It began in the plush bedroom of a fashionable Riverdale home, one week before James Taylor and Carly Simon became Mr. and Ms. Simon-Taylor. Mrs. Andrea Simon was hosting a party for her son Peter whose book of photographs, Moving on/Holding Still, had just been released. Up in the bathroom, Carly and Peter were diligently trying to synchronize two battery-operated cassette recorders so that a few guests could enjoy a closed-door preview of “You’re So Vain,” in a reasonable facsimile of stereo.
The song lodged itself in my cerebral cortex and had me twitching and humming for the next few days. By midweek, the twitch turned to an itch, which could only be soothed by getting a copy. Carly said there was nothing she could do until Elektra sent her a copy, but in the meantime she wanted me to come to a party at 3 AM on Friday in the Time Magazine Building (then known as the Time-Life Building) following James’ midnight concert at Radio City Music Hall.
James’ last tour had not been an artistic success. He had become sluggish and more distant from his audience. Rumor had it that this was due to mounting heroin addiction. His live appearances over the previous six months had been limited to stints for George McGovern. I figured this concert and the subsequent tour would serve as a gauge for how much we could expect from him in the future.
The concert disarmed me of any vestiges of critical judgment. I was drawn smoothly into the pleasure of the music and James’ performance. And, to a great concert, he added his announcement that earlier in the evening he and Carly had married.
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After that evening, a Rolling Stone Interview with the Simon-Taylors seemed like a natural, and well worth the delicate approach it inevitably entailed. James and Carly both had reservations about doing one, stemming from past experiences with the press. James had not done an interview for two years, and what he had done before that had been basically lip-service. After Howard Hughes, one would be hard-pressed to find anyone who said less to Time and still got his picture on the cover. Carly had always been as open as possible, only to find sensationalized stories of rock & roll romances, once reserved for Screen Secrets, thrown back in her face.
After speaking to Carly on the phone, I was invited over to dinner (Carly is an excellent, provocative cook, James is fair on the dishes) and in a light group-therapy session we worked out the process for the interview. James remarked that his good friend John McLaughlin had once said that he does as many interviews as he can, because they’re a way to clean out the soul: “So what the hell. Let’s see.”
The first session was conducted on Thanksgiving Eve, in the living room of the East Side Manhattan apartment in which they were wed and are still honeymooning. Carly’s brother Peter engineered and co-conducted.
The second session was held a week later minus Peter. Once we got started they took it as seriously as they would a concert or album. Even though James would later say, “Dammit, interviews are not what I do,” it was what they were doing, and they were going to do it right. When the deadline that they greatly resented finally approached, they switched into high gear and what amounted to a third session was conducted by phone from a Maryland Holiday Inn to my New York apartment, following one of James’ concerts — and running until 5 AM.
Jon Landau stayed up with me for 30 straight hours turning 200 manuscript pages into cohesive form. Robert Flaherty couldn’t have put more effort into editing his documentaries. The result is a collective effort: James and Carly Simon-Taylor present themselves. —S.W.
Do you want to talk about why you decided to get married?James: That’s the way we always heard it should be.
Carly: I mentioned one morning to James in London that I thought we should get married, and James was kind of hesitant in his response. He said, “Oh well, there’s really no reason to get married. We love each other and we’ve been living together.”
And then later on in the afternoon, James said, “You know I’ve been thinking about it and maybe we should get married.” I said, “Well, what’s happened between this morning and this afternoon?” He said, “This afternoon it was my idea.”
When did you first meet?Carly: It was my first opening night ever.
James: It was the fall of ’71.
Carly: No, no, the first time we met was April 6, 1971.
James: We passed once in the parking lot of my house — it’s not really like a Kinney System parking lot, it holds about three cars — out in front of my mother’s house were Peter Simon and Carly going to talk to my brother, Livingston, about a job that she and Livingston were going to do together. I passed Peter and Carly and said, “Hi” and Peter said, “Hi, this is my sister Carly” and then I left. I guess I had one album out by then.
So when was the first time you were really introduced?Carly: When we were officially introduced it seemed as though we’d known each other for a long time as we knew about each other from the summer place [Cape Cod, Mass.] James came up and embraced me upon first meeting, and then we went in the bathroom and fucked.
James: Actually we never made love until we were married. [Laughter] I saw Carly on the street shortly after I met her, and I followed her, thinking she was another woman. I was thinking, “what a fine looking woman that is.” Then I discovered it was Carly. It makes you very happy when you do that. The same thing with this picture from Carly’s first album. I saw it on the wall — “Hey, that’s a fine looking woman,” said I, and someone said, “That’s your girl.” I said, “What?” They said, “It’s Carly.” I said, “Oh, so it is.”
* * *
Are there instances when you wrote a song because you didn’t want to say something?James: Often you can express things in songs where other modes of communication are hopeless. Often you can express a feeling in a song that you can never get down any other way. Perhaps that’s why songs are written. Perhaps that’s the way paintings are painted or photographs taken.
Do you ever feel vengeance behind some of the songs, or some sort of emotion that you just don’t want to express any other way?Carly: Not until “You’re So Vain.”
Some people think “You’re So Vain” is about James.Carly: No, it’s definitely not about James although James suspected that it might be about him because he’s very vain. No, he isn’t but he had the unfortunate experience of taking a jet up to Nova Scotia, after I’d written the song. He was saved by the fact that it wasn’t a Lear.
