Carly Simon's 'Never Been Gone'

Simon has recorded some of America's most beloved songs. Her new album, Never Been Gone, finds her revisiting some of her classic tunes. Simon and her friend, producer John Forte, talk about their relationship and her long career.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

NEAL CONAN, host:

�Anticipation,� �Nobody Does it Better,� �You're So Vain.� Carly Simon's words in music and voice are imprinted in our brains. Since her self-titled debut in 1971, she has released a long string of hits, earned a Grammy award, an Oscar, and induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame -and established herself as one of the most beloved singer-songwriters of her generation.

Her new album is mostly from her back catalog, with a couple of new tunes. It's called �Never Been Gone,� produced in collaboration with her son, Ben Taylor.

I will warn you now, if you want to know who �You're So Vain� is really about, she probably is not going to tell us. But if you have a question for Carly Simon about songs and the music business, give us a call, 800-989-8255; email, talk@npr.org. You can also go to our Web site, npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Carly Simon is in our bureau in New York. And it's a pleasure to welcome you to TALK OF THE NATION.

Ms. CARLY SIMON (Singer-Songwriter): Thank you. I was wondering what this was. I guess - that's right, it's a bureau.

CONAN: It's a bureau. Yes indeed.

But you may not know that you think you figure in Cornel West's new memoir. We've been talking to him. On page 155, he describes you and him and Kathleen Battle gathered around a grand piano on your - at your home in Martha's Vineyard. And I'm going to bring Cornel West back in here. Do you remember what she sang that day?

Ms. SIMON: Do I remember what I sang? I think it was�

Professor CORNEL WEST (Princeton University): (Singing) The way you do the�

Ms. SIMON: �Cornel West who sang.

Prof. WEST: (Singing) The way you do the things you do�

Ms. SIMON: Oh!

Prof. WEST: Smokey Robinson, you remember that? And Jesse Norman as well.

Ms. SIMON: Jesse Norman was there. I remember that. I don't remember Kathleen Battle, but that may just be just�

Prof. WEST: Yeah.

CONAN: A senior moment?

Ms. SIMON: A - I couldn't even remember the term, senior moment.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Prof. WEST: We were redoing the Temptations, and you all was sounding so harmonic, and I was putting in my dissonant voice. But we were having the time of our lives in your lovely, lovely place there at Martha's Vineyard. How are you doing, my dear sister?

Ms. SIMON: Well, I'm doing great. And another coincidence is that John Forte is here with me today in the bureau.

CONAN: Uh-huh.

Ms. SIMON: And I know that you have a relationship with John as an ad hoc mentee, when John was in prison and you were being such - of such great help to him. And�

Prof. WEST: I do recall. Yes�

Ms. SIMON: Yes. And so�

Prof. WEST: Because you and I talked about that years ago.

Ms. SIMON: Yes, we did. And�

Prof. WEST: John in there�

Ms. SIMON: So say hi�

Prof. WEST: He's right there with you, my God.

Ms. SIMON: He's right - he's here.

Mr. JOHN FORTE (Rapper): I'm right here, Professor West. It's a pleasure and an honor to have this opportunity to just have a dialogue with you verbally.

CONAN: It sounds like�

Prof. WEST: I am the one blessed because it was sister Carly that turned me on to you, my brother. And she was on fire in terms of your integrity, your dignity and of course, I follow her judgment. She's not just great artist but she's a magnificent human being and my dear sister. And to know that you are right there in the flesh, it just - it fires me up - inspires me, really.

CONAN: And it sounds like we've located the producer for the Carly and Cornel duo album.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FORTE: I am right here, ready to go.

Ms. SIMON: Cornel, I would love to see you again. Where are you these days that I can meet up with you? I know you're in Atlanta now, right?

Prof. WEST: I'm in Atlanta now. You know, of course I teach full time at Princeton, but usually on the run. I haven't spent a weekend in Princeton in my life, so that's what it is to be a bluesman, forever movement. If I get anywhere near Martha's Vineyard - I saw the wonderful piece in the Boston Globe on you, the beautiful picture, the tribute. I said, yes, my dear sister is still doing her work, her calling is being exercised at the highest level. We love you. We love you.

