Carly Simon Biography - March 1965 to early 1969 (Chapter 9)

Page 252 - Carly and the Deacon

Carly was brought to Albert Grossman's attention (Bob Dylan's manager).  He wasn't averse to proffering a version of the casting couch to women singers (at a time when the negative notion of sexual harassment didn't exist).  As Carly put it: "Grossman offered me his body in exchange for worldly success.  Sadly, his body was not the kind you would easily sell yourself for."  Carly declined; Grossman apparently didn't hold the rejection against her.

Grossman wanted to develop Carly as a star.  He had the idea of an act called Carly and the Deacon, pairing her with a black male singer.  When the desired "deacon", Richie Havens, declined, that idea was dropped, but Grossman still set out to produce an album for Carly.


 

Page 253 - I'm Not That Hungry

In July 1966, Bob Dylan and Carly Simon met in a cubicle in Grossman's office.  There Dylan rewrote, for Carly, some of the words of Eric Von Schmidt's Baby, Let Me Follow You Down, the anthem of the Cambridge folk scene popularized by Dave Van Ronk in the Village coffeehouses. 

Carly was struck by how "out of it" Dylan was during the session - he was "very, very wasted." But Carly continued to work daily for weeks on the album - recording the Von Schmidt song and others - with a group of tremendous musical talents just coming into their own: Paul Butterfield and, from the group the Hawks - soon to be renamed The Band - Levon Helm, Rick Danko, and Robbie Robertson.

The tracks of her album had to be mixed, and that was the job of sound engineer Bob Johnston.  But Johnston held off - instead, dangling a quid pro quo: sex for sound-mixing.  "If you're nice to me, I'll make you a nice record," he told Carly with casual impunity.  "It was amazing to actually hear it coming out of somebody's mouth," Carly recalls.  "I stood very calm, and said, 'I'm not that hungry.'"  Johnston paid her back by refusing to mix the tracks and by bad-mouthing her to Grossman.  "Whatever Bob said to Albert, I was shelved," she has said.  "This was the end for me for a very long time. I was frozen."


 

Page 257 - Live From The Bitter End

Carly left her job as a secretary at Newsweek and found a job as a backstage handler-hostess for the talent on a new TV show, Live From The Bitter End.  The show was televised from the Bleeker Street rock club that was right next door to the Dugout and the Tin Angel, where Joni would soon be hanging out.

Carly dropped the role of budding songwriter.  "I didn't try to sell my songs.  I took care of Marvin Gaye and the Staple Singers and Redd Foxx and the Chad Mitchell Trio and Peter, Paul and Mary.  I brought them tea and honey and cough drops."  One night, when Carly asked Marvin Gaye if he wanted anything to drink, he told her to stick her tongue out.  She obeyed and found herself in the midst of a soul kiss.  "I couldn't release my tongue for a little while, let's just say that," she's recalled.  (Forty years later she'd rate Gaye's Sexual Healing as one of her ten favorite songs.)

 


 

Page 260 - Long Term Physical Effects

Carly's crowd, like everyone's crowd, was living the stoned life now.  "Those were crazy, heady, exciting times - no rules and no consequences," recalls Ellen.  Carly was intermittently trying to place her songs as well as looking for jingle-writing gigs.  Ellen's brother came up with a chicken nuggets idea, a precursor to the McDonald's gold mine, which he wanted to market to dope smokers; Carly wrote a jingle with the hook "Long-term physical effects are not yet known," implying that the nuggets were psychedelic.  Neither nuggets nor jingle got off the ground until Milos Forman cast Carly in his movie Taking Off, where she sings a portion of the song.


 

Page 261 - Carly Simon joins Elephant's Memory

At some point in 1968, Carly contributed a song she had written, based on a Brahms melody, to a project sponsored by the New York Symphony Association, through which rock groups would collaborate on classical music.  A pop-rock group called Elephant's Memory was chosen to play her song at Carnegie Hall.  The band needed a female singer; Carly was signed without even an audition.  It was a match not made in heaven.

