Jan 192012

It’s no secret that, like a lot of young teenage boys in the early-to-mid-1970s, I found Carly Simon hot. Although I never cared much for any of her songs beside the outstanding “You’re So Vain” and, OK, I’ll admit it, her duet with James Taylor on “Mockingbird,” there was a sense of anticipation over the release of each new album cover. With her XL smile; sleepy eyes; soft, flowing fabrics; a flexible, acrobatic posture; and a soap operatic personal life Simon was rock’s safe-as-matzo Jewish American Princess. She wasn’t tangled up in that smelly CSNY crowd, like Joni Mitchell. She wasn’t a practitioner of witchcraft, like Stevie Nicks. She made no claims to being “one of the boys,” like Linda Rondstadt. Carly was all woman, more like one of my Mom’s younger waitressing friends than a rock star yet not half as square as a Barbra Streisand, who couldn’t manage an acute angle alongside renegade Kris Kristofferson. For a middle-class boy venturing into the world of sexual longing and rock ‘n roll, she was as pervasive and only mildly daring as a woman’s subscription to Cosmopolitan.

As I got into my later teens and became both more judgmental and daring, the mid-’70s appeal of Carly rapidly diminished. By 1981, when the likes of Debbie Harry and Exene were my maturing notions of rock womanhood, I had no idea the following video ever existed, of a song called “Vengeance,” which thankfully I don’t recall ever hearing. Talk about an ultimate rock soft-on. Let’s examine the moments that would have immediately spelled the end of my young lust for Carly, had I not already been heading in that direction.

In-depth analysis…after the jump!

Captain Carly

0:00–0:13: This video’s director manages to capture Carly Simon and her all-star studio backing band in a rapid-fire sequence that screams, “Cheese alert!” If the peppy piano player and Chia Pet-like drummer Steve Gadd, clad in what looks like a maroon velour sweatsuit don’t scare you, in struts a wind-blown Captain Carly, wearing a low-cut, high-waisted peach ensemble, followed by a jump to the remarkably adaptable bassist/Chapman stick master Tony Levin, wearing white suspenders. Carly’s “confident” over-the-shoulder stare at the 12-second mark explains why this fine-looking woman was not able to crossover into an acting career.

0:34–0:37: Thankfully the camera pulls back from Carly’s Cheshire Cat mouth just at the point when she leans over to remove the Captain’s hat and flip back her mane, Rita Hayworth-style. Now, perhaps, the trace of teenage boy still left in me can focus on the humble joys of just-post-prime Carly Simon. 

A hair-raising sequence.

0:45–1:00: Free from the Captain’s hat, Carly enters a hair-raising, Farrah-inspired sequence. Strong stuff that’s offset by another brief cut to the chrome-domed Levin. The music is still terrible, mind you, but that barely factored into my initial 13-year-old interest in this artist. Anyhow, without knowing or even thinking I remember any of the details of Simon’s 1983 split from Sweet Baby James, I sense this video was constructed by Carly and her director as an act of pre-separation empowerment. To establish her credibility as a “real musician” she has surrounded herself with the finest studio cats money could buy. Is it any coincidence that her next long-term relationship following JT was Gadd’s rival for studio drumming, the more easygoing Russ Kunkel? (I can imagine Simon first having made a play in vain for Gadd, a studio musician whose monk-like devotion to his craft enabled him to develop his signature “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover” drum roll.) “Who’s Captain, now?” she seems to be saying.

High five!

1:10–1:43: Shot almost entirely in profile, this sequence is meant to let you know that Carly’s not only Captain of this ship but the the masthead. The keyboardist/boatswain of this vessel rears up to provide backing vocals. After punctuating a line with a raised hand and a fierce stare Carly allows herself to break a smile as she turns to congratulate her rhythm section for helping her navigate this difficult course. The sense of accomplishment expressed by the rhythm section is mutual and palpable.

1:50: A glimpse of Carly’s black bra is evident, putting the viewer in touch with his inner 13 year old.


2:05–2:23: Carly suddenly appears with an awkwardly held, strapless Gibson SG to rip out a solo?!?! This is a video; why didn’t someone first think to yell Cut! and get her strapped into that bad boy? Now, as I imagine I may have felt had I seen this video when it first aired, I am confused and distracted by competing thoughts regarding her technique, her sudden resemblance to Angus Young, and how all this colors her unique place in Rock Womanhood. To her credit she chose not to holster.

2:24–3:25: Carly begins pumping her arms and doing a not-so-appealing hip sway. Thinking back to the supreme sense of satisfaction provided by her Rita Hayworth-referencing hair flip, I now fear the converse, the extreme sense of disappointment in a—there it is, at the 3:12 markThanks for those dance lessons, Mom! white-girl dance routine. As with Hayworth in Gilda, the dance sequence works like Kryptonite against the powers of the hair toss.

