50 Years Ago: Carly Simon Marries James Taylor
Carly Simon had never even had a proper conversation with James Taylor when she decided that he was the man for her.
Taylor was seeing someone else, which Simon noted after seeing images of him with then-girlfriend Joni Mitchell in Rolling Stone. "I remember thinking: I'm so jealous," Simon told AXS TV in 2021. "Why am I jealous? This doesn't make any sense at all. I don't know him."
Simon had been interested in Taylor since early 1971 when she passed a newsstand with a copy of Time magazine while coming home from a movie with her sister. The cover featured an artistic rendering of Taylor, done in psychedelic colors.
"Without thinking, I blurted, with confidence: 'I'm going to marry him.' How did I know this? People have asked me over the years," Simon wrote in her 2015 memoir Boys in the Trees. "The only answer I can come up with is he, James, was perfect for me in every way. If you believe in predestination or clairvoyance, that would be a terrific example of why you're right to."
The couple knew one another in passing from childhood when they spent summers vacationing in Martha's Vineyard, but Taylor remembered holding back when they were teenagers. "I thought she was quite attractive," he told Rolling Stone in 1973, "but she was – and still is – four years older than I was. So back then when she was 18 and I was 14. She was a bit less approachable than she was when I was 24."
There was a brief meeting in the late '60s, but that was only a quick "hello" in the driveway of Taylor's mother's house. Carly and her brother Peter stopped by to speak with Taylor's sibling Livingston about a job Simon and Livingston were supposed to do together. "I passed Peter and Carly and said, 'Hi,'" Taylor remembered, "and Peter said, 'Hi, this is my sister Carly' and then I left. I guess I had one album out by then."
Watch Carly Simon and James Taylor Perform 'Mockingbird'
They met more formally on April 6, 1971, when Taylor came to see her open for Cat Stevens at the Troubadour in Los Angeles. The memory remained vivid, decades later when Simon wrote her autobiography.
"He was barefoot, long-legged, long-footed — and his knees were bent. He wore dark red, loose, wide-wale corduroys and a long-sleeved Henley with one button open, his right hand clutching a self-rolled cigarette," she wrote. "His hair, simultaneously shiny and disheveled, fell evenly on both sides of his head, and he wore a scruffy, understated mustache, the kind so fashionable back in the early 1970s. He seemed both kempt and unkempt. Even sprawled out on the floor, everything about him communicated that he was, in fact, the center of something — the core of an apple, the center of a note."
Something about Simon struck Taylor, too. "I saw Carly on the street shortly after I met her," Taylor said in 1973, "and I followed her, thinking she was another woman. I was thinking, 'What a fine-looking woman that is.' Then I discovered it was Carly. It makes you very happy when you do that."
The idea to get married surfaced spontaneously one day while the pair was in London. Asked why he committed, Taylor later said "that's the way we always heard it should be," a quippy reference to one of Simon's songs about marriage. In reality, she said Taylor was hesitant.
He initially argued that there wasn't much sense in getting married, since they were already living together. Later the same day, however, Taylor brought the subject back up. "I said, 'Well, what's happened between this morning and this afternoon?'" Simon recalled. "He said, 'This afternoon, it was my idea.'"
The couple wed on Nov. 3, 1972, in a small ceremony at Simon's apartment in New York City. Simon said the moment left her feeling distinctly secure, "and it's because James was my safe person. At first, it was almost too much to imagine that I was married to this fantastic person who I would only get to know better and better and better over the years, and I couldn't wait."
In retrospect, Taylor saw the potential pitfalls of their union. His struggles with substance abuse had only intensified as the '60s gave way to the '70s. "It was kind of doomed," Taylor later admitted. "I mean, really, it was just — I was unfit to be a husband and father."
Listen to Carly Simon and James Taylor Duet on 'Devoted to You'
They were also both highly successful, public figures in the music industry. "It's a strange situation," Simon said in 1973. "I think it's one that has to do with fear of competition. ... Sometimes I feel it's a male-female thing. Because any male that I've been involved with in the past has not liked my success, has not wanted me to be successful, has felt very threatened by that fact."
Taylor insisted that he wanted his wife's career to flourish: "I'm very much interested in not seeing Carly behind the kitchen stove, because I see females live totally vicariously through their husbands and it drives them crazy and it drives the husband crazy, too."
They frequently guested on one another's albums through the '70s, including two hit singles as duet partners: a cover of Inez & Charlie Foxx's "Mockingbird" and a cover of the Everly Brothers' "Devoted to You." Simon and Taylor also had two children, a daughter named Sarah in 1974 and a son, Benjamin, in 1977.
As time went on, however, it became apparent that a barrier was forming. Taylor's substance abuse created what Simon felt was an impenetrable boundary, and she could not reach him no matter how hard she tried. With the benefit of hindsight, she came to recognize that Taylor was battling something more deeply rooted.
"Anything could have happened,” Simon told People magazine in 2015. “If it hadn’t been the drugs, if the demons that were in him went someplace other than drugs, it would have been something other than drugs that would have been difficult to live with, I think too."
They eventually lost whatever sense of connection had once been present, and Simon filed for divorce in 1983. She confirmed that they hadn't spoken in decades following the publication of Boys in the Trees. Still, she didn't harbor any ill will toward Taylor. Asked if she still loved him, Simon didn't hesitate: "Absolutely."