Archive for July, 2008

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MAD HOPES FOR THE MAD MEN WOMEN

July 30, 2008

                Having spent much of the last six years re-conjuring what it was like to have come of age during the second half of the 1960s — when girls were newly, defiantly sexual while America was still numbly, dumbly sexist — DVD-ing the whole first season of Mad Men (which presents the years just before ours) in one night was like getting socked with an ice-cream headache: too sweet! too much! too true! That brilliant series (as smart as Robert Redford’s Quiz Show, while flirting with camp) — which has started its second season on AMC with a Sopranos-like buzz-bang — delivered gorgeously grotesque memories of how life seemed to be for young women ten to twenty years older than me.  Never had a generation of American girls so not wanted to slip into the shoes of the one before it as mine did, and watching Mad Men reminded me of why. Despite some irresistible liberties taken with hairdos and, of course, passes on accents (is cleaned-up ValleyGirl that hard to suppress?), it was all there with a cruel gleam: the frantic perkiness, the forced obeisance to idiots, the insta-matronliness and smugness that came with marriage. It was as if the dregs of Truman-to-Eisenhower-era social mandates were being rotely lived out by these older sisters and young aunts of ours; and if you were a middle-class teenage girl in 1960, you peeked across the thin curtain to that desultory looming young-adulthood with dread. We were helplessly preparing for such a life — wearing suits and gloves to Sweet Sixteen luncheons; signing our “married” names (those of the varsity football captains we had crushes on) in our best friends’  yearbooks  — while simultaneously resisting it: clicking our orthodontic retainers rudely, making our “sarcastic” jokes, pinning JFK buttons to our rich-Beatnik-girl Geistex sweaters, singing (of course) like the Shirelles, whose #1 hit, courtesy of Carole and Gerry, was the very significant “Will You Love Me Tomorrow.” The Ray Charles and Joan Baez albums we played After Homework hazily suggested what ship we wanted to jump to (though we couldn’t see its prow yet). Mad Men shows us the ship we were jumping from.

     And a lot of it was like the high school world we knew. When, in the middle of the the first season, callow account exec Pete Campbell walks past striving-to-be-a-copywriter secretary Peggy Olson’s desk without acknowledging her, Peggy’s incremental comprehension of her powerlessness with this guy she’s had sex with is documented in her face’s shift from anticipation to abashment to acceptance. Later tells him, “I don’t know if you like me or you don’t” — but to my ’60s generation ears, that sequence rang untrue: No girl, adult or teen, then would have made such an earnest, whining plea for something as then-nonexistent as communication and not been laughed at by the boy– or mocked by her cooler girlfriends. It was really not until six years later, through the new Bohemian girl persona (delicate but steelly, gossamer, dignified) that Joni was embodying onstage at Philadelphia’s Second Fret and elsewhere — that there was a model for young women taking risks with love that was both arrestingly glamorous and formidable enough to defeat every disadvantage of  being a single, sexual woman. Those very early ’60s were buyer-beware years in the mating game, and girls who sexually braved them then were like Bear Stearns shareholders now. Try to change the template, and you both gloried and suffered — hoisted on your own petard. As Betsy Minot Siggins (Baez’s close friend in Cambridge, and a member of  that Mad Men generation) told me. “Sometimes it felt like we were both the creators of and the victims of the Sexual Revolution.” (It was not until Joni wrote “Cactus Tree” — “I will love them when I see them”; “with a heart that’s full and hollow” — that an alternate template, for women managing spontaneous love affairs without getting shattered — appeared. Those lyrics were like a primer for other late ’60s girls, living alone but proudly and adventurously, in big cities.)

      But I’m pausing for a moment on Betsy Siggins’ term: victims and creators: that’s just it. For, as much as I love Mad Men, I also want to correct its saccharin, overly credulous portrayal of its women. Every woman on that show is drinking from the same trough, and that’s just not how it was. In trying to be p.c. sympathetic with the plight of early ’60s women, Mad Men’s young creator Matthew Weiner is not giving these chicks their due. Plight does not equal consciousness. We high school girls, looking with veiled horror at those perky secretaries and those pregnant young wives in Christmas-bow maternity get-ups, knew they were wearing Kabuki masks. My research, and my memory, has led me to believe that few women took that happy-housewife ideal without spoon-gagging, and of course, the second-wave feminism that would fully bloom a decade later (powered by Betty Draper contemporary Betty Friedan) had its roots in the internal rebellion of these Silent Generation women whose obedience was skin-deep, at best. Also, we saw slightly older, jazzy women who had found ways around the archetype — who were Gals, who didn’t pine for marriage, who had good times. (Closing my eyes, I can conjure three in this archetpe from my own childhood: My father’s secretary Jeri [with whom he had an affair], my uncle’s Ciro’s cigarette girl/photographer Reggie Drew [:Lana Turner’s ill-fated husband flirted with her]. and my mother’s close friend, Laura Budwill, a jaunty, MG-driving Schwab’s regular who was actor Jeff Chandler’s secretary and who would dive off our boat with a knife in her teeth to unloose the seaweed stuck underneath.)

