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Story Of “You’re So Vain” By Carly Simon

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Singer Carly Simon has composed many songs over her six-decade career. One of the most enduring is 1972’s You’re So Vain. The song has been a breakup anthem for countless couples over the decades. But rumors persist about who among her many famous exes Simon had based the song on. 

Background Of “You’re So Vain” 

Carly Simon - You're So Vain

Carly Simon released You’re So Vain in 1972. The song was a worldwide hit, reaching No. 1 on the charts in the US, Australia, and New Zealand. It earned Simon three Grammy nominations and has been called one of the best songs of all time. 

But the lyrics, a snub to a former lover, have led to decades of speculation about the identity of the person described. Simon has been famously secretive about the inspiration behind the song, though she has given hints over the years.

“You Probably Think This Song Is About You”

The song is a direct putdown of an ex-lover who was exceedingly full of himself in the singer’s eyes. She describes how he had a high opinion of himself even before their relationship started, striding into a room as though he owned it.

His appearance was carefully styled to ensure that every woman would flock to him; the singer regrets that his charms also caught her attention. She says that, at the time, she was too young to realize that he was more invested in his own needs than being with her.

In fact, his self-absorption is the defining trait of their relationship. One biting line describes how the ex is so narcissistic that he watches himself in the mirror while dancing at a party. Because she knows that his focus is consistently on himself, she guesses that he will automatically assume that any song she writes is about him, too.

Rumors About The Song

The song has been the subject of intense speculation over the decades. Simon has had several high-profile relationships, leading fans to wonder which of these was the focus of You’re So Vain

People have suggested that the song may be about singer Mick Jagger, Cat Stevens, Warren Beatty, James Taylor, Kris Kristofferson, and others with whom Simon had a relationship. They have also speculated about men with whom she was not romantically involved, including Sean Connery and Marvin Gaye. 

What Has Carly Simon Said About It?

Simon has long been famously tight-lipped about the inspiration behind the song. For many years, she only gave hints about who she was speaking to when she sang “You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you.”

Many of these consisted of ruling people out. As a figure in the public eye, Simon has had many high-profile relationships. Fans naturally had questions about whether the song was about one of her famous exes

Simon was quick to say that the song was not written about her first husband, singer James Taylor. Simon and Taylor were married for 11 years, from 1972 to 1983, and have two children together. Her second husband, writer James Hart, later said that he was fairly certain that You’re So Vain had not been written about a celebrity. 

Over the years, Simon largely focused on ruling people out whenever she was asked. In response to rumors, she said that You’re So Vain was not written about Mick Jagger. 

The rumor stemmed from a claim made by Angela Bowie, ex-wife of David Bowie. Angela Bowie claimed that she was the woman referred to in the line “You’re with some underworld spy/Or the wife of a close friend, wife of a close friend …” She said that Mick Jagger—who was friends with her husband—was obsessed with her at one point. 

However, Simon refuted these claims. Though it was true that she and Jagger had a brief relationship, she said the song was not about him. The two of them parted on good terms. In fact, Jagger actually provided backup vocals on “You’re So Vain”, though he was not credited for his role. 

Ultimately, Simon has said that You’re So Vain is not about one specific person. Instead, she said that the song is based on her relationships with several men, at least three of whom are referenced explicitly in the song. Over the years, the singer has dropped letter hints, saying that the names contained the letters A, E, and R. 

In 2015, she did drop one bombshell in her memoir Boys In The Trees, confirming that the second verse of the song was written about actor Warren Beatty. Beatty and Simon dated briefly in the 1960s. 

Beatty had been quoted several years earlier as saying that the song was clearly about him. But Simon said that their relationship had only inspired one verse of the song. 

Clouds In My Coffee

One famous line of the song is “Clouds in my coffee, clouds in my coffee.” Simon was inspired to use the line after a flight where her friends pointed out that the clouds out the window were reflected in her drink, saying “Look at the clouds in your coffee”.

Simon used the words to describe a mirage that fools someone into thinking there is something more substantial behind it. 

Total Eclipse Of The Sun

One line that has defied explanation is a description of the ex-lover taking his personal jet to “Nova Scotia to see the total eclipse of the sun”. 

A solar eclipse did occur in July 1972 and it was visible in Nova Scotia. However, Simon’s lyrics were in the past tense on a song she had written the previous year. No one is quite sure whether she was writing about an event that had not yet happened as though it was in the past or if she was simply imagining her ex flying to see the eclipse. Simon has never clarified the lyrics.       

Though the mystery remains about much of the song’s content, You’re So Vain is still one of Simon’s best-known songs.

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