The Culture Files Q&A: Carly Simon

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This week Carly Simon added an ASCAP Founder’s Award to her collection of industry honors. We asked the singer-songwriter, who accepted the prize at a private gala in Los Angeles, about the achievement, her take on the music business now, and if and when she’ll finally reveal who the hit song “You’re So Vain” is really about (Hint: She might spill that secret sooner than you think)

Congratulations on receiving this year’s Founder’s Award. How exciting!
Thanks. It came as a surprise. From the beginning of my career I have tried not to put that much importance on getting awards, and I think that was a defensive position. I live on an island, away from the hum of the drums and trumpets that lead the way for the circus to follow—I sort of see it all as being a big parade toward disappointment. I haven’t been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and people ask me about that, if I’m upset. My position is, I’m still out there in an ocean of an awful lot of people who haven’t [been inducted] either. So finding out about this was a terrific feeling. It was like being told that I was nominated for an Oscar. You know, I’ve been part of ASCAP since my sister and I were performing as the Simon Sisters. The fact that the people there are advocates for songwriters and take the position that songwriters should be compensated fairly for their work—that’s important. 

You’ll be attending the ASCAP Expo for up-and-coming songwriters in Los Angeles this weekend. How do you think the songwriting world has changed since you first got started?
The way the world progresses at such a fast rate. When I got into the business I was used to that rate of progress. I was used to going to a record store and looking in the bins and seeing maybe ten artists. And I would have been able to tell you songs that each had recorded, who engineered the records, who the producers were, what company they were on… It seemed doable then. I risk sounding like the older generation now, which of course I am, but I was daunted getting into the music business because of how much competition there was, and it was nothing like it is now. I suppose the people who are in the business now are used to it. 

Dick Ebersol donated $50,000 to charity to find out who “You’re So Vain” was written about—and he’s kept quiet. Do you think you’ll ever reveal that secret?
No—well, I don’t ever really make up my mind about that. It might emerge. But I do want to say, because there was a report, that I love Dick Ebersol. I think he’s fantastic, and I’d trust him with anything. 

You’ve always been politically minded. Are you following this year’s presidential election closely?
You can’t really get away from it. I’ve been disappointed in how the Republicans have presented their points of view. But there’s never really been any thought in my mind that Obama shouldn’t remain [in office]. I totally respect him. I think he’s just great. And it’s the work behind the scenes that I give him such incredible credit for. He didn’t announce to the world that closing in on Osama Bin Laden was what he was doing. He’s able to keep his cards close to his chest. 

It has been a few years since your last album, Never Been Gone, was released. Are you working on any new material?
I’ve written a bunch of songs but I don’t know where they’re going to end up because there’s not a comfortable record company fit. But I wrote them for themselves, like when I started writing when I was in college. I’ve mostly written songs to clear out the emotional detritus that I have in my brain that doesn’t let me go to sleep at night.

When I hear it back, that allows me the freedom to cry all I want. In other words, I give the song my pain and then I can cry it all out. That’s what I’m doing now. And I’m working on a book and writing a play, too. It’s about two-thirds of the way finished and I don’t know where it’s going to go, either. Mostly my work goes into my home. Ever seen Downton Abbey? It’s like when Lord Crawley says he’s given his life to Downton Abbey. That’s very much the way I feel about my home.  My handwriting is on the wall.