When WCBS-FM in New York City went oldies in the early 1970s, they'd still play some current songs; this was one of them, and this is how I first heard it. I even had my brand-new tape recorder recording it at the time, since it was preceded by an Elvis song or something.

Backing vocals included the voice of Mick Jagger; when, years later, Carly Simon was going to perform the song on Saturday Night Live, Jagger, the New Yorker, couldn't make it to the show to sing his part, for some reason. So Ms. Simon's friend Chevy Chase became Mick for a Day, in order to help her out with her stage fright.

During the solar eclipse that occurred around 1970, I think, I didn't quite grasp the meaning of it; I thought something dire was happening. My mother had gone to the store for something, and I worried that she wouldn't come back, due to some eclipse-related calamity. I cowered in my closet, with one of its folding doors cracked open, so I could watch the eclipse coverage on TV. Maybe they would have some news about my mother.

A few minutes later, I could hear, in the distance, the apartment door opening, and my mother's footsteps, and the rustling of the paper bags of groceries. She was back. I cracked the closet door open a little more, and watched a live shot of the total eclipse of the sun, as it was happening in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

This song is about Warren Beatty, IIRC.

...you probably think this node is about you...no wait, song, this song is about you...but who could be that vain? God only knows who Faster Pussycat had in mind, but for Carly Simon, singer and songwriter of the 1973 number one hit, she has never made it clear. Recorded for her third album, No Secrets, Carly has actually gone out of her way to be ambiguous about this riddle, as she proclaimed to CBS News correspondent Rita Braver, "I could never really solve it because if I did, then no one would have anything to talk to me about." Of course, if Carly was singing about one of or a combination of her lovers, historians can look at her past and narrow the possibilities to James Taylor, Mick Jagger, Cat Stevens, Warren Beatty, and Kris Kristofferson.

When the song was released she and James Taylor were newlyweds, and with their relationship in the papers, many believed the song was written about him. Carly put a stop to these assumptions quickly in a Rolling Stone interview. "It's definitely not about James, although James suspected that it might be about him because he's very vain," she joked with James close by. Of the remaining contenders there has really only been talk about two, Mick Jagger and Warren Beatty. When the song was recorded, Carly was dating Mick Jagger. Interestingly, he happened by the studio when she was recording No Secrets and ended up singing background vocals for the song. Those who believe the song is about Jagger see this as a bit of irony as he can be heard singing the chorus, the accusation of vanity.

You walked into the party
like you were walking onto a yacht
Your hat strategically dipped below one eye
Your scarf it was apricot
You had one eye in the mirror
as you watched yourself gavotte
And all the girls dreamed that they'd be your partner
They'd be your partner, and....

But of the men in Carly Simon's life, most believe the song is about Warren Beatty, and in a lot of ways it is. Beatty himself loves to think and loves that others think the song is about him. In fact, he called Carly shortly after the release to thank her for it. Beatty was a notorious playboy who fits Carly's lyrical definition very well. For those who know his style, he was one to accessorize with a hat or scarf and to keep one eye in the mirror to make sure he still looks foxy.

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?

As most writers can understand, Carly did not simply sit down one evening and write this out. Its genius actually came from two lines scribbled in a notebook. In an interview with Charlie Rose she recounted, "I was at a party and somebody walked in and my friend said to me 'Doesn't he look like he's just walked on to a yacht?' So, I thought to myself - hmmm, let me write that in my notebook." That same notebook contained the line "You're so vain you probably think this song is about you."

Likewise, she had come up with the melody for another song (which was never completed) about a fictional lover called Bless You, Ben. Its lyrics began, Bless you Ben, you came in, where nobody else left off. But she felt the song was too morose and stopped working on it. One day, while tinkering on the piano, she replaced the line with, You walked into the party like you were walking onto a yacht. Noticing it fit perfectly she began filling in the rest of the verse.

You had me several years ago
when I was still quite naive
Well you said that we made such a pretty pair
and that you would never leave
But you gave away the things you loved
and one of them was me
I had some dreams they were clouds in my coffee,
clouds in my coffee and....

She depicts a lover who treated her poorly; in her naivety she believed his lies of love and commitment, her dreams of what was to come were only clouds in her coffee. What a great metaphor. It is her way of explaining, "the confusing aspects of life and love. That which you can't see through, and yet seems alluring...until. Like a mirage that turns into a dry patch. Perhaps there is something in the bottom of the coffee cup that you could read if you could."

Well I hear you went up to Saratoga
and your horse naturally won
Then you flew your Lear jet up to Nova Scotia
to see the total eclipse of the sun
Well, you're where you should be all of the time
And when you're not you're with
Some underworld spy or the wife of a close friend
Wife of a close friend, and....

She continues her depiction of the playboy and his vanity. Not only is he able to attend the races at Saratoga Springs, the oldest and most posh race track in the country, naturally the horse he bet on won. Or, on a whim, he can jump on his jet and fly a few hundred miles to see a solar eclipse. In 1972 there was a total eclipse of the sun in Nova Scotia. It was very well-to-do to fly or cruise to Canada to see the cosmological event. Or is it that these trips are just an alibi for his scandalous behavior.

What so many fail to see about the song is that it's not really about anyone and it's about everyone. Carly finally admitted in her 1995 box set, Clouds in My Coffee, "It's really a composite" of the men she dated in Los Angeles in the late 1960s. However, Carly grew up in affluence. As a social debutant she has had no shortage of narcissistic people in her life. In an existentialist poof of logic, could the song be about any one of these people simply because they believe it's about them? If so, the song is definately about Warren Beatty.



The publishing rights to You're So Vain are owned by Carly Simon. The lyrics were used fairly without permission. Contact was made August 21, 2003; request for permission is in the works. CST Approved.



Sources:
http://www.carlysimon.com/vain/vain.htm
http://www.carlysimon.com/askcarly/archives/archive-052001.htm
http://www.james-taylor.com/text/rs-1-73.txt
http://www.superseventies.com/sw_youresovain.html

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