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275 of 284 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brain candy for boomer women (and the men who want to understand them)
525 pages about Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon --- and this is my candidate for "beach book of 2008" for smart boomer women?

I'm not kidding. It's that good. And that addictive.

Just read the opening section about 14-year-old Carole Klein, sitting with her friend Camille Cacciatore as they leaf through the Brooklyn phone book in search of...
Published on April 8, 2008 by Jesse Kornbluth

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67 of 73 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars It didn't have a good beat and I couldn't really dance to it
I have never seen writing quite like this. Others have mentioned the mile-long sentences, the paranthetical digressions that rip apart sentences and paragraphs on almost every page and the general herky-jerky nature of the narrative. All true. But what really got to me were the author's strange use of strange new adverbs ("pioneeringly," "karmically," "welcomely," etc.)...
Published on September 10, 2008 by D. Watson


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275 of 284 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brain candy for boomer women (and the men who want to understand them), April 8, 2008
525 pages about Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon --- and this is my candidate for "beach book of 2008" for smart boomer women?

I'm not kidding. It's that good. And that addictive.

Just read the opening section about 14-year-old Carole Klein, sitting with her friend Camille Cacciatore as they leaf through the Brooklyn phone book in search of a name. Kick...Kiel...Klip. How about King? Yeah, King. And then it was off to Camille's house, where the choice was spaghetti-and-meatballs or peppers-and-onions.

Anyone can use clips and rumor to write about the famous. Sheila Weller puts you in the room. Her methods are exhaustive journalism --- she's written six books, she's won prizes, she's the real deal --- and empathy. So the path from nowhere to immortality for King, Mitchell and Simon is an epic tale, and Weller's scope is vast --- to track "the journey of a generation." Only on the surface is this a book about music, and who makes it, and how, and why. The bigger subject, the better subject, is how women found their way in their professional and personal lives, 1960-now. So, for Weller, these stories are about "a course of self-discovery, change, and unhappy confrontation with the limits of change."

Limits?

Consider this: In 1960, H.W. Janson's "History of Art" --- the standard textbook --- cited 2,300 artists.

How many were female?

Not one.

That's the culture these women were entering. Women as decorative armpieces. As silent helpers. Sexual objects. And uncomplaining victims.

Each of these women fought that culture. Not because she wanted to --- simply out of biography and necessity. Joan Anderson gets polio as a kid, and her creativity is pushed inward. Carly Simon may be the daughter of one of the founders of Simon & Schuster, but in her case "privileged" refers mostly to her father, who banished his kids from his sight when he came home from work. Carol King writes hits with a kid in her lap.

There's delicious dish in these pages. Sailing to New York on the U.S.S. United States, Sean Connery propositioning both Carly and her sister Lucy. [Lucy accepted his offer --- alone.] Carole meeting the Beatles. [They were thrilled.] Joni being spanked by her husband and, later, getting smacked around by Jackson Browne. Carly getting it on in cabs, under a bridge in Central Park, and, minutes after meeting James Taylor, in a bathroom.

Everyone of import in the history of rock appears in these pages. Men come and go, most of them hideously inappropriate. And then there's the --- shall we say --- cross-pollination. Give James Taylor the sword of gold; he befriended King and did a lot more with Mitchell and Simon. Messy stuff, all of it, and revealing about the way relationships play out in the superstar set. My favorite moment: decades after "You're So Vain", Warren Beatty came up --- and on --- to Carly at the Carlyle Hotel. "What are you doing in town?" he asked. "Seeing my oncologist," said Carly, who was then afflicted with cancer. Guess Warren's reaction.

They're grandmothers now. Hard to believe. I still want to see them as they were --- young and shiny, the future rich in possibility. This book charts the price they paid, the pain and the foolishness. It's a splendid chance for women of a certain age --- and the men who love them --- to look back and grid their own lives over these years.

