Carly Simon Biography - late 1973 to late 1983 (Chapter 15)

 

Page 441 - Carly Simon's Contentment

Carly Simon recording Hotcakes while pregnant with SallyEarly in Carly's pregnancy, James entered treatment, and Jessica remembers Carly "going to visit James in rehab, realizing the depth of his problems and having to come to that understanding" that she had married a drug addict.  Still, she was strong and nurturing; as someone who worked closely with James says, "Carly got James on methadone, and that was an achievement."  Others, however, say that methadone would prove for him at least as difficult a habit as heroin.  At the time, addiction was a sign of sensitivity and vulnerability.  James Taylor had always traded on that romance.

But now there was a child in the picture.  Sarah Maria (Sally) Taylor was born on January 7, 1974; James audio recorded the birth of the baby girl who would inspire him to write a song named for her.  "Carly and James were both so happy, Jeanie Seligmann remembers. 

Hotcakes, Carly Simon's ode to this season of contentment, had been recorded late in her pregnancy.  Released days after she gave birth to Sally, it sold nearly a million copies, peaking at # 3.  The album featured Carly and James having great fun with Charlie and Inez Foxx's rocking version of Mockingbird.


Carly Simon Music website



 

Page 442 - Carly Simon releases Hotcakes

Hotcakes's Top Ten single, Mockingbird was a smart way to have their cute couplehood both ways (wisely, they turned down starring roles in  a remake of A Star Is Born), and the song became a staple of their joint appearances, with Carly jumping all over the stage with gawky abandon.

The jaunty, ragtimelike Older Sister was another one of Carly's songs about the sisterly awe and competition that had marked her childhood, as was the more darkly autobiographical Grownup, about her inability to grow out of the insecure little girl.  Praising the album for being "not deep but...honest," Jon Landau in Rolling Stone wrote: "Carly Simon never apologizes for writing about herself or her well-to-do background that has been so gratuitously criticized."

Mind On My Man was as smooth a standard as any her friend Jonathan Schwartz would spin.  "He's a gentleman lost at the fair / He's a lotus that opens and closes, notice he won't always let me in": she locates James.  The album's hit single, Haven't Got Time For The Pain ( # 2 in the adult contemporary market) underscored her current life: Enough self-obsession already!  Think I'm Gonna Have A Baby, introduced in this most urban but visceral of writers what would be her affecting motif: the idea that a woman - fluid, absorbing, eternal - is a "river."




 

Page 443 - World's Greatest Musician

James Taylor and Carly SimonSix months after Hotcakes and Sally were born, James released his fifth album, Walking Man, his first without Peter Asher, Kootch, and others in their recording family.  Despite seven weeks of promotional touring (and the achingly lovely title song), it sold surprisingly poorly, ending up as his lowest-selling album. When Carly had had her double # 1 with No Secrets and it's You're So Vain, James's almost simultaneously released One Man Dog had peaked at # 4, its single Don't Let Me Lonely Tonight at only # 14. So now Carly had two albums and several singles that bettered her husband's - and handily.  "And not only were Carly's doing better, but their albums were always released at the same time," Arlyne Rothberg laments today.  "You have to think back and say it was bad planning on everybody's part, including mine."

The disparity was "hard" on Carly's marriage, Arlyne says.  "We hadn't come that much into female liberation - not that it's even easy today."  Steve Harris recalls that now, during James's solo performances (he toured all the time, whereas Carly had stopped touring), "People in the audience would cry out, 'Where's Carly?  Where's Carly?!  Sing Mockingbird!  I don't know if James liked that."  Arlyne says that Carly "always, always minimized her success in front of others, especially when James was around."  "She would never take a compliment without saying, 'I'm married to one of the world's greatest musicians,'" says Jessica.

People in the audience would cry out, 'Where's Carly?  Where's Carly?!  Sing Mockingbird!  I don't know if James liked that.

 

Page 446 - Carly and James record in L.A.

The young family moved to L.A. for a few months so James could record his sixth album, Gorilla (its title track named when James, after a fight with Carly, went to the Central Park Zoo, saw a gorilla, and imagined that that's how his angry wife viewed him). 