    Here’s what I remember: Beautiful women didn’t feel dutiful; they gave as well as they got. There was always a slot for the tough, fun-loving babe (see examples above). “Good” girls admired wild, sexy girls — far from tsk’ing them (as they do in Mad Men), they knew they had gotten to some farther shore first. The threatening notion of a female’s “reputation” was a paper construct just waiting to be demolished.

    Here’s what  I think about the Mad Men women:The real Peggy Olson would be flintier and snarkier. (She chose advertising to try to make her mark in — not Alfred A. Knopf.) Far from being shocked that the passive-exercise device she is asked to try out is a orgasm-stimulator, she would have already practiced her craft by writing dirty lyrics to Pat Boone’s “April Love.” Don Draper’s ex-model wife Betty wouldn’t be a naif to her husband’s boss or the rival executive’s overtures (she’d have used her beauty to slyly play both men) or a mournful doormat to Don. Way too foxy to have to make do with being tempted by the door-to-door air conditioner salesman (huh?) in the first season — or to flirt with the auto mechanic in the second (double huh?), she’d have a hot hipster boy on the side; the Drapers’ his-and-hers affairs would be as poised to launch as Krushchev and Kennedy missiles. Draper’s Jewish department-store-heiress? Instead of cadging comfort from her minority-conferred sensitivity, he’d find her sophistication sexy and challenging. She wouldn’t have to be sent on that three-month cruise to resist him–that’s male self-flattery. Instead, her friends from Ethical Culture (I can’t imagine she didn’t go to that school…) would return from a Civil Rights trip to the South and talk about going again– her crowd of penthouse activists taking on a glamorous moral adventurousness that secret-Dust-Bowl-bastard Draper would be intrigued by and hard put to match. As for Joan Holloway, the flame-red-haired, buxom, Jill-St-John-on-mega-hormone-doses office manager — whose marriage marketability Peggy Olson primly assesses (as a real  Peggy wouldn’t) as fatally compromised: She’d quit her loser married lover Roger Sterling and his Sterling Cooper Agency. Far from obsessing about getting married (megaphone note to Weiner: NOT EVERY WOMAN OBSESSED ABOUT GETTING MARRIED! EVEN IN 1960-1962!) as she does at the beginning of season two, this sharp, tough babe would take her vinegary emotional intelligence and her room-working charisma, and open a — wildly successful — Elaine’s-type bar.

    You see, what saved those of us girls who were next at-bat (until we had the songs of Joni, Carole and Carly with which to ride our own wave of young adulthood) was our hunch that these older sisters had  power all along. Like the crafters of a slick ad campaign, they were simply waiting for the right time-buy. Let’s hope that, in this new season of Mad Men, we see Peggy, Joan, and Betty more as they really felt in their seditious hearts (and trash-talked to their girlfriends) than as they had to act. Since we’re moving forward from 1962, I’m hopeful this will happen. Actually, I can’t wait to see what happens next. And, fyi: the sedative Don Draper’s doctor prescribes in the first new episode? It would have been Miltown, not phenobarbitol. Any ’60s girl with a parent’s medicine cabinet could tell you that.

[This blog, in a slightly different form, was cross-posted on Huffington Post, as was my previous blog.]

        

 

 

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Thanks, Carly, for the nice words…!

July 17, 2008

I’m so glad that Carly is blog-posting from her Vineyard home, and thanks, Carly, for the congrats about the movie sale. (Let’s all cross our fingers!) After her post, a number of her fans have nice things to say…

 

« Hot, hot, hot | Main | So Many People To Love »

June 11, 2008

Girls Like Us

Good afternoon dear fans,

Gls1 I am so very delighted that you have read some of my posts, my meanderings into the tiny tiny place that I take up on this Earth. My goodness, the size of the universe is appalling enough, but the fact that even the smartest of scientists can’t fathom it.

I was wondering if any of you have read “girls like us” and what you think of it?
I’ve dipped into it but gingerly, like picking up a phone in your house when you know your mother and father are on the phone with the principal of the school talking about some academic issue that could get you suspended.

It was just sold for the movies! Go Sheila! I think she really did a great job with the book and I’m wondering who will play me? As a ten year old, in love with Lauren Bacall, I always prayed that I would play the part of her in a movie when I got older. I would pose in front Gls2 of my mirror and try to pull my waist in thinner and thinner, as I puffed on a fake cigarette and narrowed my eyes.

Now there is the possibility that someone would play me. So weird. What do you think?
Flipper? Lassie?

