Carly Simon Biography - 1984 to 2007

 

Page 513 - Carly Simon's Oscar - Let The River Run

Carly Simon wins Academy Award for Let The River RunJim Hart seemed to provide just the right mesh with Carly.  "Not just anybody would want to take on this very complicated person - Carly is high-maintenance," says Jeanie Seligmann, voicing a widely held opinion.  It seemed that Carly both needed to be taken care of and needed to take care of Jim.  Jim found Carly's efforts against her phobias touching and heroic.  "Fifty percent of Carly's day is spent warding off the fear that something is going to kill her - imagine having to live that way!" he says. 

"Jim is very steady.  He may be in a kind of low-grade depression all the time, but it works for him; it makes him mellow.  Carly is an emotional roller coaster.  Jim will listen to Carly's slight-of-the-day; he's not entitled to this own drama, he's not competing with her.  Shecan take the stage all the time," says Jake Brackman.

Carly worked with Jim on the theme song for Mike Nichols's next movie, Working Girl.  Viewing the opening footage of the movie - the Staten Island ferry gliding past the Statue of Liberty toward Manhattan's skyscrapers - Carly knew she wanted to score it with "a hymn with a jungle beat."   It was Jim Hart who turned to Finnegans Wake to come up with the first line of the soaring anthem, "Let the river run / let all the dreamers wake the nation."  Carly and Jim together turned to the poets William Blake and Walt Whitman, and came up with the hosanna "Come, the New Jerusalem," the song's emotional fulcrum.  Let The River Run is one of Carly Simon's most stirring songs; and when she was named Best Song winner at the 1988 Academy Awards, she took the stage and said, "Thank you to my husband, Jim Hart.  You wrote the best lines of the song - thank you, sweetheart."


 

Page 515 - Carly Simon productive early 90's

During the same years that Jim Hart toiled and stalled on writing his novel, Carly was very productive.  Now, moored in a marriage to a man who tended to her emotionally, Carly became both the social maven and the workhorse.  She began writing the first of what would be four children's books, Amy The Dancing Bear, and working with Jake Brackman on an opera, Romulus Hunt.  She opened a small Manhattan art gallery named (after her Academy Award-winning song) Riverrun; and she would eventually open, with her friend Tamara Weiss, a boutique, Midnight Farm, that is still thriving on Martha's Vineyard.

Most important, she released two albums by the end of 1990 and one in 1992.  One of the 1990 offerings was My Romance, in which she wisely renewed the standards franchise that would serve her well in years to come, this time interpreting a group of wistful torchers - My Funny Valentine, In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning, Bewitched and Time After Time, among them.  She also included Danny Boy: the first song she had ever learned to sing, courtesy of her nanny, Allie Brennan.

The other album, Have You Seen Me Lately? featured her new original compositions.  It was a pressing midlife quest; as she frankly described it to The New York Times's Stephen Holden, Carly was finding that "I have more questions and am trying to find answers more concentratedly that I've ever had in my life."  The album didn't catch on like its predecessor, Coming Around Again, had.  But the 1990's would produce so many life-and-death challenges that Carly Simon's palette of concerns - expressed in her songs - would give way to more primal issues.


 

Page 516 - Carly Simon writes Love Of My Life

Carly Simon and Jim Hart 1992Carly Simon's next album, the soundtrack for her friend Nora Ephron's 1992 directorial debut, This Is My Life (about a single mother raising two daughters), gave her a minor hit (#16 on the adult contemporary chart).  Love of My Life came to her one night when Sally and Ben were going to bed.  As the youngsters strode to their bedrooms that night, Carly impulsively called out: "You are the love of my life!"  The angst of motherhood - both prosaic and operatic ("My heart is riding on a runaway train!") - illuminated the song.

Toward the end of 1992, Jim's inability to complete his novel after four years of effort - and four years of Carly supporting him, emotionally and financially - was eating away at their marriage.  He gave up on the novel entirely.  Despite being "madly in love" with each other, as he puts it, "When you marry a famous, relatively wealthy woman and you don't have money of your own, you're a bounder.  With any relationship that's this unbalanced, you both withstand a psychological barrage."  Jim Hart moved into a small apartment in a tenement building on the Upper West Side and went back to selling insurance.

Carly deeply missed the man who soothed her through her anxieties, and Jim wrote of now being "a spoon without a mate," aching "for your melody and musk...a tad of linen next to your skin...the timbre of your voice close to my breath."  The separation only last a few months.  Emergency intervened: Carly's mother, Andrea Simon, was diagnosed with lung cancer.  Jim returned to Carly, while Carly cared for her mother on the Vineyard.