Which makes for a terrific beach book.
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117 of 121 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars No Secrets, April 24, 2008
By 
Kevin Killian (San Francisco, CA United States) - See all my reviews
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Everything in GIRLS LIKE US will be amazingly familiar to those of us born in the bay boom, and yet Sheila Weller, a talented if erratic prose stylist, brings us to emotional places that will be new to all but those most intimate with the trio of songwriters whose lives, she declares, form a "journey of a generation." I don't know if I'd go that far, but I'm not a woman, and Weller's argument is that King, Simon, and Mitchell pushes back the barriers for women specifically, "one song at a time."

The cryptic one remains Carole King, whom Weller just can't illuminate in any meaningful way. Her life was amazing--up to a point, then it stopped being of any interest at all, which is a shame. We hear again and again how she wrote all those Brill Building masterpieces before she was 21, and broke down under the strain of a troubled marriage to a high-stakes husband and lyricist, Gerry Goffin, coming out the other end with an LP. Tapestry, that everyone loved. Then what happened? Bad men galore, attracted to her wealth. She once estimated that every time she divorced a man, it cost her a million dollars. Weller gives us all the facts ad nauseam but we always wonder, why did King do this to herself?

Carly Simon, on the other hand, who cooperated with Weller extensively or so it seems, comes off as nearly normal. Of the upper, upper middle class, Simon was to the manor born and the icy, plangent chords of her first song, "That's the Way I Always Heard It Should Be," gave notice that the old New Yorker fiction writers of the 40s and 50s hadn't died, they had just rolled over and told Carly Simon the news. Though obviously spoiled and cosseted by her own wealth, Simon doesn't seem spoiled; her reactions throughout, even meeting and marrying the drug-zombie James Taylor, are always understandable and sympathetic.

Joni Mitchell isn't sympathetic per se, but she has the integrated personality of the genius totally in love with herself and obsessed with her own reflection, so she's great in a special way. Weller pokes amused fun at Mitchell's vanity and enormous self-esteem, but we get the picture that, in her opinion at any rate, Mitchell actually is pretty f--ing amazing. Does our society have it in for women who want to be artists? Mitchell's encounter with the aged, reclusive Georgia O'Keeffe seems like a emblem of a certain baton-passing, as is Carly Simon's relationship with former First Lady Jackie Kennedy. Weller is OK about male-female relationships, but in this book at any rate she's more interested in the ways women deal with each other.

It's nearly a biography of five people, not just three, as there is so much about James Taylor you will never need to read another word about him if you have this book on your shelf; and for some reason there's tons of material about Judy Collins. I wonder if Weller proposed a book with King, Mitchell, Simon, and Collins, and some editorial board nixed the addition of Collins--but there was so much good material about Collins, Weller kept it in anyhow. She is the Vanity Fair writer supreme, whose motto is that no sentence is complete without some action and punch, and the best way to get that is to string along many words with hyphens to invent new forms of adjectival excitement. You won't be able to read for more than a few minutes without being hit on the head by Weller's mad stylings--here's a typical hyphenfilled sentence about the Eagles: "Their at-home-in-Death-Valley image and bleating-lost-boy-in-expensive-boots sound had become era-definingly successful." (Ten hyphens in a mere 20 words! Sheila Weller is era-definingly successful at inventing a new form of writing--like the classic circus act when a small VW would pull up to center ring and then clown after clown would prance out. Then more clowns--then still more. She's pretty amazing and GIRLS LIKE US is a book that, for all its flaws, convinces us roundly in its larger arguments and dazzles with its wide-ranging portraits of artistic life in the 50s, 60s and 70s.
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68 of 68 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Why Carole, Joni and Carly Still Matter, April 10, 2008
My immediate thought when I read this comprehensive three-fold biography was Allison Anders' evocative but episodic 1996 Grace of My Heart, a fictionalized biopic of Carole King's career in the 1960's. Similar to the approach taken with the movie, author Sheila Weller covers more than the music of the times but also the constraining era in which they all came of age. When King, Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon were growing up (they were born within four years of each other), women were either placed in traditional homemaker roles or relegated to a cultural abyss if they dared to pursue artistic professions. In an often dishy but nonetheless enlightening book, Weller does an admirable job surveying the times when these three singer-songwriters first emerged and crossed paths on their way to popular mainstream success.

