Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon--and the Journey of a Generation Paperback – Apr 14 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Weller's cultural history of the titans of women in rock in the 1970s details the artistic, sexual and symbolic twists and turns of Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon in careful, loving detail. Susan Ericksen reads like one of the girls, picking up from Weller's tone and sounding like a woman of the era, besotted with the music and with the sense of boundaries being broken and glass ceilings smashed. While Ericksen occasionally slips, pronouncing words incorrectly and stumbling over unwieldy sentences, her performance is, for the most part, very solid. Weller's book is ambitious and wide-ranging, but Ericksen keeps its story tight and engaging. An Atria hardcover (reviewed online). (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
"Captivating. A strong amalgam of nostalgia, feminist history, astute insight, beautiful music and irresistible gossip. Weller's grand ambition winds up fulfilled." -- Janet Maslin, The New York Times
"Let's get one thing clear right from the start -- this is a fabulous book...Girls like Us unfolds with drama and panoramic detail. Written with a keen journalistic and, more importantly, female eye, [it] works as a healthy, long overdue counterweight to the endlessly repeated, male-sided version of rock 'n roll. Before these women broke the cultural sod during the rock 'n roll years, there were no girls like us. Now there are millions." -- Caitlin Moran, London Sunday Times
"Even at 500-plus pages, the book goes down as easy as a Grisham yarn on a vacation flight... The only flaw to Girls Like Us is that it comes to an end. Few people lead lives as action-packed and spiritually opulent as Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon did during such intensely interesting times. And few writers are able to impart so much freight with such vigor. The towering triumvirate got what it deserves." -- The Toronto Sun
"A page-turner of the first order....a must read." -- The Boston Globe
"As an avid music reader, sometime reviewer, and teen of the '60s myself, I was sure I knew just about everything there was to know about Carole, Joni, and Carly.... But Girls Like Us, an ambitious collective biography by six-time author and magazine journalist Sheila Weller, showed me exactly how much I didn't know. This absorbing, well-reported book chronicles a time when women in all walks of life were exercising new-found freedom. And as icons of that era, nobody did it better." -- Christian Science Monitor
"Both scholarly and dishy. A superb journalist, Weller has managed to uncover a trove of unreported facts on her subjects." -- People **** (Pick of the Week)
"When we were little, and someone said, `I love chocolate pudding," there was always some nutball who'd ask, "Do you want to marry it?' Well, I love Sheila Weller's Girls Like Us so much that I would marry it. This lush, beautifully-researched and lyrically written biography of the three women whose music was emblematic of the generation who pioneered the way for me and so many others is literate, bold, charming and ... cuddly....[E]very page brought a fresh surprise. Weller raised the bar for this book above even a classy celebrity bio... This book probably gave me more pure enjoyment than any but a handful I've read in years. If you're passionate about music -- and about passion -- you'll have to hand it to Sheila Weller for a bravura composition of her own." --Jacquelyn Mitchard the bestselling author of Still Summer, Cage of Stars, and the first Oprah Book Club selection, The Deep End of the Ocean, on WritersAsReaders.com
"Incisive, painstakingly researched...Any woman who grew up during the late 1960s and '70s will fall head over heels for Sheila Weller's Girls Like Us." -- Ladies Home Journal
"A sharp-eyed vision of the worlds which nourished these ambitious, determined and singular artists...Weller digs deep into [Joni Mitchell's] complex psychology and provides as close to an understanding of this difficult figure as anyone is likely to ever offer. An unfailingly entertaining read...a riveting story." -- Mojo
"Juicy... I doubt I'll listen to Mitchell's songs again without considering the child she gave up for adoption... and her subsequent bouts with depression or hear the oft-married King's music without thinking of her tumultuous relationships. As for Simon, Weller captures fully both the richness and glamour of her romantic life and the profound sensitivity that made her especially vulnerable to ex-husband James Taylor's drug abuse and the cavalier charm of Warren Beatty." - USA Today
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I'm not kidding. It's that good. And that addictive.
Just read the opening section about 14-year-old Carole Klein, sitting with her friend Camille Cacciatore as they leaf through the Brooklyn phone book in search of a name. Kick...Kiel...Klip. How about King? Yeah, King. And then it was off to Camille's house, where the choice was spaghetti-and-meatballs or peppers-and-onions.
