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Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon: And the Journey of a Generation [Hardcover]

Sheila Weller
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

8 April 2008
Carly Simon, Carole King and Joni Mitchell remain among the most enduring and important women in popular music. Together they changed a decade and altered the lives of a generation. Carole King is the product of New York City's lower-middle-class; Joni Mitchell is a grand-daughter of farmers; and, Carly Simon is a child of the Manhattan intellectual upper-crust. They collectively represent, in their lives and their songs, every girl who came of age in the late 1960s, when - to paraphrase one of their songs - the earth moved. Their stories trace the arc of the now-mythic era known a 'the Sixties'."Girls Like Us" is an epic treatment of these three exceptional women who dared to break tradition and become what few had been before them - confessors in song, rock superstars, adventurers of heart and soul. Yet it is also an evocative and utterly engrossing portrait of this explosive period; a time of ferment and discord, of upheaval and radically changing values. Award-winning journalist and bestselling author, Sheila Weller presents a full and balanced portrayal of each woman, enriched by vivid anecdotes told by dozens of their intimates, many speaking for the first time. Meticulously researched and superbly written, "Girls Like Us" is as much a portrait of a political and social scene as it is a compelling biography of three much-loved musicians.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 584 pages
  • Publisher: Atria Books (8 April 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743491475
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743491471
  • Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 16.5 x 23.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 600,387 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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An unfailingly entertaining read...and a riveting story
-- Mojo Magazine, May 2008

'Eminently readable...a racy read..about the boyfriends, break-ups and breakdowns of its subjects' -- Sean O'Hagan, Observer Books, 13th April 2008

'Let's get one thing clear right from the start - this is a fabulous book...Girls Like Us unfold with drama and panoramic detail'
-- Caitlin Moran, The Sunday Times

'The book charts this trio's rocky marriages, their struggles with success and, perhaps most poignantly, their fading with age.' -- Sheryl Garratt, Mail on Sunday, 13th April 2008

'Weller has picked her subjects because of their different demographic appeal, the better to tell her social history...[she]has done them - and girls like us- proud' -- Saturday Telegraph, 19th April 2008

'Weller skilfully weaves together the disparate lives of these three, very different women into a colourful portrait.' -- Metro Life, 23rd April 2008

A new book, Girls Like Us, tells the fascinating story of how three great female songwriters of the same generation, Carly Simon, Carole King and Joni Mitchell...reflected the changes to women's lives in their very different, personal yet universal songs. Where were our girls?'
-- Terence Blacker, The Independent 23rd May 08 The Independent 23rd May 08 The Independent 23rd May 08 The Independent 23rd May 08 The Independent 23rd May 08 Terence Blacker, The Independent, 23rd May 2008

This is a fabulous book...Girls Like Us unfolds with drama and panoramic detail.

-- Caitlin Moran, The Times, Saturday 3rd May 2008

`Eminently readable'
-- The Observer

`the book charts this trio's rocky marriages, their struggles with success and , perhaps most poignantly, their fading with age.' -- Mail on Sunday --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Sheila Weller is a bestselling author and award-winning magazine journalist. She is the author of seven books, two of them New York Times bestsellers. Senior contributing editor at Glamour, contributor to Vanity Fair, and former contributing editor of New York, Sheila Weller is a six-time winner of the Newswomen's Club of New York Front Page award. She lives in New York City. www.girlslikeusthebook.com --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I loved this book! 2 May 2008
I'm a woman of the 60's and it all rang true. I think we all wanted to be these three women when we were younger, and the stories behind the music, plus the real-life tales of each woman's challanges to free herself from stiffling conventions kept me reading it straight through. The evocation of each woman's personality and her particular challenges was keen - I felt I knew them by the time the book was finished (and could so relate to so much of what they went through). You also got a chance to revisit the times ....How I had forgotten so many details: What we wore, what concerned us, how small a space a young woman had to move around in, how much she had to do on her own. These women's music expressed the exhilleration and the pain of charting a new course, and by the end of the book I wanted to hug them (and listen to their magnificent albums all over -- and over -- again)
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How to survive the Business - 101 for Women 26 Mar 2009
By Ms. Felicia Davis-burden VINE VOICE
This wonderful book gives us the fascinating and often sad braided biographies of three remarkable artists. Carly, Joni and Carole: Contemporaries and creative 'Sisters'.