James: A small twin prop.
You’ve mentioned various people who downgraded your music.Carly: Not downgraded it, but their career was always more important than mine. But the anger in that song is not necessarily about anybody who’s put down my music or wanted me to be subservient to them. It’s at a certain type of man, very into themselves, that I’ve been very affected by, adversely, in the past — a man who’s more concerned with his image than with the relationship.
James: The fact that she and I are married means that one is more apt to work these things out rather than let them chase us away from each other. In other words, the fact that there are feelings that I have about dealing with Carly’s profession and her career that I would ordinarily not talk about for fear of chasing her away or chasing myself away. That’s one good reason to get married.
You both spent your childhood summers on the Cape. How did that originate?Carly: My parents started going there in 1934 on their honeymoon. The first summer I was there was the summer I was born and then at least once every summer. I heard a lot about James — he was referred to as Jamie Taylor.
James: I saw you on some stage there once.
When was that?James: It was ’62, ’63 or ’64.
Was that with Lucy [Carly’s sister]?James: Yes. They were billed as the Simon Sisters. I used to sing down there occasionally on Hootenanny nights. She was professional at that point and I wasn’t, so we never sang on the same show.
Do you remember what you thought of her the first time you saw her?James: I thought she was quite attractive, but she was, and still is, four years older than I was, so back then when she was 18 and I was 14 she was a bit less approachable than she was when I was 24…
Carly: You didn’t know that I had a hankering for a 14-year-old man.
James: As it turns out she actually did. But at any rate, I plan to pass her in age in about three more years. I want to send her to Alpha Centauri aboard the first ship that goes there. The law of relativity is gonna finally do it for us. When she comes back I’ll be 60 and she’ll be 30.
Carly: When I get to be about 45, I shall freeze for five years because James will be about 40 then and just wanting to get into all the young women. But I don’t want to know about it.
How do you feel about your both being stars affecting your marriage, the kind of adjustments it requires?James: In the beginning of our relationship I very seldom listened to music at home, seldom played the tape recorder or the record player and I never played my own albums. I think Carly felt I wasn’t taking enough interest in her music. She might have felt that there’s some competition involved. I was afraid to say anything negative about her music. Any criticism that I had, I felt would make her dislike me. So I didn’t mention either side of it.
Carly, would you criticize something that James was doing if you didn’t like it?Carly: I’m very wary, especially with somebody who takes you seriously as I think James takes me. (I take him seriously.) You become sometimes overly cautious about saying something that you think might hurt even though it could be constructive criticism, so sometimes I feel as though I’m walking on hot coals. I would be more careful about what I would say to James than I would to somebody that I knew casually. Now I think this will probably change.
It worried me terribly that James had never heard any of my songs. I took that as an indication that he wasn’t interested in my music and therefore I somehow got a lower opinion of my own music because of that.
James: I heard as few songs of yours as I’d heard of Dylan’s or of Kristofferson’s or Prine’s or of anyone’s. I just don’t listen to music.
Carly: But it’s a different thing with somebody that you’re in love with. I’m not Dylan or Kristofferson. Up until this album, you never listened to my other albums.
James: I never listened to mine either. I don’t know, honey…
Carly: It’s a strange situation. I think it’s one that has to do with fear of competition. But I definitely feel that James is involved now. It’s still a precarious thing. Sometimes I feel it’s a male-female thing. Because any male that I’ve been involved with in the past has not liked my success, has not wanted me to be successful, has felt very threatened by that fact.
James: I’m very much interested in not seeing Carly behind the kitchen stove because I see females live totally vicariously through their husbands and it drives them crazy and it drives the husband crazy, too.
Carly, your father [the president of Simon and Schuster, a book publishing company] comes up a lot in your works and the lyrics Jacob Brackman writes with you. Is it subconscious or accidental?Carly: No, I don’t think any lyric is by accident. The things that you dream aren’t by accident either, and the things that come out, even though they might be a stream of consciousness, are there for some reason. Particularly in “Embrace Me, You Child,” there is a very clear-cut picture of my father as a frightening and devilish kind of figure. That’s not the way that I consciously see him, but somewhere in my mind he must have seemed that way to me.
James: I guess “Knocking Around the Zoo,” which I wrote in MacLaine’s Hospital with a friend named Larry Stien. I think there are negative and angry feelings expressed in that song.
Can we take “Embrace Me, You Child” as a fairly autobiographical statement of your feelings at your father’s death?Carly: Yes. I felt abandoned, and I was angry at the thought of being abandoned by him. At the same time as I was abandoned by Daddy, I was abandoned by God, because losing my father also meant losing my faith in God who I had prayed to every night that I wouldn’t lose my father. From the time that he had his first heart attack to the time that he died I used to knock on wood 500 times every night, thinking that my magic was gonna keep him away from death. I feared his death incredibly, and in fearing his death, moved away from him, fearing that I might die.
James: Anger at a dead parent is really hard to deal with. It’s really tough not to feel guilty about.
Carly: This was anger at a parent that wasn’t dead yet but that I feared was going to die and so I was praying to God all during that time so when my father did die it was like they both went.
You say “I pretended not to know I had been abandoned.”Carly: I pretended not to know. At the time I refused to blame anybody for it. I didn’t blame God; I didn’t blame my father; I didn’t blame my mother. I was so careful about being fair I just refused to blame anybody and therefore I suppressed a whole lot of emotions which currently surfaced in such symptomatic expressions as wishing to mutilate mannequins.
