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Carly Simon: Fathers and Lovers

The singer learns how to say goodbye

Singers, Carly Simon, James Taylor

Carly Simon and James Taylor outside their apartment in New York City on November 4th, 1981.

Ron Galella/WireImage/Getty

I get along without you very well
Of course I do
Except when soft rains fall
And drip from leaves, then I recall
The thrill of being sheltered in your arms
Of course I do
But I get along without you very well…. –
— “I Get Along without You Very Well,” Hoagy Carmichael, 1938*

AUTUMN HAS COME TO MARTHA’S VINEYARD. A STIFF WIND cuts through the dense, copper-colored stands of trees that shelter the clearing where James Taylor built a home in the early Seventies for his wife, Carly Simon, and their children. A maze of porches, quasi turrets and windows with frames painted in luminous pinks and yellows, the large, shingled retreat is a cross between some cockeyed farm boy’s idea of the perfect honeymoon cottage and a rustic castle worthy of a C.S. Lewis children’s fantasy. Even on the bleakest day, to approach it from the winding gravel road below would surely make anyone smile.

Well, almost anyone. According to Carly– — sitting outside the house, heavily sweatered against the chill– — these are not the happiest of times in the Taylor-Simon household. She is now facing a formal separation and likely divorce from her husband of almost ten years.

The breakup had been imminent for nearly two years. Both Carly and James were seen in the company of other escorts. And the couple often lived apart. Recently, James set up his own residences close to the house on the Vineyard and their apartment in Manhattan so that he could be near their two children: Sarah, 7, and Ben, 4. The basic bone of contention: Was James ever going to stay home and be a full-time husband and father?

“There are good reasons for the decision,” says a tanned Carly with a pensive nod. “Our needs are different; it seemed impossible to stay together. James needs a lot more space around him — aloneness, remoteness, more privacy. I need more closeness, more communication. He’s more abstract in our relationship. I’m more concrete. He’s more of a…. poet, and I’m more of a…. reporter.”

She smiles weakly, her full lips somehow appearing thin. “Basically, he just wasn’t willing to dress up like Louis XIV before we went to bed every night. I really demand that of a partner.” She bursts into what is apparently much-needed laughter and then grows serious again, smoothing out her corduroy jeans and pulling her long legs up under her.

“I feel as though I have to get on with the rest of my life and that if I start thinking, ‘Well, I’ll wait for James to get it together and wait for us to get back together again,’ then I’m not going to approach my life the same way as I would if I were thinking, ‘Well, that phase of my life is over and now I’m entering a new phase.’

“Sometimes we get along very well and sometimes we don’t get along at all. What you have here are two people who have made up their minds that they can’t stay together, but who are dedicated to raising their children together. Underneath it all there’s a tremendous feeling of….” She searches for the right word. “I would call it love.”

When they first met, it hurt Carly to learn that James was unfamiliar with her music. Almost ten years later, after all her albums (with their notoriously erotic covers) and all her hits (some of which James sang on), she still seems doubtful that she was successful in getting his attention. He was already living with her when he first saw the cover of her inaugural Carly Simon album (Elektra, 1971).

“Hey, that’s a fine-looking woman,” he said to a friend.

“That’s your girl,” said the friend.


“That’s Carly.”

“Oh,” said James, looking closer. “So it is.”

Taylor first glimpsed his future wife on the Vineyard in the mid-Sixties, as she and her sister, Lucy, performed at the legendary Mooncusser folk club. But it was not until some six years later that they had so much as a casual conversation. Carly remembers the exact date that she first spoke to her future husband: April 6th, 1971. She was performing at the Troubadour in Los Angeles when “Jamie” Taylor came backstage to say hello. She was attracted to Taylor and let him know it.

“If you ever want a home-cooked meal….” she said.

“Tonight,” he answered.

When they married, in 1972, he was twenty-four and riding high with the commercial and critical triumph of the album Mudslide Slim and the Blue Horizon and its single, “You’ve Got a Friend.” Carly, then twenty-seven, was soon to rival her spouse’s successes with “You’re So Vain,” the monumental hit off her third album, No Secrets.