I’m just watching Alanis Morissette on the View and she’s saying to Barbara Walters everything I have ever said in interviews about my writing. I want to talk to her and tell her I am she. I feel the same. If anyone is in contact with her, would you tell her that Actually, she could play Lauren Bacall!!

With all that, I say, love to you today, Carly

Comments

Hi Carly,
I have read “girls like us”. In fact, I finished it and then started back at the beginning and re-read it. I just didn’t want to miss out on any of the details! I was fascinated by the biographies, but it also brought back so many memories for me. It’s remarkable how women’s lives have changed and you, Carole and Joni played such a big part in making that happen. Thank you so much for participating in the book and for being so open and willing to share so much of your life with us, your devoted fans! I think that takes alot of courage – but then, courage is what you’re about. My very best to you and your family. Anne

I loved the book, and I thought that Sheila did a great job. Some parts of the book are very touching and emotional, like the part where you tell James that it would be nice to just be on the phone with him, even if you weren’t talking.

After reading the book I couldn’t help but think that there are more stories to tell, or that the stories that were told could have been broader in their coverage and scope. So I came away thinking that Carly Simon would write an awesome, interesting and thoroughly captivating autobiography.

I think Alanis Morissette is great and awesome, and I hope you get to talk to her. I think the two of you would make for great friends!

Hello Carly. For years I have dreamed of walking into my Barnes & Noble, or any bookstore, and seeing a book on the shelf about you. I have seen so many biographies on so many other artists, so I have always wondered why no one had written one about you. When I heard about Shelia Weller’s book, I couldn’t wait for it to be released. I am currently about half way through the book, and though I do also like Joni and Carole, I feel that the book goes much more into detail about them, and not as much about you. I am, however, greatful that Ms. Weller included you in her book, and that you were open enough to the idea to communicate with her, though Joni and Carole did not. However, I would still prefer a book based soley on your life. Maybe someday someone will see the need to do just that!!!

Dear Carly,
I couldn’t read “Girls Like Us” fast enough! Reading about how you and Joni and Carole shaped history, or were shaped by it, brought back so many memories for me about where I was,and with whom, when I heard “that” song.
My daughter’s name is Lucy and so I keep listening to “You’re the Love of My Life” over and over. When you sing, “I Love Lucy”, somehow Lucille Ball isn’t the one. Also–listening to you and Sally and Ben sing, “You Can Close Your Eyes” –the harmonies of your voices–is spectacular. (I can’t think of the name of that album as it’s been in my car CD player since the day I bought it.
OK–here is a very strange confession. My grandparents lived on Iselin Avenue–their back yard backed onto yours. One day, I was visiting and I found the Fieldston phone directory. I dialed your number, without any idea of what I was going to say to you (I was probably 14) and a housekeeper answered. I remember I told her that I was a fan and my grandparents were neighbors, and I loved the swing hanging from the tree on your front lawn. She was very kind to an adolescent fan. I was able to tell my friends that I had somehow felt like I’d known you…but we all do, through your music and lyrics and relationships that we’ve formed with you in our own minds.
Thank you for the gift of you, wrapped up in a song (s).
Most Sincerely,
Nancy

Carly,

I am 47, married , and the mother of a 7 year old autistic beautiful son. I have quietly admired you for as long as I can remember. I read a review in the paper about the book”Girls like us” and went out and bought it that day. It was really wonderful and brought me back in time. The book only made me admire you and the others more than I already did. It’s a funny thing all of us out here feeling as if we know you because your music was a part of our lives. You should be happy about the book it serves you well. Not one of us escapes the trials and tribulations of life and to know others we like have to also muddle through at times empowers us out here. Thanks, be happy and take care. Kelly

I am about halfway through Girls Like Us. The three of you – yourself, Joni, and Carole, really did change the world for women, but in such different ways. Musically obviously you all three had great impact and influence. But I felt like you were so much more confident in yourself as a woman, and that is how you stand out amongst the three women in this book. Carole and Joni were still trying to fit into the world as it was – trying to conform to other’s expectations of them, being “good girls” – evidenced by Carole’s early marriage upon finding herself pregnant, and Joni’s giving up her baby as an unwed mother. But there you were, practicing birth control, enjoying your sexuality, unembarrassed, uninhibited, unafraid to be sexy on the cover of No Secrets, and even as a young mother on Playing Possum’s cover. Your example was very liberating to a whole generation of women. Thank you Carly!

Dear Carly,
I read the book over the course of about 3 days during April school vacation week. I couldn’t put it down! I agree with the above poster that you appeared so much more confident during your teen and early adult years than did Joni and Carole. Do you suppose it was because of your older sisters? The book left me so appreciative of what you, Carole, and Joni did to blaze the trail for the women of my generation (I’m 42). Your songs have been provoking my thoughts and guiding my actions and responses since I was a teenager. I’m loving your new CD and so wishing I could make it down to the Vineyard for the signing on Saturday. I’m doing what I can to promote it verbally and have given many as gifts. Unfortunately I live in the sticks of Western MA and there are no radio stations here to make requests of! Thanks again for all you do and happy summer!

