GIRLS LIKE US: CAROLE KING, JONI MITCHELL, CARLY SIMON AND THE JOURNEY OF A GENERATION by Sheila Weller (Atria), 584 pages, $32 cloth. Rating: NNNN
If you have any taste in music, you’ll wonder how anyone could breathe the name of Carly Simon in the same breath as Joni Mitchell and Carole King.
But Vogue and Vanity Fair journalist Sheila Weller’s thorough and well-written triple biography is less an attempt to put these singer/songwriters on the same artistic plane than it is to connect them to key moments in contemporary women’s history. Each of these pop stars, she says, represents an era.
King came out of the 50s. She was pregnant at 17, got married, but still hammered out hit after hit – including Up On The Roof and One Fine Day – with husband/lyricist Gerry Goffin. She brought her kids with her to the Brill Building studio.
Mitchell was the counterculture queen and wrote the anthem Woodstock. Simon arose from America’s nascent feminism, making artistic hay out of the adage that the personal is political.
It’s a fascinating thesis, strengthened by deep research and fresh insights, particularly about Mitchell. Weller makes a strong case that Mitchell’s love life, work and personal pain stemmed from her decision to give up A child at age 21.
Some themes cross over. Boyfriends had problems with female success. When King broke off from Goffin and went on to record Tapestry, one of the best-selling albums of all time, Goffin went nuts.
Mitchell was slightly more fortunate. Graham Nash, for example, knew she was more gifted than he but couldn’t stop his cohorts from diminishing her achievements.
And Simon’s husband, James Taylor – who’s a theme in himself, important to all three women – could not handle the fact that her career was ascending, thanks to You’re So Vain, just as his was tanking.
Weller writes as much about the times as she does about the women who defined them, making this a fascinating read for any pop culture vulture.
P.S. Don’t worry, Laura Nyro gets her due, too.