Not So Vain
By Jake Shears
Although her fame largely rests on two hit songs -- anthemic party favorite 'You're So Vain' and the lush, stirring James Bond song 'Nobody Does It Better,' Carly Simon has a body of work that stands comparison with that of any of the great singer-songwriters of her era. Her 20-plus albums are defined by the voice of a questioning, self-analytical American woman, forever navigating her own complexities and contradictions. For Out, she sat down with Scissor Sisters front man and fan boy Jake Shears to discuss her new album, This Kind of Love, her sexual awakening, and why she's attracted to damaged people.
Jake Shears: I've just been reading Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon -- And the Journey of a Generation. Did you ever consider Joni Mitchell and Carole King your contemporaries?
Carly Simon: They were both inspirations for me, and they put out their first records earlier. I'd known Carole's work from other bands doing her songs. And I think I knew Joni's song 'Both Sides Now' from Judy Collins. I really became jealous of Joni when she started going out with James [Taylor, whom Simon married in 1972], because even though I didn't know James I knew that I would be in love with him. I saw a picture in Rolling Stone in which they were holding hands, and I had a very snakelike reaction. I felt that he was mine, which was of course an absurdity, but that's how I truly felt. I never really felt competitive with the men who were my contemporaries; I just idolized and learned from them -- James and Cat Stevens and Neil Young and Randy Newman and, uh, Mick Jagger was a huge influence on me, even more than the Beatles.
JS: You said recently that the '60s and '70s weren't 'a halcyon time for women.' Did you feel like an outsider because of your gender?
CS: I never felt as if I was breaking ground, and I never felt as if I was changing the culture. I didn't feel as if I was moving women ahead. Those are things you only perceive in retrospect. I just felt that I was somebody who was in love with music, and there were other people who came before me and I was trying to imitate them, so in a way I felt like an imitator.
JS: I can't imagine how any musician can't feel like that.
CS: Right. It's amazing the way my sister [opera singer Joanna Simon] and I sound alike. She's the soprano version of my tenor, but we enunciate words, and we phrase exactly alike, and so there's a familial thing about it.
JS: You said recently, 'I don't consider myself to be not gay.'
CS: Well, I'm definitely androgynous, there's no question about it. I don't feel there are any limits to what could happen or what I feel turned on by. The fact that I haven't had a relationship with a woman is not --
JS: Not necessarily an indicator that you're straight.
CS: That's right. I don't think that there's that much of a difference, except that we were born to make babies and to procreate, but I think it's got very little to do with attraction. [She takes a break to speak to her son, Ben, on the phone] You know, if there's anything ever wrong with Ben, I just can't stand it. If he's ever upset by anything...
JS: How has your relationship with him developed from childhood to now? He seems almost like a partner for you.
CS: He started out as the kid who I would always let stay home from school so that we could hang out. Sometimes it's not all that great because we're too affected by each other. He's much more closemouthed than I am or than I would want him to be. I want him to tell me everything that he's feeling.
JS: What if he sat you down and told you that he was gay?