Boys in the Trees is Carly Simon’s memoir of her life, first as the third daughter of four children in the wealthy but dysfunctional family of Richard L. Simon, co-founder of Simon and Schuster, then as a successful and well-loved musician who succeeded despite near-crippling stage fright, and ultimately also as the wife of James Taylor for nearly two decades and mother of their two children, Sally and Ben. It has recently been re-released in paperback by Flatiron Books, after its original best-selling release in late 2015.
Simon talks openly and honestly about a glittering childhood full of dinner parties with guests like George Gershwin and other celebrities but which underneath the glitter was filled with anxiety and dark secrets.
Probably as a result of that childhood, she developed a deep need for male attention and, as she achieved fame, had a number of lovers with instantly recognizable names, including Mick Jagger and Warren Beatty. She speaks of them in the book with empathy and affection. At times, her language gets so metaphorical as to be difficult to follow, especially in the section about Beatty, but you get the gist of the story.
But it is crystal clear that the real love of her life has been James Taylor. They were two people who both suffered from mental and emotional issues who were sometimes able to overcome those problems together, to make a home and be happy, create great music and memorable performances, and have children together. But ultimately, their marriage began its slow unraveling, and while we only get Taylor’s side from Simon’s telling, it is plain that drugs and the musician’s life played a huge part in it. It is equally plain that her affection for him is still there even though they do not stay in touch.
This is a remarkable memoir, often painful but never bitter, full of great highs and deep lows. I would have liked to know more about Simon’s life in the decades since Taylor, but perhaps that will be another book.