The Music Business and all its obstacles are thrown into sharp relief. The chapter on Carly Simon's first months in the studio in the mid-sixties makes disturbing reading. The sexual bylaws Carly would often use to her advantage, she learnt through jarring humiliation. She conquered all this and more, all the while journalising her experiences in her song-writing.

Carole King rivalled Joni Mitchell in her tangled personal life. She showed her naturally compassionate nature - and considerable balls, I think - in accepting her husband Gerry Goffin's adultery and child with another woman into her life, while bringing up their two children and working full-time as a songwriter and musician in New York's legendary Brill Building. Carole would go on to enrapture her fellow singer/songwriters as a resident of Laurel Canyon, California. Her album 'Tapestry' is still a high-watermark of her profession, and still a wonderful album the listener can return to; like the embrace of an old and trusted friend.

As for troubled, feisty, self-absorbed, passionate, ambitious and always confrontational Joni...

Read all about it. Sheila Weller's book is an absorbing, beautifully detailed history of three women, a tumultuous personal history and a powerfully evocation of a heady era. I cannot recommend it enough!
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Having been a young woman in the '70s and a child in the '60's this graphic account of the developments in the '60's filled in the gaps for me. The three singer/songwriters are described with warmth, generosity and a clarity that captured my imagination and sent me back to their music, I closed the book with a huge respect for their ground breaking work, something I'd previously taken for granted. I think that Sheila Weller has done a brilliant job processing the information she had and analysing it in terms of the period. The only weakness is in some of the writing which descends into the style of a rather unskilled rock journalist. However, this is not always the case and at many points the writing is clear and unpretentious. This book is worth reading for anyone interested in why we, as women, are where we are today and have the freedoms we do.
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4 of 16 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Girls Like Us 30 April 2008
Save your money for the CDs. That is my advise. This author is so busy putting comments in brackets and hyphens that the story is very hard to follow. There are copious amounts of names that seem unimportant here and detract from the tale. I will listen to the music instead. A big disappointment to this 'child of the sixties'.
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Amazon.com: 3.9 out of 5 stars  283 reviews
272 of 279 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brain candy for boomer women (and the men who want to understand them) 8 April 2008
By Jesse Kornbluth - Published on Amazon.com
525 pages about Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon --- and this is my candidate for "beach book of 2008" for smart boomer women?

I'm not kidding. It's that good. And that addictive.

Just read the opening section about 14-year-old Carole Klein, sitting with her friend Camille Cacciatore as they leaf through the Brooklyn phone book in search of a name. Kick...Kiel...Klip. How about King? Yeah, King. And then it was off to Camille's house, where the choice was spaghetti-and-meatballs or peppers-and-onions.

Anyone can use clips and rumor to write about the famous. Sheila Weller puts you in the room. Her methods are exhaustive journalism --- she's written six books, she's won prizes, she's the real deal --- and empathy. So the path from nowhere to immortality for King, Mitchell and Simon is an epic tale, and Weller's scope is vast --- to track "the journey of a generation." Only on the surface is this a book about music, and who makes it, and how, and why. The bigger subject, the better subject, is how women found their way in their professional and personal lives, 1960-now. So, for Weller, these stories are about "a course of self-discovery, change, and unhappy confrontation with the limits of change."


Consider this: In 1960, H.W. Janson's "History of Art" --- the standard textbook --- cited 2,300 artists.

How many were female?

Not one.

That's the culture these women were entering. Women as decorative armpieces. As silent helpers. Sexual objects. And uncomplaining victims.

Each of these women fought that culture. Not because she wanted to --- simply out of biography and necessity. Joan Anderson gets polio as a kid, and her creativity is pushed inward. Carly Simon may be the daughter of one of the founders of Simon & Schuster, but in her case "privileged" refers mostly to her father, who banished his kids from his sight when he came home from work. Carol King writes hits with a kid in her lap.

