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Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon--And the Journey of a Generation - Sheila Weller During my childhood and early teens in the early- to mid-1970's, I remember frequently hearing Carly Simon and Carole King on the radio, and Joni Mitchell to a lesser extent; at the very least, we knew Carly's song "Anticipation" from those commercials for a very slow ketchup, and Carole's "You've Got a Friend" from youth group. And although my consciousness of the world, and what place I might have in it as I grew into an American woman, was being formed at that time, I wasn't aware of how these women were part of what was re-shaping that world. The generational "journey" that frames Girls Like Us is that of the generation just a bit before my own.

The context of social change and how it impacted women at that time, particularly the ones emerging into adulthood, gives the book substance, but the stories that it tells within that context are what make it a page-turner. Weller has done a lot of research and made good use of secondary sources in developing this parallel biography of three women who have more in common than you might have realized.

Weller does discuss each woman's particular musical career in (mostly objective) detail. Carole was barely out of high school in Brooklyn when she started out as a professional songwriter and arranger, and was a seasoned pro when, ten years later, she became a hugely successful singer-songwriter. Canadian Joni was always driven toward artistic expression, both musically and visually, and on her own terms. Carly's privileged Manhattan upbringing led to a relatively late start on her career, as it interfered with her being taken seriously. As Weller discussed the writing of various songs, quoting lyric passages here and there, I found that a lot of them were coming back to me, even if I hadn't thought of them in years.

The context is enlightening and the work is interesting, but the book is also a biography, and it's in these women's personal stories that the real fascination - and fun - is. While I didn't feel that Weller struck a gossipy tone at all, much of anyone's biography involves their relationships, and these three women definitely have had many of them in their lives. Carole was a teenage working mother, and played a maternal role with many of her friends as well - and this tendency was probably also a factor in her attraction to younger men (she's been married four times, and all except her first husband were younger). Both Carly and Joni were rarely without male companionship unless it was by their own choice, and both have been part of musical power couples at various times. Joni was the inspiration for Crosby, Stills, and Nash's song "Our House" (she and Graham Nash were living together when he wrote it), and later was James Taylor's girlfriend. James and Carole were platonic friends, but eventually Carly became his wife. The overlaps in all three women's social and artistic circles are interesting, if a little confusing. I really felt like I'd gotten to know all of them pretty well by the time the book wrapped up, and I enjoyed having the opportunity to do so.

Girls Like Us is put together well, and rarely dull reading, even if you're not a huge fan of these artists (not a big Joni fan, to be honest; I appreciate a lot of her songwriting, but never liked her much as a singer, and while her "beauty" is often mentioned in the book, I guess I just don't quite see it), although I think some familiarity with them will make it more enjoyable.