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Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon--And the Journey of a Generation Hardcover – April 8, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
The epic story of three generational icons, this triple biography from author and Glamour senior editor Weller (Dancing at Ciro’s) examines the careers of singer-songwriters Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon, whose success reflected, enervated and shaped the feminist movement that grew up with them. After short sketches of their early years, Weller begins in earnest with the 1960s, switching off among the women as their public lives begin. A time of extremes, the 60s found folk music and feminist cultures just beginning to define themselves, while the buttoned-down mainstream was still treating unwed pregnant women, in Mitchell’s terms, like you murdered somebody (thus the big, traditional wedding thrown for King, pregnant by songwriting partner Gerry Goffin, in 1959). Pioneering success in the music business led inevitably to similar roles in women’s movement, but Weller doesn’t overlook the content of their songs and the effect they have on a generation of women facing a lot more choice, but with no one to guide them. Taking readers in-depth through the late 80s, Weller brings the story up to date with a short but satisfying roundup. A must-read for any fan of these artists, this bio will prove an absorbing, eye-opening tour of rock (and American) history for anyone who’s appreciated a female musician in the past thirty years. B&w photos. (Apr.) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
"Captivating. A strong amalgam of nostalgia, feminist history, astute insight, beautiful music and irresistible gossip. Weller's grand ambition winds up fulfilled." -- Janet Maslin, The New York Times
"Let's get one thing clear right from the start -- this is a fabulous book...Girls like Us unfolds with drama and panoramic detail. Written with a keen journalistic and, more importantly, female eye, [it] works as a healthy, long overdue counterweight to the endlessly repeated, male-sided version of rock 'n roll. Before these women broke the cultural sod during the rock 'n roll years, there were no girls like us. Now there are millions." -- Caitlin Moran, London Sunday Times
"Even at 500-plus pages, the book goes down as easy as a Grisham yarn on a vacation flight... The only flaw to Girls Like Us is that it comes to an end. Few people lead lives as action-packed and spiritually opulent as Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon did during such intensely interesting times. And few writers are able to impart so much freight with such vigor. The towering triumvirate got what it deserves." -- The Toronto Sun
"A page-turner of the first order....a must read." -- The Boston Globe
"As an avid music reader, sometime reviewer, and teen of the '60s myself, I was sure I knew just about everything there was to know about Carole, Joni, and Carly.... But Girls Like Us, an ambitious collective biography by six-time author and magazine journalist Sheila Weller, showed me exactly how much I didn't know. This absorbing, well-reported book chronicles a time when women in all walks of life were exercising new-found freedom. And as icons of that era, nobody did it better." -- Christian Science Monitor
"Both scholarly and dishy. A superb journalist, Weller has managed to uncover a trove of unreported facts on her subjects." -- People **** (Pick of the Week)
"When we were little, and someone said, `I love chocolate pudding," there was always some nutball who'd ask, "Do you want to marry it?' Well, I love Sheila Weller's Girls Like Us so much that I would marry it. This lush, beautifully-researched and lyrically written biography of the three women whose music was emblematic of the generation who pioneered the way for me and so many others is literate, bold, charming and ... cuddly....[E]very page brought a fresh surprise. Weller raised the bar for this book above even a classy celebrity bio... This book probably gave me more pure enjoyment than any but a handful I've read in years. If you're passionate about music -- and about passion -- you'll have to hand it to Sheila Weller for a bravura composition of her own." --Jacquelyn Mitchard the bestselling author of Still Summer, Cage of Stars, and the first Oprah Book Club selection, The Deep End of the Ocean, on WritersAsReaders.com
"Incisive, painstakingly researched...Any woman who grew up during the late 1960s and '70s will fall head over heels for Sheila Weller's Girls Like Us." -- Ladies Home Journal
"A sharp-eyed vision of the worlds which nourished these ambitious, determined and singular artists...Weller digs deep into [Joni Mitchell's] complex psychology and provides as close to an understanding of this difficult figure as anyone is likely to ever offer. An unfailingly entertaining read...a riveting story." -- Mojo
"Juicy... I doubt I'll listen to Mitchell's songs again without considering the child she gave up for adoption... and her subsequent bouts with depression or hear the oft-married King's music without thinking of her tumultuous relationships. As for Simon, Weller captures fully both the richness and glamour of her romantic life and the profound sensitivity that made her especially vulnerable to ex-husband James Taylor's drug abuse and the cavalier charm of Warren Beatty." - USA Today
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Other reviewers have induced gales of laughter calling out Weller's stylistic idiosyncrasies. While she maintains a zippy pace and sometimes has good insights, she writes many long sentences filled with hyphen-linked-adjective-chain descriptions (and parenthetical asides), and *footnote references into which she drops yet more names that she couldn't quite figure out how to shoehorn into the main text, which can leave a was-that-really-necessary taste in the reader's mouth (and speaking of taste, one of Carly's favorite restaurants was Elaine's, where she would lunch with Mia Farrow, who lost touch with Carly when she stated dating Woody Allen). Moving on . . .
In spite of the inconsistent writing, I think most women of a certain age will find "Girls Like Us" as much fun to read as I did, at least until the end. Weller brings her subjects' childhoods to life and carries them along the road to fame, reporting in sometimes excruciating detail their bad choices in men and their resultant heartbreaks. I am no expert but Weller also seems to know enough about music that, without too much technical detail, she can explain to the lay reader why the songs worked as well as they did. You come to feel like you know Mitchell and Simon. King is more enigmatic as a person but gets involved in some interesting environmental activism.
These women were all pioneers in claiming creative and personal autonomy among male contemporaries who had been brought up expecting women to be old-school and who called wives and girlfriends their "old ladies." They achieved dizzying levels of professional respect and material success. But among them they have eight failed marriages, and today their music is relegated to oldies stations. Maybe they are more content than Weller lets on. But you will find no happy denouement to lives lived in the brave, crazy fast lane in "Girls Like Us."
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.