Carly Simon Biography - Beginnings to 1960 (Chapter 3)


Page 81 - Hello Big Man

In 1934, Carly's mother Andrea was a switchboard operator at Simon & Schuster.  She caught the eye of her boss (Carly's father, Richard Simon) and he said "Hello, little woman."  She responded, flirtatiously, "Hello, big man."  Carly later wrote an evocative song about her parents' courtship.


Page 84 - Pete Seeger teaches Carly's class

For Carly's first six years, home was two fused apartments comprising the top floor of a gray six-story doorman building at 133 West Eleventh Street.  Only twelve families shared it, including Elizabeth Simon Seligmann, her physician husband, Arthur, and their daughters, Mary and Jeanie.  The building was a block away from the private school, City & Country, that the Seligmann girls and Simon girls attended. (Pete Seeger guest-taught in Carly Simon's kindergarten class, leading the children in rousing folk songs, that, since he was blacklisted, he could only perform offstage.)


Page 85 - Carly's bedtime music

Someone was always at the living room piano in the Simon house. As a child she would go off to bed singing the love ballads of Richard Rodgers (also a favorite of Carole's) and Arthur Schwartz.  Carly would go on to record some of these songs herself.  Alone Together, by Arthur is one of her favorites.


Page 88 - Carly Simon vamps it up

Carly Simon at eigth years oldDespite Carly's phobias, her deep worry for her father's health, and her sense of being overshadowed by her dazzling sisters - or perhaps in reaction to those things - she seized on and burnished two personal assets.  The first one was performing.  "Joey and Lucy had nice singing voices, but Carly was amazing: Carly was lit from within - she was a performer from day one," says Jeanie.

At the family recitals that Andrea endlessly staged, Carly would often belt out the bouncy Teresa Brewer hit Music, Music, Music and Rosemary Clooney's vampy, suggestive Come on-a My House - singing both songs "with demonic energy", Jeanie recalls, "but like a grown-up, despite the fact that she was missing two teeth."



Page 92 - Down By the River Side

One of Carly Simon's crazy uncles - Uncle Peter (aka Snakehips Dean) would lead everyone in camp songs like Down By The River Side during some of the Simon's musicale nights.


Page 94 - 95 - Carly's first boyfriend soundtrack

It was during the first weeks of her romance with Timmy, that Ellen saw Carly sitting on the school steps, playing and singing When I Fall In Love with such feeling, especially on the "It will be for-ev-er."  Ellen realized something that decades of being close to Carly has cemented: she was uncommonly, almost dangerously, romantic.

During her sophomore year, Carly Simon acquired her first real boyfriend, Tim Ratner, and their romance bloomed during her high school's production of Gershwin's Girl Crazy (featuring Embraceable You and I Got Rhythm).


Page 96 - Carly Simon finds her voice in folk music

Visiting Carly often at the Stanford house over the summer of 1959, Tim Ratner saw the complexity of her home life - the "highly matriarchal atmosphere, the strong older sisters, a mother both very organized and also cut off and not available, a father growing progressively less functional."  Ronnie's relationship with Andrea was never explicit, "but any observer could tell what it was. There was sadness for Carly.  A few years later I'd hear the Beatle's She's Leaving Home and think it captured the sadness I felt in Carly".

Tim went off to Dartmouth in the fall of 1959, Carly began to play the guitar in earnest, finding her voice in the folk music whose popularity had, in a year's time, swept like a brushfire from college to high school.  Now the sounds of "John Henry" were more likely to be heard than When I Fall In Love.  Carly loved Odetta and wanted to sing like her.


Page 97 - The Simon family scene

Nick Delbanco entered the Simon house and took in the scene: the "stony-faced" infirm Richard Simon, sitting "in an armchair....wearing pajamas and a bathrobe, hands folded in his lap."  The evening family recital, around the grand piano, was about to begin.  Like other visitors, Nick watched, that night and subsequent nights, the performing Simon girls (Joey, Lucy, Carly) offering show tunes, operetta, opera, folksongs, torch songs, the blue.  The three girls took turns singing in duets and trios.  Then a guest would play Chopin or Lizst and Carly would return to to my side." eliciting praise. "She was perfect, better than ever, the best.  Play 'John Henry' again, I would ask her, or Danny Boy."  She obliged, in her "deep, strong, throaty voice" with "erotic abandon."

Carly Simon and Nick Delbanco














Carly unfurled her ample insecurities at Nick - "She had the remnants of a stammer and forthright anxiety," he would later write. "She said that her family left her feeling insecure, unloved, and that her comic antics were a ploy to gain attention....She had clamored for make her father smile at her." Her father's infirmity felt like a "reproach to her."

Carly Simon's father - Richard L. Simon of Simon & Schuster fame

On July 30, Richard Simon suffered a fatal heart attack. "I showed up at Carly's father's funeral, and that's the first time she took me seriously," recalls Delbanco. "It was a dark and complicated time for her." Soon enough Carly and Nick were locking themselves into attic rooms in the secret-filled house.


Page 98 - Carly throws herself into folk music

1960 - Fueled by the pain of her father's death and the blush of new romance with an intense young writer (Nick Delbanco), Carly threw herself into folk music - Odetta, Baez, Ian and Sylvia, Cynthia Gooding.  She wrote songs, once attaching the Robert Burns poem "Ye Flowery Banks" to the ever-romantic melody of Greensleeves.  She loved the 'bonnie, bonnie banks' songs and the 'turtle dove' songs.