Ms. SIMON: Thank you. And did you know that John Forte produced one of the cuts on in the album?

CONAN: We were going to talk about it in just a minute, but I think we have to let Cornel go�

Ms. SIMON: Oh, you've got to go.

Prof. WEST: But all right, you all take good care. Stay strong.

Mr. FORTE: Stay safe, Professor West.

Ms. SIMON: It's so nice - so nice to hear your voice.

CONAN: Cornel West�

Prof. WEST: No, it was a blessing�

CONAN: �from Georgia Public Broadcasting in Atlanta. And�

Prof. WEST: Brother Neal, thank you so much.

CONAN: Any time. Any time. Happy to do it. As we mentioned, there is a song on Carly Simon's new album called �You Belong to Me.� And let's listen to just a little bit of it.

(Soundbite of song, �You Belong to Me�)

Ms. SIMON: (Singing) You don't have to prove to me you're beautiful to strangers. I've got loving eyes of my own. You belong to me.

CONAN: And that song was produced by John Forte, who is Carly Simon's godson as well.

Mr. FORTE: Yes.

Ms. SIMON: He is my godson. I am so proud to claim him as my own godson.

CONAN: And John, you were - your sentence was commuted by former President George W. Bush, right?

Mr. FORTE: Yes, it was in fact. I'm home earlier than anticipated and back to work and trying to continue to fight the good fight by ways of music and by ways of helping young people, and by contributing as positively and responsible to any landscape that I'm a part of.

CONAN: And you're making a living in the music business?

Mr. FORTE: I am. I am, in fact. And the music business has changed on its head since I've been away and back. So now, the expectation is not necessarily to sell music but to produce quality content and to be a part of ancillary aspects, whether it's with a book or placing music into films and television, or just going to the people, like old school. And then - and just touring and hopefully, people showing up because they support you, the music and the brand.

CONAN: All right. Well, John Forte, thanks very much for coming in to the studio to be with us, and good luck with you.

Mr. FORTE: Thank you.

CONAN: Yeah. Carly Simon, though, I do have to ask. You were doing most of this record in collaboration with your son. And most of these tunes on this album are from your back catalog. And I can't help but wonder if you were not going back and forward in time constantly as you were thinking about those tunes when you wrote them and performed them before -and performing them again now.

Ms. SIMON: Yes. It was a very interesting kind of synergy between the old and the new. And I didn't necessarily even go back and listen to the old while we were recording the new. Ben - my son, Ben Taylor - said, Mom, I want to hear you - I want to hear you play these the way you did when you wrote them, and with any new thoughts and any new emotions that come into play now because, obviously, times have changed and years have gone on between the time that you first wrote them. And obviously, what you said then has new meaning now, such as in the song �Anticipation,� when I say these are the good old days. What I meant when I was 26 is quite different than what I mean now when, you know, I had no idea it would. Because when you're young, you have no idea that you're going to grow older and�

CONAN: Never do. Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SIMON: Right, and that the hourglass is going to be tipped in the other direction. And�

CONAN: I think most of the people listening have that earlier version of �Anticipation� in their head, even if, perhaps regrettably, from a ketchup commercial. But nevertheless�

Ms. SIMON: Stop it.

CONAN: �let's see if we can listen to a little bit of this and see how it's changed.

(Soundbite of song, �Anticipation�)

Ms. SIMON: (Singing) Anticipation, anticipation is making me late, is keeping me waiting. We can never, we can never know�

CONAN: And who is that singing with you?

Ms. SIMON: That's my son, Ben, and that's David Saw, who was one of the producers of the album. The album was produced by a group called Paphiopedilum, which is the name of an orchid. And the orchid is pictured on the back of the album cover. And an orchida(ph) named David Geiger actually bred the orchid with - he was using my name. He called it the Carly Simon orchid. And I have - I've got the papers to prove it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SIMON: And so, there were five of us in the group. We decided just -when it came to the production credit, we decided to call it - produced by Paphiopedilum.

CONAN: That's great. As you think back, when you were thinking back to that song when you were 26 and now, when you're a few years older, the meanings have changed quite a bit.

