Carly Simon could have gotten away with just the name-dropping. In her life, she’s crossed paths with an astonishing range of famous people, from Cat Stevens and Jimi Hendrix to Benny Goodman and Albert Einstein. So it’s a pleasant surprise that in her compelling new autobiography, Boys in the Trees, she lays out her naked emotions and insecurities, and that she proves to be a supple writer with a gift for descriptions such as “Like some time-bent sailor, he did what he could to steer a course through his own sadness” (a portrait of her father). Simon’s lyrical gifts are also featured on the book’s companion album — the career-spanning compilation Songs From the Trees: A Musical Memoir Collection — previewed in the video above, a duet with her son Ben Taylor on their new collaborative song “I Can’t Thank You Enough.” Below are 10 things Boys in the Trees tells us about Simon and her encounters with boldface names.
1. Simon was a mascot of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Simon was the daughter of Richard L. Simon, the co-founder of the publishing house Simon & Schuster, and she grew up splitting her time between a Greenwich Village townhouse and a rambling estate in Stamford, Connecticut, surrounded by celebrity guests such as Albert Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt and Charles Addams. One of the family’s friends was Jackie Robinson, the Dodgers star who broke baseball’s color line: The Robinsons had stayed with Simons during the construction of their own Stamford house. Simon went to many games at Ebbets Field, sitting on the lap of shortstop Pee Wee Reese in the dugout — the team made her a special Dodgers jacket for her role as unofficial mascot. “Jackie even taught me to bat lefty, though it never took,” Simon writes. “He always had the cutest look around the side of his mouth, as if he were thinking about what he was about to say before he said it.”
2. She blew her inheritance on therapy.
The Simon household wasn’t all glamour — the house was full of secret sexual assignations, some of which the adult Carly Simon is clearly still trying to unravel. And when her father was strong-armed out of the company he founded and died young, the family money soon evaporated. After having a nervous breakdown while visiting a boyfriend in France, Simon went into psychoanalysis, going to sessions five days a week, which depleted her “small inheritance.” Simon writes of “Dr. F” telling her that she was done: “Looking back, I assume he must have caught a whiff of that pungent, sour aroma of future bounced checks, the scent of a patient on the cusp of exhausting her funds.
3. She made a transatlantic crossing with Sean Connery.
Simon’s first musical success came with the Simon Sisters, a singing duo with her older sister Lucy. Traveling home from London in 1965, they discovered they were on the same ship as Sean Connery, already famous as James Bond. Carly wrote him a cheeky letter, and the three of them ended up spending most of the trip together, dining and primly reciting poetry, not treating Connery to a “Simon Sisters Sandwich.” On the last night, however, Lucy successfully made her move with Connery — which Carly took as a sign that it was time to break up the sister act.
Twelve years later, Carly sang the theme song for the James Bond movie The Spy Who Loved Me, “Nobody Does It Better.” Even though Roger Moore starred in the movie, she was thinking of Connery the whole time, hoping that he would hear it and remember their ocean voyage together.
4. Bob Dylan tried to recruit her.
In 1966, the day before Simon turned 21, Bob Dylan called her up, encouraging her to sign up with Grosscourt, the management company that handled him. He wanted her to record “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down,” and was even willing to rewrite some of the lyrics for her. When she met Dylan, he mostly talked about how wonderful Nashville was (he had just finished recording Blonde on Blonde there). “Thank God, he was stoned, which meant I didn’t have to worry too much about making a good impression,” Simon writes.
5. Simon was leched on by Redd Foxx and Marvin Gaye.
When Simon’s career was slow to take off, she found jobs as a summer-camp counselor and as a secretary on a TV variety show. Her first day on the set, she had to go to the dressing room of comedian Redd Foxx, who promptly dropped his trademark red-fox fur coat, revealing that he was stark naked underneath. She quickly fled. Marvin Gaye, in his dressing room, was stripped only to the waist, but when he asked Simon to stick out her tongue, “Marvin lunged at my face, swept my tongue into his mouth, and began sucking on it. I extracted it without inflicting damage.”
