Nothing about the 2020 presidential campaign is typical and the debates are no different. Diane talks with Janet Brown, executive director of the Commission on Presidential Debates, about how they are planning in the middle of a pandemic.
Singer/songwriter Carly Simon is best known for hits such as “You’re So Vain” and “Anticipation.” “Let the River Run,” written for the film Working Girl, won an Oscar, a Golden Globe, and a Grammy. When Carly Simon was a little girl, her parents brought Jackie Robinson and his family to live with them. Robinson broke baseball’s color line, but he still was not allowed to own property in those pre-civil-rights-movement days. She draws on memories of going with him to see the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field for her rendition of the baseball classic, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” Like the main character of the song – the baseball mad Katie Casey – Simon describes how she learned to defy convention and blaze her own path in music and in life.
- Carly Simon Award-winning singer and songwriter and the author of five children’s books.
Audio Clip from Simon’s New Album
Carly Simon Sings “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Singer, songwriter Carly Simon is best known for hits like, "You're So Vain" and "Anticipation" and "Let the River Run" written for the film, "Working Girl" She won an Oscar, a Golden Globe and a Grammy. Simon is also the author of five children's books.
MS. DIANE REHMShe joins us from a studio at NPR in New York to talk about the personal story behind the song she performs for a new children's book. It's titled, "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." And if you'd like to join us, call us on 800-433-8850. Send us your e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to hearing from you. Good morning, Carly, it's good to have you with us.
MS. CARLY SIMONThank you, Diane, it's so nice to be here.
REHMI sure wish I could be seated across from you. You are such a lovely woman and I've always enjoyed your music, but this is going to have to be the best we can do.
SIMONWell, it's pretty, pretty darn good. I'm very, very happy to be here with you.
REHMThank you. Tell us how you became involved with this book in particular.
SIMONWell, from your wonderfully lofty introduction, the listener might think that I had written "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," which the book is based on the story of and that is, in fact, a song. The song was first and then the song became the book and then the book became. You know many things flowed from the same fount of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game."
SIMONBut the question that you asked me was how I became involved with this book and that would have to be -- I got a call from Peter Yarrow who is the publisher of this book. And he asked me whether I would use my version of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" which I sang for the Ken Burns baseball series on NET for this newly illustrated children's book version of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" and they would put my CD of me singing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" in the spine of the book. And I said I would be happy to and here I am, delighted to promote it because it's a fine-looking book.
REHMAnd it is a fine-looking book. I was surprised to learn that "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" usually sung during the seventh inning stretch is simply the chorus.
SIMONYes, it's become very much of the unofficial anthem of all seventh inning stretches. And very few people know that there's a story behind it, that there are verses to the well-known chorus, the chorus being: "Take me out to the ball game, take me out with the crowd. Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jacks, I don't care if I ever come back," you know, that?
SIMONI'm sorry to go on a little long.
REHMOh, I like it.
SIMONThe whole song is the story about Katie Casey and it's about the fact that she was such a baseball fan and fanatic that all she wanted to do was have her beau take her out for a baseball game...
SIMON...instead of going to a show. And she knew all the players by their first names and she was just a rabid baseball fan, which is what I was. Growing up, I was a rabid baseball fan because of reasons that even Ken Burns, when he asked me to sing for his baseball special, didn't know, which is…
REHMAnd we're going to get to those reasons after our listeners hear your version of the song.
REHMAnd I'll bet there were millions of people out there singing right along with you. It's wonderful, Carly, really just terrific.
SIMONIt's very positive. It's a very positive spin.
SIMONIt's a nice feel.
REHMAbsolutely. I have the book in front of me and I love the illustrations. Tell me about the illustrator.
SIMONThe illustrator, I have never met. I didn't have any choice in who the illustrator would be and it's just as well because I probably would have said I'll do it myself.
SIMONBut she's very -- I think she comes from Japan. She studied at the Rhode Island School of Design and she lives in Brooklyn. She's done a bunch of other children's books, the illustrations for, and I hope that I get to work with her, you know, at some other time on an original project where I write the words and I write the song.
REHMAnd here on the back cover is a photograph of you aged, what, about seven, eight?
SIMONI think about -- looking at it now, I think I was five.
SIMONI think I remember that haircut was in when I was about five.
REHMAnd you have a baseball bat in your hand because -- tell me about Jackie Robinson and your family.
SIMONWell, I was in love with baseball. And I'm not sure whether my falling in love with baseball came first or whether my getting to know Jackie Robinson and his wife Rachel and his three kids and they're moving in with us for a year and a half had anything to do with my loving baseball.
