Touched by the Sun: My Friendship with Jackie by Carly Simon

Switched to memoir this time… just finished reading Touched by the Sun: My Friendship with Jackie by Carly Simon, a memoir about her friendship with Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

I’m a huge Carly Simon fan from way back, so I was interested to see what her writing was like, and also, it sounded like it would be interesting to hear this behind-the-scenes story she decided to tell.

I shouldn’t be surprised that Carly can write. After all, she is a songwriter. I always thought that poets made for beautiful novelists because they pay such careful attention to every word choice, and I suppose the same can be said for songwriters about when they turn to longer form work. Carly’s sentences and descriptions of place are lovely.

She begins the book by talking about how difficult it is to write about a person you knew, how challenging it is to capture and describe their essence. She says you can present details but to convey what they are really like is hard to do.

She is correct. I feel like Jackie is only a fleeting presence in this book. Simon tells some stories about times they were together, parties, lunches, etc. But other than now knowing something about what her deathbed scene was like, I don’t feel like I have any more insights into what Jackie O was like than I did before reading the book.

What the book is a lot about, however, is Carly and her famous friends and her life hobnobbing with famous writers and other celebs on Martha’s Vineyard. That life she had/has there sounds fun. I sure would love to hang out with all those folks! Carly is a different generation than I am, but I certainly know of the writers she knows and knew: Lillian Hellman, William Styron and more. Her ex James Taylor makes only a brief appearance in the book (she was married to her second husband Jim Hart during much of when this story takes place). But there is plenty o’ name dropping. When Carly goes to a Stones concert, for example, of course she goes backstage to say hey to Mick. And when she and her husband and Jackie go to the theatre, they need a fourth for Jackie so they invite along Ken Burns or Alec Baldwin.

The person who is most written about in this book is the director/producer/actor Mike Nichols and his wife Diane Sawyer. It seems like both Carly and Jackie had a thing for Mike, who comes off in this book as a brilliant and compelling person. Carly was very close with him, and worked with him often, writing songs for many of his movies. She won an Oscar for “Let the River Run,” which was for the movie “Working Girl.”  In fact, there’s so much Mike Nichols in this book that I could imagine her editor saying: “You know what, Carly? You’re right, I’m not really getting the essence of Jackie in this book. Let’s call it a memoir about your friendship with Mike Nichols instead.”

I had heard stories of Carly’s anxieties and her fear of performing. In this inside view she gives us of herself, she really comes off as someone with quite a lot of anxieties and insecurities, much of which she treated with lots of pill-popping. She also acknowledges that hey, she just happens to hang out with a lot of famous people, that’s just how her life is.  But getting inside her head in this book and hearing her play out her anxieties (about herself, whether she was making a good impression on her uber-famous-part-of-history friend Jackie, her second husband, who turned out to be gay…) became depressing after a while.

This was a quick read for me and mildly entertaining. Mostly it made me want to be a famous writer and live on the Vineyard, so I guess I’d better get back to work on my novel!

Author: Lynn Rosen

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