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

by Geoff Cush
2 January 2012 22 Comments

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

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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luxury_scruff 10:44 am, 2-Jan-2012

It is my understanding that 'You're So Vain' is about David Geffen and not Warren Beatty.

ecobrick 10:48 am, 2-Jan-2012

Fell in love with Joni Mitchell in 1970 when an emotionally out of control adolescent but as the years have gone by I have loved her depth and insight. "court and spark" speaks volumes for any one trying to make sense of the complex feelings we all have at some stage of our lives still should get in any top ten albums of all time.Her work never fails to give me goose bumps.

William 3:48 pm, 2-Jan-2012

Is this from Shelia Weller's book, GIRLS LIKE US?

www.thegreenwichbarber.com 5:46 pm, 2-Jan-2012

I enjoyed reading that. Joni Mitchell wrote of being kept in what appears to be a luxury prison by someone on The Hissing Of Summer Lawns. I wonder who that was? http://www.lyricstime.com/joni-mitchell-the-hissing-of-summer-lawns-lyrics.html

Geoff Cush 7:22 pm, 2-Jan-2012

William - no it isn't though I certainly have read Weller's excellent book and would recommend it to anyone still fretting about who You're so Vain is about

luxury_scruff 9:08 pm, 2-Jan-2012

I wasn't fretting...

Aonghas 9:50 am, 12-Jan-2012

I enjoyed that, thanks. Two of my all-time favorite singers. Fascinating people. They make folks today look like wimps.

alley cat 11:14 am, 22-Jan-2012

Ah, you should know from reading Sheila Weller's GIRLS LIKE US that Ms. Simon & Ms. Mitchell were certainly not "unwitting" about the fact that each had "had" JT and Mr. Beatty (who, incidentally, should have been named "Old Man of the Decade" by Rolling Stone mag in the 70s). I don't believe Carly has ever been linked romantically to Chuck Mitchell, Jackson Browne, Crosby or Nash, Sam Shepard, or Don Alias. Ditto for Joni and your laundry list of Carly's other famous lovers. But those are minor points. I must take exception to your answer to William that some of the refs here were not taken directly from GIRLS LIKE US. I worked on that book and am quite familiar with Ms. Weller's meticulous sourcing of certain quotes that were exclusive to the book. It would be nice if you'd NOT take a page from Stephen Davis and would give credit where credit is due. It would also be nice if you'd spell everyone's names correctly. Finally, it leaves me cold when men feel entitled to render their opinions as to why ANY woman might feel compelled to give up a child for adoption. In Ms. Mitchell's case, as in most, there is no one simple reason or rationale. And even if one could say unequivocally that she chose her career over taking time off to raise her child, that's HER business, and why is no one accusing the FATHER of the same thing and judging him? Nothing's changed much despite all that nasty feminism, has it?

Geoff Cush 2:04 pm, 23-Jan-2012

Thanks AC for this long and thoughtful comment. Being criticised so attentively makes writing worthwhile. On the first of your points I have to say that the word 'unwitting' was added by ST editors writing the strapline for the piece and I don't think I give the impression of unwittingness in the piece itself. It was certainly not on my mind. As to my reply to William's point. He asked 'Is this from SW's book?' as if he thought he was reading an extract. The confusion is understandable as both pieces of writing link JM and CS. I made it clear that the article is my own work though like an researcher not using primary sources I have relied on secondary ones such as Girls Like Us. Some incidents reported by Weller have been cited by me in support of my own take on the women. In fact I thought I had mentioned SW as the author of the quote about Playing Possum's cover but I see I have attributed it annonymously. In retrospect I agree it would have been polite to name the author of that observation and nudge my readers towards her book. As to the last point I don't think I have given an opinion on Joni's compulsion to give up her child. If there is justification for such a decision I can't think of a better one that JM's body of work. As to your suggestion that absent fathers get off lightly, I would say that feminism HAS changed that.

John G. 7:01 pm, 24-Nov-2012

I have been in love with Carly since the summer of 71. Every time I see her face or hear her voice My legs won't hold my weight, my heart doubles it's pace and whatever had been my mind is erased, I become a become a blathering tongue tied mess. I love her music too.

greg s. 8:59 am, 5-Jan-2013

John G. I think you're having a stroke.

lisa mw 7:37 pm, 9-Dec-2013

I have seen Carly Simon walking around a few times on Martha's Vineyard. I was very surprised that she's not attractive at all. Her face is acne scarred with lumps and craters and her large head and features don't seem to fit with her very long , extremely thin body. Man, the miracle of make-up and good photographers who know how to do lighting!

DeeDee Lynn 3:52 am, 2-Feb-2014

Graham Nash whom Joni Mitchell was involved with for a while later was close to Emmylou Harris. They lived together too and did he with Joni Mitchell. You love you connect with physically and at a soul / emotional level. It is what it is!!!

Indy 3:42 am, 13-May-2014

Why would anyone say that these women chewed up these men and spat them out? That seems sexist. I see no reason listed to suggest this at all.

virginia 11:43 pm, 23-May-2014

enjoyed the article. very fun, very informative.

Get real 3:14 am, 25-Jun-2014

First of all, Carly Simon is 70 years old. So she's gonna have some age marks on her face if she hasn't had her face lifted and tightened. When I saw her in person, I remember thinking her head was a bit small for her body, and how much better she looked in person. Anyway , she's a musician so perfect looks aren't required.

Joe 5:16 am, 11-Aug-2014

Carly doesn't have old looking skin new. She had a face lift a couple years ago.

Joe 5:29 am, 11-Aug-2014

Also, Carly has a special section on her website with all the clues she's given about who "You're So Vain" is about. Her brother said it's about a Canadian comedian David something - I forget the last name. It's not the music executive David Geffen though.

Rich Karger 1:47 am, 29-Aug-2014

Summer 1976 on Martha's Vineyard, I was having breakfast with 4 buddies and we were Seniors in High School. Carley strolled in and sat down at a big corner table. After about fainting and drooling, she saw us awestruck and smirked. I was was small but brave and said- we'd sure like to join you for breakfast and she smiled so sweetly and said- Sure. We carried our plates over and had 15 minutes with her I won't forget. She was exceptionally beautiful and down to earth. She smiled and seemed genuinely interested in our stories and the talk.....What a lady! Dice Martin- Las Vegas Rock and Roll Hall of Fame DJ

dj 4:55 am, 27-Sep-2014

This is complete bullshit made up by a misogynistic pig who is intimidated strong women.

Jecca Wise 8:50 pm, 14-Oct-2014

I was a huge Carly Simon fan from the time I was 13. But eventually her feet of clay came crashing down and I realized that ever since her divorce from JT her relationships have been a mess. Not such a glamorous end.

David Foster 6:15 am, 8-Nov-2014

I'm almost exactly Carly Simon's age and I've always been fascinated by her. I live in Australia and I don't remember her touring here but I guess she must have. I was a stage actor in the 70's when she was huge and I moved between Australian Cap cities a lot so I may have missed her. To me Carly Simons has always been an enigma. She seemed to be too exotic, sexy and talented to be real somehow. It was only when I searched her on this site that I began to understand that she has lots of human frailties and has taken a few battering a along the way. That she's made it to almost 70 and is still performing puts her right up there with her lover/buddy Mick Jagger for sheer tenacity and determination. Good on her ...as we say down under.

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