Anyone can use clips and rumor to write about the famous. Sheila Weller puts you in the room. Her methods are exhaustive journalism --- she's written six books, she's won prizes, she's the real deal --- and empathy. So the path from nowhere to immortality for King, Mitchell and Simon is an epic tale, and Weller's scope is vast --- to track "the journey of a generation." Only on the surface is this a book about music, and who makes it, and how, and why. The bigger subject, the better subject, is how women found their way in their professional and personal lives, 1960-now. So, for Weller, these stories are about "a course of self-discovery, change, and unhappy confrontation with the limits of change."
Consider this: In 1960, H.W. Janson's "History of Art" --- the standard textbook --- cited 2,300 artists.
How many were female?
That's the culture these women were entering. Women as decorative armpieces. As silent helpers. Sexual objects. And uncomplaining victims.
Each of these women fought that culture. Not because she wanted to --- simply out of biography and necessity. Joan Anderson gets polio as a kid, and her creativity is pushed inward. Carly Simon may be the daughter of one of the founders of Simon & Schuster, but in her case "privileged" refers mostly to her father, who banished his kids from his sight when he came home from work. Carol King writes hits with a kid in her lap.
There's delicious dish in these pages. Sailing to New York on the U.S.S. United States, Sean Connery propositioning both Carly and her sister Lucy. [Lucy accepted his offer --- alone.] Carole meeting the Beatles. [They were thrilled.] Joni being spanked by her husband and, later, getting smacked around by Jackson Browne. Carly getting it on in cabs, under a bridge in Central Park, and, minutes after meeting James Taylor, in a bathroom.
Everyone of import in the history of rock appears in these pages. Men come and go, most of them hideously inappropriate. And then there's the --- shall we say --- cross-pollination. Give James Taylor the sword of gold; he befriended King and did a lot more with Mitchell and Simon. Messy stuff, all of it, and revealing about the way relationships play out in the superstar set. My favorite moment: decades after "You're So Vain", Warren Beatty came up --- and on --- to Carly at the Carlyle Hotel. "What are you doing in town?" he asked. "Seeing my oncologist," said Carly, who was then afflicted with cancer. Guess Warren's reaction.
They're grandmothers now. Hard to believe. I still want to see them as they were --- young and shiny, the future rich in possibility. This book charts the price they paid, the pain and the foolishness. It's a splendid chance for women of a certain age --- and the men who love them --- to look back and grid their own lives over these years.
Which makes for a terrific beach book.
The cryptic one remains Carole King, whom Weller just can't illuminate in any meaningful way. Her life was amazing--up to a point, then it stopped being of any interest at all, which is a shame. We hear again and again how she wrote all those Brill Building masterpieces before she was 21, and broke down under the strain of a troubled marriage to a high-stakes husband and lyricist, Gerry Goffin, coming out the other end with an LP. Tapestry, that everyone loved. Then what happened? Bad men galore, attracted to her wealth. She once estimated that every time she divorced a man, it cost her a million dollars. Weller gives us all the facts ad nauseam but we always wonder, why did King do this to herself?
Carly Simon, on the other hand, who cooperated with Weller extensively or so it seems, comes off as nearly normal. Of the upper, upper middle class, Simon was to the manor born and the icy, plangent chords of her first song, "That's the Way I Always Heard It Should Be," gave notice that the old New Yorker fiction writers of the 40s and 50s hadn't died, they had just rolled over and told Carly Simon the news. Though obviously spoiled and cosseted by her own wealth, Simon doesn't seem spoiled; her reactions throughout, even meeting and marrying the drug-zombie James Taylor, are always understandable and sympathetic.
Joni Mitchell isn't sympathetic per se, but she has the integrated personality of the genius totally in love with herself and obsessed with her own reflection, so she's great in a special way. Weller pokes amused fun at Mitchell's vanity and enormous self-esteem, but we get the picture that, in her opinion at any rate, Mitchell actually is pretty f--ing amazing. Does our society have it in for women who want to be artists? Mitchell's encounter with the aged, reclusive Georgia O'Keeffe seems like a emblem of a certain baton-passing, as is Carly Simon's relationship with former First Lady Jackie Kennedy. Weller is OK about male-female relationships, but in this book at any rate she's more interested in the ways women deal with each other.