There are religious overtones in a lot of your songs. I was somewhat surprised you didn’t get married in a church.James: Oh, we may be religious, but that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the church. Religion starts at home for us. The word “religion” means “relinkage.” The actual word means to reassociate yourself with your roots or with whatever base, whatever you feel like you came from. It can be a religious experience to look at the ocean, or it can be a religious experience for you to perform a certain kind of dance or for you to sit around a table at Thanks-giving time. That can be relinkage of a certain sort. It doesn’t need to connect itself with any legal deity.
Dancing, as you said, comes up a lot on your album. “Dance” is the title of the last cut. Does this have a spiritual meaning?James: I was thinking of two titles for the album, the first one was Farewell to Show Biz, which Carly and Peter Asher both didn’t like. We finally settled on One Man Dog; I thought of calling it Throw Yourself Away.
I think it’s religious to throw yourself away. It’s interesting that a lot of religious phenomena involve really surrendering oneself, like in the film Marjoe where people are transported and go to pieces. And it’s religious sometimes when you take acid and lose your ego and dissolve completely. I think what people are trying to get away from in their religious experiences is the isolation of the conscious mind, away from the idea proposed by Western civilization that the self is located somewhere in the cerebral cortex and that self and consciousness are tied together. Actually, one is much more comfortable locating oneself in the earth or in your body as any animal or in your body as a member of the species. At least you’re immortal there.
There’s something lonely, very unpleasant and very isolationist about the idea of self that Western civilization has. Being a conscious being means that you divorce yourself from certain aspects of life that are worthwhile. Look at the body taboos: Don’t defecate in public, don’t fart, don’t burp, don’t smell, don’t cry, don’t become overwhelmed, don’t lose control.
These things frighten people because they’re symptoms of the unknown right inside themselves. The unknown represents death to men, represents that which he does not control and which eventually kills him; and what you’re left with is a very lonely and isolated place. Any idea of religion is just the opposite of that. It’s the idea of throwing yourself away.
My love for Carly is a very religious thing, to me, because sometimes I just exchange with her completely and I don’t know where I end off and she begins. The idea of religion is very important to me, and I think I’m a relatively spiritual person, but every time someone starts to pin me down on it they’re just barking up the wrong tree because it has nothing to do with anything specific.
Carly: I am wondering what connotation Jesus had for you.
James: Rhymes with cheeses, Jesus, pieces actually, in “Fire and Rain” — “look down on me, Jesus.” “Fire and Rain” has three verses. The first verse is about my reactions to the death of a friend. The second verse is about my arrival in this country with a monkey on my back, and there Jesus is an expression of my desperation in trying to get through the time when my body was aching and the time was at hand when I had to do it. Jesus was just something that you say when you’re in pain. I wasn’t actually looking to the savior. Some people look at it as a confirmation of belief in Christ as the one true path and the one sole way, which I don’t believe in, although he can certainly be a useful vehicle.
And the third verse of that song refers to my recuperation in Austin Riggs [a Massachussetts hospital] which lasted about five months.
Since this has come up, why don’t we talk about how you first got involved with junk.James: I got involved with junk in New York after getting out of MacLaine’s, about halfway through the year which I spent with the Flying Machine. I got involved peripherally for a while, getting off a couple of times a week. At that point my addiction to it was more psychological than it was physical, but it’s very difficult to separate the two of them and I kicked junk for about a half a year and then spent that time knocking around the country. I drove across the country with a friend and then thumbed up and down the West Coast for a while, flew back to the East Coast, then spent a while in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where I had some growths removed.
That half-year was the fall of ’67 through the beginning of ’68. I was clean. Then I started to take a lot of codeine. I went to Europe and started to take opium and then I got into smack heavily for about nine months. I got into it real thick there. I came back to this country and kicked, over about a period of five months in Austin Riggs. They’re not equipped to deal with junkies and I wasn’t called a junkie. I wasn’t admitted or dealt with as a junkie, but that was my problem. That was the manifestation of my problem. Junk, in itself, isn’t the problem with me. It’s a symptom of unexpressed and inexpressible anger, in a nutshell. It’s a way of retreating from the world. It’s a way of finding a comfort and consistency in a chemical and I guess I have an addictive personality.
Anyway, a year and a half ago I found myself on the road with a Jones. When I got to Chicago I got in touch with a doctor who was a friend of mine. He got me off smack and onto methadone. I’ve been on methadone maintenance for the past year. After I got out of Austin Riggs I was clean for almost a year and a half. But by the summer of ’71 I was getting high again.
Sweet Baby James was out and Mudslide Slim was out. I had just kicked when I recorded Sweet Baby James, and I was still clean when I recorded Mudslide Slim, but I was just getting back into it at that point.
You were seriously addicted during the recording of the Apple album?James: Yeah.
Was it because of pressure to do that album?James: I’m not sure. The album was strange. Carly and I talked a lot about performing and what it means to us as adults and as children and as adolescents. The idea of performing is something that’s central to all of us. What kind of show do you make for whoever you want to love you? In a way, performance is what all of us do in order to get what we want.