There's delicious dish in these pages. Sailing to New York on the U.S.S. United States, Sean Connery propositioning both Carly and her sister Lucy. [Lucy accepted his offer --- alone.] Carole meeting the Beatles. [They were thrilled.] Joni being spanked by her husband and, later, getting smacked around by Jackson Browne. Carly getting it on in cabs, under a bridge in Central Park, and, minutes after meeting James Taylor, in a bathroom.

Everyone of import in the history of rock appears in these pages. Men come and go, most of them hideously inappropriate. And then there's the --- shall we say --- cross-pollination. Give James Taylor the sword of gold; he befriended King and did a lot more with Mitchell and Simon. Messy stuff, all of it, and revealing about the way relationships play out in the superstar set. My favorite moment: decades after "You're So Vain", Warren Beatty came up --- and on --- to Carly at the Carlyle Hotel. "What are you doing in town?" he asked. "Seeing my oncologist," said Carly, who was then afflicted with cancer. Guess Warren's reaction.

They're grandmothers now. Hard to believe. I still want to see them as they were --- young and shiny, the future rich in possibility. This book charts the price they paid, the pain and the foolishness. It's a splendid chance for women of a certain age --- and the men who love them --- to look back and grid their own lives over these years.

Which makes for a terrific beach book.
115 of 119 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars No Secrets 24 April 2008
By Kevin Killian - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Everything in GIRLS LIKE US will be amazingly familiar to those of us born in the bay boom, and yet Sheila Weller, a talented if erratic prose stylist, brings us to emotional places that will be new to all but those most intimate with the trio of songwriters whose lives, she declares, form a "journey of a generation." I don't know if I'd go that far, but I'm not a woman, and Weller's argument is that King, Simon, and Mitchell pushes back the barriers for women specifically, "one song at a time."

The cryptic one remains Carole King, whom Weller just can't illuminate in any meaningful way. Her life was amazing--up to a point, then it stopped being of any interest at all, which is a shame. We hear again and again how she wrote all those Brill Building masterpieces before she was 21, and broke down under the strain of a troubled marriage to a high-stakes husband and lyricist, Gerry Goffin, coming out the other end with an LP. Tapestry, that everyone loved. Then what happened? Bad men galore, attracted to her wealth. She once estimated that every time she divorced a man, it cost her a million dollars. Weller gives us all the facts ad nauseam but we always wonder, why did King do this to herself?

Carly Simon, on the other hand, who cooperated with Weller extensively or so it seems, comes off as nearly normal. Of the upper, upper middle class, Simon was to the manor born and the icy, plangent chords of her first song, "That's the Way I Always Heard It Should Be," gave notice that the old New Yorker fiction writers of the 40s and 50s hadn't died, they had just rolled over and told Carly Simon the news. Though obviously spoiled and cosseted by her own wealth, Simon doesn't seem spoiled; her reactions throughout, even meeting and marrying the drug-zombie James Taylor, are always understandable and sympathetic.

Joni Mitchell isn't sympathetic per se, but she has the integrated personality of the genius totally in love with herself and obsessed with her own reflection, so she's great in a special way. Weller pokes amused fun at Mitchell's vanity and enormous self-esteem, but we get the picture that, in her opinion at any rate, Mitchell actually is pretty f--ing amazing. Does our society have it in for women who want to be artists? Mitchell's encounter with the aged, reclusive Georgia O'Keeffe seems like a emblem of a certain baton-passing, as is Carly Simon's relationship with former First Lady Jackie Kennedy. Weller is OK about male-female relationships, but in this book at any rate she's more interested in the ways women deal with each other.