Considering her flirtatious ways and his roustabout inclinations, they seemed a plausible showbiz pairing. Stepping out of limos, locking arms in nightclubs, they were two lanky aristocrats– — he from the South, she from the East– — embodying the talent, intelligence, self-conscious style and sex appeal that characterized soft-rock stardom in the Seventies. James was the slyly reluctant ladies’ man, sauntering around in the spotlight with an “Aw, shucks” self-deprecation that amplified his magnetism. And Carly was the brainy siren, the ultimate catch. But while everyone was chasing Carly, she was running after the one guy who just kept on walking.

A perplexing man whose charisma cried out for closer scrutiny, Taylor was the right guy for all the wrong reasons. Clever, shy, reckless, aloof, gentle and romantic in his own unreliable way, he was as casually self-absorbed as a man hooked on heroin for the better part of nine years could be. Drawing him out of that relationship and into theirs, Carly found, was like pulling a grown man through a knothole. She never wanted to be a rock & roll vamp; that was just an act to build up her courage. But she found herself living the script that vamps get stuck with. Sadly, she realized that you’ve got to walk it like you talk it.

Now, what it has all boiled down to is a dreadful disparity between Carly’s relatively austere existence (she can, occasionally, be a firebrand and a hell-raiser) and what she calls James’ “extravagant lifestyle.” He does drugs. She hates them. He drinks and parties with abandon. She is embarassed for both of them. He roams where he pleases, slipping away on the Vineyard to carouse for days with his brothers, or flying off to St. Maartens and St. Bart’s to go on benders with singer Jimmy Buffett. She also follows her own impulses, but they always lead her straight home to her children and her wifely responsibilities, i.e., away from him.

For a while, however, they managed to keep the relationship from flying apart. There was a steady ebb and flow. Then, James became more elusive, departing on bike rides that turned into weekend binges and long walks that led him around the world. His behavior was not unlike that of his father, Dr. Isaac Taylor, former dean of the University of North Carolina medical school and a workaholic who traveled widely for research purposes, often virtually ignoring his family. “It seems,” said Carly last winter, “that sons cannot help following in their fathers’ footsteps, whether they like the path or not.”

And what of daughters?

IN THE SPRING OF 1950, RICHARD SIMON, FOUNDER AND president of the powerful Simon & Schuster publishing house, and Andrea, his wife of some fifteen years, packed up up their four children and moved from Manhattan to reside in a stately red-brick Georgian mansion in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. It was the sort of house, thought Andrea, into which a capable, well-married woman installed the family of a powerful, refined man — a man whose literary and business acumen had made him a millionaire by his midtwenties and a respected national figure. Throughout Riverdale, it became known as “The Simon House,” its expansive lawn an impressive stage where the talented children would play instruments and sing, pose for their father’s pictures and act out their aspirations. Inside the house, the large living room functioned as the family agora for group entertainments and solo concerts on piano by Dick Simon, as well as the social rallying point for the father’s friends and business associates– — noted writers, artists, thinkers, composers and even baseball players, such as Dodger Jackie Robinson. The pine-paneled library in the right wing of the house was Dick Simon’s room. Period. He would sequester himself there to read manuscripts, have informal, quick-witted talks with clients and hold solemn closed-door conferences with Andrea. It was a warm house, full of fireplaces and crackling expectations. And it was an often-troubled house, rife with undercurrents of frustration and grave apprehension. The Simons, a family blessed with beauty, intelligence and social grace, were entering a dark period that their fine home could not protect them from.

Richard Simon was a shrewd editor and executive who also possessed abundant artistic sensibilities. But these qualities were offset by a bad temper, hypochondria and intransigent attitudes about what he perceived to be a well-ordered home life.

“Being six-five and very handsome and commanding, when he entered a room everybody sort of quieted down and he became the focal point,” says Andrea Simon, now seventy-three years old. “He was a very witty person but full of anxieties. He suffered a great deal from them. He worried a lot, largely about his business. It involved much of his time because publishing is very social.”