Carly Simon Music website


 

Page 518 - Carly Simon's song for her mother

Carly Simon with mother in 1993Carly Simon's relationship with her larger-than-life mother had always been complicated.  One day (before Andrea's cancer had been diagnosed) Carly dashed off a lyric-metered letter to Andrea about the unresolved issue of Ronnie Klinzig.  "Why can't you apologize / You say it was all Daddy's fault / He loved Auntie Jo and treated you like a scullery maid....."  Still, Carly contended, the victims were her and her sisters.  She considered mailing the letter - but was stopped by a remembered bit of Andrea's advice: never mail a letter composed in strong emotion.  The wise demurral would inspire an album (and title song), Letters Never Sent.

Even as Andrea's cancer advanced, "she was still indomitable," Jim says.  "She said, 'You've gotta do this!  You've gotta do that!'"  Carly cared for her frail mother.  As 1993 turned to 1994, Andrea's prognosisdimmed.  Carly, Joey, Lucy, and Peter decided not to tell their mother she was dying.  "We knew it was a truth that she did not want to know," Lucy has said.  In February, she succumbed; Carly was at her bedside, and "I wanted to crawl under the covers with her and go back to the womb," she told a confidante.  In the alternately solemn and buoyant Like A River, Carly returns to the simile (female=river) she'd coined twenty-two years earlier in Think I'm Gonna Have a Baby, but now shears it of its breeziness.  "I'll wait no more for you as a daughter," she sings, then turns around and vows, "but I will wait for you for-e-ver, like a river."


 

Page 520 - Touched By The Sun

Immediately after Andrea Simon's death, Carly's friend Jackie Kennedy Onassis took a turn for the worse in her battle against lymphoma.  Carly had a lunch for Jackie on April 14, 1994 - "the last day that Jackie was leading a normal life," says Joe Armstrong, who was present.  Carly said, "I have something for you," and she put a tape of a song, Touched By The Sun, into Jackie's hand, explaining that she had written it for her. The song was about a woman living in proximity to greatness - as women of Jackie's (and Andrea's) era did - but also living daringly, even foolhardily. ("I need to let them say, 'She must have been mad.'")  People thought Jackie Kennedy "mad" when she married homely, crass, foreign Aristotle Onassis and fell off her young-widow-of-Camelot throne.  Jackie, Joe Armstrong says, "was bowled over by Carly's song." 

At the beginning of the third week of May, Carly and Joe knew that Jackie was dying.  They were on their knees, praying, in Joe's Upper West Side living room, when the phone rang.  It was Marta, who'd been Caroline and John's nanny, saying, "Come right over."  Jackie wanted to say good-bye.  The Fifth Avenue apartment was mobbed with friends, but only women, and few of them, at that, were allowed into the bedroom.  "Madam wouldn't want a man to see her like this," Marta told Carly, so Joe hung back as Carly entered the bedroom of the most queenly woman in America.  A day or so later, Carly and Joe returned to the apartment - for Jackie's wake.

Carly Simon arrives at Jackie Kennedy Onassis' apartment to say goodbye

Letters Never Sent was released in 1995, with Carly's songs to her mother and Jackie on it.  But there were no singles, no hits.  Carly was now called a "heritage" - read older - artist by Arista.  She had passed the fifty-year mark.



 

Page 521 - Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye

Carly loved Jim; her charming poet was the stallion who thought of her a goddess.  But for all that romance, issues remained in their marriage, so they threw themselves into couples therapy.  But "two or three" therapists later, they felt fatigued and disheartened.  They realized one root of their problem: "Carly thinks and feels symbolically, while I think and feel literally," Hart says.  Still, that abstract revelation didn't solve things.  In 1997 Carly and Jim moved into an arrangement they would occupy for the next eight years: they would stay married, remaining "madly in love," talking many times a day like best friends, keeping the future of their relationship open - but mostly living separately.

Jim Hart, Carly Simon, Ben Taylor, Sally Taylor

Carly recorded another album of classic torch songs (Spring Will Be A Little Late This Year, Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye," and more) with one original composition, Film Noir.  Steeped in emotion over the limbo state of her marriage, she put her heart into the songs; Film Noir is her favorite of her albums.  Then again, perhaps all that emotion was her body warning her mind that, after her mother's death and Jackie's death and the separation from Jim, and even bigger blow was coming.


 

Page 524 - Carly Simon battles breast cancer

In October 1997, Carly Simon felt a lump in her breast; she went in for a mammogram.  Breast cancer awareness was on every woman's radar screen now; you knew your chance was one in eight.  Especially if you had, as Carly had, thirty-five years earlier, taken those high-dosage Enovid birth control pills. "We all felt, 'Is this mammography the one?'" says Mia Farrow.  Carly was scheduled for a biopsy.

