We can start by singing the infamous lyrics: “You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you.” Okay, so now that it’s out of your system, let’s begin.
Carly Simon rose to fame in the early 70s, and her infamous 1972 track, You’re So Vain, was a huge hit. The best part about the song wasn’t the catchy tune itself, but the mystery behind it. People had no idea who she wrote the song about, but fans spent years speculating. Simon herself admitted that the song is written about three different people, but she only confirmed one. Can we figure out who the other two are? If you like mysteries, this one is definitely for you.
Simon encountered several musicians and actors in her day, dating some of them. We are going to go through all the people that the song could have been about. We have some “people of interest” that could be considered “suspects” when the song was first released. There is also additional information from Simon’s 2015 memoir, Boys in the Trees. See what Carly really thinks about these men…
Back in the ’70s, Mick Jagger contributed his (uncredited) vocals to the background of You’re So Vain. It only made sense that the song would be about him, and fans immediately started speculating that it was. But in 1983, Simon confirmed that the song was NOT about the Rolling Stone.
Ten years later, in 1993, a certain Angie Bowie re-sparked the rumors when she claimed to be the “wife of a close friend” mentioned in the song. She said that for a long time, Jagger was “obsessed” with her. Simon ended up marrying James Taylor, but apparently, Jagger’s wife Bianca tried to break them up. She allegedly called Taylor the night before the wedding, telling him not to marry Simon because she is having an affair.
Simon married James Taylor on November 3rd, 1972, which was the same year the song was released. Naturally, suspicions placed Taylor as the subject of the song. Simon put those rumors to rest pretty quickly, though. In 1972, shortly after the song came out, Simon told Rolling Stone Magazine that “it’s definitely not James.”
She continued: “James suspected that it might be about him because he’s very vain. No, he isn’t, but he had the unfortunate experience of taking a jet up to Nova Scotia after I’d written the song. He was saved by the fact it wasn’t Lear.” It’s safe to say Taylor is most likely not the guy she is referring to in the song, although he seems to think otherwise.
About two and a half minutes into the 2010 version of the You’re So Vain music video, you can hear the name David whispered backward. I don’t know who has time to play these songs backward, but fans investigating it said that this was a huge clue. It didn’t take long for suspicions of David Bowie as the subject to arise.
He was already a “suspect” when the song originally came out. But rumors about the song being about him only resurfaced after Simon alluded to her ex-lover in an interview. She stated, “I’m just going to tell you this, the answer is on the new version of You’re so Vain. There’s a little whisper – and it’s the answer to the puzzle.” It’s clear that Simon was having fun with this whole mystery. So was it Bowie after all?
Although Bowie seems like a likely suspect, he isn’t the only David she could have been talking about. During an interview, Simon gave a hint as to who the man is. She said that his name featured the letter A, E, and R. When the song came out, rumors that Simon referring to teen idol David Cassidy began to swirl.
Now, you’re probably thinking, “but he doesn’t have an E or R in his name.” Well, his full name is David Bruce Cassidy. And the actor, singer, and guitarist was best known for portraying Keith Partridge on The Partridge Family. There were many other suspects at the time, but Cassidy moved up on the list after Simon gave that interview. So far, he seems to check all the boxes.
Cat Stevens met Simon back when she was an up-and-coming songwriter. Stevens is a British musician with various styles, including rock, folk, and pop. He later became known for Islamic music. Stevens was getting ready at the Troubadour for his first American show when he saw the singer for the first time.
The two had an on-and-off relationship for about seven months, so he was a viable suspect from the start. Stevens also wrote the ballad Sweet Scarlet about Carly Simon, so fans thought You’re so Vain could have been a response. He was the inspiration behind her song Anticipation, or “the ketchup song,” so he seems like a pretty likely candidate.
Yes, another David. Simon could have been referring to in the 2010 version is David Geffen. However, considering he is openly gay, the billionaire record producer may not be on top of the suspect list. However, his name does come up repeatedly when it comes to the mystery behind You’re so Vain.
In May 2014, Howard Stern revealed that Simon whispered three names in his ear, referring to the song. He said he thinks one of the names was Warren Beatty and the other David Geffen, but he “forgot.” Simon confirmed that Warren was one of the mystery men, but there are two others. Is it possible that she told Stern the truth, and he really just “forgot”?
Back in the 70s, Beatty and Simon dated for a little while. He assumed the song was about himself, which is pretty ironic considering the song lyrics. Apparently, he even thanked the singer. In 2007, he said, “Let’s be honest; the song is about me.” It turns out that Beatty was only half wrong.
