'Girls Like Us' by Shelia Weller

Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon -- Their lives, loves

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I'm sure I wasn't the only teenager who played her Joni Mitchell album over and over until the needle stuck, then skipped on "The Circle Game." The seasons really did go "round and round."

I know I wasn't the first adolescent to copy the lyrics to Carole King's "Tapestry" and turn them into her 10th-grade English teacher, who, though she preferred iambic pentameter, saw something promising in the composition.

And I'm positive I wasn't the only heartsick girl who blasted her eight-track cassette as she drove the suburban highways belting out Carly Simon's, "You're So Vain," and vowing that (at 17) I was finished with men.

   
"GIRLS LIKE US: CAROLE KING, JONI MITCHELL, CARLY SIMON -- AND THE JOURNEY OF A GENERATION"

By Shelia Weller
Atria Books ($27.95)

   

Rocker guys have always ruled the airwaves, but for many women of the baby-boom era it was the female musicians who saw into our hearts and souls.

That's why reading Sheila Weller's three-headed biography is like visiting friends you might not have thought about in years. Besides being a terrific read, the book is also a reawakening of ourselves at a time when this kind of music defined all our fears and desires.

A best-selling author and award-winning journalist, Weller cements the biographies of this trio of incredible women against the backdrop of the feminist movement and shows how each woman forged her own path to musical fame.

The historical context gives the book a certain gravitas, especially in determining how these women balanced their personal lives with their professional ones. The male stars have never been good examples, as their private lives tended to be quite messy with a great deal of emphasis on their personal satisfaction.

Simon, Mitchell, and King had to strike just the right balance to gain favor with the recording industry and the men they loved. It is this part of their individual narratives that makes their stories such a fascinating read. They were groundbreakers.

Like Tillie Olsen's "Silences" or Virginia Woolf's "A Room of One's Own," these women were aware of the traditional binds that threatened to keep them in the background, but were artistic and gifted enough not to settle for anything less.

It's hard to remember that before the onslaught of "Entertainment Tonight," the countless Internet sites, not to mention all the supermarket rags, the public didn't follow a star's every move. Weller does.

The book is filled with the little-known gossip and salacious details of the musical stars' lives. At times it reads like a Who's Who of the entertainment world from Mia Farrow to Bill Clinton (friend of King).

Juicy tidbits are revealed and rendered significant in the women's newly forged road to success. Weller may go overboard at times; she renders everything they did as drastically important and vital to further understanding their character. But maybe a one-night stand was just that.

Still Weller is easily forgiven. She clearly adores her subjects and admires their soaring talents. These are, after all, women who looked to James Joyce, William Blake, John Keats and Friedrich Nietzsche for inspiration.

The singers were harbingers of the sexual revolution at a time when birth control was not prescribed for young women.

King had a child at 17 and would bring the baby, awkward playpen and all, to the recording studio, as there really was no other choice for a working mother.

Mitchell gave up a child to foster care, a decision that haunted her for years. Unlike their male co-stars, the women were also mothers and didn't have the time for heroin addictions or countless illicit affairs. Well, some did, but they had to fit them into a tighter schedule.

These women also worked without the support of a corporation, and more often than not, without much support of any kind.

Yet, they had drive, originality and talent. Endless talent, which in the end may be the only thing that matters.


Sharon Dilworth is a writer and professor of English at Carnegie-Mellon University.


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