“Boys in the Trees” by Carly Simon (Flatiron Books)
Singer Carly Simon would on the surface appear to be someone who had it all–growing up in wealth; possessing a beauty that intoxicated even the most successful and handsome of men; and a very successful recording career that made her a big-time celebrity in her own right–and yet there always seemed to be a wistful quality about her. Her just-published autobiography, “Boys in the Trees,” (Flatiron Books) confirms that suspicion.
Simon spends the first 2/3 of the book dissecting the dysfunctional relationship between her parents. Her dad, Richard, was a co-founder of the publishing giant, Simon & Schuster, while her mom, Andrea, grew up in working-class Philadelphia. Richard met his wife when she was working as a switchboard operator at his company.
Sadly that kind of fairy-tale beginning did not have a happy ending. Carly was a clearly a daddy’s girl who loved him in spite of the fact that he suffered from ill-health, both physical and mental, as long as he was alive. He passed away in 1960 when she was only 15. Carly was not fond of her mom who comes off as cold and distant. Even worse, she writes in shocking detail of how her mom cheated on her dad with a young man whose responsibility was to be a companion to Carly’s brother, Peter, and lived in their home. It’s no wonder depression was rampant in the Simon family.
The final third of the book deals with her tempestuous ten-year marriage to pop star troubadour James Taylor. Ironically it wasn’t a clash of egos, where Billboard chart success or lack of it, could easily create fiction. Simon mentions that she and James were very supportive of each other’s music and frequently sang background vocals on their respective recordings. They recorded a few duets in the early 1970s including the 1974 hit, “Mockingbird,” and a wonderful cover of the Every Brothers’ “Devoted To You.”
It was the more traditional rock star lifestyle trappings that did in their marriage. James Taylor had no shortage of women desiring him and he even rented an apartment in Manhattan for one of his paramours. Simon admits that she had a revenge affair of her own. Also not helping matters was Taylor’s heroin addiction which affected his mood for the worse. The stress of dealing with a failing marriage caused Simon to have a nervous breakdown at a 1980 Pittsburgh concert.
Surprisingly, Carly Simon doesn’t go into much detail about what inspired her songs with the exception of arguably her best known hit, 1973’s “You’re So Vain,” that was recorded in London and at great expense by her producer Richard Perry. Ever since the song was a hit 42 years ago there has been speculation of who Carly had in mind with her lyrics and she has played coy ever since. She claims that the tune is about more than one guy and one of them was Warren Beatty which isn’t much of a surprise since Warren Beatty was in Nova Scotia in the summer of 1971 to see the total eclipse of the sun which is a key lyric in the tune. Mick Jagger, who sang background vocals on the record, was also an inspiration.
One mystery that is cleared up at the end is why this memoir was not published by Simon & Schuster. In the final pages of the book, Simon talks about how she and her children were disrespected in 1984 by then Simon & Schuster CEO Dick Snyder, a Trump-like figure in the publishing biz. S&S had been sold years earlier to Gulf & Western. Snyder coldly cracked to the Simon family during a visit to his office “that this all could have been yours if your grandfather had been smarter.”
“Long Promised Road” by Kent Crowley (Jawbone Publishing)
The Beach Boys, and specifically their founder and composer Brian Wilson, were the subject of the 2015 critically well-received film, “Love & Mercy.” Much as been written over the years about Brian, and his brother Dennis, who certainly lived life to the fullest before drowning off Marina Del Rey 32 years ago. Not as much however has been devoted to the youngest of the three Wilson brothers, Carl. Author Kent Crowley tries to rectify this with “Long Promised Road” (Jawbone Publishing).
While there aren’t many new revelations here, Crowley does a nice job reviewing how Carl kept the Beach Boys together when Brian was thoroughly unproductive because of both drugs and mental illness as well as from 1968 though 1973 which was a very dry period, sales-wise, for America’s band. And yes, Carl was a terrific musician, songwriter, and composer as evidenced by the book title and other fine tunes.
Crowley though doesn’t provide as many details as he should have about Wilson’s 1967 battle with the Selective Service to avoid serving in Viet Nam nor much about his battle with lung cancer that would eventually kill him in February 1998. Nonetheless he provides enough grist that should satisfy both casual and obsessive Beach Boys fans.