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Carly Simon on Being 'Isolated,' Suffering From Stage Fright and How Modern Music Turned Into 'Noise'
- Posted on May 3rd 2012 5:00PM by Chris Epting
Several days before accepting her award, Simon, whose many hits include "You're So Vain," "Nobody Does It Better" and "Coming Around Again," spoke with Spinner about the honor, her career, modern music and battling stage fright.
Carly, you've won two Grammys, an Oscar, a Golden Globe, you are in the Songwriters Hall of Fame - – where does the ASCAP Founders Award fit within your many accolades?
Hmm... it is definitely different than all the others. I'll put it like this, if all those other recognitions were in the rose garden, then this one is in a daisy field.
That's an interesting picture. Can you explain a bit more?
Well, the daisy field doesn't have four corners. It goes on for miles and miles. Those other ones have distinct corners and edges, but this one just feels special, more special in a way, I guess. Harder to define.
The award is given to artists that have inspired and influenced other artists. Do you have a sense of who, specifically, you have influenced and inspired over the years?
Well, I like to think there are a few out there [laughs]. And I'd guess most people have not heard of them: You know, artists who are friends of my band, some lesser-known people. Interestingly, children of friends of mine, especially when I did "The Itsy Bitsy Spider," they were influenced by me, I know. You also have to understand, I don't get out much. I'm not really a member of that backstage kind of thing. I'm quite isolated actually, so it's hard for me to understand specifically who I might be influencing today. I live a different lifestyle in showbiz. As far as things like "American Idol" and "Dancing With the Stars," I can't handle really handle those things [laughs].
In what way?
At some point in our society, the music turned into noise. And there have been so many changes in technology that have supported this concept of music as noise, and now great artists like Bach and Beethoven and Stravinsky are all just kind of streamed down a tributary river. I'm not really proud of it, just the way it has developed, or how some singers are coached and judged today. I still prefer the way of listening to music as i did when I grew up -- like when a new Beatles record came out, we all got together and listened to it beginning to end. We absorbed it the way the artists intended it.
I bet you'd make a good mentor on some of these competition shows.
Well, maybe after reading this someone will call.
Do you shy away from technology?
Not entirely. I mean, I have a computer, and an iPhone and an iPad -- but I only use like 1/100th of what they are designed to do [laughs]. But I always try and listen to things the way the artist wanted it. I always carefully program my albums, thematically, which is how I want people to hear them. I know I'm old-fashioned, but don't get me wrong -- I still appreciate the younger generation. My parents didn't always understand what I was doing. Those things never change. But it's just something today about the cohesion of the material getting lost that bothers me.
From the very beginning, as a songwriter you always very mature beyond your years in terms of lyrics and melody. What influences affected you most as a songwriter?
I'm sure it came from my various music influences in the house growing up. My father was a classical pianist, my elder sister was an opera singer and my mother was a singer, too. In fact, she and my father played parts of "Porgy and Bess" for Gershwin in Gershwin's apartment. My father played and mother sang. Plus, my uncles were total jazz aficionados -- they founded the magazines Metronome and Downbeat -- so I had a lot of really strong musical influences in my life growing, all of very high quality. I'm sure that affected me as a writer.
Starting out, you considered yourself more a writer than performer, right?
Absolutely. To the extent that when I tried to sell myself as a songwriter, Jerry Ragovoy said to me, "I don't know what to make of you. I don't know who you are." He had trouble saying I was only a jazz singer or only a rock singer. I really wanted to get out and just write them; I didn't want to play them. I had so much of a problem getting up in front of an audience. Sending my songs to other artists was easy -- performing them wasn't.
What caused this fear of performing, if you know?
It was like post-traumatic stress. I had such a bad stammer as a child, whenever I had to get in the limelight it was scary. I would get terrible stomach aches in school and became scared to even be asked a question because of how kids might ridicule my stammer. When I got older, that fear continued to affect me as a performer -- the fear of what might happen once I got up there.