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.
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?
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’m not thinking about how I’m singing, it turns out to be the most honest.
Sometimes I ended up being more Richard than Richard. When Richard would want to put strings on I would say, “Oh, my God! No! I just hear it really, really simple, just one guitar and maybe a conga.”
Richard would say, “Listen, listen, let’s just listen to the way the strings would sound.” Then 20 string players would be in the studio and I would hear how the strings sounded … and I’d say, “Oh my God, that sounds great!” And like once I heard the strings on it alone with the rhythm track, I didn’t hear a vocal on it, and very often I love the arrangements of the songs without hearing the vocal, and they sounded complete to me, and when I put the vocal on, it sounded superfluous.
I doubted my judgments an awful lot. I became used to hearing something the way I didn’t want to hear it, to the point where I almost liked it. In some cases it broadened my whole spectrum and it widened my appreciation of different sounds.
I think Richard was the dividing line between some of the things I did that were good and some things that I did that were very good. He pushed them over, pushed me off a diving board.
Richard’s perfectionism on “You’re So Vain” got the rhythm track. That was ace on that. We recorded that song three different times with three different drummers. We’ve got two pianos going on that track. Klaus Voorman was very instrumental on the sound of that track, just that opening bass sets the mood of a swaggering self-indulgent man to come prancing into the room with his hat.
Richard was much more of a producer than I’ve ever had before. He really was a hundred percent there, and even though I had to fight with him about a lot of tunes, he is the strongest producer I’ve ever known and his personality goes right into all of his records. It’s indisputably there.
* * *
How did you relate to James’ thinking about the making of No Secrets?
Carly: James has such a different musical sensibility from Richard that often I felt caught between two tastes. Since my own taste lies somewhere in between, it wasn’t an astounding place to find myself. I would come away from a phone call from James feeling that I wasn’t holding back enough in my music. James makes me feel that I should hold back so that when it comes time to put out more energy, it creates a dramatic counterpoint. Richard encouraged me to produce a higher voltage of energy. He likes it dramatic from the beginning.
Then when Mick came to the session one night he said he would like to teach me some licks. Mick told me that I really was a rock & roll singer, and not just a folk singer, and I shouldn’t be afraid to admit it. Yet it never feels natural to me.
Where does One Man Dog fit in with your four albums?
James: I look at how hard it was by how much I had to write of it. On Mudslide Slim I think I wrote about a third of it after we started recording. My main beef is that I agree to a deadline on an album and go into a studio and start it before I’ve got all the material ready, and I won’t do it the next time. The next time I make an album, I will state no deadline. And there won’t be any pressure as to how much I have to write. “New Tune” on the album is premature. The tune that’s called “Nobody But You” would have been written. Those were all changes that were bubbling in my head. But they’re out now. They’re down. The process is to start off recording and then start grabbing for everything you can to get it down, and I’ve done this for two albums in a row now.
How many of the songs were written during the year and a half in between Mudslide Slim and One Man Dog, and how many were left over?
James: I guess about half of them were written in between. Some of them I wrote a year ago … or even four years ago. “One Man Parade” was written in the past year. “Nobody But You” was also written in the past year too, but I had never thought to record that. We just sat down one night when we had a session and all the guys were in there and that night we did “Nobody But You” and “Fool For You,” both of which had never been played before. I don’t know where they would have ended up eventually, but when you put something down it finishes there. That’s it.
What about “Nobody But You”?
James: The line “Nobody But You” is about Carly. The song itself isn’t about anything. That song is nonsense … I think I wrote “Someone Turned the Time On” or “Fanfare,” as it’s called on the present album, about Carly, or about Carly and myself.
Carly: How come I never knew that?
Or did you think I would just figure it out?
James: I guess I never really knew it either. I didn’t really think about it.
Carly: Therein lies the truth.
James: Honey, those songs weren’t even written until I was in the studio…
Carly: I know.
James: “Nobody But You” … No one ever heard that song before I recorded it.
Carly: I love that song. That’s my favorite song on James’ album.
James: The musical ideas on this album are mine, but all the people who are involved with the album — the musicians and the engineer and producer and Jac and everyone — are all responsible for their own particular fraction of what’s happening. They all have their suggestions as to how to do things or how to mike things, and you’d be a fool if you didn’t allow them to suggest as much as they can, because that’s how you get a spontaneous thing.