Ms. SIMON: Yes. The meanings have changed. I remember when I was writing it, I was in a very nervous state. I was sitting on the edge of my bed and I was waiting for a gentleman caller, who was then called Cat Stevens, and I was opening the show for him. And we began to be friends outside the world of show business. And I was so nervous about his arriving at the door that I wasn't living in the moment. And so, I wrote the song called �Anticipation,� which is about the fact that anticipation makes you late, it keeps you waiting.

CONAN: Keeps you waiting. Yeah.

Ms. SIMON: And so, yes - go ahead.

CONAN: No. Go ahead and finish your thought.

Ms. SIMON: No. I just thought of how - what a waste of time that is, that you're not living in the moment. You're living in the next moment. And it's such a great lesson to be learned that - which is to live in the moment.

There's a song that I started to write with my dear friend Jake Brackman called �Try Not to Try.� And that - and that's kind of about trying not to try, which is still a little bit of anticipation because you put in the trying not to try. So you just have to - I don't know how many of my friends or how many of my colleagues have learned to be in the moment. But I've got a bunch of Buddhist friends and a couple of monks out there who try to teach me all the time. And they just say, just see if you can do it for five minutes, just get an amaryllis and look at the amaryllis, and meditate on the amaryllis. And if you can do that for one week, call me back and we'll continue the discussion. And so far, I have not been able to do it because I'm obviously not living in the moment enough of the time. But�

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: There's a great line by the Charles Darwin as a young man on the Beagle. He wrote that he could not enjoy the pleasures of the moment for anticipating what was to come, which he described as being about as foolish as a dog who dropped the real bone for its shadow.

Ms. SIMON: Oh, that's better than any of the lines in my song. I should have consulted Charles.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Well, I'm sure he would've written back. We're talking with Carly Simon, the Grammy and Academy Award-winning singer/songwriter/musician. Her new album is called "Never Been Gone," produced in conjunction with her son, Ben Taylor, and as we've heard, with John Forte, too. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's get some callers in on the conversation. Martin(ph) with us. Martin calling from Santa Clara.

MARTIN (Caller): Hey, Carly Simon. Just - you're a phenomenal artist. I think you sing from the heart, and it comes through in your vocals. I mean, you're just great. What my question is, is: Do you feel the music industry, you know, contributed to a high-level, you know, of anxiety just, you know, the drive to have to perform and always be on? How do you feel about that?

Ms. SIMON: Martin, thank you for your call and for that question. I think that because we know from a series of, you know, monitoring and just, you know, we figured this out. It's in enough magazines that the greatest fear - over the fear of death - is the fear of public speaking. So I think that you have that built in anyway. And then, because of being a performer, the people who are producing you as far as record companies, not necessarily the new indies - the new independent labels - which is what I am on now. But yes, there is a pressure to compete, and the pressure of competition is huge. And you not only have to compete with other artists, you have to compete with yourself. And so, therefore, I had a series - I had a string of successes early on in my career. And when I couldn't compete with myself, I grew very despondent, and I felt as if I could've been supported more by the record companies at that point and just, you know, made to feel as if I was enough on my own in my own process of creativity.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Martin.

MARTIN: Yeah, great. Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye.

Ms. SIMON: Thank you, Martin.

CONAN: Let's go next to - this is Maddie(ph). Maddie with us from Hill City in South Dakota.

MADDIE (Caller): Hello. Yes. I've enjoyed you, Carly, all through your career. And my sister had an album called �The Simon Sisters."

Ms. SIMON: Ah, yes.

MADDIE: I think it was the late �60s or mid-'60s, with "Wild Mountain Thyme" on it and some other ones.

Ms. SIMON: Right.

MADDIE: And it was so beautiful. I wish that you could re-release it.

Ms. SIMON: You know what, it is re-released.

MADDIE: Super.

Ms. SIMON: And it's still called "The Simon Sisters." And you can get it on Amazon or you can go to my site, carlysimon.com.

MADDIE: Yes, with the CD. And I don't have to get an old-fashioned turntable to play the LP�

Ms. SIMON: No, that's right.

MADDIE: �which we still have.

Ms. SIMON: You can get it on CD. I did sing with my sister as a folk duo for a number of years, and we performed on college campuses and coffeehouses.