It's nearly a biography of five people, not just three, as there is so much about James Taylor you will never need to read another word about him if you have this book on your shelf; and for some reason there's tons of material about Judy Collins. I wonder if Weller proposed a book with King, Mitchell, Simon, and Collins, and some editorial board nixed the addition of Collins--but there was so much good material about Collins, Weller kept it in anyhow. She is the Vanity Fair writer supreme, whose motto is that no sentence is complete without some action and punch, and the best way to get that is to string along many words with hyphens to invent new forms of adjectival excitement. You won't be able to read for more than a few minutes without being hit on the head by Weller's mad stylings--here's a typical hyphenfilled sentence about the Eagles: "Their at-home-in-Death-Valley image and bleating-lost-boy-in-expensive-boots sound had become era-definingly successful." (Ten hyphens in a mere 20 words! Sheila Weller is era-definingly successful at inventing a new form of writing--like the classic circus act when a small VW would pull up to center ring and then clown after clown would prance out. Then more clowns--then still more. She's pretty amazing and GIRLS LIKE US is a book that, for all its flaws, convinces us roundly in its larger arguments and dazzles with its wide-ranging portraits of artistic life in the 50s, 60s and 70s.
Their backgrounds could not be more different. King was a middle-class Brooklyn native who grew up listening to classical music and Broadway show tunes, while Mitchell was a dyed-in-the-wool bohemian poet who moved from the Canadian prairies to Greenwich Village and later Laurel Canyon. Born in privilege to a family ensconced in publishing (Simon & Schuster), Simon was a rich girl who went the folk singer route with her older sister Lucy. Even though each persevered against the going mindset and managed professional success on a measured level (and in King's case, quite a portfolio of Brill Building hits co-written with first husband Gerry Goffin), each ultimately created a work that provided a turning point in their careers. King had 1971's mega-selling Tapestry, Mitchell had 1971's intensely personal Blue, and Simon had 1972's No Secrets featuring her signature song about a former lover, "You're So Vain". The author documents all this with relish and delves into the inspirations for their music.
The dishier parts of the book deal with the women's checkered love lives. King married four times, while Mitchell and Simon each went through a succession of liaisons that obviously shaped many of their compositions. Aside from the tawdry impact of Warren Beatty's legendary womanizing, James Taylor appears to be the common intersection as he befriended King (and turned her epochal song, "You've Got a Friend" into a Grammy Award-winning hit), had an extended affair with Mitchell and eventually married Simon for eleven turbulent, drug-filled years. However, all three have weathered the storm of their personal lives and the ever-changing tastes of the public to become grandmothers and songsmiths for another generation. Weller writes in true baby boomer fashion with an alternating sense of reverence and ribaldry about three icons deserving of such a tribute.
So I debated quite a bit before writing this but I would hate to see others spend their money for this book without being forewarned.
What a great concept for a book!!!! For those of us who grew up in that era, a book about Joni, Carole and Carly is such a captivating subject. And the author clearly had done significant research not just in uncovering so much detail about the three singer songwriters but also truly capturing the era both from the perspective of the music scene and the changing role of women at that time in history.
Two factors, however, made this book the most difficult, unenjoyable reading experience that I have had in recent memory. First of all, the organization of the book was incredibly confusing and difficult to follow. Chapters jumped from person to person in the loosest of chronological order making following each women's story near impossible. I was constantly shifting back and forth trying to piece the information together in some logical pattern. Worse than the structure, though, was the actual writing. Sentences went on forever. Thoughts, references and opinions were jumbled together randomly with no apparent connection. Rather than finding the footnotes helpful, I found them distracting and incomplete. Where were the editors for this book? It is hard to imagine that this book was allowed to be released without someone questioning the convoluted, heavy writing and structure.
I brought this book on vacation so had several hours at a time to read. Frankly, it unfortunately became a chore rather than a pleasure but I was determined to finish and can report that not only did the book not improve, but the author rushed through the later years so quickly that I did not feel a sense of closure.
Truly a disappointment.
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