What’s your favourite
Many of the best songs ever written beg questions that might never be answered. For example, what’s the one thing that Meat Loaf won’t do for love? (We know it’s not endorsing Mitt Romney, because he’s all over that junk.) Is the dude in Bruce Springsteen’s “The River” taking his young wife to the titular location to drown her? When the Spice Girls say they “really really really wanna zigazig ha”, do they mean enjoy the humorous comic strip wisdom of cartoonist Tom Wilson or do they mean s-e-x?
My personal favourite belongs to a song that inevitably stays in my head weeks after each time I listen to it, Carly Simon’s signature ode to male narcissism, “You’re So Vain”:
The general consensus is that the subject of the song is one of her famous lovers from the period, with the most likely subjects being Mick Jagger (who can be heard contributing background vocals on the song) and Warren Beatty (who always seemed to me like the dude most likely to be seen in an apricot-coloured scarf), but Simon has never publicly outed music’s most infamous navel-gazer and some have suggested the real answer is someone from her past who the general public has never heard of.
One person besides her who knows for sure is former NBC executive, SNL producer and Susan St James hubby, Dick Ebersol, who paid $50,000 at a charity auction for the privilege of having Simon tell him (under the condition he reveal his answer to no one else). Ebersol said he had been given permission to only supply a single clue as to what he had been told. The subject’s name included the letter “e”–an extremely broad category of people that included the already suggested WarrEn BEatty and Mick JaggEr. (According to wikipedia, Taylor Swift–who has publicly performed the song with Simon–claims she’s also been told, which doesn’t seem fair at all when you think about it.)
Since then Simon has had fun playing with people’s curiosity. In a rerecorded version of the song several names were whispered and played backwards as easter eggs. The first one people heard was “David” leaving many to conclude the song was about David Geffen, but Simon denied this by saying she didn’t even know the future-billionaire mogul when the song was original written. Other intrepid listeners also heard “Warren” in there as well.
In the end, the answer doesn’t matter of course. It’s always going to be a great song regardless of who the subject is, but in an age where it’s easy to know virtually anything we want about our pop culture, a little mystery here and there adds more than a little fun and intrigue into the mix.