I remember when I was a child I performed a lot. I didn’t strum on the banjo and sing minstrel songs, but I did perform. I tried to impress my parents and through the time I went away to school I tried to perform in terms of grades. Whatever I could find that they wanted me to do, I would try to do it. Some people come on this way and others don’t. Carly and I both had a lot of that.
The idea that I have to perform makes me angry. And I think that anger is in ways inexpressible because it’s not really at anything specific. It’s like an old anger. And in that way recording an album might have made me very angry and might have made me turn to drugs as an alternative … as a way to stomach that anger. Obviously, if you can’t express it, you’ll have to swallow it somehow.
And I got into it a year ago last fall, when I found myself on the road with no drugs and quite a habit, so I went to Richmond. The first gig I had was in Williamsburg and I was sick for the job and it went lousy. And I ran into a chick who I had scored from in London earlier that summer and she took me to Richmond and we copped from this guy there named Hangdown. I don’t know if he’ll get in trouble if I mention him, but I don’t ever plan to go back to him again. At any rate, he sold me about enough to keep me until we got to Chicago. It kept me for about two weeks … I was high all the time.
Was this the tour with Carole King and Jo Mama?James: No, this is last fall’s tour with just myself. I wasn’t high for that tour with Carole and Jo Mama. I was straight for that. Occasionally I would take ups if I got too weak or sick to go onstage. But I was straight for that gig. When I got to Chicago I got in touch with a doctor who was a friend of mine and he got me methadone somewhat illegally. He figured it was either he’d break a law or else I’d go down so he straightened me out. I stayed on that methadone that he gave me for almost a month.
How do you relate to it, Carly?Carly: It was very harrowing for me. In the beginning of our relationship, I didn’t really understand the extent to which James was addicted or needed drugs. It just kind of confused me that there was a wall up between us and I didn’t know exactly what it was, because I had never been close to anybody who was really addicted to anything before. I was aware of remoteness with James, that I couldn’t depend upon him. In a sense, he could depend upon me more, but I was terribly confused because all of a sudden there seemed to be this barrier that I couldn’t break through …
What caused James’ remoteness?James: It was partly drug abuse and it was partially that instead of communicating what feelings I had, I would get off on a drug instead, and my mind was occupied by the drug, the idea of getting off on a drug, the idea of keeping it from Carly. But I still needed her very much.
I threw out three separate sets of works saying this is the end. The last time was about six or eight months ago, so I guess it should be finished now.
Carly: There are certain addictions which are much more acceptable by society. Junk happens to be one of the unacceptable ones. It happens to be one of the most self-destructive ones, too.
It seems that the times when you went to junk besides those you mentioned were at a point of reaching a new level of success. With the first album becoming more successful, the Time magazine cover, getting close to a woman, where there seemed to be some sort of permanence — these seemed to be the times that you turned to junk.James: Maybe that’s true. I don’t know what the idea of success means to me. It carries with it an inherent quality that if I actually get what I want, I’ll have to pay for it. In other words, success carries with it almost a sense of inherent and impending retribution. It’s strange …
Are there precedents for this in your growing up?James: Yeah. There was a period of time when my father was away. He went away for two years when he was drafted into the Navy when I was six years old. He spent two years in the Antarctic which is about the same to a six-year-old child as being on the moon. At that time I got very much into my mother as did all of us, and I think the idea of success would be to have her love me instead of my father. That kind of an Oedipal idea, that kind of an Oedipal striving, carries with it the idea if you’re successful you’ll have your eyes pulled out. It’s the kind of thing which you know you can’t be successful at. And you know you mustn’t be successful at it because you’re not a man, you’re a child.
On the other hand, being successful might have carried with it an inherent anger at my mother or father for their wanting me to perform, their wanting me to do well, and therefore if I’m successful there’s an element of having done it for them and not wanting to have done it at all.
Carly, coming from a family with success as a precedent, did it give you some sort of an ambiguous view of success?Carly: They really do parallel James’. What he just said about it was very much what happened to me. I felt as if I always had to perform in order to get any love at all. I had two older sisters who were both very talented and very beautiful and very much the apple of my father’s eye, and I suppose my mother’s too.
I remember very early on, when I was four and Peter had just been born, Lucy was seven and very angelically shy, very attractively innocent, reticent, and Joey was very sophisticated — maybe ten years old, and a budding actress and singer. Friends of my parents would really ask Joey to sing and I remember Peter had a nurse that came when he was just born, named Helen Gaspart, and she came and she was introduced to the rest of the family, to the three girls in order of age, and Joey came first and I remember Joey in a very dignified voice said “How do you do?” and then Lucy just kind of stood back and she said “howdoyoudo?” and I thought, my God, here I have two sisters who seem to have taken up the whole road. You know they’ve got all the corners. Where do I stand in order to be different from them? I remember jumping up on what I think is this same coffee table and I had just seen The Jolson Story. I jumped up on the table and spread out my arms and said “Hi!”
I obviously felt that I had to be different — in a performing sense — in order to make an impression upon anybody. The pressure was put on me at the age of four, to stand out in my own way, not just to be whatever I felt like being, which was, I guess, somewhere middle of the road. It had to be some kind of performance.
James: The idea of being a pop star is a very regressive thing. It’s like all of a sudden anything you want to do is allowed. You become a spoiled child when you become a pop superstar. You really get spoiled something awful.
