Boys In The Trees: A Memoir, by Carly Simon
This book, which is a sizable memoir at more than 350 pages, is all the more telling because it only covers the first 35 years of the author’s life. It has the feel of being a series of set pieces that is filled with imaginative retelling with a retrospective glance that is also backed with information from the author’s diary. And this is not a book that appears to be well-calculated to make friends, as the author has some rather savage things to say about some of the people in her life, even while keeping some things (like the mystery of the identity of two of the people in You’re So Vain) a mystery still. Even so, this book tells enough to let the reader get some sense of the emotional patterns of the author’s life and of her refusal to put up with infidelity the way that her father did which seems likely to have killed the Simon of Simon & Schuster fame in the eyes of his loyal daughter. Then, of course, there is the story that Simon tells of being abused by an older boy for many years during her youth as well as one of her female friends as a child, and her tale of being “passed around” during her twenties by a group of men that included sci-fi writer Michael Crichton (!). And that is not even getting into the details that she spills about the ups and downs of her marriage with the “gentlemanly” James Taylor.
This book is divided into three parts and 24 chapters, and the contents of the book will be highly interesting to anyone who wants to see Carly Simon from the point of view of someone telling victim tales, not that Simon’s own life history will be all that dissimilar from many people who read it. The three-act drama of this book is pretty straightforward enough. The first part of the book consists of eight chapters that focus on Simon’s youth, including dramatic events at a dinner party where the marriage of the author’s parents really fell apart and which led not too long after that to the tragic deal of Carly’s father, who had been pushed out of the publishing company that he founded. The second part of the book then consists of Carly Simon’s early adulthood period between childhood and fame, which included a discussion of the various men she was passed around to as well as her success as part of a duo with her sister as well as her recording of her first solo album. The third act is then focused on Simon’s relationship with James Taylor, their marriage, and the music that the two of them created together and apart during that marriage, closing with a health crisis that Simon had to face, another set-piece involving a conflict with one of her husband’s “other women,” and a stopping point just before her comeback with “Coming Around Again” and her second marriage. One wonders if this will be the subject of a sequel to this memoir, or perhaps not.
What does appear to be evident in this book is that the author’s music is deeply personal. There are many references here to song lyrics and the way in which songs were crafted over time, as well as the personal meaning of some of the songs that she wrote over the course of the first part of her career. The author also gives a lot of discussions about her insecurities and anxieties and the way in which she struggled with them. Towards the end of the book there is a discussion, for example, of a particularly disastrous concert in Pittsburgh that left her bleeding. Similarly, the author is both detailed about some things, namely her emotional entanglements with, of all people, Mick Jagger, and about Taylor’s flings, especially with an Asian dancer named Evey, who apparently had heard a biased picture of her as a snobby, bourgeois Jewish-American Princess (as if bourgeois is a bad thing), but not very detailed with discussions as to exactly what remorseful things she had done with Mick Jagger that were not full intercourse but were still too far as far as her sense of honor was concerned. One gets the feeling that Carly Simon’s life as a whole has had a lot of destructive patterns born out of her parents’ disastrous relationship–Simon’s daddy issues are highly in evidence here–as well as her own history of childhood sexual abuse. Like all too many people, Carly Simon’s creativity came from a place of great brokenness, something that her music shows all too clearly.