Monday, November 04, 2013

Linda Ronstadt and Carly Simon

At Third, Ava and I wrote   "She sang so much, she wrote so little (Ava and C.I.)" covering Linda Ronstadt's new book  Simple Dreams.


There was supposed to be a roundtable at Third Sunday.  There was no time. Ty's drowning in e-mails.  He told over a 100 people that an issue would be addressed in the roundtable Sunday and they're writing because it wasn't and they apparently shared with friends that it would because Ty's reading e-mails from people he didn't even reply to and they're asking where was the roundtable?

Ty's not avoiding the issue, he's not ignoring it.  If there's a subject that has to be addressed, it goes on our list of topics to work on and it is addressed.  Unless we're all tired and forget.  As Jim notes in his "A note to our readers,"  Elaine, Ava and I stopped working on a piece (see his note for why) and at that point, I was really ready for it to wrap up.  If it had, Isaiah could have done a comic.  Instead the writing edition continued for four more hours. The roundtable was on the list of have-to-dos.  At that point, I didn't care about that list or anything else, I just wanted it to be over.  I'm writing this quickly so Ty can link to it and send it out to the people who thought this issue would be addressed at Third.

For those who don't know, Linda Ronstadt is a multi-Grammy award winning singer.  She hit the Top 40 charts repeatedly as a solo artist beginning in 1970 with "Long, Long Time" and continued to chart on the Top 40 through 1989 with "All My Life" (duet with Aaron Neville).  (Yes, she had "Different Drum" in the sixties as part of the Stone Poneys.  This isn't a comprehensive look at Linda Ronstadt, this is a quick response.)

Carly Simon and Linda are peers.  Carly is a singer -- one of the great altos in the American songbook. She's also a songwriter -- one of the best in the 20th century.  As a singer-songwriter, she's responsible for such hits as "You're So Vain," "Anticipation," "Coming Around Again," "That's The Way I've Always Heard It Should Be," "Haven't Got Time For The Pain," "You Belong To Me," "Legend In Your Own Time," "The Right Thing To Do," "All I Want Is You" (with great backing vocals from Roberta Flack), "Better Not Tell Her" and the song that won her the Academy Award, the Golden Globe and the Grammy "Let The River Run" -- from Mike Nichols' Working Girl starring Melanie Griffith.  In addition, she had hits with songs written by others such as "Nobody Does It Better," "Devoted To You" and "Mockingbird."

Again, Carly's a singer-songwriter -- like Roberta, Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, the late Laura Nyro, Neil Young, Mary J. Blige, Graham Nash, Aimee Mann, Prince, India.Arie, Taylor Swift, Ben Harper, James Blake, Stevie Nicks, Bruno Mars Carole King, Jill Scott, Rufus Wainwright and more.

1) The book.

Linda wrote a book.  We offered praise of it.  We also offered a critical look at it.  I had no intention to review it originally due to Linda's health.  I didn't think I could be objective.  I was afraid I'd pull punches and stay silent.  Even with Ava co-writing and spurring me on, I felt it would be an embarrassing valentine.  I've known Linda for years and between that and her health crisis, I didn't think I could offer anything other than simple praise.

Linda fans should be glad because the book was covered, they should be glad that there are elements of the review that they are outraged by -- that's good, that gets the book attention and rallies her fans to buy it, and, at the end of the day, the review is Ava and my opinion.

2) The book was covered.

I'm not doing links for the reviews or the artists.  I've got one good hand to type with so deal with it.  (That especially applies to anyone who's thinking of picking up the phone and calling to ask, "Why didn't you link to me?")

In the seventies, eighties and a great deal of the nineties, women didn't get books, not women in popular music.  You got the token Janis books.  Janis Joplin probably has more books written about her than any other female musical artist.  And Janis was great and her artistry stands up to this day.  I'm not trying to slam her.

But the rock canon exists for a number of reasons -- most of them sexist.

Women's work is never going to be taken seriously in the music world without appraisals and biographies and autobiographies and lists and reviews and so much more.

Looking at what we could do that we weren't doing, Ava and I decided we could cover autobiographies by female music artists.  So we do.  If they're rock or pop, we cover it when it comes out.  We've covered Carole King's autobio, Judy Collins, Cyndi Lauper, Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart, a quickie of three women because we'd missed their books (one was country music), and more.

I have nothing against Lillian Roxon or her work -- it helped music, it helped women in music -- but that's not what we're doing. Lillian's role was more that of a cheerleader and there's a place for that (though there are too many doing that today and there's a great deal to be said for common sense).

