Monday, October 12, 2009

Carly Simon - NY Times

New York Times
Suing Her Label, Not Retiring: Carly Simon Won’t Go Gently
By Stephanie Clifford

Broken trust, men misbehaving, women trying to recover — these sound like themes pulled from a Carly Simon song. Maybe from all of Carly Simon’s songs.

But this time Ms. Simon was telling a story about her most recent record, a 2008 Brazilian-tinged album called “This Kind of Love.” She had signed with Hear Music, the Starbucks label that had made a hit of Paul McCartney’s “Memory Almost Full.” But five days before her album’s release, Starbucks scaled back its involvement in the music business and, Ms. Simon said in a lawsuit she filed on Friday, that her terrible sales were a result of Starbucks’s mismanagement.

A Starbucks spokeswoman, Sanja Gould, said the company had not seen Ms. Simon’s lawsuit. “We are disappointed to hear that she may be taking this action,” Ms. Gould said. “Starbucks has great respect for Ms. Simon and is hopeful that this matter can be resolved in an amicable manner.”

“This Kind of Love” was supposed to be Ms. Simon’s final album — “my last chance at bat,” she said — but she is in financial straits from other business problems and must keep working. And she is having trouble finding and paying producers. “All of a sudden you’re the ugliest girl at the prom, and you’re not picked,” Ms. Simon, 64, said in a recent interview at her West Village apartment.

Decades ago Ms. Simon wrote and recorded songs about the nervous fears of young women, about marriage and family life and the way women always heard things should be. Now her life seems to reflect a new anxiety of her generation: she can’t retire.

Her money issues make the Starbucks lawsuit partly about business. But Ms. Simon has always been driven by her life’s narrative. “Anticipation” is about her first date with Cat Stevens; “Hello Big Man” about how her parents met; “You’re So Vain” about — well, she still won’t say. And there is also a strong element of the personal in her entanglement with Starbucks and its chief executive, Howard Schultz. This time, rather than singing about a man who misleads her, she is suing him.

“Starbucks was so attractive to me because of what it offered, and Howard Schultz seemed to be such an attractive person,” she said.

The phone rang during the interview — the ringtone was the Rolling Stones’ “Angie” — and Ms. Simon loped upstairs singing “There ain’t a woman that comes close to you” in her trademark husky voice. When she returned, she paged through pictures on her laptop, pointing out ones of her daughter naked and pregnant, and others of her Martha’s Vineyard garden. The only time she seemed embarrassed was when the phone rang again — her boyfriend, a Massachusetts surgeon, was calling — and his ringtone was “Sexual Healing.”

Despite that openness, she seemed high-strung, and warned about her stutter. “What my son, Ben, says about me is that I wear my nervous system in a plume on the outside of my body,” she said.

That nervous system has been on display for decades. Ms. Simon grew up in New York, where her father was a founder of the publishing house Simon & Schuster.

“People think I’m an heiress,” she said, pointing out that she had inherited just $60,000 of the million dollars her father received for his stake in the company. “I was a working girl, and my parents did not give me a big allowance.”

Her first hit, “That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be,” came out in 1971. Her marriage to James Taylor in 1972 (they later divorced) inspired “You Belong to Me”; by the 1980s her songs were more pop-driven, like “Coming Around Again” and “Let the River Run.” Albums of standards, which sold well, were mixed in.

She said she loved her 2000 album, “The Bedroom Tapes,” but an executive shakeup at Arista Records made her decide to buy it back after a few months. In 2005 she made an album of covers, “Moonlight Serenade,” which sold decently. But Ms. Simon said she wanted her final album to be one that she had written.

In spring 2007 Starbucks approached her about releasing an album on the Hear Music label. Ms. Simon said that the company discussed an advance of $750,000 to $1 million and wooed her with a marketing plan, promising to stack her album by the cash register and play it frequently. By the time her lawyer received the final contract that October, the advance had dropped to $575,000, and she had already spent about $100,000 of it on recording sessions in Martha’s Vineyard.

On April 24, 2008, Starbucks pulled back from the music business, handing day-to-day management of Ms. Simon’s album to a partner, Concord Music Group. Without Starbucks’s backing, Ms. Simon could not get the promotion and distribution she was promised, she said; the album was not stocked in some stores she visited, for instance.

Alan Mintz, who used to oversee artists and repertory for Hear Music, attended Ms. Simon’s release party on April 29. Along with some other executives, he was fired by Starbucks soon after.

“There was always a challenge at Starbucks in terms of getting the stores to focus on our entertainment ventures,” said Mr. Mintz, who is now Ms. Simon’s manager. “Once the word got out that we were shutting down the label, I think it put a message out to the field that this didn’t matter anymore.”

“This Kind of Love” had decent sales — 23,000 copies its first week — according to Nielsen SoundScan. After that, sales dropped. To date it has sold 124,000 copies, about a third of the sales for “Moonlight Serenade” and even less than those for “Bedroom Tapes.”

Reviews of the new album were mixed but, Ms. Simon said, “I always get mixed reviews.” The issue, she said, was “you can’t sell a product that’s not in stores.” (The album was not sold exclusively at Starbucks.) Starbucks did not address specification allegations in its statement.

Throughout the summer of 2008 Ms. Simon became more frustrated and more personal. Although she had never met Mr. Schultz, she began sending him handwritten messages, of which she kept copies. “Do you suppose I would have gone ahead with heavy and visible exposure if I had known I might be so dropped in the cracks?” she wrote.

Ms. Simon said she did not receive a response from Mr. Schultz, but kept drafting notes. By Oct. 14, her mood had shifted from the logical to the lyrical: “Howard, Fraud is the creation of Faith/ And then the betrayal. Carly.”

And her financial situation had worsened: she owed money on her Martha’s Vineyard house, had put her Village apartment on the market without success, and had lost money in the stock market. She did not receive the whole $575,000 advance, she said, and the usual lift in back-catalog sales that comes with a release did not happen, nor did increased royalties from radio play.

In January Ms. Simon contacted the lawyer David Boies, chairman at Boies, Schiller & Flexner, who has represented the Justice Department against Microsoft, and, with Theodore B. Olson, is challenging the same-sex marriage ban in California. “Instead of advising her as soon as they could that this was a problem, they kept it secret, and they tried to deceive her even after they made the so-called public announcement,” Mr. Boies said of Starbucks.

On Friday Mr. Boies filed a lawsuit in California seeking $5 million to $10 million from Starbucks, alleging “concealment of material facts,” “tortious interference” with Ms. Simon’s contract, and “unlawful, unfair and fraudulent business practices.”

Ms. Simon’s complaints seem more about feelings than tortious interference. She sounds like a woman who has been hurt and is taking that hurt as personally as she always has. “I refuse to go gently,” she said.

She is working on another album, scheduled for release this month, on her son’s label, Iris Records. It is a record of her hits, reworked. She may be older, but her tunes have not changed.

“I want to be somebody who faces things and who doesn’t get stepped on,” she said, “because I’ve been stepped on too much in my life and I don’t want my self-esteem to suffer. I feel that I’ve just about had enough.”

A version of this article appeared in print on October 12, 2009, on page C1 of the New York edition.

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