Book Review: Boys in the Trees: A Memoir, by Carly Simon

By Georgia Edwards | Contributor

I’m home again in my old narrow bed
Where I grew tall and my feet hung over the end
The low beam room with the window looking out
On the soft summer garden
Where the boys grew in the trees

It is hard to imagine that Carly Simon, a multiple award-winning singer and songwriter, grappled with performance anxiety, low self-esteem and depression for much of her life. Voted the music industry’s Best New Artist for 1972, she went on to write and perform songs that defined the 70s. In this intelligent and rich memoir, Simon writes movingly of the tumult that dogged her first 38 years of life: family problems, stormy relationships with men and depression, which she refers to as “The Beast.” She chronicles her awkward childhood in Greenwich Village and Connecticut through her troubled 10-year marriage to fellow singer-songwriter James Taylor.

Simon’s outwardly privileged life belied the struggles within her family. The third daughter of Richard Simon, co-founder of Simon & Schuster, she ached to receive love and attention from a father who fought his own depression demons. Her mother, Andrea, turned a blind eye to Simon’s sexual abuse by a family friend and, later, invited her son’s 19-year-old tutor to live in the family home as her lover. Simon does not disguise her fury about her mother’s infidelity; she developed a stutter that derailed her academic studies and caused panic attacks.

Book Review_Boys in the TreesAn older Simon experienced the sexual freedom of the 60s and early 70s. The portions of the book about the men in her life read like a dishy, yet tasteful, Who’s Who of famous men: Warren Beatty (her inspiration for “You’re So Vain”), Michael Crichton, Mick Jagger, Kris Kristofferson, Cat Stevens and Jack Nicholson, who once asked, “Do you ever drink coffee in your bedroom?”

Her relationship with James Taylor comprises the last third of the memoir. After seeing him on the cover of Time Magazine, she told her sister, “I’m going to marry him.” They were wed after a short engagement in 1972. Despite Taylor’s drug problems, mood swings and affairs, Simon’s love for him was unfailing and bordered on adoration. She writes, “James was my muse, my Orpheus, my sleeping darling, my ‘good night, sweet prince, my something-in-the-way-he-moves.’” She is frank, however, about the not-so-honeyed-side of Sweet Baby James.

Disappointingly, Simon gives her writing and recording career—arguably more creative than Taylor’s—little mention in the book. Whole albums are briefly cited or glossed over. She did not want to “… overshadow the man I loved,” a contradictory statement from a woman seen by many as a feminist icon. The lyrics and songs that she does share with the reader are thoughtful and poetic.

Boys in the Trees is written by one of pop music’s more erudite songwriters. Simon writes beautifully and movingly, chronicling her life with fearlessness, candor and wisdom.