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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sunday Jukebox - You're So Vain by Carly Simon

Have you ever had one of those times where you plan something out over a couple of days, and then you realize that both things have something in common? That's what ended up happening this weekend, as both topics that I had planned to talk about have to do with a similar subject.

Yesterday's entry on the children's show 'Ghostwriter' dealt with a group of kids solving mysteries that kept happening in their Brooklyn neighbourhood. Today's blog subject is also the subject of a mystery that has lasted almost forty years now. A mystery that maybe not even the Ghostwriter kids could solve.

It's one of music's best kept and closely guarded secrets. Only a select few have been let in on what the secret is, and reportedly, they paid a pretty penny to get the information. The singer of the song in question has been incredibly coy about who the subject of the song she sang back in the early 1970s was, and while she has publicly shared clues towards who the mystery person is, the speculation still continues, as she has never revealed the source. It's entirely possible that the few clues she has revealed are 'red herrings', and were dropped as a way to throw everyone off the right track. Still, millions of theories behind the song's creation have been proposed since its release, and the purpose of this blog entry is to examine each of these theories, and possibly come up with some more theories behind who the song is about.

So, why don't we listen to the song first? I mean, it's only fair, right?

ARTIST: Carly Simon
SONG: You're So Vain
ALBUM: No Secrets
DATE RELEASED: December 2, 1972

Carly Simon. Born June 25, 1945 in New York City. Although she had wanted a career in music since she was a teenager, she didn't get her first big break until 1971. Over the past forty years, Carly Simon made a name for herself as a solo artist, and has enjoyed success throughout the 1970s and 1980s, charting several top ten hits on the adult contemporary charts, and having made steady appearances on the Billboard Top 100 between 1971 and 1989. She would later make a surprise appearance on the charts in 2001 when she did guest vocals for Janet Jackson on her song “Son Of A Gun (I Betcha Think This Song Is About You)”, sampling Carly's signature hit.

That signature hit, of course, is the one you heard earlier in this blog. It is well-known to be Carly's most recognizable hit, and her only song to hit the pole position on the Billboard 100, reaching #1 in early 1973 (though her '77 hit 'Nobody Does It Better' hit #1 on the Adult Contemporary charts).

It also happens to be a song that has a secret. A secret that Carly Simon has kept from the public for thirty-nine years and counting.

Who exactly is 'You're So Vain' really all about?

The whole chorus kind of pokes fun at whoever the subject is about, almost suggesting that the person is so vain, they think that Carly would write a song especially for them.

In fact, I'm going to do a first for this blog. I'm going to post the lyrics of the song out for all of you to read, and we'll look at them piece by piece, and maybe we'll get some clues out of it all.

You walked into the party
Like you were walking onto a yacht
Your hat strategically dipped below one eye
Your scarf it was apricot
You had one eye in the mirror
As you watched yourself gavotte
And all the girls dreamed that they'd be your partner
They'd be your partner, and
You're so vain
You probably think this song is about you
You're so vain
I'll bet you think this song is about you
Don't you? Don't you?
You had me several years ago
When I was still quite naive
Well, you said that we made such a pretty pair
And that you would never leave
But you gave away the things you loved
And one of them was me
I had some dreams they were clouds in my coffee
Clouds in my coffee, and
You're so vain
You probably think this song is about you
You're so vain
I'll bet you think this song is about you
Don't you? Don't you?
I had some dreams they were clouds in my coffee
Clouds in my coffee, and
You're so vain
You probably think this song is about you
You're so vain
I'll bet you think this song is about you
Don't you? Don't you?
Well, I hear you went up to Saratoga
And your horse naturally won
Then you flew your Lear jet up to Nova Scotia
To see the total eclipse of the sun
Well, you're where you should be all the time
And when you're not, you're with
Some underworld spy or the wife of a close friend
Wife of a close friend, and
You're so vain
You probably think this song is about you
You're so vain
I'll bet you think this song is about you
Don't you? Don't you?

Okay, so assuming that this song is based off of a personal experience in Carly's life, and assuming that she's telling the truth completely, we can take a few things into consideration from the lines within the song.

First, it seems as though the subject of the song was once a romantic interest for Carly. When she sings about how the subject “had her a few years ago when she was quite naive”, it almost seems to imply that she's known this person for quite a long time. It's entirely possible that he could have been her first love, or a love that was significant to her. We also learn that our song subject apparently kicked her to the curb and broke her heart...which could explain the motive behind why the song was written in the first place.

I'm just speculating that this person who Carly wrote about in the song was someone who was rich, famous, or both. I mean, you'd kind of have to be to fly a Lear jet to Nova Scotia, right? As well, there's a reference to the horse racing events that take place in Saratoga Springs, New York during the summer months, and which are often witnessed by the rich and famous.

The part about the 'total eclipse of the sun' is another little nugget, because it seemed to imply that if this song was based on a real-life instance that a solar eclipse would have been a rather specific detail. So, I did some research on solar eclipses that occurred right around the time 'You're So Vain' was released, and there were in fact two that happened. One was in March of 1970, the other one in July of 1972.

So, we now have a possible time frame that this event happened...right around the time that Carly Simon was kicking off her solo career. Very interesting, no?

So, given that the song was officially released three weeks before Christmas in 1972, we know that the event that spawned this song had to have happened before then. So, let's take a look at some of the likely suspects at the time.

