The buzz on More Room in a Broken Heart, Stephen Davis’ unauthorized biography of pop-music staple of the ’70s and ’80s, Carly Simon, was pretty bleak, but as a longtime fan of Simon and first husband James Taylor, I felt compelled to take a look at this first attempt to explore her life in book-length form.
Alas, I should have heeded before jumping. More Room (subtitled The True Adventures of Carly Simon) is one of the lazier nonfiction efforts I’ve encountered in a while, with Davis brazenly structuring the book around previously published material, without notes or bibliography, nor acknowledgments or attributions, beyond just a “thanks to the great journalists who covered the Carly Simon story in the past.” You can add pedestrian writing and factual errors to the mix, and the only original content comes via the author’s analysis of the Simon song library – album by album – and this is none too incisive, either.
A shame actually, because I was looking forward to a more deserving examination of Simon’s life and work, for myself and many others who remember the glory years of the artist responsible for such defining standards of the singer/songwriter era as “That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard it Should Be,” “Anticipation,” and of course, “You’re So Vain.” In her personal life, Simon shared a stormy, creative, and utterly fascinating relationship with the iconic troubadour James Taylor (their marriage lasted 11 years), and her childhood background as the daughter of publishing magnate Richard Simon (of Simon & Schuster) provides even more color to an already riveting life story. (It’s not every kid who has memories of Rodgers and Hammerstein coming over to the house to play the piano.)
Davis (whose previous music bios have included Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, and Jim Morrison) is pretty much adoring of his subject (which makes you wonder why Simon is, according to press reports, displeased with the book). He gives her a shout-out in Latin at the end (Et bonum quo antiquius eo melius – “and the older a good thing is, the better”) and cites her “almost therapeutic ability to conjure empathy and compassion via the popular ballad.” But no amount of devotion can hide the vacuum at the core of this essentially soulless tome.
Those with a real interest in the topic would do better to stick with Sheila Weller’s Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon – And the Journey of a Generation, a well-written and researched detailing of the exceptional triad of ’70s female songwriters (parts of which – surprise! – were lifted for this book). And those looking for more insight on the Simon-Taylor relationship might want to hear her interview with Howard Stern from 2008 (available on YouTube), conducted with son Ben Taylor in tow, and far more revealing than anything found here.
As for a bona fide biography of Carly, we’ll have to wait for (recalling one of her biggest hits)… somebody who does it better.
[First published as Book Review: More Room in a Broken Heart: The True Adventures of Carly Simon by Stephen Davis, on Blogcritics.org.]