by Danny Stout
Living in Princeton, New Jersey, we got all the New York TV stations, and thus concerts live from Central Park. One summer night I was watching a broadcast with my friends. Art Garfunkel had just performed, so had George Harrison. My teenage buddies were getting restless. Then, a tall woman strolled out in a ravishing red velvet dress, taking her seat at the piano, her shoulder-length chestnut hair shimmering in the spotlight. “Who is that?” one of my friends inquired. She looked more like a Broadway star than the other hippyish performers. “I’m going to sing a song I heard on Jones Beach today, it’s kind of a weird song about marriage.” Seeming timid and almost embarrassed, she slumped a little, managing the biggest smile I’d ever beheld. Yet the grin did not match the melancholy she filled the park with:
My father sits at night with no lights on
His cigarette glows in the dark
I walk past the living room, no remarks
I tiptoe past the master bedroom door
My mother reads her magazines
I hear her call “sweet dreams,” but I forget how to dream
The song, “That’s the Way I Always Heard it Should Be” was the saddest tune I’d heard to that point; it was a lament to a broken marriage and a couple’s painful routine. Not until I read Carly Simon’s new memoir, “Boys in the Trees,” did I realize it was autobiographical. Since that concert, I followed her career, relishing the ballads, “You Belong to Me,” “Anticipation,” “Haven’t Got Time for the Pain,” and, perhaps her most famous, “You’re so Vain.” (Ending decades of speculation, she recently disclosed that the first verse refers to actor Warren Beatty). Most intriguing were the up-tempo melodies you catch yourself singing, failing to grasp their sadness or at the very least incongruously moody lyrics. Years have passed, but in this book, she’s eager to self disclose. The backstory of her repertoire is teased out, enhancing the listening experience and enjoyment. She carries a backpack of sadness since the James Taylor days, but is a bright figure. How much is a facade. James Taylor hasn’t spoken to her since 1983. “That’s the Way I Always Heard it Should Be” is ever more relevant in her life than her parents, it seems. “Boys in the Trees” is an ocean of disclosure. Taylor was not faithful in their marriage. Then, she returned the favor for spite. You’re invited backstage almost to the point of uneasiness. If I had written this volume, I would have frantically called my editor crying, “Is it too late to take some things out?” The book is an ocean of disclosure, and a well of comfort to those feeling alone in their worriment.
Transparency is a gift, and the author is commended for getting beyond the superficiality of several recent rock memoirs by Graham Nash, Eric Clapton, and I hate to say it since I’m such a fan, Neil Young, who admitted “Waging Heavy Peace” was financially motivated. Simon dissects the myths of her personal life as well as assumptions regarding wealth and fame, which is enigmatic. The book’s dedication reads: “Dedicated to the first Orpheus, Richard L. Simon, my father, my beloved hero, understood too late for our peace to come during our lifetime.” Personally, I know that one can love an absent parent deeply. The refrain, “we would if we could,” keeps love alive. Independence is both blessing and woe. This paradox is a dominant theme of the book with Simon thoughtful on the subject.
There’s an interplay between maturity and loneliness. Time with dad was fleeting, so she filled in the cracks with ambition, assured that he adored her in his mind, and through kind knowing smiles. Her mother carried on an affair with her children’s babysitter for nine years, and, needless to say, resentment was deep and communication superficial. Richard Simon was partner and owner of Simon & Schuster, one of the largest publishing houses in the world. Wealth was her world: Manhattan apartments and homes in Connecticut and Martha’s Vineyard. She had splendid opportunities, close friends, and interacted with impressive people. Simon attended Sarah Lawrence, and performed with sister Lucy from an early age. Lucy Simon, unknown to many, wrote the score to the Broadway musical, “The Secret Garden.” They were a folk duet in Grenwich Village as teens.
I simplify too much, but two lines of thought should interest LDS readers. First, Simon developed a life theme through music despite affluence and adversity. Life themes imply more than skills. She was after a life of import. Music provided feedback she didn’t get elsewhere. Perhaps we steer children away from special paths wanting them to conform. Not everyone is drawn to Boy Scouts, some want to master the violin instead. Music could move others and this fulfillment was highly sustaining.
The weakness of the book is that as much as she tries, fame remains important. She relates countless affairs with celebrities (many are named in detailed stories), and although she’s clearly moved on with a strong bond with her children, the story of former husband and singer James Taylor crosses the disclosure limit in my view. It’s as if this will matter to her readers fifteen minutes after finishing the book. Time is better spent talking about her craft, which she does with less depth than the rock enthusiast would hope.
I most enjoyed the parts about her children, and the great role model and teacher she is. In a way, she finds the elusive family tie she missed early on. That is a story worth telling.