When Richard first encountered Andrea Heinemann, she was the switchboard operator at Simon & Schuster. Beautiful and dignified, she had grown up poor but proud in Philadelphia. It was all for the better that she was not to the manner born when Richard Simon ushered her into his genteel world. She was a fierce student of refinement because she chose to be.

Mrs. Simon was consumed with the future, but her husband was consumed by the past. She explains that although Dick seemed well-suited to the shark-filled waters of the publishing industry, he had originally wanted to be a concert pianist. But his father, a dull, strict man who imported maribou and ladies’ hat ornaments from Europe, forbade him to enter such a “back-door, undistinguished profession.” As a result, Simon, at twenty-three, became the next best thing– — a piano salesman. While attempting to sell a piano to rug dealer Max Schuster, Simon began discussing a biography of Beethoven sitting on Schuster’s desk; their mutual interest in books led to a publishing partnership that started in 1924, modestly enough, with a lucrative crossword-puzzle trade that capitalized on a craze in the Twenties.

“During the course of our relationship,” says Andrea, “Dick frequently mentioned the fact that he was a successful publisher because he was bound and determined to get back at his father and show him he was a better businessman than he was.”

The publishing whiz quickly became circumspect in showing affection and concern for his offspring. “Dick was very much a guest in his own house, rather than a member of the family,” says his wife. “But he made it understood that he was to receive certain attentions, and one of them was no children around when he got home from the office. He went to the library and closed the door.”

As Dick Simon grew increasingly preoccupied with the shifting fortunes of his publishing house, he became more obtuse in his attitudes, quirkier in his behavior. Something was amiss. Festering. And it was destined to evolve and infect Simon and those closest to him. By 1957, the man of the house was a semi-invalid, and his career was in jeopardy. In the mid-Forties, he had been pressured by his partners to sell his interest in Simon & Schuster in order to accommodate the company’s expensive move into the wave of the future — paperbacks. And because he hadn’t been in favor of the change, he was eventually shunted aside. It was a severe blow to his already precarious emotional state. During the tragic personality disintegration that ensued, he paid little attention to his children, especially Carly.

“I was only close to my father for two years, you know — 1952 and 1953,” she says. “We used to drive out to Ebbet’s Field almost every day the Dodgers were home and watch them play. We’d sit and talk about RBIs, Texas Leaguers and Carl Furillo’s batting average. I did it to cultivate a relationship with my father. My mother was often giving me hints about how to win his love, because I felt he didn’t love me. People have told me I’m wrong, but I didn’t feel it.

“As for my other sisters [Joanna, nicknamed Joey, and Lucy] and brother [Peter], I think that my father was very excited by Joey, the first child, and he was very charmed by Lucy, the second child, who was very demure, beguiling, a princess. She was his favorite. By the time I came along, he wanted a boy. He wasn’t too pleased with my sex from the beginning. So, perhaps during an Oedipal phase in my life, I went after him in a very matter-of-fact way, thinking I had to win this man’s love. I may even have felt that it was going to be important for all my relationships with men.”

Carly persisted in trying to capture her father’s affection. She doggedly performed cartwheels for him, made funny faces and flashed Dodgers baseball cards, imploring him to guess the batting averages and uniform numbers of the players. Her overtures became more urgent and less fruitful as he grew more eccentric, walking around the house in the evening turning out lights, unable to differentiate between night and day.

Carly was about ten and her father was about fifty-five when he initially got ill. The first night he was hospitalized by a heart attack, she knocked on wood. Somehow, she had learned of that superstition, and because he didn’t die that night, she kept it up. From the time he got sick to the time he died, she would knock on wood –— on the night table or the headboard or on the wall — five hundred times every night before she went to sleep.

“In that ritual, I felt I was doing my part to keep him alive,” she says.

Richard Simon died of a heart attack on July 31, 1960. Carly, then sixteen, recalls that her mother woke her in the morning with the news; she crawled from bed and padded numbly into the bathroom, frantically trying to “arrange her attitude” and decide how to react to the fact that all her feverish wood knocking had been for naught. She was neither angry nor sad– — she had been anticipating it for too long. But she was envious when she saw Lucy doubled over in tears.