Their backgrounds could not be more different. King was a middle-class Brooklyn native who grew up listening to classical music and Broadway show tunes, while Mitchell was a dyed-in-the-wool bohemian poet who moved from the Canadian prairies to Greenwich Village and later Laurel Canyon. Born in privilege to a family ensconced in publishing (Simon & Schuster), Simon was a rich girl who went the folk singer route with her older sister Lucy. Even though each persevered against the going mindset and managed professional success on a measured level (and in King's case, quite a portfolio of Brill Building hits co-written with first husband Gerry Goffin), each ultimately created a work that provided a turning point in their careers. King had 1971's mega-selling Tapestry, Mitchell had 1971's intensely personal Blue, and Simon had 1972's No Secrets featuring her signature song about a former lover, "You're So Vain". The author documents all this with relish and delves into the inspirations for their music.

The dishier parts of the book deal with the women's checkered love lives. King married four times, while Mitchell and Simon each went through a succession of liaisons that obviously shaped many of their compositions. Aside from the tawdry impact of Warren Beatty's legendary womanizing, James Taylor appears to be the common intersection as he befriended King (and turned her epochal song, "You've Got a Friend" into a Grammy Award-winning hit), had an extended affair with Mitchell and eventually married Simon for eleven turbulent, drug-filled years. However, all three have weathered the storm of their personal lives and the ever-changing tastes of the public to become grandmothers and songsmiths for another generation. Weller writes in true baby boomer fashion with an alternating sense of reverence and ribaldry about three icons deserving of such a tribute.
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67 of 73 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars It didn't have a good beat and I couldn't really dance to it, September 10, 2008
By 
D. Watson (Washington, DC) - See all my reviews
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I have never seen writing quite like this. Others have mentioned the mile-long sentences, the paranthetical digressions that rip apart sentences and paragraphs on almost every page and the general herky-jerky nature of the narrative. All true. But what really got to me were the author's strange use of strange new adverbs ("pioneeringly," "karmically," "welcomely," etc.) and the overuse of hyphenated composite adjectives. Surprisedly, I began keeping a list of these in-contemprary-American-English-unfound expressions. For some this might seem like nit-picking, but I don't think I've ever read a book in which the writing itself intruded so much on my experience of reading. By the time I was reading about "mountain-life-idled Carole," I was beginning to feel like "Weller-writing-addled" Daniel!

But it wasn't just the writing. Others have pointed out the excessive attention paid to who was sleeping with whom, and the fact that the author did not interview two of the main subjects of the book. The latter really is a problem and at times the book reads like a series of short biographies of people you have never heard of who had some passing acquaintance with one of the three subjects. In general, there is a lot of irrelevant information and I thought the author had an unfortunate tendency to name-drop. For example, in a book about these three women, you would expect to see attention paid to James Taylor. But why do we need to know that some other girlfriend of Taylor later went on to date Woody Allen and other celebrities? Who cares? Likewise, it seems like everyone mentioned in the book who went to Harvard - no matter how fleeting the reference or how irrelevant to the context - is identified as "Harvard educated." Now, I know there is a class and priviledge argument being made about Carly Simon, but who cares if the bass player who intruduced Carole King to some musician or other went to Harvard? You have the feeling that the first questions in every interview were: "What celebrities have you slept with?" and "Did you go to an Ivy League school?"

More fundamentally, though, the premise of the book is a little forced. The women are very different artists. Joni Mitchell was never a Top 40 hit-maker like Carly Simon and early-70's Carole King. When those two women were riding high on the charts, Mitchell was already artsy counter-culture by comparison. And the author does very little to explore her significance in popular music, relying instead on period reviews and cliches about Mitchell's career. A more interesting group of subjects would perhaps have been Laura Nyro, Mitchell and Rickie Lee Jones. But then the whole sex-partner overlap story would have been out the window.

For readers born after 1980, the book might make some interesting connections between pop music and wider cultural history. Otherwise, though, the cultural history here is pretty superficial. The 50s folk scene was dominated by men. Well, sure. The sexual revolution was a mixed blessing for women. Yep, read about that too.