We talked earlier about James’ addiction. One thing that has happened historically when one lover had an addiction was the other lover picking it up. Were you ever tempted to try heroin or cocaine, the things that James has been doing?Carly: Never. It had a reverse effect on me. I snorted cocaine a couple of times but it was never as bad to me as it seemed when I saw James getting into it. Now I have a horror about cocaine. I was never tempted to try heroin or acid. I’ve just never been into drugs. I haven’t smoked grass for the last four months. I just haven’t been into ingesting anything into my system. Occasionally I smoke a cigarette.
I’ve felt often in our relationship that I’ve been addicted to James and I have a dependency upon him that’s almost like a drug I couldn’t do without. Maybe that’s what addiction is all about.
James: I think if you look at any junkie or budding junkie, of any sort of addiction, there are feelings that the addict feels he cannot control. It gets so involved, a vicious circle that gets so tied up, that aside from the physical addiction there’s also an emotional guilt about being strung out in the first place and then all the things you have to do to get bread and that kind of business, that after a while it perpetuates itself as nothing perpetuates itself.
It’s an amazing downhill slide. It’s fast, too, but the initial thing is trying to get away from a feeling that you cannot control and that you cannot in any way express. That’s at the basis of most addictions. Either it’s anger or fear or a combination of the two.
The other thing about addiction is that it’s consistent. What the junkie is looking for when he picks up his syringe or goes out to cop is something that will be the same every time and that will completely supersede all other goings on. And smack does that. It’s the circumstances around it that kill you. Heroin maintenance has worked well in England. But, it’s like being dead. It knocks out your sensitivities at the same time that it gets rid of the suppressed emotion that you can’t stand anymore.
I was incapable of writing on heroin. I imagine even methadone does that to me, to an extent, except that after a while the presence of methadone disappears. You can’t feel it.
What about cocaine?James: Sometimes it can be very refreshing. If you do it once a week, for instance, or once a month, when some one comes around, you’re having a party, you’re doing this thing, that thing, and say here, have a little blow of this. But the trouble is that the damned things always escalate, so it’s better left behind.
I used to watch TV and hear some newscaster say, “300 pounds of pure heroin seized in Newark.” I would think of it as being deprived of a score. I used to curse when I saw a big dope bust had gone on. But nowadays, when I see they’ve picked up some large shipment of heroin I say carry on. Gee, man.
Who have been the most essential people in your lives?James: As far as my meandering through the music business, and also what music I was affected by, and what I learned, a lot of it came from Danny Kortchmar.
Carly: For me, I would say that Peter, my brother, is definitely one and Jacob Brackman is another. Jake, over a period of about four or five years influenced me more than anybody did.
Meeting Jake was an auspicious event that changed my life because he changed my thinking about myself and also brought me into contact with many people who are now my friends. Jake was like a brother that I never met until I was 23, and Peter, my real brother, has been one of my closest friends, a person that I can rely upon for the truth, even though I don’t want it sometimes. He’s been full of good cheer around the Christmas holidays.
Jimmy Ryan, who plays guitar with me, is the person who really got me to perform. It just kind of happened accidentally that we got together and he said, “Now you’ve got to play The Troubador. I won’t let you chicken out of that. I’ll do it with you.” I always relied upon Jimmy. Every time I went onstage, he’s the person that I kind of looked to, to be there on my left side and take over if my voice fails, or whatever.
Another person is Arlyne [Rothberg], who has been the finest manager that I could ever want. She’s been so perfect in that she’s been as much a friend as a manager, really, and she hasn’t pushed me into anything for the sake of the business. She encourages me to do things that she thinks that I would be happy in rather than what will make money and what will promote my career on a show business level.
Russell Kunkel is another person who’s important to both of us. If it wasn’t for Russell I wouldn’t have played The Troubadour and I wouldn’t have met James there … Russell was the first drummer that I ever played with, and the way it happened is that I said I wouldn’t play The Troubadour unless they could get me a drummer like Russell. I didn’t have any musicians with me; but I had the opportunity to play The Troubadour opening bill to Cat Stevens, so I said if you can get me a drummer as good as Russell, then I’ll think of doing it, and a day later they called back and said, “We got Russell.” Russell is like a saint, he’s made me feel so sure of myself.
James: Russell is an enigma, especially among drummers. He’s amazing.
Carly: I was talking about Russell at length in an interview in London that I did for Disc, and I went on about his experiences in Scientology which he had described to me for several weeks before I did the interview, and I spent about fifteen or twenty minutes on the subject of Russell and how clear he was. The interview came out and it said James Taylor, who is Carly’s boyfriend, was able to kick junk because of his faith in Scientology.
James: Joe O’Brien interested me in funk and in Latin music and educated me. I guess the guy who’s mainly responsible for my beginning interest in music is my brother, Alex, who taught me to sing and who played a lot of records for me. He is the first person in my family to really be interested in music. Alex isn’t very successful at this point, but he could be, and he has an amazing amount to offer. He doesn’t have a very high opinion of himself, but I think he’s as good a white male singer as exists anywhere. I really mean that.
Carly: Now that we’re talking about it, I think of Joey and Lucy and my mother, too, and Peter Dean … there are just too many people. It’s really hard to single out a few.
What about Lee Sklar?James: Lee is the bass player in my mind, he’s amazing, he is. A lot of bass players are frustrated guitarists. Someone who has been a guitarist and has turned to bass isn’t necessarily a good bass player. The name of the bass is quite apt. It’s the most important musical instrument on any track that I know of. I used to play the cello, that’s a sort of quasi-bass.
