Rooms tumble into open-doored rooms in Carly Simon's house, and the chairs are covered with flowered prints and wine velvet. It is really an apartment but it feels like a country house, an extremely prosperous country house where all about is informality and abundance. The dog is unclipped like a country dog. A guiyar lies on the sofa. A boyfriend with blond curls lingers at the door.
The essence of the house, if we were to play the Simon family's favorite game (more about that later), would be a summer breeze; the essence of the lady of the house a wild rose bush, pink to go with her high color. She is tall (5 feet 10) and gorgeous. Her hair is a long mass of sun-streaked curls, her eyes are a pale blue, heightened by pale blue shadow. Her dress, which she wears with boots, is a casual loose-fitting designer dress, deep-pocketed.
So why is she talking about aggravation?
Almost as if it were a Carly Simon song, Aaa-aaagravation.
The aggravation of stage fright.
The aggravation of modern life.
The aggravation inherent in Simon's new song, just the title of the new song, "Floundering," which, with a cheerful reggae beat, makes tender fun of a middle-class lady who goes from cure to cure because she "got to, she got to get fixed."
What's broken that it's gotta be fixed, she is asked; what on earth could she have to be anxious about?
"You don't know from anxiety," she says.
She laughs. But she says it. But she laughs.
FIRST SHE SEES HER HYPNOTIST
THEN SHE RUSHES TO HER PSYCHIATRIST
SEES HER ACUPUNCTURIST
SHE GOT TO, SHE GOT TO GET FIXED
Carly Simon had her first hit 13 years ago, with a bittersweet little girl-singer number called "That's the Way I've Always Thought It Should Be," and has been, ever since, a pop/rock somebody. She calls it "a sort of low-profile career," but that is really only half true, and as much a reflection of Simon's habit of casual self-depreciation as anything else.
Her album "Boys in the Trees" five years ago sold more than 3.5 million, and if recent albums have done nowhere near as well, there are folks still willing to release them. "Hello Big Man," out this month, is her 12th LP and the notices are respectful, the critics still noting that glissando soprano rising and gliding, slipping and sliding.
But there was something else, besides the music, that fascinated the audience: her life.
Her marriage in 1972 to James Taylor was regarded in its generation with the same satisfaction as the coming together of Rainier and Grace. The problems and dissolution of the marriage, chronicled in People and Rolling Stone, were said to include Taylor's nine-year addiction to heroin and wandering ways; and the apparent carrying, on the part of Simon, of a tiny torch. There were tantalizing hints in Simon's songs, songs that, she says, always have been "personal--or at least started out as personal."
So it seems normal, when things have settled down, to find what was going on in her life to prompt "Floundering."
First, though, the dog, deeply in love with Simon, has to be removed from her lap, for Simon cannot bear being photographed that way: "It's not of the century." Then, and only then, it is down into a discussion of urban female Weltschmerz; a schmerz, it should be cautioned, that is common to a type of bright New York lady; a schmerz that is not so much a great blackness of the soul as a shower during the rainy season, during which you stop shopping for shoes and break for coffee. 'VE been in analysis since I was 11--not straight, that's when I went to see my first shrink," she begins. "I've seen a number of different gurus; TM, of course; I've seen a nutritionist; I've gone to an astrologist; I've seen psychics; I've also done carpentry workshops under this particular heading of self-help; I mean it's not self-help but if you look in the self-help department of a bookstore, you'll see carpentry and I think it's probably more worthwhile than most things, than, say, telling the truth about yourself to a room of 300 people with a full bladder . . . I've done biofeedback, I've done hypnosis . . .
"It becomes habitual," she says. "It's like what it says in the song; "She's looking for a cure, she doesn't know exactly what it's for . . ."
SHE SWEARS BY JACK LALANNE
THEN SHE THROWS THE I CHING AGAIN
SHE SEARCHES IN THE HIMALAYAS
FOR SOMEBODY TO EASE THE PAIN
She was born the third daughter of Richard Simon, the founder of the Simon & Schuster publishing house. It was not, she has said, the best place to be in the family hierarchy.
"I think that my father was very excited by Joey Joanna , the first child," Carly once said, "and he was very charmed by Lucy, who was very demure, beguiling, a princess. She was his favorite. By the time I came along, he wanted a boy. He wasn't pleased with my sex from the beginning."
A man who had given up a dream of being a concert pianist because of his own domineering father, Richard Simon died of a heart attack when Carly was 16. She was, she says, a pretty neurotic kid: stuttering for the first time at 6, when she had to perform in the school play; her first anxiety attack at 8, staring into a bowl of Cheerios.
"I had a dream the other night that I was bawling somebody out and that I could do it without stuttering," Simon says, "because it always comes back when I want to tell sombody how I really feel and I can't do it, because I'm stammering again . . ."
At 20, after two years at Sarah Lawrence, the school for a particular type of New York City girl, she got into music professionally, performing with her older sister Lucy as The Simon Sisters. She didn't especially want a career on stage, she has said. Lucy dragged her into it. She was signed by Albert Grossman, who handled Bob Dylan. She had her first hit in l970, with "Elektra." In l972 she became involved with James Taylor.
"We fell in love, my career was just starting to be recognized, there was, um, the sort of feeling that I was just the toast of the town, and that the whole world was open to me with James, who was so much the combination of all my fantasies about men . . ."
She'd been aware of Taylor from the time they were both very small, both in families that summered on Martha's Vineyard.
