by Emily Howell
When I heard Carly Simon was writing her memoir I was skeptical, but curious—I’m not usually a fan of memoirs written by pop culture icons, so when I opened Boys in the Trees my expectations were low but I decided to give it a chance nonetheless.
The book, which is split into three parts, focuses on Simon’s relationship with the men in her life and how they have affected her both psychologically and emotionally. Her father—a depressing figure to say the least—ignored her and from a young age she was made to feel inadequate. “After two daughters he’d been counting on a son, a male successor to be named Carl. When I was born, he and mommy simply added a y to the word, like an accusing chromosome: Carly.” Her adolescence was also marked by sexual abuse, her mother’s infidelity, an obsession with the way the family was perceived, and a late-onset stammer that shattered her self-confidence through high school.
Simon spouts off a laundry list of the men she’s encountered (both flirtatiously and sexually) and dishes all the dirty details—like airing entries from her diary (literally and figuratively). Sean Connery, Marvin Gaye, Mick Jaggar, Jack Nicholson, Kris Kristofferson, Cat Stevens and of course the infamous womanizer, Warren Beatty (who Simon admits the second verse of “You’re So Vain” is about) all make an appearance. Perhaps she wants payback for being made to feel like a “notch on the bedpost.”
The final third of the book recounts Simon’s decade long marriage to James Taylor. She overly-romanticizes their relationship and often idolizes him; when she describes their first (adulthood) encounter she says: “Everything about him communicated that he was, in fact, the center of something – the core of an apple, the center of a note.” But her adoration is countered by a dark look into life with Taylor and a decade of drug abuse, infidelity and the extreme highs and lows that defined their relationship.
Although the book does touch upon Simon’s career as a musician it’s often as more of an afterthought—always supplementary to an anecdote about one man or another: how the meeting of Sean Connery lead to the end of the Simon Sisters, the writing of a verse of “You’re So Vain” about Warren Beatty, or “Anticipation” in response to Cat Stevens late arrival to dinner. One thing is very clear: Carly Simon’s life has revolved around men, not music.
I enjoyed reading Simon’s memoir—for the story more so than the prose. Simon’s flowery, lyrical wording can be less than enjoyable and sometimes even worthy of an elongated eye-roll. I felt that she was trying to mimic the classic voice of Austin (who she admittedly admires). As always, I enjoyed the inclusion of photographs at the beginning/end of chapters—a choice I believe more memoirists should make. Despite my initial low expectations and the quips I had with her voice Boys in the Trees was an engaging, brutally honest look into the life of an American icon.