SIMONIt was the year 1955, no, 1954 and my mother read somewhere that Stamford was still acting like a segregated community, unlike many of the towns around Stamford. Stamford was a strange kind of a holdout for some sort of bigotry that they didn't even own up to. And she was horrified by this and she got in touch with Rachel Robinson somehow and she said, meet me on the Merritt Parkway, which is a beautiful parkway between Manhattan and parts of Connecticut and I'll take you around and we'll go and look at houses or land.
SIMONAnd she met with Rachel on the parkway and they became -- I mean, it's very, very hard to tell this story fast, but the long and the short of it is that they became very, very close friends. My parents went around to the politicians and the religious leaders of the community in Stamford and basically integrated the community by breaking the color barrier with having the Robinsons buy the first plot of land in Stamford, Conn. that was to be owned by an African-American. And I think they were still called Negroes at that point, which sounds horrifying to all of our ears now, but that's just the way it was.
REHMAnd how were they received?
SIMONThat's just my stomach going off sounding like a bell or was that my cell phone sounding like a stomach?
REHMI think so. I think so. I think so. Well, I'll tell you what. I want to get back to the story of Jackie Robinson and the influence he had on your life, but we've got to take just a short break. And during that time, maybe you can turn that cell phone off. Short break, Carly Simon, new book, "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," and it includes a three-song CD.
REHMAnd welcome back. Carly Simon is with me. She is in a studio -- an NPR studio in New York. We're talking about a brand new book, a children's book, but with a three-song CD attached. Of course, Carly Simon is a Grammy and Oscar Award winner. The book is called "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." And Carly has lots of experience with ballgames, baseball games and especially the Brooklyn Dodgers.
REHMJackie Robinson and his family lived with her family in Connecticut for about a year-and-a-half. Carly, we've had an e-mail from Larry in Pineville, North Carolina who says, "Since about 1949, I have felt that Jackie Robinson might never have been the Jackie Robinson we know except for the supportive role played by his wife Rachel. What does Carly think about that?"
SIMONThere's no question. There's no question that Rachel is a force. She became my mother's best friend and she was with my mother -- you know, as my mother lay dying, there was Rachel. And she's -- she spun a very, very significant, beautiful web around our family. And she so empowered Jack and also kidded him out of being ultra-serious, which he sometimes could be, or ultra-defiant, which was, you know, sometimes for a good purpose and other times, you know, not. I mean, Rachel was always there just to show Jack where the ground was, not what a ground rule double was necessarily.
SIMONBut she brought up her three children just beautifully. One of her children, Jack Junior, was my brother's closest friend and then Sharon and David. And they just -- they're all just such special, special, you know, people. And unfortunately, they're, you know, mostly memories for me now because it's been such a long time since I've been in touch with any of them. I think the last one I saw was David when he returned with some beautiful sculpture from Africa that he gave to my mother. But, yes, I would agree with you about Rachel. I don't think there's anyone that knows Rachel that wouldn't agree with that.
REHMHe took you to lots of the Dodgers games. You were introduced to all the players. How was that for you?
SIMONWell, it was like Katie Casey. I knew all the players by their first names. And I -- of course, I knew what numbers they wore on their uniforms. And I could be challenged, but I do know at least the starting team of the Brooklyn Dodgers in the years, '54, '55. And I was at so many of the games because my father -- especially my father and I would go down with Jackie to the home games at Ebbets Field. And the team got so used to this little eight-year-old coming in with their star -- with their big star with the 42 on his back.
SIMONAnd they gave me a little mascot recognition of giving me my own uniform and so I used to go in the dugouts -- in the dugout for the home games and very often sit especially on Pee Wee Reese's lap. I remember that lap was the friendliest to a little squirming eight-year-old who's just out of breath not being able to believe where she was.
REHMWell, those are absolutely wonderful memories. Last night, I know you performed at the Our Time Gala. Tell us about that organization and your involvement with it.
SIMONOur Time is a very special organization started by a man named Taro Alexander for kids, for young people who have a stammering problem. Some people would call it a stutter and others would call it a stammer. I, who am a stammerer, will call it either one and now with a measure of pride. But anyway, Taro has taken in all of these kids who can hardly say a word and has brought them into theatrical settings. And within those settings they can make their own sound in their own time. And so they sing or they say a dramatic line, if it comes out that it is a dramatic line.