In “Nobody But You,” it goes “you come on talking about angel bands and they think you’ve come with your soul in your hands to set their children free.” And that just has to do with people. I’ve alluded to Jesus and to angel bands in “Country Road” and “Fire and Rain,”really as a way of expressing desperation. And “Country Road,” talking about “Sail on Home to Jesus, Won’t You, Good Girls and Boys” doesn’t suggest that I want people to do that. I’m mocking people who do it.
You don’t look to Jesus at all?
James: Only under the most desperate of circumstances. I think Jesus is interesting as a phenomenon that permeates this culture.
Carly talks about God, too, in “Embrace Me, You Child.”
Carly: That’s a first for me, thank God.
James: My influence.
Carly: That’s such a strange song for me because I have no idea about that song. Usually I sit down with an idea that I’ve had lurking around in my head and one night I had this new book of pages that were unwritten on and I had a pencil and I just decided to write and see what came into my head, or see what came out on paper. The first line I wrote was about hearing God whisper lullabies. I really don’t know where that came from, and that inspired the second line, “And Daddy next door whistled whiskey tunes.” And every line turned on another line; by the end of the first two verses I had some strange happenings. I had Daddy maybe confused with the Devil, and I had some things that I really didn’t understand myself. And putting it all together was also very much in my subconscious, because that song wasn’t at all planned. It just kind of came. It was as if I had somebody sitting there writing for me and they were dictating it to me and I was writing it down.
* * *
What is the relationship between you and Peter Asher on your albums?
James: Peter produces or directs differently from Richard Perry. He’s there more to help the artist get his thing out on tape. Peter’s not an accomplished musician. He is a musician from a certain point of view. He’s a vocalist, certainly, and he’s produced a lot of albums. He’s written songs before, but there’s a difference between Carly’s working with the producer and my working with one. I’ve never been produced by anyone but Peter. He’s very helpful, and he’s a fantastic organizer.
You’ve just finished producing Gail Harness’ album. Do you think you’re capable of producing yourself?
James: I don’t know if there would be much difference between what I do were I producing myself, and what I have done on my last two, maybe three, albums. When Peter is there as a producer, it’s not only in his capacity that he contributes to what’s being done in the studio. Aside from the music that is made, Peter is responsible for the environment in which I record.
The word producer can mean many different things. It can mean someone the company hires to time the tracks. It’s too vague a term.
Carly: I like working with different influences. I feel best, in a way, when I’m unsafe. I felt unsafe with Richard and therefore more adrenalin was flowing.
James: Well, you like the security of turning to someone and saying, “What do we do now,” too. Do you think you’d be settling for more or less than you do when you settle for your producer’s point of view?
Carly: I feel as if I need another point of view. I feel as if I can’t be as objective as a producer can be about my songs. And I like to have new people introduce new ideas for my songs.
James: The other role of a producer is someone who sits behind that glass and says “OK” or “Do it again.”
* * *
Both of you were involved with the McGovern benefit concerts.
Carly: Warren Beatty, who is a friend of mine, called and said he needed our support very badly. He called me, he didn’t know James, and he said he thought that if a few performers got behind him and enough young people were encouraged to become interested in politics, they would naturally be interested in McGovern. And Warren was preparing a big concert in Los Angeles. This was in April. And he wanted me to talk James into getting involved in this way as a performer. So I telephoned James on the Cape and Warren got in touch with James and he wanted to do the concert. That was about the main thing that I had to do with McGovern, other than some private parties that I sang at.
You did the last concert for McGovern, when the polls said it was hopeless.
James: It was hopeless that he would win the election. McGovern was an enigma. I think in ordinary good times, no one like him would be allowed to come anywhere near being President. I thought that perhaps things were just bad enough in this country so that they might elect him. But the main reason why Nixon got such a landslide victory was that he offered the American people a lie, a fairy tale of what life is really like, that Americans could continue living the way they have been, that our society is valid, that for all practical purposes the point of view of the average American citizen is true when just the opposite is the case.
Some fantastic shifts have to happen, some incredible reversals, not only American society but human nature itself. The idea of the importance of the individual, of the importance of intellect, people’s ways of viewing death, the concept of self — an awful lot of things have to change. And McGovern represented change to the people of the United States. After a while he began to represent the unknown — an unsure and not a very pleasant future.