“With Dad’s death,” says Lucy Simon, “my sense of anguish was for the loss, because I had achieved all I hoped for in terms of being satisfied that I had his love and respect. Carly’s relationship with him was never totally established, so his death made it impossible for her to complete her task –— that’s where her anguish came from.

“Looking, comparatively, at our relationships with men in our lives, we could probably find strong parallels to this. I’ve been very happily married for fourteen years. Carly’s marriage is full of turmoil.”

LACKING EMOTIONAL STAMINA, CARLY WAS, BY HER own admission, “a fairly neurotic kid” who grappled from an early age with agoraphobia (literally, “fear of the marketplace”). She had a strong aversion to leaving the house to go to school, and often made the inevitable trip with stomach aches and a gagging constriction in her throat that she and her mother referred to as the “worry lump.” In class, she often stuttered so badly she could scarcely utter a sound, let alone recite or read aloud. Carly needed extra attention, a lot of lap sitting and constant reassurance just to function. She was about nine when the emotional dam inside her finally broke.

“I was eating a bowl of Cheerios,” she remembers, “and I suddenly started shaking all over, feeling clammy and faint and utterly panicked and lapsing into palpitations– — I didn’t know what they were then. I ran upstairs and started whirling around the bathroom, thinking that I was gonna die and telling my mother to call an ambulance and get a straitjacket — somehow I knew about straitjackets when I was nine. This episode lasted for half an hour, and Mom somehow subdued me and got me into bed. I think I cried it out.”

The worry lump kept recurring, as did the stuttering, the anxiety and the agoraphobia. At age eleven, Carly saw her first psychiatrist. She would have to be excused from school each Tuesday and Thursday for her appointments, and the disruption in the classroom routine became a source of mortification that she feels undermined any benefits the experience might have offered. It was the Fifties. Psychiatry was for misfits and malcontents. She was indelibly stigmatized. And it eventually corrupted her own image of herself.

“There were teachers who explained to the kids that I was more complicated than the other children, as opposed to sicker,” she says. “Of course, I knew it meant that I was sicker.”

She also felt ridiculed for her “unusual” looks and her awakening interest in the opposite sex. “It seemed like a very long period in my life where I felt ugly,” she says, noting that she still feels homely one day out of three. “It was in sharp contrast to the way I saw my two older sisters, which was as great beauties. People would come to the house and say, ‘Oh, Lucy, you’ve gotten so beautiful. And Joey, you look so elegant.’ And then they’d turn to me and say, ‘Hi, Carly.’ I took that to mean I wasn’t even in the ballgame.” Moreover, her father’s blunt criticism and caustic wit did little to alleviate this notion of her undesirability.

“He could be very thoughtful, but he could also be very cruel,” says Carly. “One day I said, ‘Daddy, do you have any good-looking friends who could come to the house?’ because I was reading Gone with the Wind at the time and was in love with Clark Gable. He said, ‘There’s a man coming today who, in fact, looks just like Clark Gable!’ I was so excited and got all dressed up, put on makeup, did my hair, the works. When the dinner guest showed up, I came down the stairs Scarlett O’Hara-style, and he was just a little old man with glasses. I saw my father laughing at me, and I was crushed.”

Carly’s early sense of herself as the ugly duckling in a bevy of swans was cemented in later years when Sloan Wilson, author of The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit and a frequent visitor to the Simon house, wrote a book of memoirs in which he remembered all the Simons to be strikingly attractive — except for Carly.

“There it was, the horrible truth, finally confirmed,” she says glumly. “On the days when I now feel homely, it doesn’t mean that I don’t think that I’m attractive. It’s just that I don’t want anyone to concentrate on my looks, ’cause I don’t think they’ll like what they see.”

