnest. Recent loss in our family made me think of this song and finding your site, and that others have such a connection to the lyrics, is comforting. Doesn’t take the sting of things away or attempt to hurry along the process. But there is comfort in the flow of things.

May 4, 2018 at 5:13 pm

Just stumbled on your blog when I googled lyrics to this song. Thank you so much for your writing. I love JT and the other singer-songwriters of the ’60s and’70s and I’m really enjoying reading the backstories of the songs.

John Kehe
Apr 11, 2019 at 6:59 pm

Thank you, Jeff.
I’m sure you know why.

Apr 11, 2019 at 7:49 pm

Jeff, such a touching SoTW, I had tears in my eyes. JT was part of my high school experience but i had never heard this song, so thank you.

ellen levitt
Apr 12, 2019 at 2:48 pm

This is such a sincere and moving piece, Jeff. I think you expressed the special “sibling” relationships that can be so difficult to articulate. I enjoyed reading about JT but also about JM…thanks for sharing.

Maggie Evans
Apr 12, 2019 at 5:01 pm

Thank you for posting.
As time goes on I become more of a fan of JT, his music is SO personal.
Your post puts me in the mind of my own sister as we mark our mutual birthday this week. As sisters we shared so much growing up and as twins, an even more intimate connection. We are rekindling this as we both face the challenges of mid life.
Thank you for sharing your relationship with your Sis and the timeless music of JT.

Aug 20, 2019 at 3:31 am

There are no words except “thank you”…
and I will be checking out your other posts too!

Nov 24, 2020 at 11:50 pm

Glad you like the song but you are completely wrong about the video. People absolutely love it as is clear in the comments and ratings while it has garnered over half a million views on YouTube and Facebook, combined, making it one of James’ most popular videos. Everyone is entitled to their opinion but it needs to be pointed out that yours is a very tiny minority. James Taylor knew exactly what he was doing in making this video and the many, many views and reactions prove it.

Jan 11, 2022 at 10:57 am

Googleé la canción conmovida por las escenas del vídeo…porque además escucho a James desde mi adolescencia. Se suma tu relato acerca de la muerte de tu hermana, yo perdí al mío en 2019. Muy emocionante leer tu relato, además de cosas de James que desconocía. Desde Buenos Aires, Argentina, muchas gracias!



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