From their very disparate backgrounds (middle-class Brooklyn, rural Saskatchewan, and sophisticated New York), they jointly pioneered the idea of the artist-adventurer.Carole King’s semi-autobiographical 1960 composition “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” co-written with her first husband, Gerry Goffin, was the earliest pop song in which a single woman expressed sexual self-awareness and the first-ever No. It became the song of the year as John Kennedy was sworn in as president.
During that wedge of time when it was just as unfashionable to believe in monogamy as it is now to believe in fossil-fuel emission, Carly was the “It girl”: classy, smart, mischievous, the sexiest woman at the party.
From her first hit—about a privileged woman’s desire to avoid the trap of marriage—to her instant classic “You’re So Vain,” which made feminism wickedly fun (and proved that one bad line, “clouds in my coffee,” could be more memorable than a thousand good ones), to the wry wisdom in her late-80s , she spoke for all those witty-but-needy urbane women negotiating with the Frankenstein monster they’d created, raised consciousness. Her friendships with Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Bill and Hillary Clinton, William and Rose Styron, and Mike Nichols and Diane Sawyer—all members of her natural social milieu—thrust her well beyond the rock world she’d once conquered and continued to inhabit.
In an excerpt from her new book, Sheila Weller looks back at the passions and heartbreak that inspired their greatest hits, with a list of male muses such as David Crosby, Leonard Cohen, Cat Stevens, James Taylor, Warren Beatty, and Mick Jagger.
Carole King, Joni Mitchell, and Carly Simon were born in the early and middle 1940s, came of age in the late 1960s, and became important singer-songwriters when that concept was in its infancy.
They came of age—and to music stardom—in the 60s and 70s: Carole King, the sensual Earth Mother; Joni Mitchell, the bohemian risktaker; and Carly Simon, the glamorous iconoclast.
Today they are activists, role models, grandmothers.It jump-started King’s string of urban elegies—chiefly “Up on the Roof”—which were among a group of mainstream hits providing average white kids with an atmospheric echo of the civil-rights movement.Ten years later, in 1971—as a divorced mother of two, getting younger as she got older (as one could do only back then)—she produced her masterpiece album, It would stand as one of the biggest-selling, Grammy-sweeping albums of the decade and would form a soundtrack for an era when, in the shell-shocked wake of rock-world excess and political assassinations, people rebounded to harmony, communality, and earnestness.Most recently, with her blunt criticism of American culture and the record industry, and her unapologetic self-regard, she’s become that grand thing, rare in our publicist-mediated society: the outspoken dame, afraid of no one.Carly Simon, ensconced among friends and siblings who were novelists, opera singers, art critics, cultural essayists, and therapists, came to embody what women were becoming in the early 70s—discerning feminists bold sensualists.She wrote, in “Woodstock,” the national anthem of her generation’s most historic gathering, and she named the archetype—the lady of the canyon—for female countercultural glamour.