When I was ten years old I begged my parents for Carly Simon’s No Secrets album for my birthday. I thought it was the very height of adult sophistication, with Carly posed insouciantly on the cover, her nipples exposed beneath her sheer blue blouse. That’s what adults do, I thought. I loved the flirtiness, the cool confidence I saw in the way she was posed, confidence that I wanted more than anything as an extremely shy ten-year-old. That my parents barely batted an eye when I asked for this somewhat unconventional birthday gift is either a testament to their advanced parenting or their ability to roll with my very gay punches. Perhaps both. I had heard a few of the songs on the album already, and I knew I needed this album for my adolescent happiness.
I spent hours listening to the album again and again, standing in front of the full-length mirror in my parents’ bedroom trying to imitate Carly’s pose, a canvas tote bag on my shoulder a substitute for her powder blue purse. I loved “You’re So Vain” in particular, mostly for the word “gavotte,” and I wasted no time in trying to use it in sentences, even if I only had a small idea of what the word actually meant. It just sounded so…adult. And I wanted to be an adult desperately.
I had always had trouble interacting and getting along with peers, and I felt far more comfortable being around adults, people whom I was sure understood me and my utterly sophisticated ways. When my parents entertained I always made the coffee, and I usually joined them at the table for a cup or two, listening intently for bits of adult conversation and words and phrases I could commit to memory for future use. I couldn’t use them with friends, certainly, as I really had none growing up. My crippling shyness was my own downfall, but at least with Carly Simon, I got to escape into a world I thought very adult indeed.
I brought that album with me wherever we went, demanding that our hosts put the record on so I could sing along and impress them with my knowledge of sex and relationships and other heady things that surely they could relate to. And as I danced and sang, left hand firmly planted on my hip and my right curled in what could kindly be described as my best Mick-Jagger-with-paulsy, I awkwardly and most likely embarrassingly gavotted across countless parental friends’ and family living rooms in my hometown. My behavior would be tolerated for one or two songs, but after that the record came off and I was encouraged to go outside and play with the others, which inevitably meant my sitting quietly in the corner and trying to make my way through Dickens or Austen. Playing was for children, and I would rather contemplate just what the lyrics for “We Have No Secrets” meant. If I could unravel their deep meaning I was sure I would take one giant step closer to being an adult.
“No Secrets” led to more Carly Simon albums, and soon she became the unofficial soundtrack of my youth. I asked for and received her earlier albums, then saved up my allowance for her newer ones as they came out, until I started working in my early teens and could use that money to support my favored artist. Certain songs became inextricably linked to life events or specific emotions. If I was down (which, unsurprisingly, happened a lot) I would play “Coming Around Again” or Carly’s beautiful cover of the Hoagy Carmichael standard, “I Get Along Without You Very Well.” My view of love growing up was like a Douglas Sirk film, informed by ache and longing and the brave suffering of feelings that could not yet be indulged. I’d play “Boys in the Trees” on summer days and allow myself to indulge feelings and hopes I’d normally keep stuffed down and vigilant of, my undeniable homosexuality something I was no where near ready to deal with. But the song allowed me to hope for a day when I could, and it’s still a favorite as a result.
Good moods or my feeling excited for something meant “Anticipation” played over and over. I danced around the house a lot, leading to my father nicknaming me Gazelle, and the infectious “Attitude Dancing” could be heard coming from my bedroom many an evening, my dance routine being worked on and perfected with each listen. “Nobody Does it Better” was for playful moods, when I felt like I could open up a bit with people I felt safe with, and “Haven’t Got Time For the Pain” was my anthem of assertiveness, a mantra repeated when I needed to summon whatever confidence I was capable of at the time, even if I had to pretend. There was a Carly Simon song for every mood, a Carly Simon album for every stage of my maturing. They accompanied me on vacations, during quiet times in my room, or at school, lyrics scribbled hurriedly in notebooks or inside binder covers as visual touchstones for when interacting with peers threatened to overwhelm.
As I grew older I revisited songs and understood their meanings better, some even for the first time, and eventually her music became less of a means of social survival and my desperately wanting to be an adult, to songs on albums that I loved and enjoyed and were special just for the feelings of happiness they engendered. Sometimes I miss the emotional freight behind the songs I listened to as a child, but most of the time I like the songs simply because they are damn good songs. I suppose one could say that that is because I am truly an adult now, but I like to think it’s more the fact that I have finally learned to let myself gavotte with confidence…
DOWNLOAD THESE: Anticipation, We Have No Secrets, You’re So Vain, Three Days, Nobody Does It Better, The Girl You Think You See
Christopher Cerasi is a freelance book editor and writer. He was an editor for LucasBooks as well as the Licensed Publishing Division of DC Comics. He has edited titles for the films Superman Returns, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, as well as the TV shows Smallville and Supernatural. He is also the author of the Star Wars Fandex Deluxe, Chewbacca and the Slavers of the Shadowlands, and wrote the graphic novel adaptation of Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith under the pseudonym Miles Lane. He lives in Portland, OR.