6. She had a fling with Jack Nicholson.
When Jack Nicholson was making Carnal Knowledge with “Bugs, Artie the Garf, and Mike the Nick,” as he called them (Candice Bergen, Art Garfunkel, and Mike Nichols), he spent a couple of nights at Simon’s New York apartment. The first night, he showed off his seduction technique after she made a pot of coffee: “We chatted for a few moments and then he said, offhandedly, ‘Do you ever drink coffee in your bedroom?'”
7. Her affair with Warren Beatty had a dramatic climax.
Simon succumbed to the advances of Warren Beatty, fully aware that he was a practiced Lothario, but finding him irresistible. His initial technique: pulling out a piece of paper with the “main loves of his life,” where she saw her name next to Catherine the Great and Marie Curie. After sex, Beatty always called the next day. “He remembered the names of my mother, sisters, brother, grandmother, old boyfriends, streets where I lived five years ago. With this groundbreaking memory, he seldom if ever got confused.”
He did trip up one time, however, when he visited Simon after midnight on a Sunday night, telling her he had just flown in from Los Angeles. “Warren seemed to have just created a brand-new manual on how to make love — not too brazen, not just missionary, but not too many tricks either,” she writes. The next morning, she went to a therapy session (not the same doctor who she had spent her inheritance on), and started talking about her romantic encounter until she noticed that her therapist looked unwell. Her doctor choked out the words: “You are not the first patient of the day who spent the night with Warren Beatty last night.”
8. James Taylor named a pond after Simon’s rear end.
A significant portion of Boys in the Trees is about Simon’s relationship with James Taylor. They met briefly as children on Martha’s Vineyard; as adults, they were married for a decade. She vividly describes meeting him in her dressing room in 1971:
“He was barefoot, long-legged, long-footed — and his knees were bent. He wore dark red, loose, wide-wale corduroys and a long-sleeved Henley with one button open, his right hand clutching a self-rolled cigarette. His hair, simultaneously shiny and disheveled, fell evenly on both sides of his head, and he wore a scruffy, understated mustache, the kind so fashionable back in the early 1970s. He seemed both kempt and unkempt. Even sprawled out on the floor, everything about him communicated that he was, in fact, the center of something — the core of an apple, the center of a note.”
That meeting ended when Taylor left with Joni Mitchell (who was then his girlfriend). Later that same year, Simon and Taylor became a couple. Soon they were spending much of their time on his Vineyard property. At the foot of the driveway was a natural pond where Taylor would plant willow trees: Besotted with Simon’s derriere, he named the pond “Carly’s Bottom.”
9. Taylor tried to quit heroin by shooting up in front of Simon.
Simon and Taylor had two children and many happy years together, but their relationship would end up seesawing between ecstasy and agony, and foundering on infidelity, ego and drug use. Simon recalls the time that Taylor shot up in front of her: “Chemistry was in the making, and somehow all the components made their way into the syringe, and as he pulled the rubber tight on his arm the veins became purple and frightening.”
Taylor told her, “I can’t have you and the habit at the same time. I can’t. I’ve got to get rid of this. Maybe if you see me do it, it will take away the cat-and-mouse game. You have to watch me. I have to let it all go.”
10. Mick Jagger invited himself into the sessions for “You’re So Vain.”
When Simon was recording the backing vocals for her greatest hit, “You’re So Vain,” she was being watched by an intimidating collection of talent: Paul McCartney, Linda McCartney, George Martin, Bonnie Bramlett and Harry Nilsson. (The McCartneys were working at the same London studio; Bramlett and Nilsson had just dropped in.) Then Mick Jagger called up the studio phone: He was pursuing Simon and had tracked her down. Minutes later, he was at the microphone with her. “It was shortly after midnight,” Simon writes. “Mick and I, we were close together — the same height, same coloring, same lips. I felt as if I were trying to stay within a pink gravity that was starting to loosen its silky grip on me. I was thrilled by the proximity, remembering all the times I had spent imitating him in front of my closet mirror.”
And the subject of the song, one of the most enduring rock & roll mysteries? Simon had previously denied that it was Warren Beatty, but here she says that the second verse is about him, but that the first and third verses are about other people — who still don’t think that the song is about them (which according to Simon’s own’s lyrics, means that really, it isn’t).