I picked up More Room in a Broken Heart: The True Adventures of Carly Simon, by Stephen Davis, at the library and found it a quick, if not fabulous, read.
I grew up hearing many of Carly Simon’s songs on the radio (“You’re So Vain,” “Anticipation,” “Nobody Does It Better”) without knowing too much about her. Then a few years ago I read how James Taylor, her husband of 11 years, had been a junkie throughout their marriage. How did she cope with that? How did these two seemingly mellow soft rockers live a druggie existence? I always liked Simon’s rich, honeyed voice, but have to admit that I never cared too much for Taylor’s music — I found it so laid back to be almost soporific.
|Carly Simon and James Taylor|
The best part of the book are the opening chapters, where Simon’s parents early lives are outlined — they were quite interesting people — as well as Carly’s first forays into music, with her older sister Lucy as part of the duo The Simon Sisters, and then her tentative but determined efforts to go out and perform on her own. Simon (as well as Taylor) was born into a privileged background. Her father Richard Simon was the Simon of Simon and Schuster. The family shared time in a large home in Riverdale and an even larger summer estate in Connecticut. Richard Simon was an accomplished classical pianist, and through him Carly Simon met such musical luminaries as George Gershwin, who would visit the Simons from time to time. Music was always a part of Simon family gatherings. The family communicated best through music, as both father and mother seemed rather distant from their children.
There is no bibliography or notes or references in More Room in a Broken Heart, but there are sporadic references throughout the text to old interviews or magazine articles about Carly Simon. It soon seems that one is reading a cut-and-paste job. For some reason author Davis feels compelled to list every song on every Carly Simon album, while glossing over, or just simply not trying to dig into the personal sides of Simon’s and Taylor’s lives. He has no problem listing old lovers (Warren Beatty, Kris Kristofferson, Cat Stevens) and breakdowns, but not much interest in probing the whys and wherefores. The complicated Simon surely would provide plenty of opportunity for more in-depth analysis and investigation. She stuttered as a child and suffered from extreme stage-fright, which caused many difficult situations throughout her career, always reluctant to go out and tour to perform her latest album.
For someone who prefers the relative safety of the recording studio, Carly Simon has not only been prolific, but has been honored many times for her music (Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1994, Grammy Hall of Fame in 2004 for “You’re So Vain”). Her song “Let the River Run,” which initially appeared on the soundtrack of the film Working Girl, was the first song ever to win a Grammy, Academy Award, and Golden Globe Award for a song written and performed by a single artist.
|Mid-’70s Carly Simon|
More Room in a Broken Heart is an unauthorized biography, and after a little searching online it apparently is chock-full of factual errors. Some of the mistakes with dates are less glaring or annoying than some of the completely off-the-wall “interpretations” of Carly Simon’s lyrics. One of the more amusing is Davis’s summary of her 1980 hit “Jesse,” which he describes as “a song about a woman’s ambivalent feelings for an incontinent lover who wets the bed and needs fresh sheets … by the end of the lyrics, she decides to put fresh sheets on the bed.” Really? Here are Simon’s lyrics:
Oh mother, say a prayer for me
Jesse’s back in town, it won’t be easy
Don’t let him near me
Don’t let him touch me
Don’t let him please me
Jesse, I won’t cut fresh flowers for you
Jesse, I won’t make the wine cold for you
Jesse, I won’t change the sheets for you
I won’t put on cologne
I won’t sit by the phone for you
If you hoped that this (or any) book would give an insight into the real story behind her top hit “You’re So Vain” this is not the case. As many errors or missteps as this book may take, there are a few underlying suggestions, that if they are true, are quite interesting. That Carly’s interest in working with Rolling Stone Mick Jagger led to a long-term friendship (and possible affair). That her success may have fueled jealousy with husband Taylor. That she enabled his relapses into drugs. The last few chapters of More Room in a Broken Heart gloss over most of her recent work as well as a (successful) bout with breast cancer. What was the rush?
There is another book on Carly Simon, “Girls Like Us,” by Sheila Weller, which Davis may have “borrowed” heavily from. The book covers the careers and lives of Carole King, Joni Mitchell, and Carly Simon and may have been a better read. It has recently been optioned to be made into a film, with Taylor Swift rumored portray Joni Mitchell. Oh boy.
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