In all of the cases, I've known the women we've covered.  Ava's known some as well.  That means that our reviews are going to note what got left out of the book the artist chose to write.

Even when we reviewed Shirley MacLaine's book -- which we loved -- we made a point to tell you about the curious omission of Shirley's daughter from the book.  A year later, you found out why -- her daughter was writing that ridiculous hit piece on Shirley.  Ridiculous?  I've never had an abortion.  I support the right of any woman to have one.  The ditzy daughter, among other things, slams Shirley for forcing her to have an abortion.  Shirley's a friend but even if she was a stranger, I'd tell the daughter to grow the hell up.  She was an adult and then some, she got pregnant by her live in boyfriend.  Shirley didn't tell her to have an abortion, let alone force her to.  She went to Shirley and begged Shirley to spend the next year supporting her financially.  She wanted money.  I don't know and I don't ask friends about what they do with their money.  (My kids have trust funds, they don't need to ask me for money.)  Because your parent refuses to pay the rent on you and your boyfriend's apartment and to pay for your food and your this and your that while your boyfriend doesn't work for a year (he was hoping to make it as an actor at that time -- he never did), that is not "My mother forced me to have an abortion!"  That is on you.  You and/or your boyfriend could have gotten a job.

That's one of the things that makes the reviews we do interesting, we know what got left out.  And sometimes that's pertinent.  We're not interested, for example, in listing all of Linda's affairs.  She chose to write about Jerry Brown so we did a make a point to note that she was silent about another -- one that was far more serious than the involvement with Jerry Brown.

Knowing them means we were able to tell you how Carole wrote her book -- she got a computer print out of major yearly events in the country and she structures her book around that to a degree.  We were also able to point out that she doesn't understand most of these events.  Good lefty Carole didn't want to hear about Central America in the 80s, for example.  And I can tell you why that is, but I'll be kind and just note that many of us were following those events and Carole would make a point to change the topic or insist that the topic be changed.

Carole wrote a bad book.  She doesn't even know her own career.  I'll offer one example, she and Toni Stern wrote "It's Going To Take Some Time."  The Carpenters had a hit with it.  In her book, Carole asserts it went to number one (it did not) and that it was the first number one she and Toni had as songwriters together (it was not).  Carole recorded "It's Going To Take Some Time" for her album Music which came out in December of 1971.  The Carpenters then covered "It's Going To Take Some Time" and took it into the top twenty (but not even the top ten) in 1972.  In February of 1971, Carole's Tapestry came out -- that would be before Music was issued -- and that same year (1971) the double sided single  "It's Too Late" and "I Feel The Earth Move" was released.  In June of 1971, it hit number one (and stayed there for five weeks).  "It's Too Late was written by Carole and Toni Stern..

A number one song they wrote that hit the top of the charts in June of 1971 would be their first number one song, not a 1972 single which only made it to number twelve.

There are mistakes like that throughout the book.

I think Ava and I do a better job reviewing these books than the paid reviewers who miss everything.

We're taking the artist seriously and holding them accountable.

When Grace Slick wrote her autobiography -- Scratch that.  Even before that, when her authorized bio came out, it was greeted with universal acclaim.  But it was also 'soft.'  Soft praise, soft reviews.

The bio on Grace should have meant that there were serious bios on a ton of women musicians in popular music written.  But Barbara Rowes' 1980 biography on Grace, despite rave reviews and the fact that it sold, did not translate into other women being noted.

It's really the GRRL Power movement of the 90s that changes things. (That's Bikini Kill, Courtney Love, etc.  That's not the nonsense of pop tarts like The Spice Girls.)

And maybe if the book on Grace had been treated seriously in reviews -- puff piece raves are not serious reviews -- then it might have had more of an impact.

Leaving aside books for children and young teens, prior to the GRRL Power movement, most female artists in popular music were ignored in book form.  If they did make it into a book, it was, for example, a book republishing interviews.  There might be 3 women to 9 men in that book and, if you paid attention, you'd note that, for example, men who never had a hit and who had no real influence (I'm being kind and not naming) got 8 and 16 pages in the book while, for example, Rickie Lee Jones was reduced to a five page interview.  But these men that had nothing to cite, no hit album, no hit single, no trend they started, no bar they set, these men would get up to sixteen page.  I'm thinking, for example, of a male singer-songwriter who never hit the top 100 single charts, never had a top twenty album, never influenced anyone (in his genre or out), was known for pithy, sarcastic songs (no, I'm not talking about Randy Newman or Rufus' father) and he got sixteen pages to blather on while Rickie only got five.  And all the interviews in the book had been previously published.  And in the Joni Mitchell interview?  When published, she'd gone on about Carly Simon and it was nice and it was about Carly's music.  But all of that got pulled when the interview got published in the book, by the male author.  He was fine letting others yack on about Bruce Springsteen or any other male but when women had spoken of their female peers, that got pulled.