This might sound odd coming from a woman who has spent a good deal of her public life advertising her physical attributes in sung jerseys and jeans, low-cut dresses and black lingerie. Some critics have likened the covers of Carly Simon’s albums to the lurid covers of Forties dime novels, which regularly depicted a scantily clad temptress of fallen angel ensnared by WANTON LUST! or UNSPEAKABLE DESIRE! Actually, they’re more like post cards from a woman in search of her beauty, her “core,” as her mother puts it. Andrea Simon doesn’t think her daughter has found it yet, but she remembers when Carly first began looking in earnest. She was a young coed, winning new friends and an uncharacteristic self-confidence at Sarah Lawrence College. Eager to test her wings further, Carly left school at nineteen for the south of France, to live for six months with boyfriend Nicky Delbanco in the tiny town of Grasse. “It was a blissful setting; we were alone together and it was marvelous,” she says. But there was soon trouble in paradise. She began to have nervous problems again; strange body tremors would awaken her in the night.

She phoned her mother, who urged her to return to New York to see a psychiatrist. Carly began what proved to be four years of costly Freudian analysis (“I spent all my inheritance”). After “graduation,” she went out to a little French restaurant on Forty-ninth Street with Delbanco to celebrate. For old time’s sake, they ordered a bottle of wine from the same district of France they’d lived in. That night, for the first time since she’d left Grasse, the tremors returned.

“It wasn’t difficult to put two and two together and realize it was due to an allergy to the wine,” she says with a shrug and a small smile, moving indoors and seating herself on a velvet couch in the cozy, wood-paneled den of the house. “There can be a lot of things which will spur you into analysis. And for that reason, I very often distrust that a lot of my anxiety symptoms are purely psychosomatic, and I look for chemical, including hormonal, reasons why I may be feeling out of sorts, terribly depressed or vaguely suicidal.”

Carly insists she never planned a career in music, that it had been Lucy who dragged her, over the course of Carly’s summer before college, into the spotlight. Dave Kapp caught the Simon Sisters’ act at the Bitter End, and in the early Sixties, he signed them to a deal with Kapp Records that produced two LPs (The Simon Sisters, Cuddlebug) and a regional hit single, the syrupy “Wynken, Blynken and Nod.” They even appeared on the popular Hootenany TV program. But Carly, being prone to sudden acute anxiety attacks, disliked performing.

“I can’t remember when it began exactly,” she says, “but it would certainly happen every time I would try to go onstage, which is what made me think I had stage fright, when in fact it wasn’t. It can get to me walking in the woods and in other nonstressful situations. It can attack me anywhere, and I’ll be in a helpless state of anxiety. It was just easy to focus my agoraphobia on one thing — the stage.”

“It never surprised me that performing became such a terror for Carly,” says her brother, Peter, who confesses that he consciously “blotted out” most memories of his dad. “Her need to perform, the tremendous expectations she has when she does, and the fear she feels, just seem logical extensions of her having to perform for my father to get the slightest reaction from him.”

And she usually didn’t garner the desired response. For instance, when Carly recounts the long hours of piano practice her father demanded of her as a child, she adds that “he would come in and say, ‘Well, that’s very nice, but let me show you how I would phrase it.’ He’d sit down and play this Schubert waltz so beautifully and just forget I was even there. I would slip off, using him as an excuse not to practice, but also he intimidated me with his talent.”

“In latter years,” says Peter, “Carly and I grew quite close for a span of time, and when she had to go solo and project herself alone in order to gain acceptance from record companies and the public, she became very down on herself, awfully negative. Between 1967 and 1969 she was just bouncing around New York, recording commercial jingles and demos and being very depressed.”

After Carly split from the Simon Sisters, John Cort, a partner with Albert Grossman in the firm that also handled Bob Dylan, was determined to guide Carly to a new professional plateau. “I remember feeling that I was being groomed as a female Dylan,” she says. “They asked Dylan to rewrite Eric von Schmidt’s ‘Baby Let Me Follow You Down’ for me, so I met with Dylan in Albert’s office after Bob had rewritten some of the words. This was about a week before his famous motorcycle accident, and he seemed like he was very high on speed, very, very wasted and talking incoherently, saying a lot about God and Jesus and how I would have to go down to Nashville [mimicking Dylan’s nasalbleat]: ‘Hey….you know….oh….you….Nashville….the players….are just….you gotta….just….just believe me….believe me!’ And he stretched his arms out as if he were nailed to a cross — truly — repeating ‘Believe me!’ over and over.”

