Carly Simon might just be the Wilt Chamberlain of rock and roll. Chamberlain of course bragged in his autobiography of the reckless number of women he shard a bed with. Simon, for her part, reveals a dazzling number of dalliances herself in a provocative autobiography she titled Boys In The Trees published in late 2015. Though Simon truly doesn’t approach Will the Stilt’s staggering numbers, her tales of sex and drugs and rock and roll in the late 1960s into the 70s provides a feminine viewpoint to some pretty taboo subjects. Oh yea there is also discussion of music in her memoir.
Simon was hard to ignore in the Seventies with her albums appearing on the top of the charts, her songs in ketchup commercials and her marriage to heartthrob of the blue jean era James Taylor; however, all was not Camelot for this rock and roll king and queen. Simon details in almost poetic language her bizarre upbringing that lead to a life of promiscuity, an unconventional marriage and shaped her into an insecure performer who suffered a nervous breakdown during a live performance. Simon doesn’t hold back any punches. She names names and is very forthright about her shortcomings as well as those of the many lovers she took.
Simon’s upbringing was that of the nouveau rich of Martha’s Vineyard that fit the stereotypes while also stretching one’s belief systems. Simon’s youthful summers on the Vineyard were riddled with an eclectic gang of dinner guests that included the likes of Jackie Robinson, Benny Goodman and Albert Einstein. Her father (the Simon in Simon & Schuster) was a modern king maker in the publishing business whose depression beset him and his family creating an outlandish home life where Simon’s mother took a lover that moved in their home while the father languished in his misery. Oh that’s just the beginning.
Simon’s casual sexual relationships ran the gamut of contemporary culture of the day. From Jack Nicholson and his movie cohorts to Cat Stevens and of course the infamous Warren Beatty. It was the latter two who inspired Simon’s most popular songs. While Simon waited for her tardy dinner guest Stevens, she laid down the demo that became “Anticipation,” while even casual observers of rock lyrics know that the subject of “You’re So Vain,” was the beguiling Beatty. What Simon does reveal is that Beatty is just one stanza of the song. She doesn’t intimate the other men who she says are the subjects of the song’s torrid lyrics since they themselves don’t know, but the reader might venture that perhaps it’s Redd Foxx or perhaps even Marvin Gaye- two others who made unfulfilled advances toward Simon.
The bulk of the memoir is focused on her marriage to James Taylor and his insistent battles with drugs and affection for the opposite sex. Like her songwriting, Simon’s prose is frank, insightful and elegant. “For James, the fantasy part of his brain, centered on women with fresher sexual identities, was partitioned off by mutual agreement, just as he allowed me to write songs which, if he’d listen to them closely, there appeared lines that could have only been about another old love,” Simon writes in encapsulating her challenging marriage.
Like the best of rock autobiographies, Simon’s captures a time, a sentiment of an era and a hard, honest look at the travails of being an icon. She kept a meticulous diary her entire life and she effectively uses it to conjures up the mind of a teenager coming of age as well as a women realized. There is also a handy album to accompany the book that has all the songs referenced making for pleasurable interludes as you break form the reading to get on with your life. I know the summer is almost over but this book has all the trappings of a classic summer read, sex with attractive men, business intrigue and a person coming of age and changing in so many ways.