Carly Simon’s Memoir- Book Review by Alan Chrisman

Carly Simon’s book memoir, Boys in The Trees, was released in late 2015 and it’s quite interesting, but not for the reasons I would have thought(her music career and marriage to James Taylor). It could also perhaps have been named after another of her hit songs, “Anticipation “(or perhaps,“Things Aren’t Always As They Appear”), because  despite the commercial success of her music-it’s also a quite bittersweet story, which I thought made it even more human.

She grew up in privilege-her father was the Simon and co-founder of the publishing giant, Simon and Schuster, and he would often bring his famous book clients like baseball player, Jackie Robinson, Einstein, etc. home for dinner. She lived in big houses in Connecticut and summered at Martha’s Vineyard, but she didn’t have such a happy childhood and there was also a dark side she writes about. She was a shy and very insecure child and had a stammer (which ironically led her into doing music, because when she sang, it was one of the few times when she didn’t stammer). She was abused at an early age, and it went on for a while, by a neighboring teenage boy. She also witnessed her mother carrying on a relationship with a much younger man who lived in the same house as her parents, while her executive father seemed to be willing to do nothing about it.  She also competed for the attention and love (with her more outgoing and she felt, prettier, older sisters) of both her parents, but especially from her father. All these things set her up for confusion and ambiguity about sex and men and relationships, which would continue to haunt her.

She started singing with her sister, Lucy, in the duo, The Simon Sisters, and they had a minor hit with the song, “Winkin’, Blinkin’ and Nod” in 1964. But she wanted to step out from under her sister’s and family’s long shadow, dropped out of Sarah Lawrence College, and began to write her own songs. After a few failed tries (and being confronted with the equivalent of the casting couch syndrome), she finally got a record contract and had her first big hit with her song, ”That’s The Way I Always Heard It Should Be” In 1971. And she followed that up with the song and album, “Anticipation”.  But her biggest hit was, “You’re So Vain” with its sarcastic lines, ’”You probably think this song is about you”, which continues to fuel speculation about just who’s she’s referring to among her former lovers, and she had many famous ones, from actors, Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty, to several musicians (Kris Kristofferson, she hints at Mick Jagger; “Anticipation” was written while waiting for a late Cat Stevens). Her sexy long-legged  album covers sometimes got as much attention as her music. These established her image and reputation as a sort of liberated, independent woman in a time of feminism in the 70’s.  She wrote often-confessional lyrics with which a lot of woman seemed to identify. But despite this marketing as a sex symbol, her own personal baggage and insecurities and mixed messaging about men and male role models, from her father on, only added to her anxieties. A well, she was never really comfortable on stage and would have panic attacks.

Then in 1972 she married folk-rock singer, James Taylor (whom she had first met when they were children on Martha’s Vineyard) in what seemed like the perfect singer-songwriter couple marriage and they had two children, Sally and Ben.  James Taylor was also one of the biggest pop singers of the 70’s.  Simon continued to have, in collaboration with her husband, hits such   as the cover songs, “Mockingbird” and “How Sweet It is (to Be loved By You)”, as well as her own several other hits, “You Belong To Me “ Haven’t Got Time For The Pain”, “Itsy Bitsy Spider”, etc. and even a James Bond theme song, “Nobody Does It Better.” But Taylor had his own insecurities, and as well, a hard drugs habit. That and both their admitted infidelities eventually led to their divorce in ’83.  After the split, Simon would attempt to keep her musical career on top and she also talks about the pressures of doing that and the fleeting temptations of fame. As well, her father, who had died early, and also suffered from depression, had lost control of his own company and she didn’t get her inheritance. She had many ups and downs and she documents them. Another surprising thing about this book is just how articulate (and even poetic) she is in describing the various personalities she’s known and loved or lost.

The memoir has an almost bittersweet sadness about it. She ends her story, still living in the house James Taylor and she had occupied in Martha’s Vineyard and raised their children (her two children are both musicians). She has Taylor’s fishing rod still in the very place where he left it. I get the impression, even after all these years, she still hasn’t gotten over their once-hopeful and later bitter marriage. Evidently, they have no communication between them these days, even though she would like to. Interestingly, James Taylor, just this past year too, released his first  album of original songs, Before This World, in over 13 years and it has become a #1 bestseller (45 years after his  classic album, Sweet Baby James). He’s currently on tour with his now 3rd. wife singing on the album and in concert with him. Carly Simon’s memoir then, is more than I expected it to be-not just another pop artist telling the usual rock ’n’ roll stories. I’m glad I read Carly Simon’s memoir, to see another side of her, and I recommend it to others for both the musical and personal journey, she so honestly  evokes.

Carly Simon performing her biggest hit, ”You’re So Vain”:



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s