The thing that I most liked about him was the fact that he was a populist and in spite of Nixon’s smear campaign against him at the end, saying that he changed with every audience he spoke to, I think he was probably the most consistent person in the past decade. It could have been run a lot better from a show biz point of view, which is where campaigns are at these days. He seemed to me to be just about as good as you could get and still be a politician. As a matter of fact, he seemed a little bit better than you can get and still be a politician, and I suppose that’s why he didn’t make it.
Carly: George McGovern was adapting himself to life in the United States as it changed. He may have contradicted.
James: We were in a room with him and we didn’t get no wooden smile, although he’s got a wooden smile and he sure developed one for the cameras. He just seemed to be a human being to us. He was and is an honest man, and it broke my heart to see him bust his ass against American political machinery. Christ, Nixon’s TV specials were narrated like This Is Your Life, making it seem as though Nixon were the daddy of us all. The main thing that I think is wrong about Nixon’s point of view is that he presumes to be able to lead the world. Americans presume to say we can decide for other people. It’s that mutual exclusivity number that always ends up bugging me, saying we have the correct way and nobody else does.
I really loved George McGovern. And I don’t know how well he came off with the people of the United States, but he would have put an awful lot of work on our shoulders, and he would have asked us to change an awful lot. Even a lot of the kids who say they want change and who say they’re dissatisfied with things. They still want to feel as though someone is taking care of them and looking out for them. People just don’t want what George McGovern was gonna tell them they needed to do.
The urgency that young people are feeling these days is an urgency that has never been felt before and it has to do with the fact that we live with finite means. I think mankind is very incomplete. I hope some natural disaster claims us first. Some people say that the magnetic poles of the earth are going to switch and that “the valleys shall rise and the mountains shall sink, and great shall be the tumult thereof,” and all that bullshit. But in a way it would be better for it to be something man-made. I fear that when my child grows up, when little Ben or Sarah get to be age 40, they’ll live in a filthy world. They’ll live; they’ll survive. But the land will be dirty and the ocean will be putrid. The food they eat will be yeast.
Carly: I don’t think so. I’m a cockeyed optimist…
James: People don’t put up a road sign on a bad curve until five people have run off the road. People aren’t going to let George McGovern start to change things until they really have to change them. The people that voted for him, I believe, are the people who really see how desperate things are. I don’t think they’re alarmists; I think they’re realists. But most people want the comfort of what America was at the end of the Second World War. They want it to be what their parents have told them it is. They just like to believe that those things are true. Like believing in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost and God is in his Heaven, and everything is right with the world. It’s a nice lie. But in this case it’s keeping us from taking action which needs to be taken.
Carly: I don’t think that Western civilization as it is now is going to survive for an eternity — I don’t believe that — but I believe that Ben and Sarah will be part of perhaps another civilization…
James: We’ve got hypothetical children…
Carly: …which will be growing up, whether it’s a civilization on another planet or whether it’s a civilization in Egypt which will start flourishing in 20 years. Western civilization is in grave danger at the moment.
James: But it’s in a state of transition, too, from a positive point of view. Look at all the spiritual upheaval that’s going up in this country. People are shifting values…It’s never stayed the same. But I mean we’re at the end of a line of… we’ve run out, that’s all covered ground.
It’s been said that in a political sense that it’s the artist’s responsibility to predict the future or to, in some sense, show the possibilities of the future through his works.
James: Well, if we contribute anything, not only Carly and myself but artists in general, it must be some kind of statement of sensitivity. To state to humanity in general the human side. The artist makes a judgment by describing his point of view but it is a different sort of thing. It is not a conscious decision about what exists. It is what exists. It’s a conscious statement of unconsciousness. A lot of consciousness is after the fact or about something else. Music, art in general, can be about something else. Music, art in general, can be about something else but it’s also generative. It exists of itself.
Do you have views on the changing of traditional sex roles?
Carly: It is something that I’ve been thinking about a lot and struggling with, because it’s hard to remember that I’m any different from my male counterpart and that there are any differences in role. The biological-physical differences have caused a great many role differences which I’m not sure are presently valid. I think if little boys and girls were raised thinking that their physical differences didn’t imply role differences such as male “dominance” and female “subservience,” women would develop tools to deal with their aggressiveness which they are otherwise taught to suppress and men would be allowed to be passive and not fear for their masculine ego every time a woman took the reins.
James: There are some realistic differences between men and women and there are some culturally imposed jive differences. There are evolutionary differences between men and women in their physical forms and their functions and their outlook…Psychologists say that they dream differently and stuff like that.