3) That got pulled.

Linda is the second author we've covered to write their autobiography and ignore Carly Simon.  Carole was the first.  Linda needs to be the last.  In fact, if you feel Ava and I took a two-by-four to Linda over this issue (as one e-mail Ty noted insists), good.

That crap needs to stop now.

Linda and Carole omitted Carly because Gertrude Taylor's Mama's Boy has insisted his ex-wife not be noted.  He was successful in getting nearly a hundred pages killed in Timothy White's biography of him.  Timothy White's dead and no real loss artistically because artists don't censor -- they certainly don't censor because some whiny little Mama's Boy can't deal with his own obsession for his ex-wife.

Linda and Carole were not married to the Mama's Boy.  There's no reason for them to follow his edict.

Carly is their peer.  Carole spent many hours, when Carly was married to Mama's Boy, talking about her kids with Carly (who had two kids of her own -- Ben Taylor and Sally Taylor).  Carole even worked on Carly's Playing Possum album.  But Carole omits Carly completely.  (As we noted in our review, she's that way towards all women.  She has a chapter called 'John & Yoko" but she ignores Yoko, leaving one of her many husbands to speak with Yoko while she speaks to John.)


When you're working Cher into a sentence about the novelist Colette?  You can damn well mention Carly.

You don't have to write about her, you can just mention her.

At one point, Linda includes a list of her peers which does note Laura Nyro but completely ignores Carly.

Again, she didn't have to share stories but she also didn't have to render Carly invisible.

4) I'm sick of that crap.

I'm sick of women who stab other women in the back to please a man.  In this case, Carole never slept with James.  It's her great regret and let's speak out of school: She thinks James would have been interested in her if she were "pretty."

Boo, hoo, Carole, grow the hell up.  You're over 70-years-old and still mooning over a man who was never attracted to you.  Grow the hell up.

If women aren't going to support other women, they can't expect men to.

First of all, we've seen how expecting that goes.  Women aren't in the rock canon or in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame except as tokens.

That doesn't change until women start supporting other women.

Again, we weren't expecting a chapter on Carly in Linda's book.  But we were expecting that one of her most prominent female peers could get a single mention in at least one sentence  -- one Linda copied repeatedly (and not just in terms of the torch albums -- Linda copied Carly's manner of dress, she tried to copy Carly's self-presentation and much more, I know both women and I was there and I remember what happened).

Ava and I pointed out in our review, that women writing these books need to see themselves as part of a team, not a token.  Until they do, women will not get their recognition.  Myself, I'd rather storm the barricades than stand around hoping I'd be the token included.  First off, one is active, the other is passive.  Secondly, if you're betting, you've got a better chance of being included when the barriers are smashed than being included as a token.

Gertrude Taylor's Mama's Boy is not the judge of music.  If he were, he might have actually hit the top of the charts with a song he wrote -- instead of one written by a woman.  He's a lousy (nasal) singer with horrible intonation.  He written the lamest songs in the world where this son of privilege repeatedly paints himself as a limo driver or a trucker or what have you.

It's funny how critics ridiculed "rich girls" and well off women for trying to rock -- this included, shamefully, Ellen Willis who damn well knew better -- but they never were bothered by pampered priss raised in luxury when it was a boy.

People under 20 reading that paragraph may be scratching their heads and going, "What?"

Yes, in the seventies, especially the early seventies, many women were dismissed -- Carly more than others -- because they supposedly came from money.  (Carly's money was gone -- all spent on therapy -- long before she became a solo artist.)  Any and every thing was thrown at women -- think of 2008 and Hillary's run for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination -- to argue that women couldn't rock, women couldn't do this, couldn't do that.

Rolling Stone, for example, regularly ran pieces attacking women.  I don't just mean attacking their talents, I mean pieces endorsing, for example, the writer's fantasy that the women were beat up.  One writer infamously wrote about the fantasy of Sonny Bono beating Cher with a tire iron.

The treatment of women in music is bad today but, yes, it has improved from those low points.  It's done so because women (and some men) have said, "No more!"