SIMONIf I had been -- if I had grown up during the time period between 2000, which is when Our Time was first inaugurated, I would've been a very different person. I wouldn't have been so afraid of the limelight. Because of my stammer I became so afraid to go to school because there I was, you know, with the lights on me, having to read a phrase from a book. And I couldn't possible have done it because I couldn't get the word out. So there I was being asked a question by a teacher and not being able to give an answer. Not because I didn't know it, but because I couldn't say it.
SIMONAnd so a year ago, I was asked by Taro Alexander to be awarded by that group for the work that I had done with other kids or other grown kids who are stammerers. And I was given an award and the group from Our Time performed a bunch of my songs. And I got up and got the award and wept and wept and wept as I told the story of being basically, you know, a kid that just couldn't speak. And this year the award was given to David Seidler who wrote "The King's Speech," which is -- I don't know if you've seen that, but it's...
REHMI have. It's absolutely fabulous.
SIMONFabulous and breathtaking. And David Seidler was also a stammerer and he told the story about how it was for him growing up and then slowly growing out of his stammer and be -- you know, there are lots of different types of speech therapists that were -- that, you know, certainly the Geoffrey Rush character in "The King's Speech" is such a wonderful example of what was available at that point when stuttering was something that was still in its baby steps of being, you know, discovered of how to deal with it.
SIMONI myself was able to overcome it. I certainly haven't erased it and it's there in my life. And if you asked me to read something I wouldn't be able to because there are certain days that I can't say the consonant S, for example, and other days that I can't say H or F. And I never know which day those days are going to be, which makes my life very exciting.
REHMI know the feeling well, Carly. You may know, I have spasmodic dysphonia, which meant that my voice just stopped working for quite some time because of strangled vocal cords. And for years, I received botulinum toxin. But now I'm being coached by someone who coaches opera singers.
SIMONAnd does it have to do with the strengthening of the vocal cords?
REHMExactly, strengthening of the vocal cords. And frankly, I'm doing this via Skype because my coach is out in Los Angeles. But for you, considering the fact that you were stammering, singing seemed to erase that. Isn't that right?
SIMONIt did and it was an instinctive feeling that my mother had. I was sitting on her lap every day before going to school just in tears and just saying, I can't, I just -- I can't do this. I was just going to be mortified just another time and more kids would bully me and make fun of me. And she started to say, well, tap your foot. And I started to tap my foot, and she said, now say the words along with when you tap your foot, so that if you're trying to say pass the butter, but you can't say pass, say it with a beat.
SIMONPass the butter, please, pass the butter now, pass, pass, pass, pass the butter, in all different kinds of ways of where I would put the pass on the beat. But I let the beat sort of creep up into the rest of my body and into my lungs and it was a natural thing to sing when I had a beat under my speech.
SIMONAnd so it became pass the butter, pass the butter now. So eventually I found my voice that way through song.
REHMAnd that's the title of my first book "Finding My Voice."
REHMSo there we are. Now, I want to know the story behind your first big hit "That's the Way I've Always Heard It Should Be."
SIMONWell, that was a melody that I had written originally for NBC who was doing a special called "Who Killed Lake Erie." And they had heard that there was this composer out there somewhere. I was all of 22 at the time and I sat down and kind of taught myself to play the piano around that melody. And I gave that melody to NBC for the use of the underscore of "Who Killed Lake Erie." And a year went by and nothing much happened to it, and then I started writing songs, sitting down to the guitar and learning some chords and playing a little bit more piano and singing songs. But once I write a melody it's impossible for me to write lyrics to it.
SIMONSo my best friend Jake Brackman lived around the corner and I said, will you come over and just see whether you can lend your talents with words to this melody? And his talents indeed were with words but he was then writing for the New Yorker and for Newsweek. And he became the film critique for Esquire. And so Jake was the one who wrote the lyric for "That's The Way I've Always Heard it Should Be," after I had already written its melody.
REHMCarly Simon and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show."
REHMWhat a powerful song. Singing right along with you, Carly, one of my very favorites. It -- the words must have resonated with you once you heard them.
SIMONOh, well, Jake was -- is so capable and so able to get inside my head, which is what a really good writer of fiction can do. I mean, as Hemingway said, it's really about paring away everything else but the truth. And Jake was able to do that in this song. And I don't usually work with lyricists. I've -- if anything I write -- I usually write my lyrics first and then write the music to my own lyrics.
SIMONBut Jake is really, you know, somebody who can get inside my head.
SIMONAnd clearly did with this one.
REHMCarly, how do you feel that stuttering or stammering affected your musical career, or did it?
