Book review: "Boys in the Trees: A memoir" by Carly Simon

November 29, 2016

 

My freshman year of high school, I lifted the arm on my record player repeatedly to return the needle to Carly Simon’s “Boys in the Trees.” It was my favorite song on the same titled album, which was released in 1978.

For me, it was fitting that her memoir, published in 2015, also had that title. I wanted to read “Boys In the Trees: A memoir” solely to give context to her inspired music, and it did.

 

The poetic memoir began with Simon’s musical childhood, in which her whole family sang and performed their way through life. Underneath the music, however, her family was not as glamorous or sing-song as they might suggest.

Simon spent her childhood at odds with her family. From the shape of her nose to her stutter, Simon saw herself as the black sheep.

She spends the first half of her life competing with her two sisters for attention and the second half feeling guilty when she won it through her successful music career. Dealing with her parents was another animal in itself.

Simon’s father, the Simon in Simon & Schuster publishing, favored her sisters and initiated a mutual cycle of rejection in Simon. Her mother beckoned abandonment issues, as she pursued an all-consuming affair with a younger man.

It all led to romantic relationships in Simon’s life that often ended in feelings of rejection and unworthiness, the kind only father issues can summon. This observation does not escape Simon.

The stories she shares are filled with keen observations and a mindfulness that comes with age and likely motherhood.

The memoir flows seamlessly from adolescence to adulthood, though divided into three books. Although the tone shifts drastically between books, it’s done in a subtle way.

 

Many of Simon’s memories involve romantic affairs, but it reads less like a rap sheet of lovers and more like a love letter to James Taylor. It’s obvious Simon still feels deep love and some regret for the way in which the relationship unfolded and marriage eventually dissolved.

Simon paints herself as the hero and the villain, though you can’t help but root for her the whole time. We are all just human, after all.

My favorite aspect of the book is how she often references the Beast, an inner haunting that manifests itself in many ways. The Beast is at the heart of her battles with identity and self-worth, weight changes and romantic exploits.

Everyone is familiar with the Beast.

The novel does a remarkable job of humanizing celebrity and spreading awareness for depression and anxiety. It’s seen in Simon and many people in her life such as her father and Taylor, another parallel that does not slip past Simon.

In spite of the ode to Taylor, “Boys in the Trees” is a true book of memories. It’s a perfect balance of detailed stories and general plotlines.

It features the intimate details of her first night with Taylor, her encounter with his mistress and an all too strange weekend with Sean Connery and her sister. It also outlines sexual tensions with Mick Jagger and some behind-the-scenes events in the music industry.

After reading it, I can’t help but hope Simon defeats her inner Beast, via sword fight if necessary.

It’s not an entirely uplifting collection of memories, but it will give you context for her music. Now when I hear the song “Boys in the Trees,” I imagine a young Simon playing with other children in the cherry trees at Martha’s Vineyard.

 

 

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