Marnie Klar Pays Homage to Carly Simon
By: Ricky Pope Oct. 11, 2023
Carly Simon has been a prolific songwriter since the late 60s. From her heyday in the early 70s, each decade has brought a new and different version of Carly Simon. She has effortlessly glided through styles and genres leaving folk tunes, rock hits, disco epics, power ballads, new age songs, movie soundtracks, kids songs, and even an opera in her wake. She has famously said she is always composing, whether consciously or unconsciously. Her songs are deceptively simple, always seeming inevitable and as if they have always existed. Her lyrics are often filled with poetic allusion and metaphor. And more than any other rock writer of her generation, her songs are unerringly confessional, almost painfully frank, and autobiographical.
The secret of Ms. Simon’s magnetic appeal has always laid in the many contradictions of her complicated personality. She is an earthy artist who was born into an erudite literary family. Despite a near-crippling stage fright, she possesses a sexuality that, at times, has verged on exhibitionistic. She is one of rock and roll’s great beauties, with a list of paramours that include some of the great artists of all time, and, yet, she has always seen herself as the ugly ducking of her family. She is an author with an amazing facility with words, in spite of dealing with the challenge of a childhood stammer that still, sometimes, haunts her. By her own admission, she is a mass of phobias and neuroses, and yet her music is often profoundly clear.
It is a brave artist, indeed, who tries to capture the complex nature of the career of Carly Simon. That is the task that Marnie Klar sets for herself in her show Marnie Klar SINGS Carly Simon, which had an encore performance Monday evening at Don’t Tell Mama. It is clear that Ms. Klar has great respect for Carly Simon and possesses a great deal of knowledge about how her songs came to be. Like Simon, she is quite a beauty and has a great dexterity with language. She also shares with Simon a wide emotional range. Her show displays most of Simon’s most famous hits and throws in a few more obscure tunes like “In a Small Moment,” “It’s Not Like Him,” and “ Waiting at the Gate” for the die-hard fans.
Ms. Klar wisely avoids any imitation of Carly Simon. Her readings of these pop classics are all her own. She is always laser-focused on the lyrics and comes up with very individual phrasing. Marnie Klar can sing. What she gets right about Carly Simon’s music is the emotional essence. There is a sense of drama in most of Simon’s lyrics and Marnie Klar is keenly cued into that. She finds the provocative nature of “You’re So Vain,” “Nobody Does It Better,” “Anticipation,” and “Haven’t Got Time for the Pain.” She finds the almost startling intimacy of songs like “ Boys in the Trees,” “We Have No Secrets,” and “Legend in Your Own Time.” And she finds the perfect tone of private anguish in “It’s Not Like Him,” “That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be,” and “Coming Around Again.” She can, then, turn around and add the right epic quality to tunes like “Touched By the Sun,” and “Let the River Run.”
A particular favorite moment for me was the longing she displayed in “Orpheus,” Simon’s very personal take on the Orpheus and Eurydice legend. Klar used the aching lyric to lay bare the vulnerability of trusting a romantic partner. It’s a song that really deserves to be a bigger hit. It is also a recurring theme in Simon’s work, placing one’s faith blindly in a love that could end up being devastating.
While Ms. Klar is quite deft at finding Simon’s tone in the musical numbers, her show does have a problem. It is never quite sure of its own structure. She alternates between a straightforward narration of the facts of Carly Simon’s meteoric career rise and longevity and a more nuanced psychological approach in which she uses Simon’s own words from her own two best-selling memoirs to illuminate her contradictory nature. This latter approach is far more interesting than any recitation of facts about her life and work. In fact, this show would almost be stronger with no between-song banter at all. Ms Simon’s songs often read like journal entries. Any attempt to add layers to her confessional lyrics is destined to pale in comparison. In this case, it feels stronger to let Carly speak for Carly.
Marnie Klar was supported by a wonderful, smart group of musicians, led by her musical director and arranger Steven Ray Watkins. He was particularly good at knowing when to stick to familiar arrangements of Simon’s tunes and when to depart to accommodate Ms. Klar’s specific gifts. Matt Scharfglass on bass and Don Kelly on drums did excellent work. Tonya Moberly’s direction kept things moving along briskly and unobtrusively.