04 May 2007

Some thoughts on Carly Simon

The following email was forwarded to me the other day:

I am an amateur logician and I have a logic problem that I want to develop a solution to, but that I'm finding very difficult. The problem is this: In the lyrics of Carly Simon's 'You're So Vain', it may be assumed that the chorus (You're so vain, I bet you think this song is about you) is entirely about You, but that the verses may be understood to be talking about the vanity attributed to You. For instance: the first line of the first verse is 'You walked into the party like you were walking onto a yacht'. If we dispute that the second instance of 'You' is purely referential (because it follows from the simile that You cannot be both at the party and walking onto a yacht) then we might paraphrase 'You walked into the party like someone who was walking onto a yacht' (otherwise it might be ' You walked into the party as if it was a yacht'). We might then further paraphrase 'The way you walked into the party was the same way as someone would walk onto a yacht'. This makes the subject 'The way you walked into the party' and makes

ii.Your hat strategically dipped below one eye
iii.Your scarf it was apricot
iv.You had one eye on the mirror as you watched yourself gavotte

in reference to 'The way you walked into the party', which seems as Carly Simon intended.

Is this right? Is there a way to prove it?
If this much can be established as a legimate interpretation of the lyrics then the hardest work can begin, namely: establishing how true it is that this song is not about you.

My reply:

Well, perhaps the answer to the more difficult question is made simpler by the previous work; namely, if the subject of the in the above case is seen to be "the way you walked into the party" rather than you, than one could further hypothesize that the song is, in fact, not about You, but about Your Vanity.
The introduction of the first person perspective in the second verse ("when I was still naive") suggests a second possibility, namely, that the song is actually about I, and the effect that You and You's vanity had upon I.*** This is reinforced by the repetition of the line "I had some dreams, they were clouds in my coffee", which suggests a retrospective analysis of I and I's life, dreams, etc. In this reading, one would take the final speculation as to the location of You to be serving a primarily comparative function, in other words, to highlight the contrast between what You is now doing and what I is now doing (which, alas, remains unarticulated).
There is also a third possibility, which is that the refusal to name You is intentional. The song insists upon the anonymity of You and demands to be read allegorically. It's not about You, because it's about a hypothetical being who does not actually exist, though s/he may be quite similar to you. A little research (http://www.carlysimon.com/vain/vain.html ) adds credence to this theory, for it appears that You is a pastiche of Ms. Simon's former lovers, and is meant to be a comment on the male ego. It saddens me that Ms. Simon does not seem to appreciate the irony of people repeatedly asking her who the song is about, and suggests to me that she perhaps put less thought into the logic of the song's text than I have in the last 5 minutes.

Far more troubling, to me, is the line "i had dreams, they were clouds in my coffee"; a very puzzling metaphor indeed. Note that it's doubled - M1: Tenor - dreams, vehicle - clouds in coffee, M2: tenor - ? something in the coffee ? vehicle - clouds. In other words, what in the hell is is in I's coffee?

***Though this does raise the questions of what it means for a song to be about something. Obviously one could argue that the song is _kind of_ about you, because You is clearly present and plays an important role in the production of meaning - could the song make the same point without mentioning You at all? (Note that this problem seems to be somewhat remedied by the third possibility mentioned, the allegorical reading). So perhaps what is at stake here is the main topic. Of course, this also raises the spectre of that hideous debate over the relation between meaning and authorial intent...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your help. (Troubled artist)