It's nearly a biography of five people, not just three, as there is so much about James Taylor you will never need to read another word about him if you have this book on your shelf; and for some reason there's tons of material about Judy Collins. I wonder if Weller proposed a book with King, Mitchell, Simon, and Collins, and some editorial board nixed the addition of Collins--but there was so much good material about Collins, Weller kept it in anyhow. She is the Vanity Fair writer supreme, whose motto is that no sentence is complete without some action and punch, and the best way to get that is to string along many words with hyphens to invent new forms of adjectival excitement. You won't be able to read for more than a few minutes without being hit on the head by Weller's mad stylings--here's a typical hyphenfilled sentence about the Eagles: "Their at-home-in-Death-Valley image and bleating-lost-boy-in-expensive-boots sound had become era-definingly successful." (Ten hyphens in a mere 20 words! Sheila Weller is era-definingly successful at inventing a new form of writing--like the classic circus act when a small VW would pull up to center ring and then clown after clown would prance out. Then more clowns--then still more. She's pretty amazing and GIRLS LIKE US is a book that, for all its flaws, convinces us roundly in its larger arguments and dazzles with its wide-ranging portraits of artistic life in the 50s, 60s and 70s.
65 of 65 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Why Carole, Joni and Carly Still Matter 10 April 2008
By Ed Uyeshima - Published on Amazon.com
My immediate thought when I read this comprehensive three-fold biography was Allison Anders' evocative but episodic 1996 Grace of My Heart, a fictionalized biopic of Carole King's career in the 1960's. Similar to the approach taken with the movie, author Sheila Weller covers more than the music of the times but also the constraining era in which they all came of age. When King, Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon were growing up (they were born within four years of each other), women were either placed in traditional homemaker roles or relegated to a cultural abyss if they dared to pursue artistic professions. In an often dishy but nonetheless enlightening book, Weller does an admirable job surveying the times when these three singer-songwriters first emerged and crossed paths on their way to popular mainstream success.

Their backgrounds could not be more different. King was a middle-class Brooklyn native who grew up listening to classical music and Broadway show tunes, while Mitchell was a dyed-in-the-wool bohemian poet who moved from the Canadian prairies to Greenwich Village and later Laurel Canyon. Born in privilege to a family ensconced in publishing (Simon & Schuster), Simon was a rich girl who went the folk singer route with her older sister Lucy. Even though each persevered against the going mindset and managed professional success on a measured level (and in King's case, quite a portfolio of Brill Building hits co-written with first husband Gerry Goffin), each ultimately created a work that provided a turning point in their careers. King had 1971's mega-selling Tapestry, Mitchell had 1971's intensely personal Blue, and Simon had 1972's No Secrets featuring her signature song about a former lover, "You're So Vain". The author documents all this with relish and delves into the inspirations for their music.

The dishier parts of the book deal with the women's checkered love lives. King married four times, while Mitchell and Simon each went through a succession of liaisons that obviously shaped many of their compositions. Aside from the tawdry impact of Warren Beatty's legendary womanizing, James Taylor appears to be the common intersection as he befriended King (and turned her epochal song, "You've Got a Friend" into a Grammy Award-winning hit), had an extended affair with Mitchell and eventually married Simon for eleven turbulent, drug-filled years. However, all three have weathered the storm of their personal lives and the ever-changing tastes of the public to become grandmothers and songsmiths for another generation. Weller writes in true baby boomer fashion with an alternating sense of reverence and ribaldry about three icons deserving of such a tribute.
64 of 70 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars It didn't have a good beat and I couldn't really dance to it 10 Sep 2008
By D. Watson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I have never seen writing quite like this. Others have mentioned the mile-long sentences, the paranthetical digressions that rip apart sentences and paragraphs on almost every page and the general herky-jerky nature of the narrative. All true. But what really got to me were the author's strange use of strange new adverbs ("pioneeringly," "karmically," "welcomely," etc.) and the overuse of hyphenated composite adjectives. Surprisedly, I began keeping a list of these in-contemprary-American-English-unfound expressions. For some this might seem like nit-picking, but I don't think I've ever read a book in which the writing itself intruded so much on my experience of reading. By the time I was reading about "mountain-life-idled Carole," I was beginning to feel like "Weller-writing-addled" Daniel!