Suspect #1: Singer/songwriter James Taylor (also known as the now ex-husband of Carly Simon). Back in 1972, Carly and James were married (they divorced eleven years after 'You're So Vain' was released), and the most common theory was that James Taylor was the subject of the song. But Carly herself has made the declaration that Taylor was NOT the subject of the song.

Suspect #2: Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger. It sort of makes sense in a way, as Mick ended up contributing the backing vocals for the song. And Angela Bowie (the former wife of David Bowie, who was also named as a possible suspect for who the song was about), had said in an interview that Jagger had a bit of an obsession with Carly. In fact, she even came out and said that she was the “wife of a close friend” that Carly referenced in the song. But Carly Simon has said that the song was not about Jagger.

It wasn't about Nick Nolte either, although Simon has stated that he was the man wearing the apricot scarf that she sang about in the first verse of the song.

Then there's Warren Beatty.

Warren Beatty may have settled down with wife Annette Bening these days, but before that, Beatty was quite the playboy. One report stated that he had been with over twelve THOUSAND lovers during his lifetime! He was linked to such famous women as Julie Christie, Joan Collins, Janice Dickinson, Diane Keaton, Natalie Wood, and Madonna.

And Carly Simon, reportedly.

Carly revealed in an interview she did a little over a decade ago that yes, the song may have been about Beatty, but only a smidgen, and certainly not the bulk of the song. So, I guess we can probably call that a no. Although Warren Beatty reportedly called Carly on the telephone and thanked her for the song. He later said in 2007 that he KNEW the song was all about him all along.

Other subjects up for consideration in regards to who “You're So Vain” is about were Kris Kristofferson, David Cassidy, and Cat Stevens...

...or, is he known as Yusef Islam now? I don't even know anymore. There was even the theory that Carly had wrote the song with several men in mind, and that she took traits from each one to form the lyrics of the song.

Regardless of which, this song was at the center of one of the biggest kept secrets in the music industry.

Though over the years, Carly has revealed her secret to some people. And she's given out clues to narrow it down for the public to figure out. In August 2003, Carly Simon participated in a charity auction as one of the prizes. The prize was a once-in-a-lifetime event. Carly would offer up a private performance of the song at her home and following that, she would tell the winner the identity of the song's subject. The winner was the president of NBC Sports, Dick Ebersol, who placed the winning bid of $50,000 to learn the secret. And Carly told him everything...on one stipulation. He was allowed to reveal a clue to the public, but nothing else.

So, Ebersol revealed this clue. That the subject of the song had the letter “E” in his name.

Over the years, Carly herself offered up two more letters in the name. An “A”, and an “R” were also present.

So, given the fact that the letters E, A, and R were in the name, we can eliminate Kristofferson, Cassidy and Stevens Islam. We can also cross Nick Nolte off as well. But surprisingly enough, Jagger, Beatty, and Taylor remain on that list, even though Simon has denied that the song is about them.

(Coincidentally, my full name also contains those three letters, but I KNOW the song isn't about me.)

Another name that popped up for discussion was revealed in 2008. That year, author Sheila Weller released a book entitled Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon – and the Journey of a Generation, which detailed the lives of the three women. It's very interesting to note that under Carly Simon's section was a detailed account of a relationship that Carly shared with guitarist Danny Armstrong. It was reported that Armstrong and Simon had a relationship that lasted about two years. They broke up months before “You're So Vain” was released. Though Simon would move on with other affairs and relationships, she never really got over Armstrong, and reportedly tried to reignite the flames of passion between her and Armstrong, but to no avail. She described Armstrong as a gifted guitarist who definitely was not modest about his skills, reportedly bragging that he was the first and only electric guitar specialist in the world at the time.

If one were to write out Danny Armstrong's name in full, it would contain the three letters A, E, and R. Further proof came from another of Carly's ex-husbands, Jim Hart, who stated that the subject of the song was NOT someone famous. If that were the case, Armstrong would meet that criteria for the song's subject for sure. It hasn't really been confirmed though by Carly though.

One final clue as to the song's subject was revealed in a 2010 interview that Carly did with Uncut magazine. She said that if you played a re-recording of the song backwards, the first name of the subject of the song was revealed in a whispered voice. Naturally, people began digging out their copies of the song, and played it backwards, and one name that was clearly made out was “David”.  And many media outlets quickly broadcast that the subject of the song was then Elektra Records executive David Geffen, believing that the song was Carly's response to her jealousy of Joni Mitchell, a singer that Geffen was showing a lot of attention towards. This theory was declared false by Jim Hart, and Carly Simon's publicist later confirmed that the song was definitely not about Geffen. But Carly also stated that right around the time that she wrote the song, she hadn't even met David Geffen yet, instead stating that there was a man named David that had passed through Carly's life at some point, and who was connected to the song in some manner. It was also reported that the name “Warren” and a third unintelligible name could also be heard when the song was played backwards, which could confirm the belief that Carly had written the song with several men in mind, including Warren Beatty.

My question is, who do YOU think the song “You're So Vain” is about? I'd love to hear your opinions and your thoughts.

My take? Well...give me fifty thousand dollars and I'll share.

No dice, huh?

My initial thought was that the song was about Warren Beatty myself, but now I'm not so sure. I guess maybe I'm in the camp that believes that the song is a composite of several men myself. But, again, I'm not entirely sure. As of now, the secret still remains safe, and right now many men who are at least 60 years of age and older probably still think this song is about them.

Right, Warren?

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