Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon And The Men They Chewed Up And Spat Out

Men beat a path to their door, they unwittingly shared lovers and remain the standard for all female solo rock singers.
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Men beat a path to their door, they unwittingly shared lovers and remain the standard for all female solo rock singers.

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In 1965 a Toronto musician called  Chuck Mitchell asked  Nordic beauty  Joni Anderson to be his wife and save herself from the disgrace (in her family's eyes) of being an unmarried mother.  It was a generous offer since the baby Joni had just given birth to wasn't even Chuck's,  but the times they were a-changin' and women who had been raised to do anything to 'land a man' were having second thoughts about the whole business of marriage.

In the event, Joni did marry Chuck but they never got around to picking up her baby from the maternity home and sixteen months later Joni left taking nothing from Chuck but his surname.  Yes, before Alanis, before Bjork, there was Joni Mitchell.   The form  filled out by Toronto Hospital when her child was  put up for adoption just said, 'Mother left Canada for US to pursue career as a folk singer.'

Seven years later, in a smart  Manhattan apartment, one of Joni's former lovers, soft-rock  superstar James Taylor, took a phone call from a woman he had never met.  'I think you should know that your fiancée is having an affair with my husband,'  the voice on the line said.  The caller was Bianca Jagger, and Taylor's betrothed, getting in a little last minute freedom with the singer of the Rolling Stones, was Carly Simon.  After Mrs Jagger's call,  Taylor rushed Carly straight to the registry office.

Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon  -  the Eve and Eve of  a generation of beautiful  women who write their own songs and sing them like they mean them.

In 1972,  Carly was a rising star and someone Jagger couldn't help but notice, not least because, with her big lips and teeth, she looked like him – his sixties girlfriend Marianne Faithful claimed that he married Bianca for the same reason. Carly was in London recording her super-hit, You're So Vain, when Jagger bowled into the studio to check her out.

'You're so vain, you probably think this song is about you,' Carly was singing, and that's Jagger's voice  taunting away in the 'Don't you? Don't you?' chorus. Getting in on the act might have been Mick's way of scotching rumours that the song was about him, or provoking them.  But Carly made it pretty plain that the monster of vanity who 'walked into the room like you were walking onto a yacht' was Hollywood actor, Warren Beatty.

Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon  -  the Eve and Eve of  a generation of beautiful  women who write their own songs and sing them like they mean them.

What  seventies feminism established is that when women stop chasing men,  men are only going to get keener, especially when the women have legs like Carly's or when, like Joni, they are brainier, tougher and more talented, effortlessly outclassing the men in their own field.  Graham Nash, an English pop genius who founded The Hollies then became an American soft-rock icon in his own right, claims that he 'worshipped  Joni like a goddess,'  though the picture of twee domesticity he painted in his song Our House suggests he thought of her more as a fireside pet.

Joni had abandoned a child for her career and she had no time for  anyone volunteering to be the love of her life. Holidaying on a Greek Island she sent  a telegram to Nash in California 'If you hold sand too tightly it will run through your fingers,'  the telegram said, and Nash knew he and Joni were over. It was the seventies equivalent of divorce by text message.

James Taylor spent quality time with both women. Jagger and Beatty,  Kris Kristoffersen, Jack Nicholson and Cat Stevens all beat a path to Carly's dressing room door, though Cat was confusing  because there were 'girls and boys'  in his world. Is Cat gay? Carly wondered then decided , 'everyone's a little bit gay.'

Joni also had relationships with Sam Sheperd and Jackson Browne and the only member of Crosby Stills and Nash she never lived with was Steven Stills, possibly because her black  boyfriend Don Alias described Stills as an 'asshole, unequivocally,' for his relentless egoism. With her fine talent for getting things with men nicely wrong, Joni tried to bolster Don's ego by painting a full length portrait of him in an open bathrobe with a massive erection poking out the front. She hung the painting  in the living room of their New York loft.

Don complained that he couldn't bring his jazz muso mates around to entertain them in a room with  his cock on the wall. Joni was genuinely puzzled, 'Its a testament to your sexuality,' she said.  After much wrangling, she painted out the hard-on, reducing it to a brooding  droop.  While Joni painted erotic portraits, Carly came closer to what makes men feel good about themselves, hand-knitting a ball-warmer in pink and purple wool to help one of her lovers through a New York winter.

Promoting her music, Carly was effortlessly hip and relaxed about sex. Raised in affluent bohemia (her father co-founded publisher Simon and Schuster)  she made sexuality a key weapon of woman-power in those  years before the bulldikey, AIDS-paranoid eighties - since then its come back into the arsenal – with interview quotes like 'I had a hard time sleeping alone, so I never did,'  and album covers where soft rock found an easy fit with soft porn.

The cover of her fifth album,  Playing Possum, has been described as  'the most explicitly sexual photograph ever chosen for the cover of any woman's album.' Twenty years before Madonna discovered lingerie and pointed bras,  Carly went down on her knees in black boots and underwear with her face turned away from the camera, a fully fledged sex-object.  Banned by supermarket chains, the album cover went on to adorn more bedroom walls than any picture since Betty Grable's legs in World War II.   'I felt very sexy when I wrote the songs,'  Carly explained to Rolling Stone magazine.

But even worldly Carly fell apart sometimes. In 1978 she was the strutting arbiter of bedroom performance in the sizzling/sultry theme to Bond film, The Spy Who Loved Me.  'Nobody does it better, makes me feel sad for the rest,'  she crooned to Roger Moore's impish, powdered Bond. 'Baby, baby, DARLING! You're the best....' At fifty, Moore was way to old for the part, but father-fixated Carly made the song live and turned it into her second mega-hit.

A few months later, worn out by the illness of one of her children, she stopped a concert halfway through, telling an audience of 10,000 that she couldn't go on because she was having an anxiety attack.

'Go with it, we'll be with you,' the crowd called back, so Carly got fifty people to come up and keep her company and massage her arms and legs till she calmed down. A full-on seventies  'encounter group' right there on a Pittsburgh stage.  You couldn't imagine it happening to Gaga.

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