Carly: I was talking to my mother about it and she said, “Listen, you don’t know what it really was like when I was a young married woman, and when my father used to snap his fingers and my mother would move into action. There are so many changes that have taken place within the past 20 or 30 years about the prominence of women and about women’s being accepted as having something valuable to say.”
I think men and women can understand and appreciate the differences and equally appreciate the overlap in powers. Men can be emotional. Men can be practical and women can be breadwinners. It’s more and more overlapping. Everything is becoming more homogenized.
James: It’s been a man’s world. It’s been a world controlled by the male outlook. That’s changed a lot, too.
Carly: My own conditioning is that one voice says to me, “Carly, you mustn’t try to dominate the situation, you mustn’t tell everybody what to play, you mustn’t expect James to do the dishes.” And the other voice is saying, “I want my musicians to play in a slower tempo and it’s James’ turn to do the dishes tonight.”
You said that you’re more influenced by male singers than female singers.
Carly: When I realized that I wanted to have my own career, I didn’t want to sound like any other female vocalists. I began to listen to male vocalists for sounds and phrasings. I listened to James a lot, and Cat Stevens too. I also admired Jagger’s performances.
I feel more competitive toward women, and I’m not as comfortable in such a competitive situation. I don’t like to set myself up for it, even though I know there’s plenty of room for female talent and a lot of great female talents around. But I listen to male artists more because I feel it’s unfair of me to criticize female singers. This is derived from historic feelings of female rivalry. When I was in high school, it was important for me to feel pretty, and I had a hard time saying anyone else was pretty.
You’ve become close with a lot of the male artists that you respected. Did you seek them out?
Carly: It’s more like we were thrown together, doing double bills. I had a number of relationships that were publicized beyond what they really were.
Cat Stevens, for instance.
Carly: Cat and I worked together many times, I always respected him. As with other men I worked with I always had a hard time figuring out whether I admired them more as musicians than as people. I found myself talent-struck, and usually it would turn out that I had the feeling I was more involved with the person than I really was. I had a distorted way of looking at them through rose-colored glasses and tone-deaf ears.
I never really got to know a lot of the people that I was supposed to be involved with. But Rona Barrett jumps on everything. Interviewers always seemed more interested in my love life than my music, which I suppose is an extension of male chauvinist pigism.
Carly, did you have any worries that possibly when you got married that you would lose some sort of control?
Carly: The masculine ego is not necessarily stronger than the feminine ego but seems to be dominant, nonetheless. Men are used to having to be in the foreground, having to be the front person, and women are just beginning to learn how to do the same kind of things. Women, instead of being always behind their men, are learning to be in the foreground the same as men are. But it’s not something which can happen overnight. It’s something which evolves.
James: The pioneer spirit is at an end in this country. We’ve fuckin’ pioneered everything. To hell with it.
Performers usually relate sensually to the audience, and both of you have that quality of being attractive and being attracted to the audience. Can you relate to the audience and be attractive and yet at the same time not let it turn into burlesque?
James: I think perhaps my act is the most unburlesque imaginable. I sit in a chair and don’t move for two hours.
Carly: But you have a very strong sexual appeal. Do you mean you relate to an audience in a completely asexual level?
It probably relates to Carly more…
James: She’s a piece of ass. It bothers me. If she looks at another man, I’ll kill her.
Carly’s appeal in the beginning was to a female audience, and now there’s a large male audience.
James: Mae West in the flesh.
Do you feel that’s something desirable to your act?
Carly: I don’t necessarily underplay my sexual appeal or attractiveness, whatever it may be. I think it’s an asset to a performer to be sexually attractive. And I think James is a nice piece of ass.
You wear long dresses instead of hot pants?
James: She wears short dresses onstage sometimes. Sure. Why not? As long as you’re asking that, it carries over farther than that. If two people are married and take vows to be true to each other, how far does that carry over? Obviously I don’t want Carly to sleep in another man’s bed, or another man sleeping in my bed, for that matter. Not on this couch either. And forget about the back seat of the car. It’s obviously important that between two people man and woman, there’d be a certain amount of sexual overtones in the conversation. In other words, if she’s at a party and she meets someone she likes, she likes to feel as though they’re attracted to her sexually and when I meet a woman I like to feel as though there’s a certain amount of rapport. I guess marriage vows sort of pertain to a certain amount of closeness. It really depends on what she would consider my betraying her.
Carly: What’s safe.