During an interview with People Magazine, Carly admitted that the second verse is, in fact, about Warren. It only took her 43 years, but you know what they say, better late than never. So who are the other two “culprits” she’s referring to? Let’s continue our search…
Guitarist Dan Armstrong is another potential man behind Simon’s song. The two had a personal relationship that ended in 1971. She wrote a song called My Fling about Armstrong, so why wouldn’t she feature him in another song? Author Sheila Weller sure thinks so. Weller went into detail about their affair in the 2008 book Girls Like Us and suggested the song is about him.
Remember the hint we spoke about earlier? Carly revealed one of the men she is talking about has the letters E, A, and R in his name. Many people thought the clue alluded to David Cassidy, but as it turns out, Dan’s full name is Daniel Kent Armstrong, making him another convincing possibility.
Back in 1965, Simon was 20 years old when she met James Bond aka Sean Connery. She was on a boat with her sister Lucy, going from England to New York. The sisters tried to get the actor’s attention by sending him a note saying they are not “ordinary fans” and that their dad was the founder of Simon & Schuster.
It seemed to work because they got a phone call from Connery saying he will be down in 20 minutes. Because of their association, fans didn’t rule him out. Just like Cassidy and Armstrong, Connery also has the letters A, E, and R in his name. This clue didn’t help narrow things down that much.
Before Simon became a solo artist, she was working on a TV variety show as a producer. Marvin Gaye came to appear on the program, and Simon was instructed to go to his room to check if he needed anything. She found him with his shirt off. She later said, “He replied that he wanted to see something, and would I mind sticking out my tongue?”
She went on to say, “Marvin lunged at my face, swept my tongue into his mouth, and began sucking on it. I extracted it without inflicting damage.” Well, that is quite the encounter. I can definitely see why he made it to the suspect list. However, there are too many possibilities, so we can’t be certain.
After spending the night at Simon’s apartment, Jack Nicholson was sitting on her bed, making business calls. Her first thought was that he was trying to impress her. Unfortunately, she was a bit off. He admitted to the singer that he was also seeing another woman and was developing strong feelings for her.
Simon’s response was, “I really like seeing you, and I’m glad you told me before I invited you to my wedding in which you were my groom.” Simon didn’t have that deep of a connection to Nicholson, but he did bruise her ego. It makes perfect sense that such a brief fling could inspire her to write the song about him.
After meeting in the LA music scene, Simon and Kristofferson spent a “slam-dunk deranged month or so” together. She was impressed by his songwriting skills and especially loved his song I’ve Got to Have you. At first, she only had nice things to say about him, but after they shared a plane ride, her opinion of him changed.
Simon was scared of flights, so as the plane took off, she put her head on his shoulder. Kristofferson wrapped his newspaper over his head “like a tent” and didn’t want “anything to do with the possibly sick or frightened woman he had in his hands.” She used to admire him, so people speculate that her disappointment may have inspired the song.
Another conceivable man behind You’re So Vain is Bob Rafelson. Simon and the Five Easy Pieces director were involved in a brief romance. They were on-and-off lovers for several weeks, but there was one problem: Rafelson was married at the time. Carly wrote that “he eventually told his brilliant, beautiful wife, Toby, about me during a karma cleaning session.”
Do you think the song can be about the filmmaker? It seems unlikely, but Simon said herself that other than Warren Beatty, the two other men she’s referring to have no idea. It can really be anyone at this point. They did have a sexual relationship at some point, so maybe when he went back to his wife, Simon decided to sing a song about him.
Terrence Malick is a famous director but also kind of an enigma. He never showed up for his movie premieres or did interviews to promote them. Here is another thing you didn’t know about Malick; he was involved in an affair with Simon. While the director was working on a story for the New Yorker about Che Guevara, a mutual friend introduced them.
Simon said, “I listened attentively as he talked with a kind of fervid enthusiasm for Che that I secretly hoped he might have an iota of for me, too.” She did, however, go on to say, “Still, Terry and I weren’t the easiest fit.” She doesn’t seem too broken up about it, but Malick became a suspect due to the nature of their relationship.
Carly Simon’s father was Richard L. Simon, one of the founders of the publishing house Simon & Schuster. The successful company allowed her and her siblings to have a unique upbringing. Growing up, she split her time between the family’s Greenwich Village townhouse and at their other estate in Stamford, Connecticut.
When they were in the Stamford house, the family was frequently surrounded by celebrity guests. Before she was a singer, Simon already had a small taste of fame. Well, second-hand fame. She knew the elites of the time, including Albert Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Charles Addams. Her favorite celeb to hang out with was a certain Dodgers baseball player…
Surrounded by famous faces, the family was friends with Jackie Robinson, the Dodgers player who broke the baseball color line. The Simons even let the Robinsons stay in the house with them while their house was under construction. Simon attended numerous games at Ebbets Field, even sitting on shortstop Pee Wee Reese’s lap in the dugout.