"There's a certain kind of Vineyard man," she says, clearly into a subject she enjoys. "Talk to any kind of Vineyard girl about any Vineyard boy and they would know what I mean . . . kind of rugged looking, wearing jeans, a plaid shirt, big work boots, their hair always streaked with one or two blond streaks from the sun. They often sport some facial hair--as long as it's not in their ears it can be very pleasant--they drive around in a pickup truck and if they're truly great, they sing. And that was my ideal.
"It was as if we had known each other all our lives after the Vineyard connection," she says of the night she went backstage after a James Taylor concert at Carnegie Hall. "We just went out together that night and never spent a night apart."
They married when she was 28, she had her daughter when she was 29, later there was a son. There was a lot of happy and a lot of sad; she doesn't like "the image around James of being a druggie," but she doesn't deny that it was true.
She didn't try to perform. "The kids would have had two parents who were on the road, and since James did it so easily and wonderfully, I figured why not let him do it."
Occasionally, she'd give a concert, perform in small clubs. In '80, with the release of 'Come Upstairs,' she went on the road again. Looking back, she says, it was not the best time. Her son Ben had just had a serious operation, her marriage was breaking up, she had lost 25 pounds from stress.
Those old performance anxieties: She had never liked to tour. She had trouble with the anonymity of large halls.
The first time it happened?
The gorgeous Carly laugh again, followed by the satirical voice, this time doing a Freudian shrink:
"So vhere vere you when it happened you first felt that tremor in your harm? Did you become completely paralyzed or partly paralyzed?"
She switches back.
"The first time was at an outdoor pavilion in Maryland, around the time of 'That's the Way I Always Thought It Should Be.' I had a terrible anxiety attack. I was the opening act for Kris Kristofferson . . . I used to come back after his act and do a closing song with him, and then a short time after that he met and married Rita Coolidge and he used to do the same thing with her, and she slipped into my shoes so easily and I thought, 'Oh, God, we're compltely interchangeable here . . .' "
In Pittsburgh in 1980, in the middle of a concert, the stress caught up with her.
"I just started hemmorhaging, you know. My nerves just collapsed . . . I had invited all these people on stage, and they were being very nice, very supportive--it was like an encounter session--but my nerves were overshot. I had had the ridiculous idea that going on the road would get my mind off everything. After the concert my sister, who was with me, said, 'Why do this to yourself?' "
She stopped the tour.
Is she thinking about a tour for the new album?
"I'm thinking about it only because I like to perform so much," she says dryly.
You hate to perform, she's told.
"Oh, that's right," she says.
She does like to perform?
"You must listen to me more carefully," she says. "I didn't say I liked to perform in front of an audience. I said I like to perform."
SHE'S LOOKING FOR A CURE,
SHE DOESN'T KNOW EXACTLY WHAT FOR
LOOKS LIKE SHE'S . . .
Talking about men, now. Talking about a song, about Carly and a man, that has been an open question now for years. She knows the question. She interrupts.
"Who was 'You're So Vain' about?" she says.
"It certainly sounds like it was about Warren Beatty. He certainly thought it was about him--he called me and said thanks for the song . . ."
She had gone out with him?
"That only means you haven't met him," says Carly. "Though at the time I met him he was still relatively undiscovered as a Don Juan. I felt I was one among thousands at that point--it hadn't reached, you know, the populations of small countries . . ."
This new curly-haired man in her life, this actor, this Al Corley, who has long since slipped out the door?
"Met him about a year and a half ago," says Simon, sipping some tea, eating some toast. It was while she was shooting an album cover.
So all he was, at the beginning, was a prop?
Carly does her fine deadpan, joking: "That's all he is now."
"He's from the Midwest. There's something very fresh about him after all these New York intellectuals who know it all, something very green and very unsophisticated and very unjaded about him. It's not as if he's a dolt; he's, um, genuine, he's very understanding about my relationship with James . . ."
James, she says, "still comes over here to sleep, as a matter of fact. Every night. Because we can't spend a night apart. Even though we're divorced. So Al leaves at 7:30 or 8, and James comes over to spend the night. That's what I meant when I said Al is so sympathetic."
Malleable. Sort of like one of those cushions across the room.
"Yes," says Carly. "He is."
She adds, in that deadpan joking mode again: "Frankly, James is much more interesting."
Talking about aggravation again. Carly wants to make a point.
"I don't want to come across as a neurotic artist," she says. "Because I'm not that way. I'm happy about most things in my life. I really am.
"Benjamin, he's my son, he's 6, he and I were playing Essences the other night," she says. "Do you know what that game is? One person describes somebody, without mentioning their name, and the other person tries to find out who that person is; 'What kind of flower is this person?' 'What kind of architecture is this person?' I was thrilled, because he took me--I didn't know it was me--and I said, 'What kind of a food would this person be?' And he said, 'Well, this person is very tall and skinny and happy--I would say a carrot, a big tall carrot.' I said, 'What kind of animal?' He said, 'A very, very happy vegetarian pig.' That he didn't think this person would eat anything that was bad for them, that was why vegetarian, and that their cheeks were round and rosy like a pig. Anyway, all his answers were like that, about somebody who really radiates joy."
Happy: What times in her life has she felt the happiest?
"I think there have been more recently, but I used to say there were two points. In l965, when I was living in London, I was just starting to sing, I was 20 years old, I was away from my family for the first time, I was madly in love," she says. "And in '72, when I met James."