The “Baby” track was cut with most of the Band, Mike Bloomfield and other session cats. Columbia declined to release it. Cort and Grossman made another halfhearted attempt to advance her career by creating an act called Carly and the Deacon — “He was going to be some short black man from the South who was going to sing duets with me.” Fortunately, it never made it off the drawing board.

Signed to Elektra in 1970, Carly Simon first tasted acclaim with the significant sales and airplay of “That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be,” the single from her first album, and she found herself “driven” to acquire another dose. And another. “It made me feel in awe of myself,” she says. The flip side of that sensation came many years later with the release of Spy in 1979. It promised to be the biggest album of her career: the timing seemed right; she had a nice body of work behind her; she was fairly aggressive about her career; she had worked hard and created a well-crafted product; she had even made a racy videotape to tout “Vengeance,” the blatantly commercial single from the record. But nothing happened. Nobody seemed to care.

“It plunged me into depression and a serious ego quandary,” says Carly. “I really couldn’t find myself. I thought, ‘Well, Jesus, I’m not hitting the mark. Why aren’t people appreciating it? Is my opinion of myself totally based on what other people think? Do I have a sense of myself?’ I was just floundering. I didn’t know if I was any good as a person. It seemed to hit me at a time when my self-esteem was precarious anyway. And it toppled it.”

The concept and failure of Spy seem to say more about Carly Simon than she might suspect. The turning point that hastened the burning point, the record had both a provocative premise and fascinating undercurrents. As Carly describes it: “I’ve always been intrigued by spies and read the biographies of Mata Hari and Tokyo Rose. But then I read Anais Nin’s book Spy in the House of Love, which was so wonderful because she saw herself as a spy on herself, on her own intrigues and on the very thing that is love. The book was filled with a lot of extramarital associations, trysts, liaisons and assignations, and I liked the image of her in the black cape. It corresponded with my own feelings of being a spy.

“There was a time in my life, for about three years,” she continues, “when I wanted to be a detective. That was my main interest in life — to find out things about other people in a secretive way. When I was twelve or thirteen, I would do things like set the alarm clock for midnight, and I’d get up very quietly and put on my trench coat. I’d sneak downstairs to the living room with a spyglass, look through the keyhole and keep a notebook on, say, ‘Joey’s Date with Mark.’ I’d make a list of things I could see or hear: heavy breathing, tie over the back of the chair, ashtray filled with cigarettes, glass half-filled with Scotch on the table. Since then, I’ve always felt that a lot of my songs deal with spying on myself.”

Just as her playful voyeurism had its poignant side — a need to know if her sisters’ lives were progressing any better than her own (they were) — her artistically motivated “peeks” at herself in later years eventually took their toll. She grew uncomfortable with what she saw: a person trying desperately to live up to a glossy fabrication of herself, in the midst of a failing marriage. While on tour in October of 1980 to promote her Come Upstairs LP, everything seemed to be falling apart in her life. She got weaker and weaker with each concert, became overwrought with self-doubt and eventually developed a deep dread for her own physical well-being. The grotesque denouement occurred as she was about to take the stage in Pittsburgh.

“I felt as if I couldn’t stand up straight — and then I couldn’t catch my breath. When I got out onstage, I was having such bad palpitations that I couldn’t breathe at all and I couldn’t get the words to the songs out. I seemed to go to pieces in front of the audience. They were incredibly supportive, and a lot of them came up onstage to sit by me. They were massaging my back and legs and saying, ‘Hey, Carly, we’re with you, take your time.’ They would have taken anything; they would have accepted my dying onstage. It made me feel as if I owed them even more — that I should either pull myself together and do a great show or die and fulfill their expectations, so it just didn’t seem to get better. Right after the show I collapsed, and cried and cried. My sister, Lucy, was there with me and said, ‘There’s just no reason why you ever have to put yourself through this again. There are other ways of getting yourself out in front of the public.’