The team even made Simon a Dodgers jacket and let her be their unofficial Mascot. She later wrote, “Jackie even taught me to bat lefty, though it never took.” She went on to say, “He always had the cutest look around the side of his mouth, as if he were thinking about what he was about to say before he said it.”
The Simons had money, but the household wasn’t all glamour. Like many other perfect looking families, though, not everything was how it looked. Apparently, the house was filled with secret sexual assault assignations. The singer wrote about how her sexual encounters began when she was just seven years old. Sadly, she is still trying to recover.
Simon also wrote in her memoir that she had an extremely difficult relationship with her father, and he would often let his aggression out on his kids. Her mom, on the other hand, was too busy having an affair with a much younger man. If things couldn’t get worse, her father was kicked out of the company he founded and died young. After that, the family’s fortune disappeared.
It’s no surprise that Simon is still trying to recover from it all. After she went to visit her boyfriend in France, she suffered a nervous breakdown. She started going into psychoanalysis five days a week to start her healing process. Unfortunately, the expensive therapy sessions cleaned out her “small inheritance,”
When speaking about “Dr. F,” telling her she was done, Simon wrote: “Looking back, I assume he must have caught a whiff of that pungent, sour aroma of future bounced checks, the scent of a patient on the cusp of exhausting her funds.” This was a rough time, but thankfully, her career success helped ease her financial struggles.
In 1966, the day before her 21st birthday, she got a call from the one and only Bob Dylan. He was calling to encourage her to sign with Grosscourt, the same management that was handling him. He really hoped she would record Baby, Let Me Follow You Down, and would have even written some of the lyrics for her.
When Simon and Dylan met, he talked mostly about how amazing Nashville was (he recently returned after going there to record Blonde on Blonde). Surprisingly, Simon didn’t worry too much about impressing Dylan. She wrote, “Thank God, he was stoned, which meant I didn’t have to worry too much about making a good impression.”
Dylan ultimately “re-wrote” the song Baby, Let Me Follow You Down for her. Simon tried to record it with Albert Grossman – an unnamed producer whose identity could have easily been discovered with a little effort. Anyway, the session didn’t go very well. The producer kept setting the melody too low for her.
The producer knew what he was doing, and Simon almost felt like she was being sabotaged. In her book, she didn’t shy away from expressing what her theory is. She believes the situation could have been “payback for me not responding to their sexual advances.” She also went on to say that she couldn’t prove it. (This was before the #MeToo movement.)
Simon and Taylor had a seemingly happy marriage and two children together. Unfortunately, the toxic relationship went back and forth between ecstasy and agony. It was plagued by infidelity, ego, and drug use. This obviously caused a strain on their marriage, especially the drug use. Taylor even tried to quit heroin once by shooting up in front of his wife.
Simon recalled the scary moment when Taylor did the drug in front of her. “Chemistry was in the making, and somehow all the components made their way into a syringe, and as he pulled the rubber tight on his arm, the veins became purple and frightening.”
As we mentioned, Cat Stevens is one of our suspects about in You’re So Vain. In April 1971, she flew him out to California, where she opened for him at the Troubadour for five nights. This opportunity provided her with her first trip to Los Angeles, a memorable experience, and her first major exposure.
The singer got a taste of what fame would be like. When she was checking into the Hyatt, she met Kris Kristofferson (another prospect). After her first performance, Simon went into her dressing room, where she found James Taylor and Joni Mitchell. That seems like a pretty cool way to kick off a music career!
When she was seeing her therapist, she left him shocked after telling him that she spent the night with Warren Beatty. It wasn’t who she slept with that blew the therapist’s mind; it was the fact that she was the second person that day to tell him they spent the previous night with Beatty. “I wasted little time telling Warren,” she wrote in her memoir.
I knew he might have something to add or refute. He did howl over the phone. I’m sure he was adding numbers and going over facts in his mind and maybe took out his calculator or calendar. Could he have slipped up? Could this have really happened?
Simon and Beatty’s affair was no secret. Especially since she confessed he was one of the three men that her hit song is about. Even though she knew he was considered a “player,” she succumbed to his advances and found him charming and irresistible. His pick-up technique? Taking out a piece of paper with the “main loves of his life.”
Simon was flattered when she saw her name next to Catherine the Great and Marie Curie. Surprisingly, whenever they spent the night together, Beatty made sure to call the next day. “He remembered the names of my mother, sisters, brother, grandmother, old boyfriends, streets where I lived five years ago. With his groundbreaking memory, he seldom if ever got confused.”
He was pretty good at keeping track of his ladies. However, he did slip up once. He went to visit Simon on a Sunday night after midnight and told the singer he just flew in from Los Angeles. She expressed, “Warren seemed to have just created a brand-new manual on how to make love – not too brazen, not just missionary, but not too many trick either.”