Jim Hart (who now had a public relations job in Manhattan) had been ready to dash out to the airport for a business trip when his secretary stopped him and said, "Carly's on the phone, hysterical."  The tumor was malignant.  "In the initial shock of diagnosis, I banged my head against the table and said, 'No! No! No! You're wrong!' to the doctor on the phone," Carly says.  Later she emailed Mia: "The anvil has fallen."

Once the shock wore off, "I just gathered my forces together," Carly says.  "It felt like little people coming out inside me - a phalanx, a Roman army, saying, 'We're going to do what we need to do to make you well!  Of course, you're going to beat this!"  "She was remarkable, she was amazing - there was no self-pity; she just said, 'Let's go!'" Jim says, adding, "Woman are amazing."

The mastectomy was scheduled for November 12.  After the surgery Carly started chemotherapy - her hair did not fall out.  But after the chemo, Carly entered a depression deeper than any she had ever known.  She says, "The one thing anyone knows who has been through a hefty bout of melancholia is that you think it will never end and, therefore, you can't use up your dance card with your friends.  You get good at avoidance and denial and the fake smile."  Only with intimates, like Jim, could she be herself.

One day, after an appointment with Dr. Norton, Carly met Ellen for a drink at the Carlyle Hotel. She was planning on getting breast reconstruction (she eventually did), her depression had lifted, and she felt buoyant and hopeful.  As if on cue, who should enter the bar but Mr. "You're So Vain" himself: Warren Beatty!  "Oh, how wonderful that you're in town [from the Vineyard]," the charming lothario said.  "Why are you here?"  Carly told him: for an appointment with her oncologist.  "And she felt the warmth in his voice disappear," Ellen says.  Beatty quickly exited.  Trish had been right - cancer involved pruning people from your life on the basis of character.

On the other hand, James Taylor had come through.  One night, when Carly was midway through her chemo, he'd visited her in her New York apartment.  As he was leaving, she said, "If you ever think of me, just give me a call.  Even if we're just silent on the phone together, that would be so nice."  Carly remembers that he replied, "If I called you every time I thought of you, there would be little time for anything else."

Carly Simon was now motherless, a breast cancer survivor, and past fifty-five.  Jim was living apart from her, and James Taylor would soon marry his third wife, Kim Smedvig.  She moved a drum machine into Sally's old bedroom at the Vineyard house, and, working from nine p.m. until dawn, she self-recorded an album of songs that came from the heart, The Bedroom Tapes, which was released on Arista in May of 2000.

She wrote and sang about her deep depression and about her fear that she was viewed as a has-been, with her big hits and glamorous men all in the past.  The centerpiece of the album was the song Scar, about the lessons that breast cancer had taught her.  Though she didn't name him, Warren Beatty's recoiling at the news of her cancer was a "gift in disguise," she sang, implicitly revealing how much more usefully brambled her journey was than his emotionally cosseted one ("that poor little puppy, so scared of misfortune and always on guard").  Women of her generation had had the more challenging journey - and that had paid off in wisdom.




 

Page 526 - Carly Simon's river flows

In 2005 Carly Simon recorded her fourth album of standards, Moonlight Serenade.  It became a huge adult contemporary hit (debuting at # 7 on Billboard's Top 200 chart).  Many older artists - Rod Stewart and Linda Ronstadt, among them - recorded standards.  But for Carly alone they were not a warmed-to novelty, but rather a plumb line to her childhood.

She followed up that success in February 2007 with Into White, which also invoked the past, its title song written by her old friend Cat Stevens.  The most arresting track consists of Carly, Ben, and Sally singing a slow, spectral version of James Taylor's achingly beautiful You Can Close Your Eyes, which he had written for Joni Mitchell.  James had been a drugged-out, absent father during Sally's and Ben's childhoods, and that fact had anguished Carly.  Now, like so many second-chance older dads, the decades-straight-and-sober James Taylor was earnestly arranging play dates for his and wife Kim's young twin sons.  A woman did have to have the placidity of a river to put up with life's stream of ironies.

Carly Simon with boyfriend Richard KoehlerIn early 2007, Carly Simon and Jim Hart finally divorced.  Ending her second marriage, to a man shedeeply loved, was crushing.  Still, in time, as ever, a new man emerged in her life.  Richard Koehler is different from the others: not a musician, not a writer.  Rather, he is a (handsome, blond) laparoscopic surgeon and former combat Marine, some years Carly's junior.  Additionally, Sally Taylor and her husband, Dean Bragonier, moved onto Carly's Vineyard compound, where Ben Taylor, too, lives.  In early autumn 2007, while Carly was recording a new album of almost all-new songs, This Kind Of Love -  Sally gave birth to a son, Bodhi.  Thus Carly is now a grandmother, as are Carole and Joni.  And so the river flows, the circle game repeats, the rutted road gets easier to walk down.

Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon and the Journey of a Generation was published in April 2008.