Tonight I watched a new installment of PBS’ My Music series. Founding Supremes singer Mary Wilson served as the host of the program showcasing many classic female singers and girl groups of the 1960s. It showcased seventeen of the singers/groups. Watching it reminded me of the book “Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon – And the Journey of a Generation” by Sheila Weller that I read a couple of years ago. Here is a review of the book I wrote in August 2011.
The contents of “Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon–And the Journey of a Generation” by Sheila Weller will be very recognizable to us who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s. Sheila Weller tells us that King, Simon, and Mitchell pushes back the barriers for women specifically, “one song at a time.”
The enigmatic one remains Carole King, whom Weller just can’t shed light on in any significant way. King’s life was amazing then it stopped being of any interest at all. We learn and hear again and again how she wrote all those Brill Building masterpieces before she was 21. We learn how she broke down under the strain of a troubled marriage to a husband and lyricist, Gerry Goffin whom she at married when she was 17 and pregnant by him. We see how she comes through the divorce with an LP, Tapestry, that everyone loved and bought. After that her life is bad men in abundance. They were attracted to her wealth. King once estimated that every time she divorced a man, it cost her a million dollars. Weller gives us all the facts. One still has to wonder why King did this to herself.
Carly Simon, on the other hand seems nearly normal as normal can be for someone of the upper, upper middle class. Though perceptibly spoiled and protected by wealth, Simon doesn’t seem spoiled. Her reactions are always understandable and sympathetic. This includes her meeting and marrying the drug-zombie James Taylor.
Joni Mitchell isn’t sympathetic. She has the integrated persona of the genius totally in love with herself and obsessed with her own reflection, so she’s great in a special way. The author makes fun of Mitchell’s vanity and enormous self-esteem. Weller still lets us know that, in her estimation at any rate, Mitchell actually is amazing.
Weller is interested in the ways women deal with each other. It’s nearly a biography of five people, not just three, as there is so much about James Taylor you will never need to read another word about him if you have this book on your shelf. There is also plenty of material about Judy Collins. Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon–And the Journey of a Generation is a book that convinces us forcefully in its larger arguments and dazzles with its wide-ranging portraits of artistic life in the 50s, 60s and 70s.