Carol, Joni, and Carly
As in King, Mitchell, and Simon. I picked up a book in one of my French hotels called Girls Like Us. It is the story of these three women’s lives, horribly written — repetitive, salacious, gossipy, with sly innuendos that reveal more about the author’s dingy inner world than the lives of the women she is writing about — and yet I can’t stop reading it. I had forgotten about all three except, perhaps, for Joni, but as I zipped through I realized I knew the lyrics to most of their songs, from “Anticipation” to “Natural Woman” to “Court and Spark.” Now, 400 or so pages in, I think I know each rockstar personally. If you have any questions about their lives, just let me know. What interests me even more than their autobiographies, though, is why I am so interested in them. Why would I keep reading this book when I keep noting its clunks and gear shifts? I think it has something to do with wanting to know the back story, the inside scoop, the “how” of these women. How did they write these songs? How did they succeed? How much did they suffer? Did they have to drive carpool or go to physical therapy? Did they love men who did not love them back? Why did Carol King move to Montana with that awful mountain man I had never heard about before? If I sat in a bus next to James Taylor on drugs would I, too, be able to write “You’re so Vain.” (No, I would not.)
David Foster Wallace wrote a great essay about why he buys sports autobiographies, even though he knows they are going to be horrible, no exceptions. He says it has something to do with the promise they offer, that somehow we will get to uncover the mystery of how Chris Evert became Chris Evert. But no book can get at this, he says, and I agree. All we get are truisms and cliches: “I lobbed the last one over the net and couldn’t believe it was in! I was the new champion!!” There are mysteries. And one of them is how we all come to be who we are. How it is that my son can take pictures the way he does. How my friends write the brilliant books they do, how my college friend can defend violent scary criminals in his state’s supreme court with the kind of intelligence that has made him famous. But even though I know this, I will always read a rock star biography, that is, if I can get my hands on it without spending any money.