SIMONWell, it's so hard to separate my musical career from what I was as a musician before I had a career. I think I became a musical person, you know, a musical entity because of my stammer. I think it was hugely cause and effect.
REHMCarly Simon. Her newest book "Take Me Out To the Ballgame," which includes a three-song CD.
REHMIf you've just joined us, Carly Simon is with me. She has a brand new children's book out but I know that adults will enjoy it as well. It is, "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," which includes a three song CD with Carly Simon singing that absolutely wonderful song. We're going to open the phones in just a moment. But we've had a couple of e-mail's, Carly, asking about the Simon Sisters. Here's one from Simon who says, "Please, ask Carly about the Simon Sisters and their recording of, 'Winkin Blinkin and Nod?"
REHMAnd here's one from Jan who says, "Thank you for all your songs. My children grew up listening to the children's album you produced with your sisters, the Simon Sisters. Is there any chance you might reissue that album or sing again with your sisters?"
SIMONYes, well, I have two wonderful sisters. And the sister that's being referenced here is Lucy. And she is now in Australia because she's just written the music for, "Doctor Zhivago."
SIMONI know, she's a serious composer.
SIMONAnd she's in Melbourne or -- yeah, I think she's in Melbourne now. And she and I used to sing together when we were both in school. And we each knew three chords on the guitar and we learned some folk songs and we got booked on hootenanny shows and, you know, somehow we were making it back to write our term papers in time for the Monday morning classes. And we were very lucky in that we got to tour the east coast, the college, you know, the college campus' and the coffee houses of the mid 60s.
SIMONAnd we made three albums and our, I guess, the last one that we made together was the Simon Sisters "Sing for Children." And that is going to be reissued. It's reissued once every decade or so and I think it's about time for that decade to want to just push it out again. And the Simon Sisters sing, "Winkin Blinkin and Nod," was just reissued and that's a collection of our two albums that we had made when we were doing the tours together.
SIMONAnd that's -- but I think there was only a special number. It's very hard to put out a CD these days and have them sell so you have to, you know, they're downloadable. I'm pretty sure that they are downloadable but they're -- if you go into -- is there a Border's anymore or am I talking in antiquated…
REHMThere is still.
SIMONIf you go into a Border's and look in the back sections under, Old Vinyl, or something, you'll probably find Simon Sisters sing, "Winkin Blinkin and Nod."
REHMAll right. And let's open the phones to Susan in Laurel, Md. Good morning, you're on the air.
SUSANSuch a pleasure to speak with you. Carly, I just wanted to say, thank you for living a life in the public eye so gracefully. But more particularly, you're album spoke to me so much as I was growing up. And in particular, you helped me find my voice because like you, I have a low alto and didn't really think I could sing until I listened to you. And you also helped me find Jazz because of your album, "Torch." So now I'm a Jazz singer and I want to thank you very much for the part that you had in that.
SIMONOh, I'm overwhelmed. I get easily overwhelmed and that -- then that does overwhelm me because it's just, I feel very humbled by that, thank you.
REHMThat's great. Thank you, Susan. Let's go to another Susan, this time in Syracuse, N.Y. Good morning, you're on the air.
SUSAN 2Hi, thank you for taking my call.
2I just wanted to share just a short story. My son, who is 15, is -- he stutters as well. But they have a pretty term for it called disfluency. And he, you know, was diagnosed, like, at a early, early age and he was made fun of. And then a miraculous thing happened by, like, the time he was 10 or 11 years old, he grew to be almost six foot tall and because a, you know, a great athlete. And, you know, not too many people made fun of him anymore. And -- but what's wonderful also is that he's just also become a wonderful kid.
2But as I was listening to you and you saying, like, each day you don't know if, "S," is going to come out or, "F," is going to come out. He still struggles with that as well. But -- just -- so I just, you know, it just touched me while I was listening to it and I just felt like I needed to call in and say something.
REHMI'm glad you did.
SIMONOh, that's so nice for you to say and may I also add that I -- when I was about 15, I went to my boyfriend's house for dinner and I had thought I had kept this secret from him, you know, as if he didn't notice it. And his mother said something to him after dinner and said, "Does Carly have a speech impediment?" And -- so my boyfriend, Nick, took me for a drive in his beautiful -- I remember it was in a Impala convertible -- he took me for a drive around the lake and said, "My mother asks if you have a speech impediment." And I said, "Well, yes, I do." And then I started crying.
SIMONAnd then he said, "But I find it so charming."
REHMAh, that's a good friend.
SIMONAnd it was that -- it was the affirmation of something...
