Near the end of her new memoir Boys in the Trees, Carly Simon writes: “I’m not the type of person to let go of my past easily. My memory is too good.”

Indeed, Ms. Simon’s memory is beyond good as she recaptures her life from childhood to about the mid-1980s, after she had reached the pinnacle of musical stardom and following the breakup of her marriage to James Taylor. But her memory also had help. Throughout her life Ms. Simon has been a dutiful diarist, and so the whole of her life — the events, thoughts and conversations of almost every day — were just an arm’s length away waiting to be reborn.

On Sunday, Dec. 20 at 4 p.m., Ms. Simon will give a book signing at the Bunch of Grapes Bookstore in Vineyard Haven.

The Simon family with a young Carly to the left of her brother Peter. — Courtesy Peter Simon

The memoir took more than three years to write she said in a recent interview at her home off Lambert’s Cove Road in Vineyard Haven. “The first six or eight months was just research.”

She pored over her diaries, looking for clues and the melody of her life. She has long been a songwriter and the act of completing a book was in a way merely a longer version of what she had always been doing. And although it wasn’t a conscious decision, the patterns in a song also served as a guide.

“It’s a book whose chorus you don’t find out until it’s over and then you see if there is a chorus, a repeated phrase, or a repeated idea,” she said. “The beast, in a way, is kind of like a chorus. But not really. It’s more of a leitmotif. I think the big chorus doesn’t happen for me until the end when I start talking about forgiveness.”

The beast Ms. Simon refers to is the aggressive embodiment of the hurt and insecurity she felt in her life. And it does appear throughout the book, beginning when she was a little girl, the third daughter born into a wealthy New York family whose father Richard Simon started the publishing company that would become Simon and Schuster.

Performing with James Taylor at the Oak Bluffs School. — Courtesy Carly Simon

“I saw that the effect my father had on me was so crucial because of the lack of self esteem that I got from his not wanting a third daughter,” she said of her childhood. “I wasn’t beloved to him. And I saw it in contrast with how he was with my sisters.”

She developed a crippling stutter as a young girl, which made her shy and afraid of her own voice, a feeling that never went away. “I don’t like to be on stage either because I don’t like to be in the spotlight and that probably has to do with the early days in school and being called on in class and I couldn’t say anything because of my stammer,” she said.

A strange scenario for someone who has spent so much of her life on stage, performing for millions. But incongruities and insecurities are often at the heart of art and the drive to succeed.

Ms. Simon is correct that the beast does not serve as the chorus. Forgiveness and its ever present twin, vulnerability, provide much more of the motor for her memoir. But the case could also be made that words and writing are the true chorus. Beginning with her father’s profession and his ultimate fall from grace when he was edged out of Simon and Schuster, to her early diaries, to the men in her life — so many novelists and songwriters — to her own profession and the long journey to finding her voice, the act of writing has been a constant. And when asked about writing, Ms. Simon truly does comes alive, fairly leaping out of her seat and smiling from ear to ear.

She wrote Anticipation while waiting for Cat Stevens to show up for a date. — Peter Simon

“The most enjoyable part of the book was the actual act of writing,” she said. “I really love words, it’s like a wonderful puzzle. You see a bunch of words and it’s a mass of material that you haven’t decided whether to make a gown out of or curtains or what kind of curtains. You just kind of mold it and see how it comes to life.”

Early on she didn’t know exactly what form the memoir would take, but soon understood that the structure would be built around her relationships with men. Reviewing and reliving her relationship with her father made this essential to finding out why she has always been so hard on herself and worried about what men think of her, rather than what she thinks about them.

This is not to say the book is about settling grudges. The men in her life as described on the page come across as sympathetic characters. And they are, to use a fan’s vocabulary, a group of seriously awesome dudes.

Cat Stevens, Kris Kristofferson, Jack Nicholson, Warren Beatty, Mick Jagger, it is a gallery of 1970s royalty — the industries of film and music embodied in all of its male swagger through the eyes of a woman who was at the center of it all, and for a time eclipsed them. Be forewarned, some of the passages are sexually explicit.

Hailing a cab in New York city in 1970. — Peter Simon

And yet, spoiler alert, there is no one man who is so vain. That song, perhaps her most famous, is really the journey of a writer again, jotting down snippets of phrases in her diary over the course of years — clouds in my coffee on an airplane, watching with a friend a group of men enter a party and check themselves out in the mirror. But it was Mick Jagger who provided the much needed heat, surprising her at a recording session in London that wasn’t going well, perhaps too nervous because Paul McCartney was in the room. But then Mick joined her in the booth, harmonizing on the vocals for the chorus, and the song finally took flight.

And, of course, there is James Taylor, her former husband whom she first met when she was 11 years old cruising around the Vineyard on her bicycle, and he was a lanky teenager playing a guitar at the Chilmark Community Center. The Taylors and the Simons have become such fixtures on the Island, their families first coming here in the early 1900s, each successive generation making its marks on Island life, that it is difficult to imagine a time when Carly and James were just kids, able to putter about the beaches and dirt roads like any other anonymous and carefree summer dinks, frolicking in the surf and nursing crushes as they licked ice cream cones and imagined being stars one day. But that is how it began and so their coming together as a couple seemed predestined. They met again when JT was already famous, and Carly about to be, when she opened for Cat Stevens at the Troubador in Los Angeles.

They married and moved to the Vineyard and the early days are lovingly described in the book.

“Ahead of us I could see the outlines of what looked like a romantic music box of a house. It was James’s cabin, silhouetted in the moonlight. The pitch of the roof was steep. The windows were high and narrow. Everything about the house was like James himself: tall, lean, modest, and beautiful,” she writes.

With first love, Nick Delbanco. — Courtesy Carly Simon

Carly and James created a life on the Vineyard, introduced its rural pleasures to the stars of Saturday Night Live and also began the journey of raising two children, Sally and Ben. But the marriage didn’t last. Two musicians trading number one hits would certainly be a strain, plus the trappings of a rock and roll lifestyle were not conducive to settling down.

The process of writing the book, Ms. Simon admits, was partly about coming to terms with her relationship with James Taylor, both together and apart. After all, she said, she still lives in the house she first saw on that moonlit night.

“I did want to come to terms with the wonderful ghostlike memory of James, because I live with it in this house,” she said. “I’m the one who lives in the house and I’m altogether happy about living here, but there’s a lot more of the presence of James Taylor in my life than I am in his, strictly because of locale.”

Part of that presence is no shower, still after so many years, and no closets either.

“James didn’t believe in closets,” she said. “Everything was hung on a beam with nails and hooks. This place was a cabin in the woods. He would freak out if he came into this house now because it is so adorned,” she added with a laugh.

Ms. Simon is about to finally put a shower in her house, collaborating with Margot Datz on the project. “We are going to design it together and we will find an architect who will go along with Margo’s artistic plans,” she said.

And although the shower may be a small step, it could be viewed as a tangible one that speaks to the power of reviewing one’s life in order to move forward.

“The cloth does look different now,” Ms. Simon said after pausing to reflect on the long arc of her life and looking back on it for her memoir. “It’s less opaque. Looking at me, I’m not afraid of anything now.”

Carly Simon will give a book signing at the Bunch of Grapes Bookstore in Vineyard Haven on Sunday, Dec. 20, beginning at 4 p.m. In addition to the print version, there is an audiobook that Ms. Simon recorded herself, and a companion CD of songs.

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