The Carly Simon fallacy

Every few years, it seems, there’s a resurgence of interest in Carly Simon via her 1972 hit “You’re So Vain,” i.e., Who is it about?, and her coy handling of the so-called “mystery.”

This time it’s because she has a memoir coming out, titled after her 1978 album Boys in the Trees. In a recent interview with People she apparently confirmed that the second verse is about Warren Beatty. I say apparently because I ddin’t read the interview, just an account of it in HuffPost leading with how for years, “music and pop culture fans alike have tried to figure out who Carly Simon’s song ‘You’re So Vain’ is really about (Mick Jagger? James Taylor?). We’ve been met with cryptic clues, but we could never say with certainty who that elusive ‘you’ really is.”

It doesn’t say who “we” is, but I most certainly have never tried to figure it out, nor has anyone I know. Simon’s sex life just isn’t that interesting to me, and besides, it remains one of the dumbest songs I’ve ever heard—and that’s just the lyrics. The tune itself isn’t much and the fact that the record became so successful, I’m convinced, is because of Jagger’s uncredited backup vocal on the chorus, Jagger himself being one of the celeb names bandied about over the years as the song’s subject.

The only true mystery of the song is how people continue getting so worked up over a guy who really isn’t so vain after all. I mean, if he probably thinks the song is about him, he’s right!—hence, no vanity. The entire song is based on fallacy!

But look closer. Force yourself. Yes, the guy’s a self-absorbed dandy (“Your hat strategically dipped below one eye/Your scarf it was apricot”), but if he has “one eye in the mirror” as he watches himself gavotte, well, as Simon herself admits, “all the girls dreamed that they’d be your partner.” Conceited he may be, but no other female is put off by it in the slightest—nor was Simon, at least at one time.

Really, “You’re So Vain” is nothing more than a high-class rejection song with one memorable line (“I had some dreams they were clouds in my coffee”) that is so conceptually wrong there’s probably an arcane philosophical term to describe it.

Coincidentally comes word that another ridiculous yet immensely popular song, Lee Ann Womack’s 2001 crossover country hit “I Hope You Dance,” has been made into an inspirational documentary (I Hope You Dance: The Power and Spirit of Song featuring the likes of Womack, Graham Nash, Brian Wilson and Vince Gill) to debut on Thanksgiving on the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries channel, with DVD and related book out on Dec. 1.

Why people were moved by this song I’ll never know. Yes the chorus line has a mother expressing her wish for her children: “And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance/I hope you dance.” But come on! Is it imaginable that anyone else–mother, father, sibling, friend, alien from outer space–would soulfully sing, “I hope you sit it out”? Not on this planet.

YouTube Discoveries: The Hollies

I first met Graham Nash when he and Allan Clarke came up to Cash Box to promote their 1983 reunion album What Goes Around… and its tour stop at The Bottom Line. Both events were unforgettable, as I’d been a huge Hollies fan from the beginning.

My luck continued intermittently over the next decades, as I was able to talk to Graham several times, and Allan once. I remember one time, probably in 1989, needing Graham for comments on the U.S. prospects of Boris Grebenshikov, the Russian rock pioneer, for whose U.S. debut album Radio Silence (also 1989) I wrote the liner notes.

I was with Billboard, then, but also writing for the then Soviet news service Novosti. I was given Graham’s number, and called him, not terribly early in the morning, but when he answered I realized it was too early not to wake him up. No matter, Graham couldn’t have been more gracious, and helpful as ever.

Another memorable Graham Nash encounter came in October, 1999, when he was in New York with Crosby, Stills and Young to announce a forthcoming CSN&Y tour, their first in a quarter-century, at a ritzy Manhattan hotel, The Plaza, maybe. I didn’t know that Graham had just endured a horrible boating accident near his home in Hawaii, where he had broken both legs.

Young wheeled him out at the press conference, and as luck would have it, I had a gig in Nashville in March, 2000, the day of their CSNY2K tour stop at the Gaylord Entertainment Center. This time Graham wasn’t wheeled out by anyone. Rather, he stood up through the entire show, in what I always thought had to be excruciating pain.

I reminded him of this last week when Graham was in town to promote the paperback publication of his memoir Wild Tales: A Rock & Roll Life. Graham, who still has a pin in one leg and an ankle plate in the other, credited his doctor for returning him to concert stage shape and said it was really no big deal.

But that’s Graham. Always honest, humble. Real. Inspiring musically, of course, but also with his antiwar and anti-global warming stances, to cite but two of his right-on political values.

The last time I had seen him was a couple months ago, when he was doing a signing at Barnes & Noble. I snuck in with the photographers but didn’t get a chance to say much before they moved me out with the rest, other than to shout out, “Graham!” He looked up and I yelled, “It’s me! Jim Bessman!”

“I see you’re still alive,” he said. Brief but reassuring.

I was no less alive when I recounted this interaction last week. Among many other things I mentioned, too, was my delight in speaking with Allan Clarke three years ago for a piece on  the release of the 22-song DVD The Hollies–Look Through Any Window 1963-1975 DVD—a must-have, if you don’t already have it.

So talk inevitably turned to The Hollies, and the Bottom Line show. So many years later now, it still ranks among my greatest concert thrills. Most memorable moment, probably, was when they did their 1967 hit “Carrie Anne”: All three singers—frontman Clarke, who generally sang lead, Nash and lead guitarist Tony Hicks, took a lead vocal verse, Hicks taking the middle after Clarke.

I’ve always felt Hicks is arguably the most under-recognized guitarist in rock ‘n’ roll history. Go to any Hollies hit and appreciate how his foundational licks and strums (the banjo on “Stop Stop Stop”) set up the songs. At The Bottom Line, clearly, I wasn’t alone, because when he began singing his verse (“You were always something special to me, quite independent, never caring…”), the room erupted in applause, expressing a pent-up desire to show its awe and appreciation for Hicks’ playing.

“It was a good show,” said Graham.

The next day, still basking in the glow of being alive in Graham’s presence, I went to YouTube to find a “Carrie Anne” video to share—but most of them had Terry Sylvester, who replaced Graham when he left for Los Angeles and Crosby, Stills & Nash in 1968. But I finally found one from The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, and what’s really great is, when it got to the end  of the final chorus, I shot my right hand and arm straight up at the finish—a second or two before the guys did the exact same thing!

See if you don’t do it, too.

And dig this much later clip featuring Tony Hicks on “Stop Stop Stop”: