That’s The Way I Always Heard It Should Be by Carly Simon (Elektra, 1971)

I don’t know Carly Simon very well. But if she would have answered my marriage proposal with this song, I would have been running for the hills (or the nearest bar). Carly tapped into (exploited?) the feminist movement with a song that questioned a woman’s role in a relationship, specifically marriage. But this dramatically maudlin song made marriage seem like a death sentence. I can’t believe the world didn’t stop procreating and marrying right then & there in 1971. Luckily for me, they didn’t.

This was Carly’s debut 45 from her debut album, Carly Simon. What an impression she made – I’m surprised she wasn’t dubbed the angry female singer-songwriter by critics. Maybe it’s because she came from a privileged family and folks considered her spoiled. Reading her lyrics, I tend to agree. Supposedly this song was about her relationship with Cat Stevens, who she did not marry. But the defiant Women First words were actually written by a guy, Jacob Brackman. Carly sings them with such conviction and frames them musically with sad chord phrasings that you don’t even notice how benign and confusing the words are.

The first verse goes something like this: dad sits alone in a chair smoking a cigarette in the dark and mom is in bed reading magazines. She calls out ‘Sweet Dreams’ to Carly who ignores and bitches that she can’t dream. Ok Carly, would you feel better if you caught your parents getting it on laying on a beanbag in the rec room? Forget dreaming, you’ll be having nightmares.

Ok second verse:

My friends from college they’re all married now;
They have their houses and their lawns.

Sounds OK to me. Seems like Carly is a little jealous of her friends getting on with their lives, while she lives with her parents watching Dad smoke.

They have their silent noons,
Tearful nights, angry dawns.

Really? Is it that bad? Every one of her friends is in an abusive relationship? I can’t imagine that already have regrets being that they’re in their early to mid 20s. But let’s move on.

Their children hate them for the things they’re not;
They hate themselves for what they are
And yet they drink, they laugh,
Close the wound, hide the scar.

See this is where it goes the wheels for me. How do their children hate them already? Children really don’t start that until their early teens. So if these people went to college, graduated and then started having kids, they would be in their mid 30s with their rebellious kids. And that’s a conservative estimate. Again, sounds like ol Carly’s a little green….third verse:

You say we can keep our love alive
Babe – all I know is what I see.
The couples cling and claw and drown in love’s debris.
You say we’ll soar like two birds through the clouds,
But soon you’ll cage me on your shelf.
I’ll never learn to be just me first by myself.

Now she’s talking directly to the guy that’s proposing to her, lucky guy he is. You’d think that by the way she’s talking that she’d been through some shit. But as far as I know her parents didn’t divorce. Carly hadn’t been through anything as of yet. She’s thinks everyone is miserable, so she equates that with her being miserable too. I don’t get the logic. Surely women are more intelligent than that.

Oh wait that’s right…some guy is writing the lyrics for her, a guy that was a film critic for Esquire Magazine, hence the dramatic overwrought tale. Anyway Carly eventually gives in to the guy at the end and in real life married James Taylor a year later, living out her song until the two drowned in love’s debris in 1983, or as normal people say, divorce.

What’s amazing to me is that Carly had to sing this song as an extreme to try to find women some middle ground, since society still deemed that a woman’s happiness was tied up in marrying a man. But this song wasn’t an aberration in her catalog. This is a woman who had hits with Legend In Your Own Time, Haven’t Got Time For The Pain & You’re So Vain, attacking, nay questioning the male ego. Of course she reverted to the ‘I can’t do without you’ type of songs such as You Belong To Me & Jesse. But as we all know, for Carly, eventually everything was Coming Around Again.

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