Monday, 9 September 2013
Carly Simon's 'You're So Vain' - Was It About One Of The AAA Crew?! (Top Five)
‘You’re so vain...you probably think this song is about you!’ Carly Simon’s biggest hit has – at various times – been referred to as about men in general, a combination of people or one specific person. A canny look at the narcissistic qualities of the men in Carly’s life, the singer-songwriter has very rightly refused to talk about the true subject of the song – although she has enjoyed dropping titbits to her fans down the years. She even allegedly revealed the person she was thinking of to the highest bidder at a celebrity charity auction in 2003, on the basis that the winner (Dick Esbersol, the president of NBC Sports) never told another soul. Carly has also revealed a ‘letter’ from the person’s name (first or last) every eight years or so, the letters now adding up to ‘a’ ‘e’ and ‘r’. A whole plethora of people have been linked to the song, not all of them AAA stars, with the list of possible subjects now said to include film star Warren Beatty, singer David Bowie or (the most likely candidate in my eyes) Carly’s muse and lifetime singing partner James Taylor (not the ‘a’ ‘e’ and ‘r’ in both the first and last of these names). Then again, it could be about someone we haven’t heard about at all – some acquaintance of Carly’s from before she was famous. There are still four very credible candidates amongst the AAA team of musicians, however, so for this week’s top four we’ve got our detective caps on and had a look at the evidence for each person. I doubt we’ll ever get a full and proper answer from Carly and if we do I doubt it’ll be just one person who inspired the song but still, there is evidence that points to all four of the following...
1) Cat Stevens
As we discussed in our issue two weeks ago, Cat and Carly were close. They were both working in the same Island studios in California, used the same producer (Paul Samwell Smith) and had birthdays very close together. Opinions differ as to whether the two were ‘just good friends’ or a genuine item for a short while, but the split between them seems to have come surprisingly suddenly (Cat leaving to become a tax exile in Brazil of all places)...at exactly the time (early 1972) that this song would have been written. As ‘evidence’ we also draw your attention to the fact that Carly had already written two songs for Cat by 1972 (‘Anticipation’ and ‘Legend In Your Own Time’); while both of these songs are deeply complimentary, Cat’s own song for Carly (‘Sweet Scarlet’) sounds regretful, even a tad guilty. The 1972 style Cat Stevens isn’t exactly what you might call ‘vain’, his near-death experience from TB in the late 1960s seemingly putting at end to that, but his 17-18 year old self was most certainly vain, eager to be seen with as many celebrities and talked about in as many gossip columns as possible, all whilst wearing the very best in frilly shirts. Cat also has two of the three ‘revealed letters’ in his name (‘A’ and ‘E’ - though not an ‘R’).
2) David Crosby
Although I’m such a fan I’ll defend David Crosby to the hilt over anything, if he does have a weakness it is for being slightly vain. I’ve not just selected someone at random here either – Crosby was a good friend of Carly’s (both he and Nash sing on lots of her albums and she in turn sings on their second joint album ‘Wind On The Water’) and if you treat this song as a joke rather than a put-down Crosby would make a lot of sense. As extra fuel to the fire, Carly admitted on an American show called ‘Soundcheck’ in 2009 that she’s added the ‘real’ inspiration’s name into the recording by placing it ‘backwards’. The event caused a lot of interest and speculation so the crew went through the whole crew checking for clues and confidently came up with the name ‘David’ (which could stand for Crosby, Bowie or maybe even Carly’s manager (and Neil Young’s manager) David Geffen. Carly’s denied this (she claims she was saying the word ‘ovid’, as in a greek mystery play and that the name she meant is another word entirely) – but that could have been because she didn’t want the person’s identity to be revealed so quickly and uneventfully. It’s also worth adding that David Crosby has the letters ‘A’ and ‘R’ in his name – although not the third and confirmative ‘E’.
3) Mick Jagger
Mick Jagger has never really been connected to the song recently, but suddenly became a major candidate when Carly revealed in 1983 that he’d sung un-credited backing vocals on the track (at the same time issuing a ‘denial’ that the song was about him). Mick would kind of fit though – he relishes his image as a strutting peacock playboy and is the same in private if any number of Stones books are to be believed (Keith Richards revealed in his autobiography of 2011 that the band had taken to calling him ‘Brenda’ in honour of all his hair creams and facial products). The fact remains, however, that Mick and Carly were casual acquaintances at best, the two only working together on this one occasion as far as we know – would Carly have really written about someone she only vaguely knew? That said, the fact that he was singing on this track rather than the other dozen or so people linked to this song would seem to raise him a bit higher in the list of likely candidates – and his name also features all three of the ‘reveal letters’ Carly has given over the years (‘A’ ‘E’ and ‘R’).
4) Art Garfunkel
One candidate who hasn’t been mentioned yet (as far as I know) is Art Garfunkel. He might not be the most obviously narcisstic member of the AAA bunch, but Art’s careful and rather obsessive nature has been known to drive his friends mad, including the time he spends doing his hair. Moreover, Carly said in an interview at the time that the person ‘might or might not be’ famous and that even if they were famous, they might not be someone the public necessarily thought of as being vain. Art was a good friend of Carly’s too, Art being an especially good friend of James Taylor, and the pair sang on each other’s records numerous times in the 1970s and 80s (indeed, Art’s such a regular he probably appears on more Carly Simon recordings than anyone barring her and James). He also has the three ‘reveal’ letters ‘A’ ‘R’ and ‘E’ in his name – the only person who does apart from Jagger and Beatty out of the dozen or so names on the ‘guilty’ list.
So, is one of our four candidates the guilty party? Are all of our candidates the combined inspiration for the song? Was the inspiration someone else entirely? (James Taylor is still the likeliest candidate, with all three letters to his name!) We will probably never know – but part of the fun of this song is with speculating, so let’s hope Carly never properly tells (although a few more clues to keep us guessing would be nice!) What’s more, if Carly ever re-records the song (again!) she can now add the line ‘You’re so vain – you probably think that Alan’s Album Archives article was all about you!’ And we’re vain enough to hope you’ll be back next week for some more news, views and music! See you then!