The next morning was when Carly went to see her therapist (not the one she spent her inheritance on). We mentioned how the therapist heard this all from someone else. He literally said to her, “You are not to the first patient of the day who spent the night with Warren Beatty last night.” Looks like these two women he was sleeping with were in therapy!
A significant part of Simon’s life and memoir Boys in the Trees is about her relationship with Taylor. She said that as kids, they briefly met on Martha’s Vineyard. As adults, they spent a decade married to each other. She detailed the first time how she and Taylor met in her dressing room back in 1971.
“He was barefoot, long-legged, long-footed- and his knees were bent. He wore dark red, loose, wide-wale corduroys and a long-sleeved Henley with one button open, his right hand clutching a self-rolled cigarette. His hair, simultaneously shiny and disheveled, fell evenly on both sides of his head, and he wore a scruffy understated mustache, the kind so fashionable back in the early 1970s.”
She continued, “He seemed both kempt and unkempt. Even sprawled out on the floor, everything about him communicated that he was, in fact, the center of something – the core of an apple, the center of note.” After their encounter, Taylor left with Joni Mitchell, his girlfriend at the time. Simon obviously felt something because of how vividly she remembers their meeting.
It doesn’t seem like she was the only one who felt the magic. Later that same year, Taylor and Simon started dating. Reportedly, the couple spent a lot of time on his Vineyard property. There was a natural pond at the end of the driveway where Taylor liked to plant willow trees: He decided to name the pond “Carly’s Bottom.”
As we mentioned, Mick Jagger was considered a major suspect when it came to the men surrounding the song. We mentioned how Jagger sang background for the song, but that wasn’t the extent of their relationship. The singer admitted that when she first met the Rolling Stone, she “found him sexy.”
She explained, “Naturally, I flirted with Mick. I mean, who wouldn’t? If a woman didn’t flirt with Mick, it could only mean she had a cold sore, or she’s been brushed off by him already.” The singer went on to say that she felt “electricity” vibrating between them and that the tension came to a climax when they were recording You’re So Vain.
Simon didn’t stop there. She continued writing, “I wanted to touch his neck, and he was looking at my lips. The electricity was raw and hardly disguising power. Having sex would have actually cooled things off.” The singer never said whether she and Jagger consummated their relationship, but we know his wife Bianca definitely had her opinion.
She even called Taylor the night before his wedding, telling him not to marry Simon and that she is cheating on him. “James said, I’m sure that’s not true. Carly has told me about it, and it’s not what you think. I trust my wife-to-be. I trust Carly.” Still, the flirtation between Jagger and Simon continued for years. He would even send flowers to her hotel under a fake name.
After 11 years and two kids with Taylor, the couple divorced. Simon then married Jim Hart, and they were together for 20 years. What she didn’t know was that Hart was secretly gay. He later admitted that the first time he went to her house, he was checking out her ex, Taylor, and couldn’t stop staring at the handsome singer.
Hart eventually came out in 2007. Carly just woke up one morning and said: “I think you might be gay.” She wasn’t scared of it, she really just wanted him to be truthful. He described their tumultuous marriage in his 2017 memoir, Lucky Jim. Simon was the one who encouraged him to write it, no matter what it revealed.
As we know, Simon and Nicholson had a fling. While he was filming Carnal Knowledge with “Bugs, Artie the Garf, and Mike the Nick” as he liked to call them. Nicholson spent a couple of nights in Carly Simon’s New York apartment.
There first night together, Nicholson came up with his seductive pick-up line after she made him coffee. “We chatted for a few moments, and then he said, offhandedly, ‘Do you ever drink coffee in your bedroom?’” I guess you didn’t have to try too hard back then. As we know, their short-lived romance ended when Nicholson developing feelings for another woman he was sleeping with.
Before Simon and Taylor’s ugly divorce, they had two children together: Sally and Ben. I guess they have strong genes considering both of them are singers. In a 2004 interview, the singer revealed that they don’t even speak these days, “I would say our relationship is non-existent. It’s not the way I want it.”
In 2008, Simon started dating a surgeon named Richard Koehler. He is ten years younger, and reports say they actually began seeing each other in 2006. As of 2015, the couple was allegedly living together in Martha’s Vinyard.
Another popular line featured in You’re So Vain is “clouds in my coffee.” With all the mystery surrounding the song, Carly decided to reveal what exactly this line means. According to the singer, the lyric came “from an airplane flight that I took with Billy Mermit, who was my friend and piano player at the time.”
She explained, “As I got my coffee, there were clouds outside the window of the airplane, and you could see the reflection in the cup of coffee. Billy said to me, ‘Look at the clouds in your coffee.’” That’s one mystery solved.