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"Carly Simon" Interview & Quotes
edited and compiled by McClure & Trowbridge Publishing Ltd 04/08/03
Carly Simon is one of popular music's premier literary
voices. Her ability to compress penetrating, sophisticated
contemporary narratives into four-minute songs has earned
her much-deserved comparisons to Joan Didion, J. D. Salinger,
and John Updike. Whether she's making megahits ("You're So
Vain") or devising concept albums (LETTERS NEVER SENT),
Simon's ear for detail and its perfect expression makes
her a songwriter's songwriter and a pop fan's dream.
"In a way, I'm a very private person," Simon admitted to
Douglas Clegg, "but I don't think there's very much that
I couldn't disclose about myself or that I'd be ashamed
of." Carly wrote the 1973 hit "You're So Vain" following
involvements with Mick Jagger, Warren Beatty, Kris Kristofferson,
and Cat Stevens. She was married to James Taylor for eleven
Since then, she's has had several more Top 40 hits, including
"Nobody Does It Better," "You Belong to Me" and "Jesse";
has written music for a handful of movies, including the
Oscar-winning "Let the River Run" from 1988's "Working Girl";
and has survived a bout with breast cancer.
DC: The lyrics to "Cross the River" are very much like poetry.
CS: I imagined it like a beat poet. I wrote the first verse
and turned off the drum machine, and I went to bed. Then,
the second day, I turned it on again and wrote a second verse.
It was written very linearly. By the end, I had run out of
the drum sample, and so I was forced into writing that "Dear
Laura" section because there was no drum. So I thought, this
sounds like the place to have a natural break, so I'll write a
letter. So much of the album was happenstance -- it was what
I had available to me at the moment. I had a lot of different
percussive-sounding instruments in my studio. A lot of
guitars, and a lot of my voices. I just used what was at
hand, and I didn't go outside of the bedroom until September,
when we had a week at a real studio and put Steve Gadd on to
replace most of my drum sounds. But my drum sounds are still
DC: Let's talk about "Scar," a beautiful song both
poetically and because it's about something that
isn't expressed often in popular music -- the scars life
gives us. What are your scars?
CS: Emotional and physical scars. I used the physical
scar of my breast cancer operation, the scar that I
have across my chest as a metaphor for all kinds of
scars. But it was an easy way to focus on this
particular one. Because it's across my heart, it's a
DC: And the song has that great line, "A really big
man loves a really good scar."
CS: Right. I try to get to those peculiar and particular
things that you never think of to say. I always think
it's interesting to dig a little bit deeper every time
you go to someplace that seems like a revelation or a
strong connection to an emotional truth. "Scar" was a
very important song for me to have written at the
time that I did. I needed to get some of the pain out.
When you write songs about your feelings, that's one
way of exorcising them. One of the things that has always
motivated me to write is the desire to get it out
and look at it in an objective way, so that it doesn't
cause me any serious pain by staying inside.
DC: Then you've got the nastiness of "We, Your Dearest
Friends." The idea that your friends might use you
just for gossip, or to make them feel superior, or
for social climbing, or for any number of shallow
reasons that would be hurtful.
CS: Unfortunately, no one's exempt. Except me when I
was in sixth grade. I took it to heart that in order
to be a good person, you never said anything mean about
anybody. So for one whole year, unless I had something
nice to say, I would not say it. And so I did it. I was
appreciated because of it, and I was the most popular
girl in my class, and the one that everybody trusted. So
it does work. The problem is that by the end of the year,
I was very boring.
DC: What happened in seventh grade?
CS: I changed schools, and I couldn't wait for a good
gossip session. I've certainly been on both sides of
the table. "We, Your Dearest Friends" was written about
me from the point of view of other people discussing me.
DC: Which of your albums do you feel were overlooked
by critics or listeners?
CS: That's such a good question. Maybe songs more than
albums. I think that most people really know if
it's a really great album. I think that I've got some
pretty bad reviews on albums or songs that later proved
themselves. Like "You're So Vain." There was one writer
who said it was schlock rock.
DC: And yet that song is such a classic.
DC: There's a legendary track that I've always wanted
to hear. Did you record "Under My Thumb"?
CS: Yes, I did. I don't know where that is. I've been
looking for that. I know I recorded that during the
COME UPSTAIRS album. Mick actually wrote me some new
lyrics for it. I did a demo of it, but it never
went farther than that. I wish I could find it -- I
know it's got to be in some box of tapes somewhere.
DC: What do you think when you look back on your career?
What advice would you give the person you were when
you began in this business? If you could walk back
to that room where you were composing "Alone" -- what
would you tell that person?
CS: Don't try to follow the fashion. Listen to a voice
that's deeper than you think it is. Always dig deeper.
Being in this business for as long as I've been in it,
it's sort of like living in a town or a city before the
war and then after the war and then during the reconstruction
and then during the time that it sprawls out to the malls.
I've gone through the village of my songwriting and my
artistry, and I've gone through lots of different phases,
including one where it has been very quiet and abandoned
me for a few years. But there's always a creative side to
me; even when it's quiet musically, it comes out in some
other direction, like painting or decorating or planting
a garden or writing a children's book or putting on make-up
like a Kabuki artist. There's always some way of being
creative. Even if it's not always alive musically, it's
doing something somewhere inside my soul.
[Edited from interviews by Douglas Clegg and others]