“I started seeing a psychiatrist again, and I decided that at this time in my life, when things are so difficult for me in other ways, I shouldn’t aggravate my nervous condition anymore.”

In the meantime, Carly Simon’s fans will have her latest album, Torch, to scrutinize. They can analyze the choice of tracks and marvel at the torrid jacket photos and their implications. Truly ardent sleuths operating in Carly Simon’s own clandestine style will discover a more liberated artist who says that after the ordeal of making her latest record, the victory was in its release and the rest is anticlimactic. “Regardless of how well it does commercially,” she says, “it was a success to me in the first place.”

Torch is Carly’s eleventh solo LP and the first record devoted almost entirely to the kinds of songs she grew up hearing: bittersweet love ballads that such tunesmiths as Arthur Schwartz and Richard Rodgers used to play at the piano in the Simons’ living room, back in the late Forties.

“I remember going to bed singing those songs instead of nursery rhymes,” Carly says with a faint grin. “They were songs from the heart, emotions that were easily expressed. While recording them, it was rare that I got through a song without crying because, well, they did have a certain amount to do with what was going on in my life, both then and now.”

Perhaps the most upsetting track on Torch for Carly was the one composed by Hoagy Carmichael in the autumn of 1938; the lyrics were adapted from a poem mailed to him by a woman mourning the death of her husband. Carmichael desperately tried to find the woman for the song’s first public performance on Tommy Dorsey’s radio show, but she’d died just days before he located her. It’s said that listeners wept when band singer Helen Ward sang it on the air.

And James Taylor, for one, has always been crazy about the music of Hoagy Carmichael.

I get along without you very well
Of course I do
Except perhaps in Spring
But I should never think of Spring
For that would surely break my heart in two…. –
— “I Get Along without You Very Well”*

WINTER’S COMING ON. IT’S A GOOD SEASON TO COME to grips with mistakes, to shatter old patterns and reaffirm commitments. Carly Simon’s primary concern these days is that she be there for her children, taking them to school in the morning, playing with them in the afternoon, soothing them at night when they ask her difficult questions about the future. She gives the best answers she can, the few she actually knows.

“Having children brought about enormous evolutionary struggles in Carly,” says Lucy Simon. “And one of the things that makes her such a fine mother is her amazing memory of her own past situations. Recalling the pain of her own childhood in minute detail, she has a wellspring of empathy and compassion for her own children. She’s one of the most devoted parents a kid could hope to have.”

Such are the kindnesses of time. But time is also a villain. The problem, for instance, with many families is that parents often die or disappear before the children can reach an age where they can accept or reject them as equals. The families aren’t able to mature. It’s the same with marriages.

“I think James and I both learned a lot about each other,” says Carly. “When needs aren’t met is when you learn about what needs are. We failed in the context of marriage, but not as people. James taught me what I needed to know about myself and him and made me a better person for the next person I’ll want to love. Funny thing is, if I met James now, I would know so much more and be a better partner, but that sounds a bit unrealistic, huh?

“On my Boys in the Trees album, I had a song called ‘Haunting.’ ‘There’s always someone haunting someone’ was part of the lyric. Basically, you don’t have to see somebody for a long, long time for them to still be inside of you. There’s no way of killing it off; it’s a kind of obsession. And some people do have that effect on me. I have a good memory, especially for emotions, and I don’t get over strong feelings.”

From the other side of the house, Sarah is crying and Ben’s calling out for attention. Carly gets up to leave.

“Sometimes, if you’re in a complete relationship, feelings have a chance to die out,” she concludes, a wistful gleam in her eyes. “But if a relationship has ended prematurely for some reason, or it can’t be fulfilled for another reason, the haunting goes on, the obsession, the dreams about the person [she stops and takes a deep breath] and the feeling that he is forever locked inside.”

* “I Get Along Without You Very Well,” by Hoagy Carmichael. Copyright © 1938 and 1939 by Famous Music Corporation. Copyright renewed 1965 and 1966 and assigned to Famous Music Corporation.

In This Article: Carly Simon, Coverwall, James Taylor


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