Monday, February 1, 2021

Carly Simon

As a writer, you often find yourself on the fringe of celebrity. I met Carly Simon because of a friend in New York in the early 1980s. Fifteen years later, I met Rick Frank, drummer for Elephant's Memory who most famously backed Lennon for the live Plastic Ono Band LP Sometime in New York City. From there, Frank spent years battling addiction and mental illness, and just before he died, we spent time conversing about his life and career. I recall his talking about Carly Simon, with whom he worked before Carly released her debut LP (Carly was Elephant Memory’s vocalist for a brief period in 1969).

It's funny, being on the fringe is like two degrees of separation, rather than six. I saw Carly once again after he died, and we talked fondly of the different Ricks we knew. It's 25 years now since Rick died, and 50 years since Carly released her debut. I don't mind being on the fringe when I'm allowed to live vicariously through people as diverse as Carly and Rick.

Carly Simon's career began with her sister Lucy as The Simon Sisters. They had a minor hit in "Winkin', Blinkin' and Nod," in 1964. The sisters' sophomore album, Cuddlebug, followed later that year. In 1969, Carly collaborated briefly with eclectic New York rockers Elephant's Memory and appeared in the 1971 MiloŇ° Forman film Taking Off. Carly's "Long Term Physical Effects" was included in the film's soundtrack.

Carly was signed by Jac Holzman to Elektra Records in 1970. She released her self-titled debut album in March 1971. The album contained her breakthrough hit "That's the Way I've Always Heard It Should Be," a somber affair like the dark underbelly of a Brian Wilson song, brooding and sad. Of it, jazz guitarist Pat Metheny said, "To me, there were always several interesting things about this piece, not the least of which is the way that she moves from root minor key to the major key just a half step above it so effortlessly in a way that is almost invisible. But also, I always just thought it was a great melody, with that big leap at the end of the first phrase." 

At the time of the debut's release, Carly had no following, and no plans to make her name through touring. The cover of the album was therefore crucial. In the photograph, Carly's gaze into the camera conveys quiet confidence. Her stance is not necessarily sexual (though it was by this 10-year-old boy), but it signals her openness as a singer and songwriter. A pose of both openness and reserve is central to Carly’s image as a singer/songwriter. The photograph for Anticipation is no less stunning.

The album peaked at No. 30 and the single at No. 10 on the Billboard charts. Her second album, Anticipation, came in November that same year. Like its predecessor, the LP peaked at No. 30, and its lead single, "Anticipation,” reached No. 3 on Easy Listening charts and No. 13 on Billboard's Pop singles. "Anticipation" was written in 15 minutes while Simon waited for Cat Stevens to pick her up for a date. The pair had become romantically involved shortly after Simon opened for Stevens at Doug Weston's Troubadour. (Got your scorecards out? This is complicated.) In a previous episode (post) we mentioned that Taylor met Carly at intermission following her set and just before Cat's performance. Their flirtatiousness was interrupted by James' [then] girlfriend, Joni Mitchell and the [eventual] couple would not meet again until James played Carnegie Hall a few months later (Taylor first met Simon as a teenager in Martha's Vineyard). So, mathematically, it’s James + Joni – Joni + Graham = Carly + Cat – Cat + James. (And you said you'd never use algebra.)

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