Review: Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon – And the Journey of a Generation

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.

Review: Papa John – An Autobiography: A Music Legend’s Shattering Journey Though Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll

Return with me to those glorious days of the 1960’s when we transitioned from folk music to folk rock. You will enjoy this book if you like a brutally honest account of the seedy side of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. John Phillips was driven, hugely talented, lucky, and a beast in terms of consumption. I read this book the first-time in 1986 and really enjoyed it. It reminded me at times of an old soldier telling war stories.

I had earlier read Michelle Phillips’ fluffy memoir, “California Dreamin’,” She had told us a Sunday School version of her marriage to John and the Mamas and Papas. I learned nothing-new from Michelle. I knew there must be more to the story of the Mamas and the Papas. Therefore, I sought out her ex-husband’s story. At more than two-and-a-half times the length, “Papa John” did not disappoint. It contained all the grimy details that Michelle chose to omit, and then some.

If you read the book you find yourself saying TMI, TMI, TMI (too much information) if you have little taste for very private information on drug use, personal sex life (he tells who, how, when, where, with almost XXX description of tryst, by tryst) for my taste. He tells not only of his private life but of a number of other celebrities as well. He admits everything from paying quarters for sex from a neighborhood girl when he was a young teen, to hookers and barmaids in Havana to explaining what it means to be “greasing on American Express”.

The story of the origins of the Mamas and the Papas including Cass getting hit on the head and it changing her pitch is included. The books later chapters deal with his and his daughter McKenzie Phillips heavy drug taking are in meticulous, mind-numbing, and often alarming detail. Perhaps putting it all down for the record was healing for John. Perhaps he was attempting to discourage others from going down the same path. At times, I felt like the priest in the confessional booth or the psychiatrist who was hearing it all. His descriptions were so nauseating that I quickly read them. It would make most swear-off or never go near drugs.

If pop music history is your thing, you won’t want to miss this unique slice of history of the son of a USMC career officer and Cherokee Indian mother. He is the father of Jeffrey Phillips, Mackenzie Phillips, Chynna Phillips (conceived during the Monterey International Pop Festival – the story of her conception is in the book), Tamerlane Phillips, and Bijou Phillips.

Also, after the book’s release John Phillips wrote the song “Kokomo” along with Scott McKenzie, Mike Love and Terry Melcher. Recorded by The Beach Boys in 1988, it became the biggest selling song of 1988. It is also the Beach Boys best-selling single and one of the best-selling songs of all time. It secured John Phillips financially for the rest of his life.

Review: Chronicles, Volume One

I received this book from my son Kristopher for Christmas way back in 2004. The book is a lot like Bob Dylan … different and genius. We start in 1961. We witness some history in him signing his first record contract.

It is an odd memoir that is as inspired, impulsive, and to a degree as eccentric as Dylan’s greatest music. He never tells us what he is about.

Biography lovers will find it wanting. You get near, but not close to Dylan. He chases “rabbits”. It reminds me of someone talking in to a tape recorder and then having it transcribed – word for word.

With a title of “Chronicles, Volume One”, when will we see Volume Two? Save your money. Borrow the book from the library, unless you are a big Bob Dylan fan. Read in January 2005.