CONAN: You played on "Hootenanny," didn't you?

Ms. SIMON: On "Hootenanny," yes.

CONAN: Boy, that takes you back.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SIMON: With the Carter family, with June Carter when�

CONAN: Wow.

Ms. SIMON: �she was a baby, practically. And I was lucky enough to get some of those tapes from my Webmaster, who has - I don't know how she got them - but, again, go to carlysimon.com if you want to get them. And I look at myself then with my sister, and we must have been under some spell given off by a poppy field in �The Wizard of Oz.� We were motionless.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SIMON: We were absolutely motionless and practically half asleep. We were so nervous.

MADDIE: And the picture on the LP is the most beautiful picture of you and her together. And I hope that it has that same picture, the CD does.

Ms. SIMON: You know, it does.

MADDIE: It should be framed and put up on the wall. It's just beautiful.

Ms. SIMON: Aren't you nice, Maddie. Thank you.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Maddie.

MADDIE: Bye.

CONAN: Do you still sing with your sister?

Ms. SIMON: I still sing with my sister. In fact, last night, we were singing a song on the telephone together because she's done a collection of songs that are set to Yeats poems. And I set a Yeats poem to music about 25, 35 years ago called �Oh, Curlew.� And Lucy remembered the whole thing and I remembered the whole thing, and we were singing in harmony over the phone. So yes, the answer is yes, I still sing with my sister.

CONAN: And you remember that, and you can't - probably -remember what you had for breakfast this morning. That's the penalty of old age.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SIMON: A banana.

CONAN: A banana. That's funny; I had a banana, too.

Ms. SIMON: I had a banana because I just had it about five minutes ago.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Carly Simon, thank you so much for being with us today. It's been a real treat. And good luck with the new album.

Ms. SIMON: Well, it's a delight to talk to you. Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: Carly Simon's new release is called "Never Been Gone." She joined us today from our bureau in New York. You can hear Carly Simon perform nine songs, including "Anticipation" and "You're So Vain." Just go to our Web site at npr.org.

(Soundbite of song, "You're So Vain")

Ms. SIMON: (Singing) I hear you went up to Saratoga and your horse naturally won. Then you flew your Learjet up to Nova Scotia to see the total eclipse of the sun. Well, you're where you�

CONAN: Tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION: Science Friday, a look at the history of cannibalism, plus: What's going on in zombie brains? We'll see you again on Monday. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

(Soundbite of song, "You're So Vain")

Ms. SIMON: (Singing) Wife of a close friend and you're so vain. You probably think this song is about you. You're so vain. I'll bet you think this song is about you. Don't you? Don't you? Don't you, now?

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Carly Simon, Yael Naim in Concert

fromWXPN

Yael Naim

hide captionYael Naim.

courtesy of Yael Naim

Yael Naim Set List

"Paris"

"Too Long..."

"New Soul"

"Toxic" (Britney Spears cover)

Carly Simon's Set List

"Back the Way"

"This Kind of Love"

"Island"

"Anticipation"

"Hold Out Your Heart"

"Coming Around Again"

"Let the River Run"

"You're So Vain"

Twenty-four albums into her career, Grammy- and Oscar-winning singer-songwriter Carly Simon remains a venerable and popular icon. Click the link above to hear Simon perform a career-spanning concert, with opener Yael Naim, from WXPN and World Cafe Live in Philadelphia.

Carly Simon 300

hide captionCarly Simon.

Lynn Goldsmith

This Kind of Love, Simon's first album of original songs in eight years, finds the singer experimenting with the percussive sounds of Brazilian music. While she wrote most of the record, Simon honored her children, Sally and Ben Taylor, by recording two songs that they had written ("When We're Together" and "Island," respectively). With gorgeous, sultry melodies and beautiful samba instrumentation, Simon adds new elements to her sound without abandoning what made her famous in the first place.

Singer-songwriter Yael Naim received her big break when her song "New Soul" was featured in a prominent MacBook Air commercial earlier this year. In the process, she became the first Israeli solo artist to enjoy a Top 10 hit in the U.S. Born in Paris and raised in Israel, the multilingual singer crafts a mysterious and delicate sound that features elements of folk and jazz.

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