So when Linda can't even mention Carly?  I love Linda but I can't afford to promote her book.

5) Teams need heroes.

The guys understand that.  That's why they've done lists and rankings for fifty years or so.  Always focusing on male artists -- maybe including a token.

I'm not a sports freak or fan.  I don't pretend to be.  Many women my age are the same way (not all). Women younger benefited from Title IX and other things and are more sports oriented and good for them.

But wherever you fall on that, you need to understand that you don't take out your victor.

Carly Simon was the first singer-songwriter of her peer group (artists who came to prominence in the seventies) to win the Grammy, the Academy Award and the Golden Globe all for writing one song.

That's historic.

You don't help women by writing books about your music that ignore women's historic accomplishments.

You're a dot when you do that.  A tiny dot.  You could be part of a strong line going from woman to woman.  But instead you're an insignificant dot.

6) Carly.

As Ava and I noted in the piece, Carly is not that way.  She is generous to a fault.  In private as well as in interviews, she will sing women's praises.  She will note one woman after another including the ones who came before.

So this nonsense of Carole and Linda writing books and letting the Mama's Boy dictate that Carly not be mentioned?

It's not only harmful to women artists, it's harmful to one of the few female artists who has consistently and repeatedly been there to applaud other female artists -- the ones who came before, her peers and the ones of today.

It's not just bad form on Linda and Carole's part, it's bad manners.

Off topic,

Prime Minister of Iraq and chief thug Nouri al-Maliki wrapped up a visit to DC last week.  He wants more weapons and he wants Barack to back him for a third term.  Neither should happen. As Tim Arango (New York Times) reported last September, Nouri has armed Shi'ite militias to kill Sunnis in Iraq:

In supporting Asaib al-Haq, Mr. Maliki has apparently made the risky calculation that by backing some Shiite militias, even in secret, he can maintain control over the country’s restive Shiite population and, ultimately, retain power after the next national elections, which are scheduled for next year. Militiamen and residents of Shiite areas say members of Asaib al-Haq are given government badges and weapons and allowed freedom of movement by the security forces.

Arming Nouri at this point would be in violation of the Leahy Amendment.

Back to the topic of Linda.

7) Legacy.

Singer-songwriters rank higher on the rock scale than singers.

That hurts some people who want to insist that singing is important.

Singing is important.  Linda's got a great voice and, unlike many other singers, knew how to use it.

But the thing here is singer-songwriters aren't forever in reinvention.

They record their songs.

They change as they grow because they're artists.  (Gertrude Taylor's Mama's Boy doesn't change.  From the first recording to his last, he will try to present himself always as James Dean.  Even though he now looks like James Dean's great grandpa.)

Linda was new wave (or as close to it as LA studio artists could manage), she was this, she was that, as she forever chased whatever was the hit genre of the moment.

That's why singers don't rank as high as singer-songwriters in the rock world.  Their entire work is too erratic.  Yes, lovely voice.  But it's a pain to listen to a retrospective -- it's like sitting in the passenger seat while someone attempts to learn to drive a stick-shift.

In addition, you also sing embarrassing songs.  "All My Life"?  Aaron and Linda are powerful on it, but seriously?  That's music for adults?

I guess it is more so than "Get Closer."

So, right away, Linda's legacy is always going to be less than some.  Sorry, those are the breaks.

Linda's talent is huge.  It's not as huge as Cass Elliott's.  Linda knows that as well and bitchery is why Cass isn't mentioned in the book.  I was kind and didn't bring that up in the review.  But I could do chapter and verse on Linda's jealousy -- petty jealousy -- of Cass.  I'll also note that, yes, Cass was a better singer than Linda.

8) The torch song albums.

Ty counted 46 whiners who insisted Linda may have copied Carly by rushing off to torch songs (she did copy Carly, there is no maybe there) but Linda sang them better.

No, she didn't.

Now we could talk personal opinions all you want.  But I asked Ty, "Are they using 'sang'?" You were.

Torch, Carly's 1981 album, desperately needs a remaster on CD.  On vinyl, if you can get a copy, it will sound better.  Even on unremastered CD (or cassette tape), it's better singing than what's on Linda's What's New? (1983).

What's New? is the best of Linda's three albums of torch songs.

Carly's also done My Romance (which is gorgeous), Film Noir (wonderful, but I have to be in the mood), Moonlight Serenade and Into White (which I just listened to on the plane this morning).

Carly sings.  She's been one of our most underrated singers -- underrated by pop critics.  Jazz critics have been trumpeting her since the late seventies.

