Carly Simon M. Mark - Essay

M. Mark

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[On Boys in the Trees Carly Simon is] obscure and artsy in her ruminations about sexual insecurity. Boys in the Trees includes a couple of songs that say without-my-man-I'm-worthless-and-he'll-leave-me-'cause-I'm-worthless. The new single, "You Belong to Me," presents her response—mostly desperate, with a neat hint of egocentrism—to her man's announcement that he's in love with someone else. There's still a high school feel to her songs—it's boys in the trees—but Carly seems less anguished over whether she'll get asked to the prom.

Which is smart. She's too sleek and well-adjusted to be a credible victim; if Carly went up to Saratoga, guess whose horse would win. Boys in the Trees is relatively light on wallflowerism and turgid ballads. Exceptions are "Haunting," [which is] arcane and ostentatious …, and "In a Small Moment," the pompous, moralistic recounting of a fall from grace. But "Back Down to Earth" acknowledges that a grown-up woman can survive the breakup of a love affair, and "You're the One" acknowledges that she can stop being passive. It's a likable album.

And it has what may be Carly's best song since "You're So Vain"—a calypso "De Bat (He Fly in Me Face)."… A song that's witty, funny, sly—how do you get de wings on the cat? But there's a little problem: rich white girl puts on brownface, plays minstrel, has good time….

Although she's begun to consider the injustices of the prom world, she apparently hasn't thought much about walking away from that old demeaning dance of courtly love. It's way past time for Carly Simon to define herself: She'll always get asked to the prom, and she doesn't have to say yes.

M. Mark, "Carly Simon, Belle of the Ball," (reprinted by permission of The Village Voice and the author; copyright © The Village Voice, Inc., 1978), in The Village Voice, Vol. XXIII, No. 20, May 15, 1978, p. 65.