Still, I read the book from beginning to end and was never seriously tempted to put it down. (If I hadn't been reading it on my Kindle, though, I would have thrown it across the room a few times!) Once I decided to take absolutely everything in it with a grain of salt, I just let it happen. My main interest was in Joni Mitchell and I think the treatment of her work was probably the weakest in the book. But I found the discussion of Carole King's environmental activism in Idaho surprising and quite interesting.

So, I cannot recommend that you not read it, but you should go into it with your eyes open.
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59 of 65 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent read, April 9, 2008
By 
James Peyton (columbia, sc United States) - See all my reviews
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I have read only the Carole King and Carly Simon sections of the book at this point, a singer per night. With the section on Carly Simon, the book seems more a compendium of information that I have read or heard in other books or in interviews with Simon herself. She has been pretty open about her life. With Carole King's chapters, the reader will finally get a chance to see more than the guarded persona that King to this day presents. She can be eloquent about the environment, relate the same stories about working in the Brill Building cubicles, or her fear of a bomb (herself) at her first Troubador act, but that is about all she has told in countless interviews over the last fifteen years with the release of City Streets and later albums. I was astounded at how troubled a life she has lead. Gerry Goffin, Rick Evers, and Rick Sorenson all took her down a different path of pain and depression, themes in her music she recently refused to acknowledge in a PBS interview (My music is about perservance..."You can do anything"). Only Charley Larkey comes off as being somewhat decent. I also do not agree with the writer's idea that Larkey was not a good musician. His bass playing was excellent and elemental in King's early records. Goffin comes off as a troubled, philandering, abusive, neglectful husband until Carole left him. He then became angry that she would have the nerve to do so. Luckily, without his lyrics, Carole wrote songs such as "Home Again," "So far away," and "You've Got a Friend;" and with Toni Stern, "It's too late." The section that is most disturbing is King's relationship with drug addict Rick Evers, a physically abusive sycophant, for whom Carole wrote "Golden Man." Weiler should have known that Carole started singing this in concerts in 1976 with the Thoroughbred tour but attibutes the song to Carole's fourth husband Rick Sorenson. Also in this book, are pages of Carole's ease with creating music, dealing with other musicians, and writing some of the most loved songs of the last fifty years, reflecting much more the pain and sorrow of her life than many of us could imagine. As my mother, a trained opera singer, said about Carole's music, "Even the happiest of her music has a thread of sadness." There's no wonder. If you're a Carole King fan, as I obviously am, the book is a great read.
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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Like filling up on salad . . ., May 21, 2010
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Being a hugh Carly Simon and Carole King "fan", I preordered this book and waited with anticipation for its release. To this day, I have yet to finish reading GIRLS LIKE US. It's kind of like reading the phone book---an endless list of names that often repeat---but with lots more errors. Weller's opinions and old friends' memories woven together into a tapestry full of holes. If you've got to read it, check it out of your local library. Don't waste the money. Or better yet, see if your local library has the audio version. Being tortured by someone else trying to sell this tale has to beat self-imposed torture by reading it yourself!
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52 of 58 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Sadly disappointing, July 31, 2008
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I have never written a "bad" review on Amazon-when I write a review I do so both to acknowledge the author's accomplishment and to alert other readers to a potentially enjoyable book.

So I debated quite a bit before writing this but I would hate to see others spend their money for this book without being forewarned.

What a great concept for a book!!!! For those of us who grew up in that era, a book about Joni, Carole and Carly is such a captivating subject. And the author clearly had done significant research not just in uncovering so much detail about the three singer songwriters but also truly capturing the era both from the perspective of the music scene and the changing role of women at that time in history.

Two factors, however, made this book the most difficult, unenjoyable reading experience that I have had in recent memory. First of all, the organization of the book was incredibly confusing and difficult to follow. Chapters jumped from person to person in the loosest of chronological order making following each women's story near impossible. I was constantly shifting back and forth trying to piece the information together in some logical pattern. Worse than the structure, though, was the actual writing. Sentences went on forever. Thoughts, references and opinions were jumbled together randomly with no apparent connection. Rather than finding the footnotes helpful, I found them distracting and incomplete. Where were the editors for this book? It is hard to imagine that this book was allowed to be released without someone questioning the convoluted, heavy writing and structure.

