Carly Simon - Never Been Gone
Always Been Here
In retrospect – which is the only trustworthy “spect” in our arsenal, experiences being neatly under glass, and all – one looks over the many, many stories written about Carly Simon over the years. And a perennial theme, a kind of smack-in-the-face leitmotif, strikes one. It is what I call the sovereignty curse. It is the endless string of metaphors equating Miss Simon’s life with that of a princess. To which I utter a hushed, Oh, Sweet Jesus.
The youngest daughter of publishing giant Richard Simon and his petite bride Andrea, Carly’s early life has been generally categorized as one of privilege, exclusivity, and chiffon dresses. All right. Her folks were cultivated people. Yes, the household often saw brilliant notables of the day, fiddling on the keyboard and imbuing the living room air with wit and insight. This was undoubtedly grand. But it is nonetheless a larger and hazier picture, and one that blithely overlooks the isolation, dreams and yearnings which Carly’s implacable honesty set down in her earliest songs.
More absurd was the prevailing notion, fed by the macho sweat used as ink in Rolling Stone, that Carly became a great heiress. Uh...not quite. In point of fact, the young woman Carly went to work — just like we do! — for Newsweek magazine, which stint may have provided grist for her Oscar-winning, soaring “Let the Riverrun” years later. And she wrote songs, and she toured little places in the Northeast with her sister Lucy and sang folk music, and we even have a recording or two from those days. (By the way: if you’ve never heard Carly’s, “My Love Is Like a Red, Red Rose,” there is some serious poetry missing in your life.)
And, when the new star Carly married James Taylor, the heralds went blue in the face with their trumpeting. Carly and James were pop’s royal couple. So omnipresent was this analogy that one tended to visualize James kicking back, strumming a guitar and watching the Jousting Channel. While Carly, in pointed wimple and veil accessory, made the egg salad. The marriage did in fact endure for many years – no small tribute to Miss Simon’s affection for domesticity – and children Sally and Ben, more happily and realistically, remain the great joys of Carly’s life.
Yet: most disturbing to me of all is that latest crown thrust upon Carly’s abused brow, that of the first great voice exalting the sexually free woman. It makes me take the Lord’s name in vain again, and bad. For this predominant tag is about as facile and empty an assessment as it gets. It is not unlike claiming that E M Forster’s genius lay in extolling the architecture of cottages. When Carly Simon writes of sensuality, it is a sincere, but by-the-way, aspect of the larger experience of love. Always. Her scope has always been much too expansive to find release in the mere celebration of physical passion. Her gift is too widely human, and far too far-reaching, to settle for the kicks of a bedroom romp. Are we now clear on this? Good.
Now, to the business at hand. That is, the songs on this charming little circle of plastic, or metal, or whatever. One of the things about art (I am told there are quite a few, too) is that, the finer the work, the more open to interpretation and recreation it is. “Hamlet” has been reinvented a zillion times, Matisse’s “Le Danse” may strike terror in one heart and make for giddiness in another, and the songs of Carly Simon were, as it were, born to evolve. They are just that big. They contain so great a plethora of layers and shades of meaning, that fresh arrangements open new doors for us. Good art, like Carly herself, is just so damn cool.
Miss Simon has penned her own notes on the songs contained herein, and only a fool would seek to amplify on that. When the lamps are dimmed and the cat is let out at night, the artist alone must have the final say on the work, and any other voices, no matter how erudite or caring, are merely a chorus of finches. Pleasant, maybe, but not all that helpful. What matters is that you hear the songs. What is important is that she gets to do what she has always done so surpassingly gorgeously. In a word, she will once again locate your heart, and find and sing the songs you yourself have therein.
To this I say, you go, princess. With all our love.