SIMON...that is not about perfection but about something that is potentially much more interesting than perfection.
REHMAnd so supportive. I have to ask you the question every interviewer has to ask. Who is, "You're So Vain," about?
SIMONAnd I just must say, I'm very reluctant to say anything, but if you could understand code, I'll say it to you now, (unintelligible) .
REHMOh, Carly, that song, it just sets everything going, doesn't it?
SIMONIt does and that version of it, which I haven't heard for a long time, because that's the live one.
SIMONI was thinking, I love that guitar solo.
REHMYeah. It's terrific. It's terrific. You know...
SIMONJust got a lot of energy.
REHMI want to ask you about your children, Sally and Ben, who I gather are both in the music business as well?
SIMONOh, yes. They are and they're both such fine, fine people and fine musicians. Ben is with me in New York and he actually sang with me last night at the, "Hour Time," special which was nice. It was very -- we sang a song that we wrote to each other called, "I Can't Thank You Enough." And Ben has just been out on tour with his Dad, James Taylor. And it's the first time that he's every really gotten to sing with James in an important way. Kind of, you know, on tour. And it gave Ben such a great feeling of, you know, like, a tip of the hat to the right stuff.
SIMONBecause he was -- he just came back -- just a changed, happier more fulsome, just having a good relationship with your Dad can do an awful lot for you.
REHMOh, I should say. And you now have a grandchild.
SIMONI do, Sally, my precious Sally, my girl, has a beautiful baby boy name Bodhi. And she and her husband Dean live up in Cambridge. And both work there. Sally works at the Berkley School of Music. She teaches and she sings, she does, you know, she's so busy with -- as young parents are with a young -- with an even younger child. In fact sometimes, I think Bohdi's older than Sally already. Because she just plows and races around the house, just really -- just trying to make it all work.
SIMONI just love seeing it all happen because it's just like, you can just see the clothes flying everywhere and the spools of thread and the toys and the -- ah, it's great, it's great, I love that time of life.
REHMI thought it was interesting to learn how you actually became involved in writing children's books.
SIMONWell, if you're asking, then I will tell.
SIMONWhich, I had tried -- I had been trying to write an autobiography because Jacqueline Onassis called me up one day and said, you know, "Carly, this is Jackie Onassis. Would you write -- I think you'd write a wonderful autobiography." And so, who says no to Jackie (unintelligible) ?
SIMONSo I started to, but couldn’t get passed 80 pages before I realized that I was not going to be telling the story right now in my life. This was -- the nucleus of it was not going to come out until many, many people later. And so I asked her at one point if it was OK to substitute, if she was still interested in my writing, if she would -- if she'd be interested in hearing some of the stories that I told my children. And it's the first one that I wrote, it's called, "Amy the Dancing Bear."
SIMONAnd she just loved it. And that started a series of books that I did for Jackie being the editor at DoubleDay.
REHMCarly Simon and you're listening to the Diane Rehm show. Carly, it sounds as though it's been a straight and almost easy path. But there have been some dark times in your life. What's brought you back each time?
SIMONThe faith that things are not going to stay the same. And that one way or another whether it's from a depression or an illness or a sadness over a lost love or any number of things, things are not going to stay the same. And when things are going really, really well, it's hard for me to not think about that too, to think about the possibility of something, you know, not absolutely tender and loving and warm and cozy and fuzzy around the next corner. But things don't stay the same. And it takes a lot of faith and guts to say, "Well, this is life's path for me."
SIMONAnd I'm very -- I'm curious enough to see what is around the next corner.
REHMYou're grandson, actually it was your son Ben who was diagnosed with Dysphasic Kidney.
SIMONThat's right, he was born with a dysphasic kidney and had to have his kidney removed when he was two. And that to me was, you know, just about the hardest thing that I had ever born up to under the weight of that, the seriousness of that illness. But we got through it, as so many people get through so many things and he is -- talk about -- was it Susan's son on the phone from Maryland? Her son grew up to be taller than six feet or whatever. Ben is now 6' 4" and he has one kidney. So it can be done.
REHMWell, I want to end on a positive note. You're the first artist to win an Oscar, Golden Globe and Grammy for a song you composed, wrote and performed, "Let the River Run."
REHMCarly Simon, I'd love to talk with you for another two hours and...
SIMONOh, thank you so much.
REHM...listen to your music. Thank you so much for joining us.
SIMONI couldn't be happier. Thank you for having me.
REHMAnd the book is titled, "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," with a three song CD included. Carly Simon has been my guest. Thanks for listening all, I'm Diane Rehm.
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