I brought this book on vacation so had several hours at a time to read. Frankly, it unfortunately became a chore rather than a pleasure but I was determined to finish and can report that not only did the book not improve, but the author rushed through the later years so quickly that I did not feel a sense of closure.

Truly a disappointment.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A pick..... with a dose of measured pan, April 12, 2008
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" Girls Like Us" seems to be striking a chord with those who lived through the turbulent, yet enlightening, times of the late 60s/early 70s. The stories of these three women seem ripe for regaling the generation who laughed, cried, and, most importantly, identified with the art produced by the subjects Shelia Weller explores. In my case, some of it happens to intrigue a Gen Xer who grew up listening to these women through my own discovery..... no college dorm room sing-alongs brought me to the alter of Joni Mitchell ( my favorite of the three), nor the undeniable talent of Carole King and Carly Simon. I sought them on my own, as an indivdual, not part of a movement.

Having said this, the status of being removed from the zeitgeist of the Boomers gives me an advantage and, perhaps, a disadvantage. I feel I can look at these artists with a more objective view than those who moved through life with them. On the flip, there is a definite disconnect between my understanding of the times, as I was not there, and the visceral knowledge brought to the book by the target audience.

Weller does a fantastic job of providing a historical backdrop for each story she tells. Motives, blow by blow accounts, tidbits that have escaped the pop culture pantheon, even though two out of three of these women ( Mitchell and Simon) have been turned inside out by the media, one of them courting it ( Simon) while the other one has avoided it at all costs ( Mitchell). New details are revealed, especially with the story of Carole King, a figure who has always generously shared her talent, yet remained detached from the media machine that is usually necessary for promoting one's work. Weiler obviously did her homework, uncovering elements of the stories we have not yet heard, although there is a fair amount of rehashing tales long ago plumbed by different outlets.

The real question, though , is not whether Weller did a good job in compiling a historical, documentary style book explaining these three women, their art and their personas. The answer to this question is, for the most part, yes. However, the bigger question is when will the public ever be able to separate their interest in the art from a fascination with the artist, seemingly needing to know the intimate details of their lives? It is interesting, I admit, to know who inspired what songs, what circumstances sparked the creation of a certain piece. Still, two of the three women explored here ( Mitchell and King) may take issue with some of the information that is now available for public consumption. I fear we cease to respect our artists when we have such voracious appetites for knowing every aspect of their personal lives. I am guilty of partaking, it's just a thought for us to consider as we devour the joys and tragedies of the talents we claim to honor.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Too Disjointed, No Flow, August 12, 2008
I was SO excited to get this book and took it on vacation to have a great read. WHAT a disappointment! The book is written in sections each dealing with the three women, but worse in each section there is a flood of somewhat related information that just simply gets in the way. While it is impressive that the author knew the backstory, she didn't really need to share it with the reader. I wanted the story of these women and how their lives shaped the music world and what it meant to women. The story is probably there somewhere, it was just too much work to find it.
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Anticipation: the Greatest Strength, July 24, 2008
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Anticipation: I looked forward to getting and reading this book. Unfortunately that was the highlight of the experience for me. I started reading it as soon as I got it but quickly became bogged down in trying to follow and make sense of the flow. I tried, I really tried. There were some interesting historical connections to the times and songs. They were just not enough to keep me reading.

As I read there were two great content issues that bothered me. First the stories of these great singer/songwriters were told through the eyes and words of friends, former lovers and husbands, and others. In the 93 pages I read, the only quotes from Carole, Joni, and Carly came from previous interviews in other publications. Maybe they were interviewed later in the book; I'll never know. It seemed like a series of National Enquirer articles. My second issue was a lack of understanding/exploration into the songs and music of each singer/songwriter. If these girls were like us, and this is a journey of a generation, what was behind the music?

In addition to the content issues the writing style was difficult to follow. I agree with other reviewers who compared it to riding in a car with someone who doesn't know how to drive stick shift or suggested you read every third chapter to string all the chapters about each together. I plan to follow another's lead and donate my book to the local library. Obviously there is something in this book that others like. I just couldn't hang in there to find it.
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Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon--and the Journey of a Generation
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