The jazz-flavored group, which consisted of what Carly has recalled as "very New York street-smart jazz hip people" took an instant dislike to Carly.  Though they liked her singing and her animated stage presence fine, and they approved of the songs she'd written enough to continue to play them (Summer Is A Wishing Well, in particular) they were not going to give the "uptown girl" a break.  They pretty much said, "Get off your fat ass and help us carry our speakers."

Note: After Carly left the group they were forced to rewrite the lyrics she'd written to 'Summer..." so that they could use the tune on their debut album.  The song was retitled Crossroads of the Stepping Stones. There are no recordings of Carly singing with band.


 

Page 262 - Dan Armstrong Guitars

Among the clubs Elephant's Memory played was the Scene, with a house band led by a longish-light-brown-haired, mustachioed young guitarist named Danny Armstrong.  Danny thought Carly was "a good singer, very musical, and she had all kinds of sex appeal."

Electric guitars were Danny's life.  The previous year he had opened Dan Armstrong Guitars, on West Forty-eighth Street, and his timing had been dead-on - he captured an exploding market. As he immodestly put it, "I was the first and [ at the time ] only electric guitar specialist in the world, and I knew every big-time guitar player in the world - I just plain owned New York at the time."  When Cream came to town to play concerts featuring their haunting underground hit White Room, Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce would sit with Danny in the back of the store, the three playing riffs - and, according to Armstrong, "Clapton only knew one way of playing blues riffs and I knew twenty."


 

Page 264 - I'm All It Takes To Make You Happy

One day in 1968 Danny looked up from his desk "and in she strolls, a nice-looking lady in an orange, pink and yellow dress.  Certainly vivacious.  Lots of charm.  Big smile.  Carrying a guitar that needed work."  He recognized her as the Elephant's Memory singer. 

"To her, and to me, Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday, and Odetta, were the only singers that counted.  She said she wished that she could sing like that, but she knew she never could."  Still, he noticed, as Nick had: "Carly always wanted to be a celebrity."

"We definitely fell in love," Danny said, and Carly agrees: "I really loved him."  One day when they were driving, Danny turned to Carly and said, "You're all I need to make me happy."  She picked up her guitar and started to turn it into a song.


 

Page 268 - Carly Simon shifts focus

In early 1969, the focus shifted, from Carly and Danny to Carly and Jake Brackman - from Carly the available girlfriend to Carly the songwriter and potential performer.

"During this period "Jake and I became inseparable," Carly has said.  Carly had had years of talking to therapists about her childhood.  Now she shared the stories with Jake, and to his fresh ear the "rich girl's problems" that had been deemed meritless by the reverse-snobbish times achieved a universal poignance.  An image stayed with Jake: Richard Simon, in failing health, silent in the dark; Carly yearning for his attention.

One day Carly handed Jake a notated melody she had written months earlier but for which she couldn't come up with lyrics.  Thinking of what Carly had told him about her father, Jake wrote: "My father sits at night with no lights on / His cigarette glows in the dark."


 

Page 270 - My Luv Is Like A Red, Red Rose

Danny could tell their romance was "thinning out," but the man who thought himself a more accomplished electric guitarist than Eric Clapton couldn't quite accept that he might not be the one to end it.

Still, one day, at a recording session with Carly, he couldn't escape the conclusion that his sexy rich dilettante lover had a striking talent.  For an album that Lucy and Carly were making, The Simon Sisters Sing The Lobster Quadrille and Other Songs for Children, Lucy had set classic poems - by Edward Lear, Lewis Carroll, Robert Louis Stevenson, and others - to music, among which was Robert Burns's My Luv Is Like A Red, Red Rose.  When Carly took the microphone in the studio and sang, "My love is like red, red rose that's newly sprung in June....," Danny thought, "She sounds like an angel." (So moved was he by what critics have called her "low, earthy, and subtle" voice on that song that for decades he "heard" her singing it).