James Taylor in L.A. - by Norman Seeff

Carly was recording her fifth album, Playing Possum in L.A. at the same time. During a photo shoot at Norman's Seeff's studio in L.A., Carly took off her dress and started dancing around in a little black teddy and knee-high black boots.  When she and Arlyne Rothberg (her manager) saw the contact sheet, they both zeroed in on a profile shot of her: she was on her knees, with her long, muscle-thighed legs apart, and her fists clenched at the side.  It seemed as if she had nothing on under the teddy, which stopped mid-buttock.  It was an image of a beautiful, half-undressed, erotically charged young woman.  In 1975, it stood to be the most explicitly sexual photograph ever chosen for the cover of any woman's album.

The new mother and "erudite Simon & Schuster heiress" Carly Simon would use such a photograph caused a sensation; Sears Roebuck (the Wal-Mart of its day) banned the album from its stores.  Perfect strangers came up to Carly and told her she was obscene and disgusting.  But the album cover sent a welcome signal in that winner-take-all feminist moment. 

Contact sheet for Carly Simon's Playing Possum photo shoot by Norman Seeff


 

Page 446 - Playing Possum

Cueing off on the album's unavoidable talking point - its cover - Stephen Holden said that Playing Possum was a "celebration of the body at play".  In Rolling Stone's Ben Fong Torres article, Carly said "Being attractive sexually is not something which I feel guilty about or embarrassed by in any way.  I feel that it's great.  I felt very sexy when I wrote most of the songs" on Playing Possum.

An unmelodious gimmick song about a kind of precursor to "vogueing," Attitude Dancing, was released as a single but it made a disappointing showing, peaking at # 21.  After The Storm takes on the impact of sex after an argument, from stimulation to appeasement.  In the traditional, folky, Look Me In The Eyes - with its delicate melody and celestial chorus - she's rubbing a lover's "limes" all over her body and "climbing on you like a tree."  The song's hook - "but I beg you when you love me, look me in the eyes" - poignantly joins the sexuality to intimacy. 

The album's controversial single was Slave.  The song was Carly's way of lamenting that, despite the rhetoric of feminism, acculturation and psychology were hard to change: 

There Goes Sensuous Simon - Rolling Stone coverI worship your opinions
And I imitate your ways
I try to make you grace me
With a word of praise


However much I tell myself
That I'm strong and free and brave
I'm just another woman
Raised to be a slave

In retrospect "Slave" is aprocryphal.  Even decades after she and James divorced, Carly Simon's inability to stop loving James - her involuntary fixation on their time together - is right up there with her great generosity, her sophisticated wit, her almost dangerous candor, and her joie de vivre as one of the most noticeable things about her.  "James!" she exclaims in an e-mail.  "What a clenched fist of hard love!".  For years, with a few exceptions, he has declined contact with her..."There is no exit from that silence," she says.

"James!" she exclaims in an e-mail.  "What a clenched fist of hard love!".  For years, with a few exceptions, he has declined contact with her..."There is no exit from that silence," she says.

 

Page 449 - How Sweet It Is

This time around, James Taylor's Gorilla and Carly Simon's Playing Possum were more evenly matched in sales, and James's hit from that album - the delicious How Sweet It Is (to Be Loved by You), which was a remake of Holland-Dozier-Holland's Motown hit for Marvin Gaye - shot to # 5.  "There have been moments of terrible friction based on who is bigger on the charts," Carly admitted a few years later, "and it's more comfortable if James is more successful than I am." 

That's the thing with a junkie: They've got a secret; they've got a little other life - that's what they control.  But their outward life, they give you to control.

At the same time, Carly controlled most of their day-to-day life.  "He completely went along with her life," says Jake.  "That's the thing with a junkie: They've got a secret; they've got a little other life - that's what they control.  But their outward life, they give you to control."  The men around Carly saw her changing.  "She went into this myth of being a wife and mother so strongly, even when James was on the nod," says Jake.  On James's tour of Japan, Russ Kunkel recalls, "Carly came along and she was like anybody's wife."