James: Or, what I would consider her betraying me. And I think, interestingly enough, or boringly enough, depending upon how drunk you are, what it really comes down to is that when I feel threatened or when I feel somebody else is taking my place, that’s when she shouldn’t do it.
A lot of Joni Mitchell’s new album seems directed towards her feelings about James. What are your reactions?
James: I think I heard a track of it on the radio, I haven’t picked it up. I’d be very interested to hear it, because I really love Joni’s music.
There are references to a man in suspenders — I guess you’d have to hear it.
James: Joni’s music is much more specifically autobiographical than a lot of other people. Everyone who writes songs writes autobiographical songs, and hers are sometimes really disarmingly specific.
This is her most disarmingly specific album.
Carly, how did you wind up in Taking Off?
Carly: That came about because I had dated Milos Forman a couple of years ago.
James: She’s older than 18 — dating means fucking.
Carly: No, I had no carnal knowledge of him.
James, how did you get involved with Two-Lane Blacktop?
James: Well, some people got in touch with Peter and they said, “We have a movie and we want James to act in it.” Peter read the script and liked it a lot.
It was a fantastic script. Rudi Wurlitzer wrote it. I decided that it might be a good idea to try to act in a film and I went out to the West Coast and talked to people about it and then agreed to start to look in it a little further.
Career-wise it was a good idea. It was a really good script, with a director who is as good a director as Monte Hellman was reputed to be — was a good move and Peter was right from a career point of view, so I ended up being in the movie. By the time it started, I must confess that I didn’t want to do it. I think I realized there were some heavy things going on between Monte and his wife at that point. We weren’t allowed to see the movie. Monte really wanted to control us without really letting us be creative in ourselves. He wanted to use us. I think rather like John Ford used John Wayne. Ford did the best stuff with Wayne.
But Hellman was into using us. So that by the time the movie was started, with no acting experience I was totally dependent on Hellman for any sort of training or any sort of suggestions that he might give me. I needed him so totally but he never, ever, talked to me on a personal basis. He’s the most incommunicative cat I’ve ever met in my life. It was excruciating.
Two Lane Blacktop was a documentary, almost. It was mostly a movie about three people who travel across the country in a fast automobile. It would be good to see it sometime. I’ve never seen it.
Carly: I thought Taking Off was a fun movie. I was just furious that I was told one thing and another thing occurred…
James: That’s what I was furious about in doing Blacktop, too. I wasn’t let in on what was going on. That’s what pissed me off and that’s why I’ve never gone to see it.
How much of what you do are you doing for yourself? How much because it’s expected of you?
Carly: I think, as far as the songs that I’m writing now, they’re much more what’s expected of me rather than for myself. If I was writing songs just for myself now I could be a lot more satisfied with the process of writing them.
You don’t need the money, so why do you continue to do it?
Carly: For the same reason that I wanted to be popular in high school, because I still don’t have enough of the internal Carly Simon saying, “You’re all right.” I still need the applause. I still need people from the outside saying, “Carly Simon, you’re all right.”
James: Carly and I agree that the best thing for us to do would be to really get into our own selves in terms of writing music for ourselves and trying to screen out the point of view that we have been more and more indoctrinated with, the public point of view of doing things for an audience, for record sales, thinking in terms of singles, that sort of thing.
We seem to agree that if we are ready to do good work it has to be for us. It’s one of the inevitable disadvantages of success in this culture or this time is that the more successful you get the more your point of view swings around towards feeding that whole mechanism of being appreciated or being acknowledged. But that’s a degenerate process. It’s not totally degenerate. It can stimulate you to doing more work, but still, the experience has to be a private one, I believe.
What steps are you taking to do this?
James: We plan to spend more time for ourselves. We plan to live instead of perform.
Carly: Sometimes I see the key word as being relaxation. If we’d learn to relax with ourselves…
James: Throw ourselves away.
Carly: Throw ourselves away.
James: Carly and I are in love with each other, but love is not a thing that you can find. Love is something that is an accumulated emotion, in any one person, and love always has strings attached. When I love someone, I remember that love has hurt me, and passed. When Carly loves me, she remembers that in order to get love she has had to do things that she resented having to do.
We really appreciate having an audience, we appreciate being acknowledged, we like to think that people like our music, and we like to give it to them. We love to shine, but on the other hand, we don’t like it so much that we want to sacrifice everything to it, including our private lives. It’s important that people be informed if we’re going to be public figures and I suppose we’re going to continue to be. And it’s better that people know the truth and make up their own minds.
