Backstage in South Florida: An Artful Encounter With Carole King

Music vet and New Times scribe Lee Zimmerman shares stories of memorable rock 'n' roll encounters that took place in our local environs. This week: A call from a King

I was always enamored with the music of Carole King, both as a songwriter ("Locomotion," "Chains," "Take Good Care of My Baby," "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow," "One Fine Day," "Up On the Roof") and as a solo artist in her own right (her essential album Tapestry remains one of the biggest-selling discs of all time). However, when I left the music biz behind and shifted gears with a new job as public relations rep at Coconut Grove Playhouse, I also figured that I had left my rock star soirees behind.

During the first few months on my new job, I busied myself meeting an entire new group of cohorts, colleagues, and critics. One of the nicest people among them was a lady named Eugenia Gingold, a writer who covered theater for a small Broward-based publication. She was an older woman and very sweet, and I looked forward to every opportunity I had to interact with her. It was only after I had known her a few months that I learned she was actually Carole King's mother. I noticed the family resemblance, and knowing that it's not uncommon for parents -- even those of the rich and famous -- to retire in South Florida, I had no doubt that she was who she claimed to be.

If there were any doubts, they were all erased one particular day when Eugenia came to visit me at the Playhouse to discuss a story she had agreed to do about an upcoming theater production. In anticipation of her visit, I brought in a memento from my days when I worked with Capitol Records, a reproduction of an oil painting that had been commissioned as the cover of Carole King's Simple Things album. It was a fanciful portrait of Ms. King herself and it graced her first release on the label, a record that was intended to mark her artistic rebirth, circa 1977. Eugenia recognized it immediately and somehow got the impression that it was the original piece of art. I attempted to correct her, but she was clearly in awe of the object nonetheless.

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A few days later, I was sitting at my desk when my phone rang. I picked it up and heard a woman's voice on the other end of the line ask, "Is Lee Zimmerman there?" After identifying myself, she said simply, "This is Carole King, and my mother says you have a painting I've been looking for."

"Carole King?" I stuttered.

"Yes, this is Carole King and my mother, Eugenia Gingold, suggested I call you because she said you have an oil painting that I've been trying to track down for several years."

"Is this really Carole King," I asked again, both surprised and stunned.

"Yes, this is Carole King. My mother, Eugenia Gingold, said I should call you."

All I could think about was the fact that one of pop's greatest songwriters was on the opposite end of the phone, and I felt compelled to seize the opportunity to convey my admiration. "I've been a fan for so many years," I blurted. "This is amazing. I can't believe it's you! I'm a huge fan."

Of course, the easiest way to score a disconnect with the object of one's admiration is to blather on endlessly about how huge a fan you are and how you've admired them for years and years and loved their music. Consequently, after listening to me gush, Ms. King did her best to get past the pleasantries and get me to focus on the matter at hand. It seemed that after the cover was completed, she lost track of the painting and that presumably it was still in the clutches of the record company. Being a former Florida promotion man, I had no idea of its whereabouts or whether it was in a record company warehouse or ensconced in some exec's bedroom. Even if I had still been with the company, I wouldn't have known where it might be. But I was able to share the names and phone numbers of some former colleagues at the company, at least enough to provide her a few leads.

I never heard back from her, so I have no idea whether the names and numbers I provided helped her in any way. But considering the fact that this was the same woman who sang "You've Got a Friend," I'd like to think she'd share those sentiments with me simply for trying.

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