Carly Simon with baby Sally, back stage at a James Taylor concert

The early to late-middle 1970s was one of the worst times to be married to someone with an addictive personality.  Hard drugs, especially cocaine, were now considered "recreational," and celebrities were always plied with them. "James would get a lot of free dope because people wanted to spend a little time with him and that was their ticket to an hour or two," Jake says.  Carly was at a loss for how to help James.  "She'd find the dope and flush it down the toilet," says Jake.  Carly says, "I lived in a state of fear for years.  Addiction really takes over everything, and we were in its power.  When James walked in the door, I was overly sensitive in examining his expression, examining the size of his pupils, looking for evidence.  I thought I could actually stop his addiction.  Who was I kidding?"

I lived in a state of fear for years.  Addiction really takes over everything, and we were in its power.  When James walked in the door, I was overly sensitive in examining his expression, examining the size of his pupils, looking for evidence.  I thought I could actually stop his addiction.  Who was I kidding?

James Taylor high




 

Page 453 - Another Passenger

Carly SimonWhile trying to rescue her husband and caring for Sally, Carly continued to write and record.  She put her complaints about James's absent parenting and their fights over the parental double standard into the sarcastically sweet-sounding Fairweather Father (in the liner notes, she denied the song was about James) for her 1976 Another Passenger album.  Carly had a hit with a Michael McDonald song, It Keeps You Runnin', and its Libby celebrates her new close friendship with songwriter Libby Titus, "a charming, funny, vivacious hell of a woman," as Danny Kortchmar describes her.

The demureness of the photos (emphasizing Carly's face and long legs) for Another Passenger was due to the face that she was pregnant through much of 1976.  On January 22, 1977, she gave birth to a son, Benjamin Simon Taylor.  The focus of Carly's worried vigilance shifted off James's physical signs and onto the baby's:  Carly felt sure that something was wrong with their son.  "He was hardly a sick-looking child, but he would run these high fevers; Carly would have to put him in a tub to get them down," says Arlyne.  "All the doctors were saying, 'There's nothing wrong with him, there's nothing wrong with him,'" but she continued to take him to doctors.  "She persisted; she was a mother possessed."


 

Page 455 - Boys In The Trees

Carly Simon (Mrs. James Taylor) People magazine 1978Carly's seventh album, Boys In The Trees, produced by Arif Mardin, was released in June 1978.  (In the meantime, she had had a # 1 adult contemporary hit singing the Carole Bayer Sager - Marvin Hamlisch song, Nobody Does It Better, the title song of the James Bond movie The Spy Who Loved Me.)   Carly posed for the album cover photo, by Deborah Turbeville, sitting, bare-breasted, in an empty ballet studio, rolling a silk stocking up one leg.  But she and Arlyne ended up thinking that, as Arlyne puts it, "the picture didn't lend itself to the sensationalism of have her naked" so they had it retouched to add a silky camisole.

The album, which went platinum, gave Carly a Top 10 hit with the bouncy, torch, loving You Belong To Me, which she cowrote with Michael McDonald, and which, like so many of her songs - including another on the album, In A Small Moment (and In Times When My Head, in the previous one) - was about cheating, jealousy, and temptation: the adult preoccupations she had witnessed in her childhood and which were dancing around the corners of her current life.

The title song - the reverent, eerie Boys In The Trees is one of her most personal and haunting.  This new album of hers involved more of James's input than any previous one.  He la-la-la'd on Boys In The Trees.  Carly sang his self-mockingly bluesy One Man Woman and a disco song - Tranquilo (Melt My Heart)- that they had written together.  Most affecting was their duet on the Everly Brothers' Devoted To You. 

Carly Simon and James Taylor recording Devoted To You


 

Page 456 - Handy Man

It had been a good couple of years for James Taylor.  His Greatest Hits album had been released, and after moving to Columbia he'd enjoyed, in the album JT, a full-scale comeback.  The rocking Your Smiling Face was his biggest self-written hit since Fire and Rain, and he had another hit in his inspired remake of Jimmy Jones's slyly boastful pop soul Handy Man.  But it was not a good time at home.