Lee plays the bass like Caruso sings. There’s no way to analyze how he plays the bass. He just knows what the basis of the music is. He can hit it right on the head.
Carly: Nat Weiss [James’ manager] is the person that introduced James and me.
James: Nat is incredible. Nat is an amazing man. I think he’s a prince. I really love Nat Weiss.
How do you relate to the difference between your personal and more public identities at this stage of your lives?James: It’s interesting to me that no one ever recognizes me on the street. I’m very seldom recognized. Often I can walk into a bunch of kids that I know, one or two of them may own my records, and have a picture of me or maybe have listened to me or been to a concert of mine. I can look at them straight in the eye and they won’t recognize me.
Carly: People don’t recognize you out of context. If you were to go to a concert at the Fillmore East or something like that everybody would recognize you, but people don’t expect to see James Taylor out in Sayville.
James: Yeah, but people recognize you. I think it’s also a matter of my face.
“Hey, Mister That’s Me Up There On the Jukebox,” recognizes that distinction between public and private lives …
James: It’s happened before where I’ve been in a place and they played it on the jukebox without knowing about it. That song was actually as much as anything else to Peter Asher, who bore the brunt of my discomfort about the deadline aspect of Mudslide Slim. I wrote that song in the studio. The bridge, which was “Do you believe I’ll go back home / Hey, mister, can’t you see that I’m dry as a bone?” is about having to write a song. It’s an album cut about having to make an album cut. It’s kind of a rip-off, except that it’s a really nice tune.
After a while, a novelist who does nothing but write novels is going to end up writing a novel about writing a novel. The first chapter will say, “I wrote these words upon my typewriter,” or pretty soon “my vision is going to be turned right … I’m going to be looking at my feet.”
How do you feel onstage?James: My brother Livingston saw me feeling uncomfortable once onstage about the applause that I was getting, and he said, “What the fuck are you doing? These people love you. Why don’t you enjoy it?” He was really angry at me on one occasion at the way I was coming on. And I read an article by Jon Landau on a concert in which he assumed that the way I had come on was on purpose, that I actually controlled that, whereas in actuality I really had no control over it at all. I’m glad when I can be happy onstage too but sometimes I just don’t know how to act…
Carly, let’s talk about the events leading up to your current album. What were your thoughts after finishing Anticipation?Carly: Well, after I finished it, I was tired of the whole self-pitying thing that was going on in many of my songs. I didn’t like to see myself talking about disenchantment as much as I had. The whole album was about things that never quite happened, things that didn’t turn out the way I wanted them to, things that were disillusioning. I wanted to wipe out all that melancholia and come up with something more positive, more interesting, subjects that hadn’t been delved into.
What came out of feeling that way, which songs?Carly: “You’re So Vain,” which was kind of an accusative song that came out of my wanting to write something else.
Did you have some idea that could be a single?Carly: I thought that song was good. I didn’t think of what would or wouldn’t be a single. Sometimes when you play a new song for somebody they say that sounds like a single, but I certainly didn’t write it as one. In fact it was originally called “Bless You, Ben,” and it was about thanking an imaginary man named Ben who came into my life. Thank you for coming in when I was mournful up in my loft, just watering my plants. And it was a morose subject that I didn’t want to have a anything to do with. So I scrapped those lyrics but kept most of the melody, and I had one line that had been in my notebook for a long time which was, “You’re so vain, you probably think this song’s about you,” and I used that.
You mentioned the “contest” going on about who it’s about. What would be the clearest statement you would want to make on who the song was about?Carly: The contest is run by this man in Los Angeles named Winkler and he had his listeners call in to cast their ballot as to who they thought their song was about. Kris Kristofferson is leading. A lot of people think it’s about Mick Jagger and that I have fooled him into actually singing on it, that I pulled that ruse. And some of the people think it’s about James. But, I can’t possibly tell who it’s about because it wouldn’t be fair.
James: It’s none of the people who were mentioned.
James, how did you feel about the song when you first heard it?James: Well, I thought it was a nice song. I heard it played on the piano and sung. I didn’t hear the production of it that’s out now. I like the tune. It has an interesting turn.
Carly: I was thinking about writing some new songs now and for me “You’re So Vain” is, I guess, the favorite of my songs and it’s hard to think about doing something that I like as well.
There are lots of general songs that one can write, but I like the specificity of “You’re So Vain.” It’s really a little about anyone who suspects it may be about them. But the examples were really taken from my imagination. I don’t know anybody who went to Saratoga and I don’t know anybody who went to photograph the total eclipse of the sun.
The point of that verse is that the person was where they should be all the time. That that’s the hip thing to do and so the person is doing it … I had about two or three people in mind.
How did Jagger get involved with it?Carly: Last May I got this idea to do an interview with Mick Jagger. I had an idea to start a career in journalism until I found out just what it was like. I mentioned my interview idea casually to Arlyne who spoke casually to Seymour Peck, who edits the Arts and Leisure section of the Sunday Times. He said if Jagger was willing it would be great. Somebody got in touch with Chris Odell and she got in touch with Mick who really liked the idea.
So I casually went out to L.A., and I ended up hanging around there waiting for Mick for five days, waiting for him to show up. And when he finally did show, he had been on an airplane for 13 hours and was exhausted. All we talked about that night was how much we both hated airplanes and then I had to leave for New York the next morning.
