Monday, July 23, 2012

Carly Simon

After reading the recent unauthorized biography on Carly Simon, I've been thinking a lot about her. I find her such an interesting artist, and a fascinating person.

Like most people, she's a tangle of contradictions. When you're a public figure, your foibles are thrown in high relief. So you have Carly Simon the exhibitionist who hardly ever posed for her albums without wearing something provocative. She's a beautiful woman, so why not? Square this with the fact that she has suffered from severe stage fright throughout her career, often to her own detriment.

You have Carly the singer-songwriter. She's the model for the confessional mode of songwriting: her life is in her song, almost as much as Loudon Wainwright's life is in his work. So she writes about broken marriages, past relationships, and her own fears. Yet she is an intensely private person. (Well, come to think of it, so is Paul Simon - no relationship, beyond the NYC connection!)

Reading the book turned me back to listening to her music. I've been enjoying her 1990 release Have You Seen Me Lately? My favorite from this one is "Life Is Eternal".

Life is eternal
Love is immortal
Death is only a horizon
Life is eternal
As we move into the light and horizon
With nothing save the limit of our sight

What a great lyric! Her voice is so distinctive: no lyric sheet is necessary because you hear the words the first time that she sings them.

I have always enjoyed her music because it hits my sweet spot. I appreciate music that is classified as "pop". I love songs that are constructed around hooks. Songs that make an unabashed effort to crawl into your brain and stay there. This is what Carly is adept at doing. It explains why she's in the Songwriters Hall of Fame along with some many of my favorites: Don McLean, Carole King, Peggy Lee, Randy Newman, Jimmy Webb, et al.

When you read about Carly you quickly appreciate what a neurotic person she is. I mean, she has been holding a torch for James Taylor for so long, it seems like such a public embarrassment. But then, your heart goes out to her. She is incredibly true and faithful. Who hasn't been guilty of not moving on? Who isn't guilty?

I wound up admiring her, and hoping that in the next year or two, when she's published her autobiography with a new album (I hope), she will sit triumphant once more. She has suffered tremendously over the past decade or so: breast cancer in the late 1990s, an ill-fated move to Beacon Hill a few years later, and - worst of all - the loss of millions of dollars to a Wall Street shyster. Then  her last album of original material (2008's That Kind of Love) that HearMusic failed to promote properly. (She lost her lawsuit over that debacle.)

After watching a Lifetime show about her in 1995 (back when she was promoting her wonderful Letters Never Sent), I've decided that Carly is someone whose spirit I'd like to celebrate. She is open-hearted and warm. She is authentic in a way that so many artists aren't.

I'll be adding to my vinyl the next time I head to the record shop, filling in the gaps in my Carly Simon collection. I am a fan. I'll never forget when she first hit in the early 1970s. And I agree with her friend Jonathan Schwartz (who's featured in the Lifetime special): her track record over the decades has been superlative. She's one of a kind.

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