Carly was still desperately searching for the cause of Ben's fevers. Because so many doctors were saying that despite the fevers, the child was fine, "even James said, 'Leave him alone!' and I could understand anybody saying that, because the doctors had been so reassuring," Arlyne recalls.  "But Carly's attitude was, she was going to save that kid, no matter what!  She was the best mother of anyone I knew - and that was before the parenting books; you had to do it by instinct."  Carly was still breast-feeding Ben; despite Trudy Taylor's very vocal disapproval*, she would do so for three and a half years.

*Breast-feeding was still considered downscale, weird, or "hippie" in the late 1970's, especially to high-born women from a different generation.


 

Page 459 - We're So Close

In 1979 Carly Simon wrote and recorded one of her most candid albums, Spy.  Taking the fraught secrecy and erotic betrayals of her childhood (which now had counterparts in her marriage), she set out to "spy on myself."  Other than a minor hit with the hard-rocking Vengeance (about a man and woman out-betraying each other) - full of her signature belting - no one seemed to notice the heartfelt album, which, in retrospect, sounds like a zero-hour bid to save her marriage.  In Just Like You Do, she makes common cause with James's vulnerability - her fears and phobias the equal to his addiction - begging him "to return to that brace innocence we once knew." 

To this day, Carly believes We're So Close, through which she acknowledged her marriage's dissolution, "is the saddest song I ever wrote."

Love You By Heart, which she wrote with Libby and Jake, is a plea for James to get off junk.  We're So Close, which announces its significance with stark piano chords, serves up a therapy session truism with elegance and surprise.  To this day, Carly believes We're So Close, through which she acknowledged her marriage's dissolution, "is the saddest song I ever wrote."  "There were admissions of infidelities and things you try to do" - confessing, apologizing - "with all the amount of love surrounding it."  Finally, as 1979 turned to 1980, James became involved with a Japanese dancer named Evelyne and Carly drew very close to studio engineer Scott Litt.


 

Page 460 - Come Upstairs

Carly Simon and vibraphonist Mike Mainieri began to write together: she the lyrics, he collaborating with her on the music.  Of their efforts, collected in Come Upstairs - Rolling Stone's Ken Tucker said her "instincts are bold, but her music betrays her."  Having gotten a late start on her career, she seemed to be in overdrive now, both missing and hitting.  With her infectious Jesse- utilizing the full arc of her plea-to-rocking-growl range - she hit # 11, her first big score in a little more than two years.  (Meanwhile, James's album Flag was going platinum due to its single of Carole and Gerry's Up On The Roof.) 

Barely noticed on Come Upstairs was the song she titled James.  On it her voice is so meek, she - the brassy-classy queen of indiscretion - seems to be asking permission to name him.  Strikingly, she uses the same images (a seashell pressed to the ear; the younger James slumped soulfully over his guitar) that Joni Mitchell had used in her songs about him.  On the strength of her hit with Jesse, Carly planned a Come Upstairs tour, pushing herself back on the road.  All of this - the writing and recording, the time with Scott Litt, the James separation that wasn't a separation, the planning of the tour - was wrapped around her life's core: Sally and Ben.

 


 

Page 462 - Carly collapses on stage

Carly Simon with son Ben TaylorIn summer of 1980, before the tour was to start, came Carly's "worst day of my life."  It turned out that she had been right in her insistent hunch about Ben.  As Arlyne recalls, "She found a doctor who said, 'Look at this - his kidney!'"  It was dysplastic (abnormally formed).  "One kidney was totally diseased; it had to come out immediately.  The other was partially diseased; it would be regenerated."

Ben was rushed to Columbia Presbyterian Hospital for emergency surgery.  Carly waited through the surgery, distraught.  James was not there.  (According to Carly, James wasn't there with Ben because he was driving his girlfriend Evelyne to the airport).  When James finally arrived at the hospital, he didn't go in right away.  "He was sitting on the stoop outside while I was screaming at him to go upstairs," Arlyne says.  Eventually, he went upstairs - but Carly couldn't get past James's absence during the surgery, and that grievous act of self-absorption became the point of no return in their crumbling marriage.  James could ignore her, but ignoring Ben at his most vulnerable was unforgivable.