I still had ideas about doing the article when I met him again in June. Or at least I hadn’t totally given up on the idea, but we became friends and I felt it would be too difficult to write an objective piece.
Was he well acquainted with your music?Carly: I don’t think he can recite the lyrics verbatim, but he was familiar with my album covers. It was very strange that first meeting. I expected to look so much like him, because people were always commenting on the resemblance. I expected to walk into a mirror. But then I didn’t think we looked anything alike.
We’re the same height, but first of all he was wearing a cotton turquoise suit, and very short white socks and saddle shoes, and kept apologizing for how tired he was. I couldn’t imagine myself wearing that. After I saw him in June, I didn’t see him again until he called up at the session when we were about to do the vocals.
Are there any songs on your first album that were written when you did that first demo with Albert Grossman in 1966?Carly: Oh, my God, no. I wasn’t into writing songs at all then. We did a song that Dylan … changed the lyrics around for me — “Baby Let Me Follow You Down.” It’s really a guy’s song, and a song that Bob Johnston wrote with Wes Farel called “Goodbye Lovin’ Man,” a song they’d never heard me sing until I got into the studio. It was just one of those “all right, we’ll make a B side quick.” Grossman never had heard me sing, and it was just on either hearsay or intuition that he thought that I could do something. On “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down,” I really got into him and into an arrangement that we both worked out. Albert Grossman kept on coming into the studio and directing me, and I was just a piece of meat really. When we went in to do the B side, Bob Johnston had become the producer in the meantime, and it was really meat city because I felt only like a sex object, not a musician at all.
James: Someone expected you to put out for him in payment for …
Carly: It’s the old Hollywood trick! “Honey, if you’re nice to me, I’ll make you a nice record.”
Were you disappointed when nothing happened?Carly: I was terribly disappointed. I let myself get brought down a lot, thinking that they didn’t like me, that I wasn’t worth much. My expectations were to be the female Bob Dylan. No, they weren’t that, but I mean, Al Grossman led me to believe that I was hot shit, and basically none of them had ever heard me sing and they just thought they could mold me into whatever they wanted. I just wasn’t ready to be molded, even though I tried out of desperation because I wanted to be wanted. It was a super-studded, star-studded session. It was with the Band, Robbie Robertson and all those guys and Al Kooper and Mike Bloomfield, and Richie Havens singing background vocals.
On No Secrets you found yourself as the front woman for another star-studded male cast. Were there any similarities?Carly: Oh, it was totally different. I was an instrument in their hands, in the Grossman session. And in the sessions I didn’t feel like a woman amongst a group of men. I felt like one of a group of people who are working on a joint project, with me taking a lead. The fact that I’m female and they’re male really made no difference.
How did you come up with “That’s the Way I Always Heard It Should Be”?Carly: I wrote the melody of it two years before Jacob Brackman wrote the lyrics, because I was writing a television special called Who Killed Lake Erie? They wanted a theme song and that was the melody that I wrote for the theme but they never used it. Instead, they used a song that was written by Malvina Reynolds, called “From Way Up Here.” I wasn’t really into writing lyrics much then. I met up with Jacob Brackman when I was teaching at Indian Hill, a camp in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.
How old were you then?Carly: 23 or 24. That was when I first met Jake. And a couple of years later, he was writing for the New Yorker. Just about six months before I did my first album I just kind of felt that Jake might write some interesting songs and so I gave him that melody and asked him to see what he could do with it.
It’s such a woman’s song. Did he surprise you?Carly: No, because Jake is that sensitive to me. Every song he has written has been a song which I could identify with. He writes for me. He doesn’t write with it in mind that Jack Jones will sing it, even though, in fact, Jack Jones did record “That’s the Way I Always Heard It Should Be.”
James: Carly got a letter from some people sincerely wanting to play that tune at their wedding, in the Midwest. They’re obviously straight. They think the song is a lovely tune about the joys of marriage but it reminds me of getting married in the middle of January in bare feet in the snow, in Maine, with the wind blowing all around you. It’s a groovy tune to get married by. It’s great.
Carly: We kind of got married by it. We couldn’t avoid it. All the radios were playing it.
* * *
James, what were your feelings about the Apple sessions?James: I got over to London in January ’68, and I expected to work, just to play some and travel around England for a while. Somewhere I got obsessed with the idea of making an album. So I took eight pounds and I went down to a studio in Soho where they had a little two-track setup. I gave the guy the $20 and he said you can have 45 minutes. He put me in there with an engineer, turned it on and I recorded 10 songs in 45 minutes, just one right after the other, and it came out quite well.
I took it and peddled it around to a number of different people. Finally Peter Asher took it to the Beatles. I took a loft in an Apple building that was on Baker Street there, and I started auditioning. They owned the building and they were doing a lot of business out of it. I would put ads in the New Musical Express and Melody Maker, saying that I required a bass player and a keyboard player, would people please show up. So people started to show up and we worked for about two months up in that attic putting together arrangements. I made basic arrangements for everything.
How much involvement did Paul McCartney have with you?James: Paul would listen to what we had. He had a sort of exterior interest in it, and I think more than any of the other Beatles, he was interested in what I was doing, although George Harrison also sang backup on one tune. Paul played bass on “Carolina.” He thought it was the best thing we had. We did one version of it, and he didn’t like it, so we did it again with him, recorded it a number of times, and he was instrumental in producing that track.