What a wonderful read “Girls Like Us” is!
Very honest and in depth – and didn’t I hear that you were the only one of the 3 who contributed by interview?
For those of us who have enjoyed Joni Mitchell’s, Carole King’s and your artistry and could never read enough about your magical lives, this book is a gift. So interesting to read of how you all began your careers.
Thank you for all your work! Your new CD features more heartfelt songs and a more mature voice.

Dear Carly,
Lassie and Flipper were 2 of my favorite shows when I was a girl! You funny girl! Proubably one of my first albums was Tapestry. I also have many Joni albums. But when I found you at about 12(I’m 49), you are the artist that I feel very conected to. You are genuinely, loving and warm. These recent blogs are a perfect example of that part of you that we all love! Well, I have given this serious thought. Who would be the right person to play you? Listen to Colbie Callat(“Bubbly” topped the charts)CD is COCO.She is a young singer/songwriter.Nice voice and I thought of you when I saw her. I like her style. Justine Bateman (Family Ties) she is not as pretty as you, but looked alot like you when she was younger. Jessica Beil, Sheryl Crow, Alanis Morissette. I went to college with a girl that looked alot like you. I asked her if anyone had ever told her she looked like Carly Simon? She had been told that before. There is a massage therapist at “Massage Envy” that looks alot like you in the 70’s. I think you should play you for recent years. There is only one you! You look healthy, beautiful and loved! Always ageless!
Take Care Love!
Lori H.

Hi Carly,
Who could play you? I think Sally should play you for the 70’s. It would be a very eye opening experience for her. Then you should play you for the ’80s on.
Jessica Biel would also be good, she has that devastatingly sexy but still classy quality that you have.

dear carly,

just today i received “girls like us” thanks to simon speaks. i am so excited about reading it and learning more about you, carole king and joni mitchell. i will be done by this weekend and will come back to post on it. it’s about time we have a biography of you. i am hoping for an autobiography….will we see one in the near future???

in regards to how shall play the carly role in the movie? your daughter, sally, you AND amy winehouse. wouldn’t that be fun!!!

thanks for blogging carly!

with heartfelt luv….raven

Hi Carly,
I agree…write a book about your life! Girls like us is great…but it would be even better if you wrote a book reflecting on your life…and throw in poems and recipes and doodles and all things Carly.
That would be awesome!
mowriter@new.rr.com

Hi Carly
I read Girls like Us and because I grew up listening to all the albums of the three of you, I was transported back in time to so many great memories of that era. It was a great read and I feel priveleged to have been exposed to parts of your life in this way! Your honesty and integrity are to be admired! Thank you for being you andfor great music over the years. Love and hugs – Kay (Australia)

Dear Carly,
I just finished “Girls Like Us”. Great book, and no offense to Ms. Mitchell or Ms. King, but your story touched and inspired me deeply and here’s why: despite all of the slings and arrows that have come your way your vibrancy, sense of humor,generousity, and love of the people around you shine through. That, Cheri, is no small feat. Thanks for giving this “anxious-but-still-doing-what-I wish” girl her life soundtrack to sing along with at the top of her lungs!
Much love and respect to you,
Becky

I just finished the book last night. Like many others, I could not put it down. I think Ms. Weller did an extraordinary job illuminating that fascinating time for all of us who might have been just a little too young to remember. The first albums I remember buying were by you three ladies, so it was so wonderful to be able to know the impetus behind each song and what you were going thru at the time. It should be required reading for any aspiring female singer songwriters out there.

You are amazing! I loved reading about your life in “Girls Like Us”. I decided to read about each of you seperately because skipping around back and forth is too much.
I read about you first though because honestly, your life seemed the most exciting. I’m sad that I’m almost finished reading about you, so I came to the internet to see what you are up to. It’s amazing how comforting books can be.
What a brave and talented woman you are and a real inspiration. I’m a songwriter and it feels good to know even very sucessful women have struggled. I’m looking forward to discovering more of your music. Especially now that through reading about you, I feel like you are a kindred spirit with all those great sexual lyrics. He-he.
Thank you for continuing to share your gift of music. Bless You!

P.S. I saw HeartBurn a few months ago and your music just made me cry it was so perfect. Love can be so heartbreaking.

I just finished Girls Like Us. Well, I was not really like the three of you . . . but you three were of my era and I remember the songs, the struggles and the awakenings of that time. However I read the book not for a trip down memory lane but because I’ve always been a great fan of yours. Keep singing, composing and being involved in good causes. I can’t wait for the movie.

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