Carly lost twenty-five pounds from her thin frame during Ben's convalescence.  In the fall, with Ben strong enough for her to leave his bedside, Carly embarked on the rescheduled Come Upstairs tour.  In Pittsburgh, she seemed to go to pieces in front of the audience.  Fans came up on stage to help her calm down, and she made it through the first show, "but I collapsed before the second show, with ten thousand people waiting."  She cried her eyes out at the failure and humiliation. 


 

Page 464 - Carly Simon records Torch songs

Carly Simon Rolling Stone coverThough she was giving up on performing (at Lucy's behest), Carly continued to record.  She put together an album - Torch - of classic Torch songs (adding a song of her own From The Heart) and a blues number.  Mike Mainieri arranged and produced it.  Its cover showed Carly in a low-cut gown, writhing in pain and longing, grasping the arm of a tall, dark - James like - man who, his back turned, is pulling away from her.

Carly took the album to L.A. in mid-1981.  She tracked down Danny Armstrong, who was living there and he paid her a visit.  As they talked, he saw a woman far deeper than the jaunty girlfriend he remembered.  "She was so unhappy; after me, she'd been through a lot of crap.  She'd changed a lot."  Danny had assumed that fame had made the uptown girl more uptown; this was a reversal of expectations.  She put the album on the record player.  "You'll like this; it's right up your alley," she said.  They listened to her sing I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good - "and," Danny recalled, "it was so good - so moving - it upset me."


 

Page 468 - Carly Simon's Orpheus

James Taylor and Carly Simon officially separated.  The new woman in his life, who was not happy with Carly's entreaties (nor Carly with her), was actress Kathryn Walker. In 1982 and early 1983, two avoidable deaths stunned James Taylor.  James Taylor with Kathryn WalkerHis friend John Belushi died of a cocaine-heroin speedball, and his acquaintance Beach Boy Dennis Wilson drowned while swimming drunk.  These tragedies issued that "either I quit or die" message that Peter Asher always knew would be the only hope of salvation for James.

At almost the very time that Carly's divorce from him was filed, James checked into a detoxification clinic.  Kathryn Walker helped James Taylor through it.  Afterwards, James funneled his energy into exercise.  "It's hard to stay sober," a friend says.  "He's done an amazing job,"  He never relapsed.

For him to clean up so quickly and thoroughly after their divorce, with another woman's help - "this was the absolutely crushing irony," Jake Brackman says.  "Carly was trying to do this the entire time she was with him, then Kathryn comes in and - boom! - he's Mr. Twelve Step."  Another friend theorizes that James clearly was not prepared to walk away from drugs when he was married to Carly.  Maybe there was something in the fabric of the relationship that made it hard for him to stop.

For him to clean up so quickly and thoroughly after their divorce, with another woman's help - "this was the absolutely crushing irony," Jake Brackman says.  "Carly was trying to do this the entire time she was with him, then Kathryn comes in and - boom! - he's Mr. Twelve Step.

 

Carly released her eleventh original album, Hello Big Man - it's title tune, homaging her parents' romance - the year of her divorce, 1983.  Orpheus, is one of Carly's favorites of her own songs and a personal signifier in her current life.  It's an obvious melodrama, but, to her, a real one.  Giving James the name of the ancient Greek poet of the lyre (and, by implication, making herself into his adored wife, Eurydice, whom he lost, tragically, twice), she sings of how James first drove her away, then when she took the bait, closed the door to their relationship and moved on, even though she was more than willing to return.  Her pleading refrain - "But it was there for us...." - movingly expresses her regret for ending the relationship, a move he had essentially forced upon her by his behavior.