Carly's alto singing was the best alto singing of the last half of the 20th century.  There is no pop singer that came close.

Linda's work.

Carly conveyed the song.  She performed the song.  She made it real.

At one point, in a conversation with Nelson, he was praising Linda through the roof and I said, "But she's not that good.  And she's not singing, she's sighing."  And he agreed.  Nelson Riddle.

By track four of the first album with Nelson (What's New?), it's boring.

It may be your personal taste and that's fine.

But don't call it singing.

Anyone with an average singing voice can replicate what Linda did.  Do a heavy sigh on each line and you've got her 'style' on those torch song albums.

She didn't bring them to life and she sounded bored or out of breath.  It wasn't singing.

A lot of people do that when they get older.  Some might argue that Carly does that on Into White.  But Carly's over sixty at that point.  Linda was in her thirties when she did her three torch song albums.  There was no excuse for that.

I can't stand the title track ("What's New?") because her sighing turns a great song into a song of boredom -- that's what the sighing does.

Off topic, at the end of September 2012, Tim Arango (New York Times) reported:

Iraq and the United States are negotiating an agreement that could result in the return of small units of American soldiers to Iraq on training missions. At the request of the Iraqi government, according to General Caslen, a unit of Army Special Operations soldiers was recently deployed to Iraq to advise on counterterrorism and help with intelligence.        

The agreement was signed in December -- it's the Memorandum of Understanding.  It was signed
December 6, 2012, and is noted in that day's snapshot, and we analyzed it in the the December 10th and December 11th snapshots.

Back to the topic of Linda, where I note a rivarly.

9) Mean spirited.

Ava and I wrote a critical evaluation of Linda's book.

If I had wanted to do a takedown of Linda, we would have focused on her jealousy of Cass -- a rivalry that has continued decades after Cass was buried.  I would have included my judgment of her torch song albums (and that Nelson agreed with me about the first album).  I would have gone into her affairs and many other things.

We wrote a critical analysis and you didn't like it because it was about one of your personal heroes and you can't stand the fact that the woman isn't perfect.

No woman (or man) is.

I'm certainly not.

But if the review upset you, I'm guessing the above has you pissed off.

You can thank yourself for that.  You weren't mature enough for a critical analysis and instead whined.  Your whining resulted in me writing this piece.  And this piece is much more harsh to Linda -- as a person and as an artist -- than what Ava and I wrote.

Off topic, Nouri al-Maliki has repeatedly attacked the peaceful protesters in Iraq.  Most infamously this year, the April 23rd massacre of a sit-in in Hawija resulted from  Nouri's federal forces storming in.  Alsumaria noted Kirkuk's Department of Health (Hawija is in Kirkuk)  announced 50 activists have died and 110 were injured in the assault.   AFP  reported the death toll rose to 53.  UNICEF noted that the dead included 8 children (twelve more were injured).

10) You ignored the book on Carly!

Carly's writing an autobiography.  It hasn't been published yet.  There was a bad biography on her.  The person made one mistake after another.  Setting aside her personal life, he still made one huge mistake after another about her professional recordings.

Why would we review a bad book like that at Third?  We did cover Michelle Mercer's book on Joni Mitchell (Will You Take Me As I Am?), for example -- "we" being all of Third.  But Ava and I together?  What we're covering is women writing down their own stories -- autobiographies, not biographies.  We will cover Carly's book.  But a book about Carly does not fit the scope Ava and I have created and outlined.  I know and love Graham Nash and I loved his autobiography that just came out (Wild Tales: A Rock and Roll Life) but Ava and I won't be covering that either.  We've made it our objective to cover the autobiographies of women in popular music as they are released.

I can't answer why "we" (all of us at Third) didn't cover the book.  I can tell you book discussions take up a lot of time -- more so when people pull things they said from the transcripts as they read over them.  I can tell you if it was raised, I would have said, "Pass."  But it was never raised.

I would guess that's because we didn't take the book seriously.

There will be an Iraq snapshot.  I've tried to work from Ty's list regarding the issues raised in the e-mails about the Linda book critique.  If I missed your issue, I guess I'll hear from you.  If you're infuriated about what I've written above?  Probably should gripe just to your friends because I may have outed Linda's rivalry with Cass but I've known Linda for decades and if the above angered you, you won't want to force me to prove even more so that we weren't trying to take Linda down with our critique.

I did this entry as a favor to Ty.  Half-way in, I realized it would get attention from those who don't follow Iraq.  So I've included three recent and important Iraq moments to get the word out.

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