Catching up with Carly Simon
Carly Simon is calling from her Lambert's Cove home to talk about her new CD, to share philosophies and impressions. She pours her lush maple-syrup voice over good times and bad, feelings and facts, and describes the need "to be bombarded and beat down, hit and insulted, because life is tough and living through those insults is what makes you strong."
It is the sort of conversation two strangers might have in a waiting room - when one of them is a music icon.
"I truly feel as if I was born a musician," Ms. Simon says. "I was born with a little bit of a faucet in my head that was always dripping music. It was always giving me a melody at any given time...At any time, talking to you or cleaning up my bathroom, you can stop me and say all right, turn on the faucet and let me hear what's coming out, and I can give you a melody. It doesn't make it good," she adds, "but I have this melody drip."
Writing lyrics is her way of problem solving, her way of seeing things from an often necessary distance.
It has been well chronicled that it has not been easy nor uncomplicated being Carly Simon. Now, at 64, she has initiated a multi-million dollar lawsuit against Starbucks, for "concealment of material facts," and "unlawful, unfair and fraudulent business practices" - what she claims is the corporation's failure to meet its contractual obligations in promoting and marketing "This Kind of Love," her 2008 album that failed to find its audience.
"So it sends the message to everyone that the record is a dud," Ms. Simon says. "It was very hard to get out of that mire. I was really hit hard. I couldn't really do anything because my hands were tied. Starbucks still owned me, even though they weren't marketing me...I couldn't go to another labeI. I had to wait a year before putting out a new album." Her voice grows more animated and expressive. "I poured my heart into that album...It felt like 'pieces on the ground' - a lyric from one of my ex-husband's songs."
Despite any assumption that Ms. Simon is an heiress (her late father Richard Simon is co-founder of Simon & Schuster), she claims to be in financial straits, forced to resume her career. "And Ben sort of came to my rescue," she says describing her son, Ben Taylor's rallying support: "'Hey mom, c'mon. Let's get out of this depressed, lost position. Let's do something really positive... Everybody will do it for fun and take the big bucks out of the mix. It will be the way you were when you were writing the songs for the first time.'"
The result, her new CD, "Never Been Gone," beingreleased next week, is a project she describes as having taken her from "feeling stranded, feeling totally stepped on," to feeling healed. On it, she revisits her best-known songs from her current perspective.
"It gave me the chance to look at the lyrics and to sing them as if I'd never sung them before," Ms. Simon says. "There's a different poignancy."
"Never Been Gone" is an acoustically arranged collection of her greatest hits - everything from "You're So Vain," to "Coming Around Again," and "Anticipation" - reconsidered, tweaked, and remixed on Iris, an independent label founded in 2001 by Larry Ciancia, Kipp Stroden, and Ben Taylor.
Listen to "Never Been Gone" once to purge any expectation that you're listening to her original recordings. Then, listen again to discover what is subtly more plaintive, something the original version missed: a foxtrot becomes a waltz, a guitar takes the place of a piano, a different key, different mood, new line, new emphasis. It is as if at 64, the songwriter now stands inside the lyrics she first wrote in her 30s as a keen observer.
The album is autobiographical, personal, even its liner notes convey a sense of confession: admitting flaws, explaining and describing choices. The change in keys: "I sing lower now [from the key of C to the key of G]; anyway, it only seemed respectful. I should stand on street corners and do it honest."
She explains, "It Happens Every Day" is "a lyric where I paraphrase all the long-winded philosophical ideas I've ever had about breaking up...Still, my mind was agitating a flashback to the porch of the General Store where I met a boy who became a man, who became a great love, who then dispensed with my charms, as it were."
And "Anticipation," she writes, "is a song reflective and inclusive of an emotion I couldn't have evoked even if I tried, when I wrote it in 1971."
Mr. Taylor is the album's producer, and his mother admits he surprised her. "He has very strong feelings about the way he wants to hear things," Ms. Simon says. "We had a lot of arguments over the way things ended up sounding. We would get into fights a lot. Fortunately for me and for him and for anyone around us, our fights are really healthy."
"Healthy" means the disagreements that accelerated fast moved on with no residual tension. After all, she reminds the listener, she is his mother. "Working with Ben was absolutely great. It was also irritating and terrifying, and he has these moments of some brilliant insights," she says. "He's got a way of going about things that is very much his generation - so I'd be going along with this string line and he'd be changing it as I did it with this little button on the computer."
When asked, Ms. Simon recognizes that people tend to like what has become familiar. Her staunchest fans might have the most difficulty with her latest offering, she says, then adds, "I'm not asking the listener to do anything except for enjoying what they're listening to."
So it seems Ms. Simon will not be able to disappear from public view for a while - an uneasy position for an essentially private person. "I'm not reclusive on purpose," she explains. "That's just part of me. It's not as if I decide to just stay home, it's that I just wind up loving my home and staying there."
What would Ms. Simon like people to take away from her music? "The sense that we're not that different from each other," she says, then adds, "I'm hoping this album will bring a whole lot of new people who've never heard my music."
"Never Been Gone" will be in stores on October 27.