Celebrating Seniors – Carly Simon Turns 70 – 1/3
Carly Simon: Overcoming Stuttering, The Simon Sisters & Going Solo – Part 1 of 3
Featuring 3 vintage Carly Simon live music videos Wynken, Blynken & Nod (The Simon Sisters, 1964), That’s The Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be (1971) and Anticipation (1971).
(Carly Simon Photo: Alan Light | Flickr Some rights reserved)
Contralto singer/songwriter Carly Simon was born June 25, 1945 (an early baby boomer baby) in New York City to wealthy parents with diverse cultural, literary and musical backgrounds. Her German Jewish father Richard Simon was a pianist and co-founder of Simon & Schuster, the publishing company. Mom Andrea was a singer (and civil rights activist) with a Swiss German-Jewish and Spanish-Catholic background. Along with her older sisters (former opera singer Joanna b,. 1940; Lucy B. 1943) and younger brother Peter (b. 1947, a photographer), the Simon family summered on Martha’s Vineyard and the children were exposed to their wealthy parents diverse friends and New York City luminaries – lyricist Oscar Hammerstein and composer Richard Rodgers, writer and poet Max Eastman, journalist James Thurber, to name a few.
Carly Simon turned to songwriting and singing to overcome her stutter, which had started when she was 6. “I felt so strangulated talking that I did the natural thing, which is to write songs, because I could sing without stammering, as all stammerers can.” She started having anxiety attacks when she was 12, perhaps brought on by stress over worry about her father (he’d had a heart attack a couple of years earlier) and upon learning from her sisters that her parents didn’t love each other.
After her father died (July 1960), 15 year old Carly Simon fell in love with 18 year old budding novelist and Harvard student Nick Delbanco. In a 1978 People Magazine interview, Simon said that her stutter cleared up at age 16 when she began steadily dating a boy “who showed me it was charming and not so loathsome.” Nick Delbanco and Carly Simon dated for several years and lived together during the summers when not in school.
Although the stutter is gone and she has seen therapists for most of her life, Carly Simon has always struggled with depression, anxiety and stage fright so severe that she rarely performs in public. She told The Telegraph: “
When I’m feeling anxious or depressed, I do find it helps to reach for a pen and paper. There is something about writing things down, that hand-eye combination, that makes me feel calmer.”
In 1963 when she was 18, Carly Simon met Livingston Taylor, whose family – like the Simon’s – had summered on Martha’s Vineyard since the 1950’s. According to a 2006 interview of Livingston Taylor by Joan Anderman for The New York Times, Livingston Taylor was 6 years younger that Carly, but they formed a singing duo. Although Livingston had an older brother, James, who was also musical, Carly Simon and James Taylor didn’t meet until almost 8 years later.
Dropping out of Sarah Lawrence College to pursue music, Carly Simon and her sister Lucy formed the folk duo The Simon Sisters and released a first album Meet The Simon Sisters, which had the small hit single Wynken, Blynken and Nod (1964). Below, The Simon Sisters performing Wynken, Blynken and Nod on Hootenany in 1964.
Carly Simon and Nick Delbanco broke up that summer, and Carly moved to London, England where she met William Donaldson, a “perverted” producer and writer. In 1965 Simon was 20; Donaldson was 31, and had been living with actress Sarah Miles. William Donaldson left Miles to move in with Carly and they got engaged; 3 months later, he jilted her and went back to Sarah Miles. Donaldson has said of Carly Simon: “The answer to any sane man’s prayers; funny, quick, erotic, extravagantly talented.” Carly stated “I was madly in love….after he broke my heart I couldn’t regain my interest in men for four years.”
This was not strictly true, as according to her biography, Carly Simon dated guitarist Danny Armstrong from 1968-1969. A serial romantic, her interest in men was revived and she began a series of love affairs that would deeply influence her music lyrics and her life. In 1969 The Simon Sisters broke up; Lucy Simon had gotten married (today she composes for Broadway musicals), and Carly snagged a role as an auditioning singer in the big-screen movie Taking Off.
Carly Simon went solo and signed with Elektra Records in 1970. Her first solo album Carly Simon came out in early 1971 and included her top-ten hit That’s The Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be. Below, Carly singing That’s The Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be in Central Park in 1971.
1971 was a watershed year for Carly Simon. To promote the Carly Simon album, she opened for Cat Stevens at the Los Angeles Troubador club on April 6, 1971 – a fateful night. Backstage she also met singer James Taylor, whose music she had admired since going solo in 1970; his guitarist, Russ Kunkel, had performed with her on stage.
When Cat Stevens and Carly Simon flew home to New York after the Troubador concerts, they dated (very) briefly. Her hit song Anticipation was quickly written by Simon while waiting for Cat Stevens to pick her up one night for a date. Below, 26-year-old Carly singing Anticipation in Central Park in 1971.