Last week I had the pleasure of seeing my “childhood idol” Carly Simon in person again, right here on Martha’s Vineyard not far from her home. Carly makes few public appearances these days, so it was not surprising that the event was sold out. I expected to be among the youngest in the audience, but, there were a certain number of people in the room who appeared to be at least a little younger than me. The event was held in the one room schoolhouse style Chilmark Community Center, a key gathering place for the “Up-Island” community on the Vineyard, and part of a series of author talks on the island this summer.
At first there was sort of a nervous energy in the room – was Carly here yet? why was the event starting late? After a while her son Ben Taylor appeared from a side door with a guitar, clearly a cue that there would be some sort of included musical performance, and I wondered if Carly and co. were hiding behind a small divider that masked one area of the stage. But when Ben and his sister Sally appeared again from the other side door, this time accompanying their mother, there was no more doubt and wondering. A gradual silence descended as people noticed the woman of the hour’s arrival, though she did not immediately proceed onstage, instead waiting for an introduction from the event coordinator.
Once onstage, Carly proceeded to be unusually forthcoming in her responses and anecdotes to guided questions from local radio host Barbara Dacey. While she’s always been reasonably open to a point in her public life, it seemed that the process of writing a memoir (published last year and the precipitating force behind this event) enabled her to have a new sense of release over her personal history and reflections. I particularly appreciated the focus on her impressions of Martha’s Vineyard – and hearing her anecdotes right there, live, in her own voice – over a nearly lifelong array of memories living and experiencing different parts of the island. She briefly quoted her iconic returning to the island song Never Been Gone and impressively (in quoting the first verse immediately from memory) brought up a more obscure song called We Just Got Here, written as a reflection of the “end of summer” feeling that arrives on the Vineyard after a certain point in August.
The connection to her family members was strong and clear at two poignant moments in the evening. First, son Ben and daughter Sally were invited to comment on childhood memories of the musicianship of Carly and their dad James Taylor. In Sally’s answer, her reflections spontaneously led into a duet lullaby with her mom (Sally sitting in the audience with a microphone and Carly onstage) immediately bringing up a treasured song from memory. As the finale of the evening, Ben, Sally and Sophie Hiller joined Carly onstage to perform her song Rainin’, a perhaps lesser-known Martha’s Vineyard focused composition about what to do when a family faces a rainy day on the island. Carly had noted earlier that they’d premiered the song in the same Chilmark Community Center space in the early 1990’s, so it was clearly meaningful for her to reprise it. And when she was briefly alone onstage after the song, she gave a spontaneous “victory” type gesture with her arms, showing a reflection of her “rock goddess” (as one audience member slyly phrased in the Q&A session) past.
To conclude the evening, I joined a modest line of attendees queueing to have Carly personalize a copy of her memoir. (She’d actually pre-autographed them a day or two beforehand, and chronicled it on her Instagram account.) When my turned rolled around, about halfway through the line, I had an idea of what I might say, as you have to do in those types of situations, but still ended up being a bit more nervous than I needed to be. I thanked Carly for being a Vineyard ambassador (where did that phrase come from?) and then decided to thank her again for a particularly special childhood memory of seeing her at another Island bookstore where she sang a few bars of her song The Stuff that Dreams are Made Of, which was a particular favorite of mine during those younger years. She smiled in her classic wide grin and went right into a few words of the song again, providing a cheerful bookend and modern day version of another great memory.
Singer, erstwhile Martha’s Vineyard neighbor/charitable resident, and all-around accomplished artist Carly Simon starts a new decade today, which makes it an appropriate moment to re-post an entry I wrote last fall about her enduring appeal.
I’m also glad to be posting this while on Martha’s Vineyard!
I’ve never posted about the #WCW (Women Crush Wednesday) social media trend, but this seems like an appropriately random time to start. The natural starting point for me at least is the enduring appeal of singer – songwriter Ms. Carly Simon, whose music I grew up with, and was semi – fixated on for a time in my younger years. (I acknowledged that in a solo performance a few years ago and was surprised by the warm reaction.)
Anyhow, Simon recently posted a picture on her Instagram account that exemplified her continued aura of beguilement, at least for me. The picture shows her on Lambert’s Cove Beach on Martha’s Vineyard, not far from her home. That beach is also a favorite destination for my family members and I when we can get in – usage is generally restricted during the high summer season. In the picture, Simon seems to strike just the right pose of slight amusement and satisfaction, clearly enjoying the moment but not gloating in it. (It would be a perfect album cover shot for her if she had an upcoming release waiting in the wings.)
This picture perfectly fits Simon’s role in my current musical tastes – someone whom I “come back around again” to from time to time, to paraphrase one of her well – known lyrics, but don’t fixate on with regularity. Nonetheless, her music and persona continue to be emblematic of Martha’s Vineyard, the family homestead, for me, and presumably in a similar way for others. I didn’t shy away from occasionally watching her 1987 concert at Menemsha if I’m feeling homesick, and her song Never Been Gone remains the most iconic example of being home in Massachusetts. A handful of her songs have additional family or home region associations for me.
So that picture brought a brief resurgence in my appreciation of her work, which has been more on the periphery recently as she has maintained a lower public profile over the last several years. Her children Sally and Ben now take the lead in the family business, which she often supports during their Vineyard shows, and I last saw her join Ben onstage three years ago in Edgartown.
Her music remains emblematic of a certain special or cherished time and place, and I’m sure it will always be that way for my family members and I.
The recent death of Mike Nichols, well-chronicled in various newspapers, but most notably to me in a Vineyard Gazette article, reinforces a feeling I’ve had over the last few years.
Martha’s Vineyard’s celebrity gatekeepers – those who come to the island and value their privacy, aren’t intruded upon, but are also willing to stand up for community causes and events when they choose – are disappearing. In his passing on, Nichols joins Art Buchwald, William Styron, Mike Wallace, Katherine Graham, Walter Cronkite, Patricia Neal and others of the literati/glitterati set who were known for their visiting/residing and support of the Island.
To me as a lifelong part-time Island resident/visitor, these were all people who appreciated what the Vineyard has to offer. More importantly for the locals, they weren’t shy about using their cache to improve the life and resources of those who are there on the Island full – time, which was and is perhaps best seen in the long-running Possible Dreams Auction for Martha’s Vineyard Community Services.
But who will take their place? Others remain, with Carly Simon perhaps seen as the primary standard bearer.
But there aren’t really many people my age, or a little older than me, who are taking up the mantlepiece as the celebrity statesman. I don’t know if that’s a pro or con for an island that values its own individual community. But I do know that it’s a change that will continue to be subtly felt.