Monday, August 23, 2010

Book Review: "Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon-- and the Journey of a Generation"

One of my summer reads, another Kindle book, was Sheila Weller's "Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon-- and the Journey of a Generation." It had sparked my interest since I read the reviews upon its release a couple of years ago. All three women have written and performed songs I love dearly.

Weller's chief accomplishments in writing this book were two-fold. First, she kept a rather complicated narrative comprehensible-- the women's lives, and loves, overlapped and diverged, and Weller does a terrific job keeping the three sometimes intertwining stories clear. Secondly, she does an admirable job relating the three women's personal stories to their art and vice versa.

Along the way, there are fascinating little tidbits. I won't give too many spoilers, but I loved discovering that one of my favorite Joni Mitchell songs, "Coyote," was about playwright/actor Sam Shepard. I also had never known that Ms. Mitchell paired off with Leonard Cohen and Jackson Browne at different times in the sixties, or that she had dated James Taylor, attending one of Carly Simon's first solo shows with him.

Ms. Weller discusses Carly Simon's song "You're So Vain" at length, and who it could be about. Amusingly, Warren Beatty, who Simon had had a fling with (as had Joni Mitchell), was actually so vain that he did think the song was about him. Recent speculation is that the song is about music mogul David Geffen, who reportedly ignored Ms. Simon at a show in favor of Ms. Mitchell. Mitchell did write a song about Geffen-- it's public knowledge that "Free Man In Paris" is about him.

Carole King's journey is fascinating and sometimes painful to read about. King starts out young in the game with her husband and song-writing partner Gerry Coffin, producing a breath-taking list of songs that are considered rock and roll classics, and of course her own amazing "Tapestry" album. In her personal life, she endured Coffin's mental illness and brazen infidelity-- he had an affair with and fathered a child with Cookies singer Jeanie McCrea at a time when interracial relationships were very uncommon-- and some disastrous relationships and marriages. Eventually, though, King out came up on top, continuing to produce great music and even collaborating with her ex-husband.

"Girls Like Us" worked for me on every level-- as a music lover, a lover of history and a plain old gossip-hound. I suspect the book really was written for other women, but as a guy, particularly a guy who adores the music produced by these three women, I loved it too. Highly recommended.


Suze said...

Don't you just love your Kindle? I got mine for Christmas and it's one of the best gifts I've ever received. Although its WAY TOO easy to buy books.

Churlita said...

I don't normally read non-fiction, but that sounds like perfect Summer reading. How fascinating.

SkylersDad said...

This sounds like a great read, and has 3 of my favorite singers in it!

Gwen said...

If you like the book, get a load of this new website that Sheila Weller is involved with. You can listen to the music mentioned in the book. It's got lots of cool photos too. Thought you might want to know.