Despite having hits like Anticipation and You’re So Vain, Carly Simon’s appeal has always been mixed up with other, non-musical elements: her troubled marriage to James Taylor, a family background that combined privilege with pain, romances with stars like Warren Beatty and (possibly) Mick Jagger, and the world’s most famous case of stage fright. As one weary manager put it, “Every moment of her career was a drama.”
Veteran journalist Stephen Davis is a long-time friend of the Simon family—which may have been a blessing and a curse. A reader can feel the author’s loyalty to the Simons (“Thanksgiving, 2009. Carly appears on the Care Bears float at the Thanksgiving Day parade … ”) doing battle with the great imperative of a rock biography: to dish. He doesn’t disappoint. We get the furious phone call from Bianca Jagger to James Taylor (“My husband and your fiancée are having an affair”) and details of Simon’s lunches with friend Jackie Onassis (“Jackie loved to eat”). We get the singer’s admission that during a fling with Jeremy Irons (“I think it was the first time I really ‘did’ cocaine”) she became pregnant. Simon lived the sexual revolution of the ’70s, inside and out. Then she sold the rights to Anticipation for $50,000 to a ketchup ad.
Davis pays scrupulous attention to her musical career, but Simon still comes across as a hothouse diva and a world-class narcissist. After her first child was born and she was back in shape, Simon explained to a reporter why she chose a sexy cover image for her new album. “There was this sort of, ‘Oh, my God. Here’s this body again,’ and I sort of got … turned on by it.” Mick Jagger may have had similar thoughts about himself, but he was too crafty to voice them. Simon had a radical, girlish openness that helped her songs connect with fans. But for a reader encountering her on the page, it can get cringe-worthy.