Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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With Carly Simon.
Directed by Jeb Brien and Tony Mitchell.
(HBO Video, 60 min., color)

By Robert Christgau and Carola Dibbell

Notoriously stage shy, Carly Simon picked a cozy setting for her video, a 1987 waterside concert near her summer turf, Martha's Vineyard. Supported by band and backup all dressed in flowing peach and bleached blue garments, the toot of nearby boats, and maybe 400 onlookers, Carly manages a credible version of someone being herself. And that has always been Carly's peculiar hook. Glamorous, bland, vulgar, plainspoken, sometimes a little bit complicated, sometimes a little bit superficial, she sings about herself, and if you don't like her, you don't like her.

We've never liked her much, and we still don't. There's something dismaying about a person who's seen everything she's seen and yet remained, for all her neuroses, exactly who she started out as: a basically normal girl with a lot of money and a musical gift. Nevertheless, we like her more now than we did before we snapped this tape into the VCR, if only because Carly's got none of those arena gestures that look so grotesque in the living room. She prances around like she still wishes she weren't taller than every boy in the class except the basketball players. She changes into a filmy frock but keeps her sneakers on. She hardly utters an unsung word. She's a little boring, but she's never offensive, and in a concert video, that's gratifying in itself.

After sagging in the early '80s, Carly's career has taken an upturn now that record marketers have discovered the '60s-diehard market. Like other veteran guitar-strummers, only on a somewhat larger scale, she appeals to new age fans who haven't given up on words. The material here is divided about 50-50 between chestnuts from her salad days and new material whose hooks struck us as uncharacteristically mechanical. If you like her, you'll probably like all of it just fine.

Video Review, Oct. 1988