"Hold it...4, 5, 6..."

3:26–end: Carly grabs the mic off the stand and drives home the end of this song with everything she’s got, with Gadd pounding freely in ways his best-known employer named Simon, Paul, would not allow. The final pose Carly holds for a full 6 seconds is somewhat disturbing, confirming that the present-day me is glad the 13-year-old me is a boy of the distant past.


  20 Responses to “RTH Confessional: Carly Simon’s “Vengeance””

  1. While I admire your honesty about the way you viewed female artists as a youngster (and very glad that it hasn’t at all affected your current outlook), it should be pointed out that Carly was as much a part of the feminist movement as Joni: see Sheila Wheeler’s Girls Like Us.

    I have an image of you returning in time to tell your 13 year old former self this–and wacky hijinks (ala Back to the Future) ensuing.

  2. hrrundivbakshi

    What are you talking about?! That song is full-on Mick Jagger solo album quality!

    The guitar solo section is astonishing.

  3. Forget Carly, in that Angus picture that you linked to, is he playing a plexiglass SG???

  4. Never mind. Upon closer inspection, it’s just a drawing.

  5. misterioso

    W-w-waiiit a minute: before I can get on with this, you got some serious explaining to do about any fondness you have or had for “Mockingbird.” “You’re So Vain,” no problem; shoot, I can live with “Anticipation” or even “That’s the Way I Always Heard it Should Be” or “Nobody Does It Better,” as long as I don’t have to hear them more than once every few years. But “Mockingbird”? Good God, man, you have a lot to atone for.

  6. I was, what, 10 or 11 years old when that was a hit. I found the give and take fascinating. It’s rooted in pinky rock and has one of those melodies that barely stray from the pinky rock notes (ie, the 5th, 6th, and root), like my beloved “Do It Again.” I’m a big sucker for songs structured in that humble way. I would probably like the song today if it was a new single. Sorry, man, there’s no ducking the RTH Confessional.

  7. misterioso

    As much as I’m not a fan, all in all I think this clip shows her in a better light, in all senses: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ux7HgO9QhAc&feature=related Lip readers, can someone tell me what George Harrison is saying to Art Garfunkel at the beginning of this? I think it’s either “I always thought you were the really talented one” or “Yowza, check out the gams on Carly Simon.”

  8. misterioso

    Brother, you don’t need a confessional, you need an exorcism. Satan, I cast thee out!

  9. Happiness Stan

    Which reminds me that the ex of whom I wrote on the Laura Nyro thread the other day also owned Carly Simon’s Anticipation album. I already owned a best of Carly Simon album, which I bought for two reasons: that it had “You’re So Vain” on it, and because it had a really good photo of her on the sleeve.

    I’d add “Why” to “YSV” to complete the list of Carly Simon songs which I can listen to with pleasure, I like her voice but the songs just don’t cut it for me.

  10. I can only get behind one song and two or three of the album covers, but as I see it, that should be enough for her to get into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

  11. 2000 Man

    I don’t think I listen to any of Carly’s songs when they come on the radio these days. I remember my little brother having You’re So Vain on a 45, and he asked quizzed me about the very first words in the song (she mumbles “son of a gun” right at the very beginning, and you never hear that on the radio cuz the DJ is still talking). I like looking at her more than listening to her.

    The beginning of this song is pretty weird. “I can smell the passion of another man on your breath?”


  12. tonyola

    “Mockingbird” as originally performed by Inez & Charlie Fox is not bad at all.

    Now take that charmingly warm soul song and put it in the cold, clammy hands of would-be rock royalty James and Carly. Can you imagine two major performers with less groove and soul than these schmucks?

  13. I thought the guitar solo was a bit dubious but right around 3:00 Carly runs both hands through her hair and you see she’s got long nails on the right and none on the left. Even if she was syncing for the video, she definitely could play the solo. Still kinda hot.

  14. Good catch on the nails!

  15. I liked her “No Secrets” album cover.

    I am pretty sure she put out an album on the defunct Starbucks “Hear Music” label — and did the public radio interview rounds — her voice is shot. I think she ended up suing Starbucks because they pulled the plug on the label right after they released her CD.

  16. tonyola

    That bit of nipple-show on the No Secrets album cover was pretty daring stuff in 1972.

  17. jeangray

    Who knew she was a Guitar Gawd??? Really.

  18. Come on! This video is STILL hot!

  19. tonyola

    I’ve never gotten too excited about Carly in any way – positive or negative. I thought “That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be” was a better-than-average ballad when it came out on AM radio but her later singles pretty much drifted through my consciousness without taking root. One notable exception – the I-have-a rhyming-dictionary-too “yacht/apricot/gavotte” rhyme in “You’re So Vain” and how she force-fitted “Nova Scotia” and “total eclipse” into one line. I also wonder if she still sees clouds in her coffee.

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