You won’t find a more half-hearted book endorsement than the one on the back jacket of “More Room in a Broken Heart: The True Adventures of Carly Simon,’’ Stephen Davis’s new biography of the renowned singer-songwriter.
Lifted from a Boston Globe Magazine interview last year, Simon is quoted as saying: “I know the author, so there’s some integrity. He’s interviewed me over the years; he knows my family. He’s a good guy.’’
Last week, in a note posted on her website (www.carlysimon.com), Simon was more pointed in her displeasure with the book, which was released on Tuesday.
“Carly wants to be sure that her fans know that, regardless of what the publisher of the book is advertising, she had nothing to do with the creation of this book and she does not support it in any way. She was not interviewed for this book.’’
The note goes on to say, “There are numerous factual errors, fictional stories, made-up quotes, and ‘clipped’ stories from other books and magazines.’’
Such protests are common with unauthorized biographies. And Davis, who lives in Milton, has had his share of criticisms leveled at his books, particularly 1985’s “Hammer of the Gods,’’ a salacious account of Led Zeppelin’s misadventures.
At face value, at least, “More Room in a Broken Heart’’ was obviously rendered out of love and respect for Simon and her legacy. Davis first encountered Simon on national television, back in 1964 when she and her sister Lucy performed as a folk duo, the Simon Sisters. He was transfixed by their performance and later astonished to realize his Boston University classmate Peter Simon was their brother.
Thus began a decades-long association with the Simon family that infuses Davis’s accounts with a cozy intimacy. He sheds light on Simon’s parents’ colorful backgrounds, moves on to Simon’s childhood in a lively home full of music and poetry, and then dutifully carries on to the present day. Rightly so, the book lingers on the fruitful years when Simon’s career took off in the early 1970s and the ensuing battles - with sexism from male musicians and industry executives, with reservations about her commercial appeal, with her own insecurities.
Davis says he decided to do the book because Simon has led an extraordinary life, and it has not yet been properly documented. He writes that friends, most notably Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, have prodded Simon to write a memoir but to no avail. He is especially adept at storyboarding how Simon’s so-called bohemian roots took shape as the daughter of Richard Simon, cofounder of the publishing house Simon & Schuster. Her mother, Andrea, was a magnetic woman whose charisma rubbed off on her children.
As for the veracity of his reporting methods, Davis doesn’t do himself any favors. Save for a brief paragraph of acknowledgements (“Thanks to the great journalists who covered the Carly Simon story in the past’’), there’s no bibliography, no index, or even a list of sources interviewed. Sprinkled throughout are direct quotes from Simon, sometimes attributed as “Carly said later,’’ but mostly it’s impossible to tell how and when Davis collected them.
That’s a problem, especially in light of Simon’s concerns about Davis’s accuracy. Sure enough, a side-by-side comparison with Sheila Weller’s “Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon - And the Journey of a Generation’’ (2008) yields some troubling similarities. Weller, page 97: “Soon enough Carly and Nick were locking themselves into attic rooms in the secret-filled house.’’ Davis, page 57: “Soon Nick and Carly were secreting themselves in the Simons’ attic.’’
Accusations aside, “More Room in a Broken Heart,’’ which takes its name from a line in Simon’s “Coming Around Again,’’ shines when Davis takes a critical stance. As a former Rolling Stone editor who has covered Simon since the beginning, he’s clearly devoted to her music and gives considerable ink to various albums - how they were recorded, with whom, their impact.
This we already knew: Simon was - and probably still is - a hopeless romantic, a fireball of nerves and neuroses whose passion is both a blessing and a curse. Just as her songs galvanized the ’70s, Simon had no trouble seducing her peers, from Kris Kristofferson to Cat Stevens. (Davis is incredulous but reiterates Simon’s claim that her relationship with Mick Jagger was always platonic.)
James Taylor, of course, figures prominently, and Davis digs into Taylor’s past before examining his roller-coaster ride with Simon. He doesn’t probe what exactly drove the two apart but does mention they haven’t spoken since 2003. (Their children, Sally and Ben Taylor, apparently aren’t allowed to give their mother Taylor’s phone number.)
Once he dispenses with Simon’s troubles with Taylor, though, Davis tends to rush through the past three decades of her life. He brings Simon up to last year, reporting that she hasn’t retired and still creates “when her faithful muse visits her, in the wee small hours of the morning.’’James Reed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.