 

Page 470 - Spoiled Girl tanks

Carly Simon and Russ KunkelCarly Simon had her twelfth album, Spoiled Girl, pretty much mapped out when and Russ Kunkel began living together (an awkward situation as James Taylor was Russ's "boss").  Stephen Holden generously called the August 1985 release a "spicy, lighthearted romp," but Carly admits she lost her judgment when making it.  Indeed, she used nine different producers, it hewed to the trendy dance music sound that was not her natural metier, and though the album may have sounded "lighthearted," she'd approached it with desperation.  The album, for the most part, tanked.

Joni and Carole were in similar situations: Joni Mitchell had made, with husband Larry Klein, a synthesizer-driven album, Dog Eat Dog, which the radio stations were ignoring.  Carole King made the synthesizer-driven Speeding Time with also fared poorly.  All three women were past age forty. 

By the time Spoiled Girl was released, Carly and Russ were officially engaged.  James and Kathryn were married in December.  Carly moved Russ into the romantic Vineyard home - with its beautiful fields and woods - that she'd lived in with James and which became hers in the divorce (she lives there, to this day). 


 

Page 474 - Coming Around Again

"You do the bass part - you can do it," Russ told Carly, when she started writing her thirteenth album, Coming Around Again.  He was her coach and support system (as well as, on one track, her producer).  She credits Russ with returning her to her true musical self after a few years in the trying-to-be-trendy wilderness.  The title song originated as an assignment:  Carly would write the music for the Mike Nichols - directed film version of Nora Ephron's novel Heartburn(starring Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep).  The song is a thumbnail autobiographical sketch, as is the lingering plaint - "I believe in love...It's comin' around again."  Released as a single along with the movie, Coming Around Again hit the # 18 spot and was Carly's biggest hit in six years.  Two classic Carly lust songs, Give Me All Night and All I Want Is You, became minor hits, and the album went platinum.  (Note: Carly Simon filmed an exquisite full length concert - Live From Martha's Vineyard - to promote this album - now on DVD).

Just about the time, May 1987, that the album was released, Carly's relationship with Russ Kunkel had run its course.  He says, "The relationship was like a cruise.  It had a point of demarcation and it just ended."  Carly calls Russ "absolutely precious - a pure and incandescent generous soul.  He's like the most innocent Thoroughbred who doesn't want to win the race because he doesn't want to make the other horses lose."



 

Page 479 - Carly Simon marries Jim Hart

Carly Simon marries Jim HartShortly after the breakup from Russ, Carly took a trip to visit Jake Brackman at his new house in Hudson, New York.  Upon leaving for home, Jake waited with her at the train platform where he ran into an old AA buddy of his, Jim Hart.  "I introduced her to Jim as "Carly Simon".  But, amazingly, Jim didn't know that Jake's friend was a famous singer.  They rode together on the train and Jim told Carly about his unique biography. A romance quickly developed.

Jim held his own in Carly's high-powered social world.  Jackie Onassis found him absolutely fascinating.  Andrea flirted with him.  Mike Nichols became his chum. ("Fake it 'til you make it." Jim says, of his ability to mix with this crowd.)  And he possessed two qualities that made him a perfect match for Carly: a grandly romantic perspective and high sexuality, a combination of qualities he would later express in his dedication to her of his 2004 self-published volume of poems, Milding: "If a stallion had a goddess...."

One day in the fall of 1987 Jim called Jake, saying, "I need to talk to you - you're the only one who knows both of us.  I want to ask Carly to marry me.  What do you think?"  Jake hesitated; then he said, in his slow, low voice: "She's the most neurotic woman in the world."  He paused, then added, "But she's the only one who's worth it."

She's the most neurotic woman in the world."  He paused, then added, "But she's the only one who's worth it.

Two days before Christmas 1987, as a light snow drizzled the Vineyard, Carly's and Jim's families gathered in an Edgartown church for their wedding.  "Carly looked like a Russian heroine" in her fur-cowl-necked, tight-bodiced white dress," Jim says.  As the pair ferried off to their honeymoon in Nantucket, Carly's loved ones were delighted that she was happy.  They hoped that this mutual caretaking would work, permanently.