Did Apple seem like an organization that was gonna do what it was saying in the press it was going to do?James: Well, Brian Epstein was dead, and I don’t know what their feelings were about him. I guess they thought, really, as much as they were brought down by his death, that they were glad to be on their own in a way. A lot of people have told me that Brian Epstein saved them, sort of filtered out a lot of the bullshit that would have gotten to them and brought them down and sapped away a lot of their energies. At any rate, Apple was open pickin’s for a long time there. Anybody who had an interesting sounding idea would go up there and hit on the Beatles for bread, and an awful lot of money started going out.
I think I was the first artist to sign, anyhow, so I was there near the beginning of it. It was a very high scene. It was as though finally here are some people who have a company and at the same time they’re sympathetic to the artist’s point of view. They’re not just stock owners or chairmen of the boards. They’re actually musicians and artists, and it sort of had that feeling to it. It was a very exciting company to work for, but I guess there was really no one there who was looking out for the budget, and an awful lot of money went out, and they just about went broke and had to slow it down. When Allen Klein came in, that’s where I got out.
* * *
Carly, what did you want to accomplish with this new album?Carly: Going into it I felt a lot of pressure on me that it had to be good. I suppose it’s because I didn’t want to do anything less good than my last album which is just a whole show business syndrome that you get caught up into, that you must surpass yourself all the time in order to be in the ballgame.
James, you flew to London while she was working on the album?Carly: So I went into the album quite frightened of working with somebody — Richard Perry — that I didn’t know. I didn’t know if I would get along with him or not musically because he was from a different borough. I’m not joking about the boroughs. He’s from Brooklyn and I’m from the Bronx and there was always the color war going on. Richard is so strong and he’s so strong in a different area. I was very concerned that there would be a great many conflicts. And as it did turn out, every song that I had written for the album I reacted to as if it were a child of mine (I’ve used this analogy before but it’s the best one I can think of) and that each of the songs were children going away to college, meeting all sorts of different people who influenced them in different ways and some of the ways they were influenced I didn’t like. And they come home for Thanksgiving wearing miniskirts or chewing gum. Some of them had dyed their hair…
James: Some of them were driving Cadillacs.
Carly, how did you and Richard get together?Carly: Jac and Richard Perry apparently approached each other on the same day and it was like a light bulb for both of them. Richard said, “I want to produce Carly.” And Jac said, “I want you to produce Carly.” I was against the idea because while I think Richard is a fine producer, his work with Nilsson and Barbra Streisand was too slick for me and I didn’t want to have that kind of a sound.
James, you flew to London while she was working on the album?James: I spent about a week there, but I didn’t do any work on the album. The work I did in London was either redone later or else cut out of the album.
What songs sound the way you want them to?Carly: “Loving You Is the Right Thing to Do,” “You’re So Vain,” “Robin,” “Embrace Me, You Child” … I would say those four are my favorites. “Loving Is the Right Thing to Do” … I wrote it specifically for James. I wrote that on an Air New England flight coming down from the Cape. I wrote the lyrics, and the melody, and then James helped me with a lot of the changes.
James: I liked it a lot. The only think I didn’t like was the third verse that doesn’t exist anymore. She asked me and I told her. But I like the third verse that’s there now.
“Embrace Me, You Child” is the strongest thing on the album. I think that the things that sound best on the album are the strongest, melody and composition-wise. The stronger they are the more they shine through Richard’s style of production.
When you talk about the problems Carly had, I get the feeling that there was something you’ve gone through more than vicariously with her problems.James: Well, I went through it vicariously with her, and I’ve also gone through it myself and seen a lot of other acts go through it, too. There’s a translation process between writing a song and singing it in the shower or whatever and then getting it out on records. An awful lot of things can go wrong along the way and an awful lot of things can be done to help it along the way. It’s just that I think there is a priority involved, and that’s how well the artist can sound. And if the producer is more interested in getting his licks in on an album, then he isn’t making the artist sound as good as he or she can … from the artist’s point of view.
Peter Simon: I wanted to say that when I was listening to your sessions on the Cape, I was very aware of the relationship that you and Peter seemed to be having. It seemed much more of an equal relationship than the ones that Carly has had with her producer. Like you telling him much more what you want and Peter saying “Yes, James.”James: Well, Peter’s more that kind of producer. He’s not as overt a producer, let’s say, and I guess he’s more sensitive in some some ways.
Carly, how did you wind up feeling about Richard Perry?Carly: Richard Perry is like a movie director. He sees himself as holding the camera, as directing the players, as calling the final shots, as doing a theme, rather than as an interpreter.
Did you feel you needed that?Carly: I didn’t feel I needed it. I felt that it was going to be very difficult to work with somebody who was trying to do the same thing I was, since I was also trying to direct all the shots. Richard has much more endurance than I have and much more perseverance, so where I would leave off, he would continue.
Whenever he tried to direct my singing in a certain way and I would try to go along with direction, it ended up unnatural. He would realize that and say, “I’m sorry. Go back and sing it the way you feel it,” and that would invariably end up to be the right way. Almost all of my vocals are original vocals. I did them while the original track was being laid down, and I wasn’t really thinking about how I was singing them. I guess when I
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