If you are a public personality and you do all the interviews and use all the public outlets that are available to you, after awhile you really are very shallow and very thin and there’s that thin line between what you are and what is being sold.
You have this very sincere idea of what you want to do yet you end up doing things you don’t want to do.
Carly: I can imagine getting to a frame of mind where the audience won’t make any difference to me. Just that I’m into what I’m doing and it doesn’t matter if there’s two people, doesn’t matter if there are a million people, but that my performance will be the same and I’ll feel secure enough within myself to be the same under any circumstance. Now, because I’m a scared performer, because their opinion is so important to me, I like to make contact with each individual person. I want them to really see me …
I’d like to get to the state of mind where I’m clear enough about myself that I’m almost not thinking about myself anymore, reach a level where you’re so unconcerned about how you’re appearing to anybody else that you’re really un-selfconscious.
James: If I know what I want, if I know those thing in life that are important to me, my wife, my music, my home, my family, if I know what those are and where those are and I know where they come into play, … then what I seek in life … is to react honestly to circumstances as they come along.
I don’t want to be frightened by someone because they remind me of an old circumstance which no longer exists. If I feel as though it’s important that I please people and I meet someone and I capitulate and I agree to do things for them and I find myself getting sucked into a position where I’m really putting out too much for someone I really don’t care that much about, it’s obvious that I’m in fact reacting to an old set of circumstances, that somehow a sympathetic vibration has been sounded somewhere in my psyche and for some reason I’m reacting to that rather than reacting to what’s actually going on.
I don’t like any more than anyone else being overwhelmed by feelings, and like the song “Carolina in My Mind” says, I don’t like being hit from behind. I don’t like being hit from behind. I don’t like being snuck up on from somewhere in my subconscious and captured by some old set of circumstances which no longer should be bothering me. I want to know what’s important to me.
Do you think that circumstances are under your control now?
James: No human being is ever under control, although control is one of the most important things to man. Control is the human dilemma, wanting to be in control. But we’re more in control now than we were before. The fact that we have each other helps us a lot too, because the thing that we have between each other is a large amount of what we want out of life. The fact that we have each other is very important, and it makes a lot of other things less important. It makes some things that were crucial a year ago less crucial for me, and for Carly too, I suppose, if I can speak for her, which I guess I do too often.
But the fact that things are getting better for me doesn’t cancel out the fact that I write songs. Sometimes I worry about the fact that music comes from a painful place in me, often, and often I write a song because I have the blues.
Carly: Every time I go onstage I go back to that feeling of it being a primal fact of life and death whether my parents loved me or not. In order to get my parents’ love at a certain point, I felt that it was necessary that I perform for them. Their love meant survival, so sometimes I transfer that to an audience, and if they don’t love me, it’s my death.
James: If you’re afraid they’re not going to love you, it just becomes so crucial a thing…
Carly: It becomes much more than it is in reality. Sometimes an audience is imbued with that kind of importance. Of course they don’t realize they’ve got it, and of course, they shouldn’t have. It’s terribly out of focus. They don’t realize that the performers up there onstage are making a demand of them for the performer’s life.
James: They can’t realize that. When you get successful, sometimes an audience can be as bad as when you’re unknown and they just ignore you. Sometimes they don’t ignore you, but what they’re focusing upon is somewhere other than where you are and that’s uncomfortable too, but I find that mostly it’s positive. Being successful is good. I’m usually wrong when I think it’s bad. For the most part, I love it. But one negative thing about it is that before I ever played in front of an audience, I used to sit down with the guitar and sing and play just so I could say to myself, “See, I can really sing and play the guitar. It sounds great, and I love to do it.” Or, I could do it at a party or something like that. I can’t do that anymore. I very seldom do it. Sometimes I sit down and sing and play to myself, but mostly I do it from the audience’s point of view or from the point of view of doing it for an audience. In other words, your value focus shifts. It starts off being a vital, personal sort of endeavor, kind of an aspiration, and it ends up being focused on a specific thing and that’s a limiting quality to the problem of success. I’m reminded of Dylan when he went electric. The people yelled at him for it. They didn’t want to see it. It reminds me of Ricky Nelson’s writing his present hit, his Garden experience. He’s doing something new. They don’t want to hear. I mean, that’s a fucking drag. He should know to expect it and he does. That’s what the song’s about. You really have to please yourself. It’s the most important thing and it’s also best in the long run for what kind of music you come up with.