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Brain candy for boomer women (and the men who want to understand them)
on 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."
Consider this: In 1960, H.W. Janson's "History of Art" --- the standard textbook --- cited 2,300 artists.
How many were female?
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.