Thursday, March 13, 2008

Disappointment of the Month

The April issue of Vanity Fair has a big splashy article on three of the biggest female musicians of the late '60s and early 1970s: Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon and Carole King. It's taken from a triography of those three women by a writer named Sheila Weller, and all of us here at OPC were pretty excited to see it, since we're fans of all three. We wrote about Carly here and here, and Joni here; we've yet to write about Carole King, but she's a tremendous songwriter who will always be emblematic of that moment in time when Long Island housewives began wearing caftans and getting divorced.

But hey boygie, this thing is badly written. From the first half of the first sentence - "Carole King, Joni Mitchell, and Carly Simon were born in the early and middle 1940s" - you know we're in trouble. Do you really want to start this out by talking about when they were born? If they weren't all born within an easily defined period, why try to force them into one? (They were actually all born during World War II, so it wouldn't have been hard to pigeonhole them.)

And it gets worse from there. Weller says "You're So Vain" "made feminism wickedly fun," which I don't even get what's supposed to be feminist about it. She says Al Kooper's organ on "Like a Rolling Stone" "had done much to make the song the marvel it was held to be." Way to go out on a limb, Sheila: Do you doubt "Like a Rolling Stone" is a marvel? To display proof of Joni Mitchell's continuing importance, she quotes Starbucks marketing copy ("A timeless voice challenges today's world"). Yoy.

The research seems to be pretty good, although even I noticed mistakes. Weller calls "Wild World" Cat Stevens' first hit, which it was in the U.S., but he was already a huge star in his native England before then. She says Carole King turned down the cover of Life magazine in 1973, a year after that publication folded (although, to be fair, it's possible that she meant some other time, but it's too badly written to tell).

The one part of the story that was worthwhile was the last section, on the post-Tapestry King's third marriage, to an abusive, drug-addicted loser from Idaho. She eventually split one day after getting smacked around, and he promptly went to L.A. and OD'd. It's chilling, and little-known, to me at least. If you're interested in this article at all, I'd skip ahead to that final part.


Louisa McCune said...

I, too, was struck by how poorly written it was. Alas, because I always love reading about Joni, Blue being my all-time favorite album. Just all the usual info and woodenly conveyed at that. Love ya, Tom.

T. Nawrocki said...

Thanks, Louisa! Compounding the problem for me was that if the piece had been any good, I could have mined a week's worth of items out of it.