Understated but revealing memoir by the long-absent but still much-played pop star.
The daughter of a Simon & Schuster co-founder of demanding disposition (“my nose wasn’t the only way I disappointed him”), Simon grew up both privileged and beset by all manner of neuroses, traumas, and challenges. Not least of them, she would discover, were anxiety attacks and near-debilitating stage fright, which, in a particularly memorable moment here, an audience in Pittsburgh helps her work her way through: “Anyone who knew what a serious bundle of nerves I was should never have allowed me to leave home, much less perform,” she writes, good-natured as always. Another was a severe stutter that her boyfriend, the writer Nicholas Delbanco, would find charming but that led to her career as a singer, since she could sing her way through a sentence (or, in college, an Italian poem) unimpeded. Simon is perhaps best known for her tumultuous marriage to fellow singer James Taylor, and her account of their time together is both rueful and unsparing of either of them. “From the beginning,” she writes, “James and I were linked together as strongly as we were not just because of love, and music, but because we were both troubled people trying our best to pass as normal.” The best parts of the book are when the author describes how her songs came into being, while the few tedious ones are moments when names are dropped right and left: McCartney, Kristofferson, Nicholson, Dylan, Jagger. But, after all, she’s allowed: Dylan did adapt a song for her, and Jagger did help her sing through the song that began its life as “Ballad of a Vain Man,” wherein hangs a wonderful tale of “Narcissus and Goldmund desiring ourselves in each other.”
Memoirs by rock icons of the 1960s and ’70s are flying fast and furious these days. This is one of the best, lively and memorable. Check the new album that accompanies the book, too.