Saturday, October 20, 2012

Review: Girls Like Us

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Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon--And the Journey of a GenerationGirls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon--And the Journey of a Generation by Sheila Weller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon--And the Journey of a Generation has been on my bookshelf since last Thanksgiving. When I saw it in my local indie bookstore, I couldn't resist it: colorful cover and promises of inside info on Joni Mitchell. Even though Joni Mitchell's music was more popular when my mom was young, I love her. I think she, Linda Rondstadt, Peter, Paul and Mary, and Simon & Garfunkle just sank into my brain along with the amniotic fluid before birth. My parents even had Simon & Garfunkle on vinyl. Now that's cool. When I was a kid, having albums on vinyl was a sign of hoarding and resisting the lure of CDs for as long as possible. Okay, enough with dating myself with media. Uh hem.



This book looks intimidating, and I put off reading it for that reason. Admittedly, it wasn't a weekend project for me. I think it took me about two weeks to get through it, but that included several nights when I just had to come home and conk out. From the first page, I was hooked and it just flew by from there. Carole King, Joni Mitchell, and Carly Simon have all led interesting lives, and for insight into their lives and careers alone, it's worth the read, but the wonderful thing about Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon--And the Journey of a Generation is it's much more than that. Weller deftly reconstructs the times these women lived in with details beyond JFK's assassination and the Vietnam War. Did you know that in the late sixties, it wasn't unusual for apartments in NYC marketed to single women to include a bathtub in the kitchen? I gather this was a trick a lot of pervy landlords used to spy on their single female tenants. Weller also includes vivid details from interviews with family and close friends to capture subtle nuances of the relationships these women had with friends, lovers, and colleagues, and explains the context of the times. For example, when she provides details of the relationship between Carly Simon and novelist Nick Delbanco, several of the things Nick said to Carly or expected of her might seem ridiculous by current standards of appropriate power balances between partners, but were normal at the time.

Music fans will delight in the background information Weller includes about songs and albums these women recorded. We follow Carole King from writing melodies for Gary Goffin's songs, and occasionally co-writing lyrics to writing songs on her own, and, finally, performing with the help of James Taylor. Joni Mitchell's songs and albums become a map of her relationships--James Taylor really rated since For The Roses was apparently a work Joni used as a way to process their break-up. Carly Simon made it possible to pair sexy sophistication with rock and roll as a female pop star, and went on to record the Academy Award winning song, Let the River Run for Working Girl.

If you are passionate about the women's movement in the United States and popular music, you have to read this book.

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