But it wasn't just the writing. Others have pointed out the excessive attention paid to who was sleeping with whom, and the fact that the author did not interview two of the main subjects of the book. The latter really is a problem and at times the book reads like a series of short biographies of people you have never heard of who had some passing acquaintance with one of the three subjects. In general, there is a lot of irrelevant information and I thought the author had an unfortunate tendency to name-drop. For example, in a book about these three women, you would expect to see attention paid to James Taylor. But why do we need to know that some other girlfriend of Taylor later went on to date Woody Allen and other celebrities? Who cares? Likewise, it seems like everyone mentioned in the book who went to Harvard - no matter how fleeting the reference or how irrelevant to the context - is identified as "Harvard educated." Now, I know there is a class and priviledge argument being made about Carly Simon, but who cares if the bass player who intruduced Carole King to some musician or other went to Harvard? You have the feeling that the first questions in every interview were: "What celebrities have you slept with?" and "Did you go to an Ivy League school?"

More fundamentally, though, the premise of the book is a little forced. The women are very different artists. Joni Mitchell was never a Top 40 hit-maker like Carly Simon and early-70's Carole King. When those two women were riding high on the charts, Mitchell was already artsy counter-culture by comparison. And the author does very little to explore her significance in popular music, relying instead on period reviews and cliches about Mitchell's career. A more interesting group of subjects would perhaps have been Laura Nyro, Mitchell and Rickie Lee Jones. But then the whole sex-partner overlap story would have been out the window.

For readers born after 1980, the book might make some interesting connections between pop music and wider cultural history. Otherwise, though, the cultural history here is pretty superficial. The 50s folk scene was dominated by men. Well, sure. The sexual revolution was a mixed blessing for women. Yep, read about that too.

Still, I read the book from beginning to end and was never seriously tempted to put it down. (If I hadn't been reading it on my Kindle, though, I would have thrown it across the room a few times!) Once I decided to take absolutely everything in it with a grain of salt, I just let it happen. My main interest was in Joni Mitchell and I think the treatment of her work was probably the weakest in the book. But I found the discussion of Carole King's environmental activism in Idaho surprising and quite interesting.

So, I cannot recommend that you not read it, but you should go into it with your eyes open.
59 of 65 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent read 9 April 2008
By James Peyton - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I have read only the Carole King and Carly Simon sections of the book at this point, a singer per night. With the section on Carly Simon, the book seems more a compendium of information that I have read or heard in other books or in interviews with Simon herself. She has been pretty open about her life. With Carole King's chapters, the reader will finally get a chance to see more than the guarded persona that King to this day presents. She can be eloquent about the environment, relate the same stories about working in the Brill Building cubicles, or her fear of a bomb (herself) at her first Troubador act, but that is about all she has told in countless interviews over the last fifteen years with the release of City Streets and later albums. I was astounded at how troubled a life she has lead. Gerry Goffin, Rick Evers, and Rick Sorenson all took her down a different path of pain and depression, themes in her music she recently refused to acknowledge in a PBS interview (My music is about perservance..."You can do anything"). Only Charley Larkey comes off as being somewhat decent. I also do not agree with the writer's idea that Larkey was not a good musician. His bass playing was excellent and elemental in King's early records. Goffin comes off as a troubled, philandering, abusive, neglectful husband until Carole left him. He then became angry that she would have the nerve to do so. Luckily, without his lyrics, Carole wrote songs such as "Home Again," "So far away," and "You've Got a Friend;" and with Toni Stern, "It's too late." The section that is most disturbing is King's relationship with drug addict Rick Evers, a physically abusive sycophant, for whom Carole wrote "Golden Man." Weiler should have known that Carole started singing this in concerts in 1976 with the Thoroughbred tour but attibutes the song to Carole's fourth husband Rick Sorenson. Also in this book, are pages of Carole's ease with creating music, dealing with other musicians, and writing some of the most loved songs of the last fifty years, reflecting much more the pain and sorrow of her life than many of us could imagine. As my mother, a trained opera singer, said about Carole's music, "Even the happiest of her music has a thread of sadness." There's no wonder. If you're a Carole King fan, as I obviously am, the book is a great read.
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