- Written by Randal C. Hill Randal C. Hill
You walked into the party like you were walking onto a yacht
Your hat strategically dipped below one eye, your scarf it was apricot
You had one eye in the mirror as you watched yourself gavotte
And all the girls dreamed that they’d be your partner, they’d be your partner
And you’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you
Don’t you, don’t you?
Some lyrics of Carly Simon’s No. 1 hit often left many music fans scratching their heads in wonder. Let’s start with the little-known word gavotte.
“A gavotte is a French dance,” Simon explains. “I thought I would use a word that was slightly presumptuous … He’s gavotting because that’s what a pretentious, vain man would do.”
Then there is that mysterious line, “There were clouds in my coffee.” That statement came about during a flight Simon took with her piano player, Billy Merritt.
She explains, “As I got my coffee, Billy said to me, ‘Look at the clouds in your coffee.’ There were clouds outside the window of the airplane, and you could see the reflection in a cup of coffee.” (And we were supposed to figure this out?)
But the question that most fans asked was: Who was Simon ridiculing in “You’re So Vain,” an Elektra Records tune that topped the Billboard singles chart for three weeks in the waning days of 1972?
That hit, whose creation consumed nearly a year of Simon’s time, came from her third LP, No Secrets, a No. 1 Billboard album for over a month.
Simon claims that “You’re So Vain” actually refers to a total of three famous, arrogant individuals. She has stated that ex-husband James Taylor and Rolling Stone Mick Jagger are definitely not the men she had in mind when she put pen to paper many years ago.
Other possible candidates — deep breath here — have included David Bowie, Cat Stevens, Kris Kristofferson, David Cassidy, and Jack Nicholson.
“I was brought up by a mother who was adamant that you didn’t even kiss a man until you were in love with him,” Simon has admitted. “So I was in love with a lot of men. I was besotted by the lads! I was definitely a romantic.”
Recently, Simon admitted that the second verse was about actor Warren Beatty — but only the second verse.
You had me several years ago, when I was still quite naïve
Well, you said that we made such a pretty pair and that you would never leave
But you gave away the things you loved, and one of them was me
I had some dreams, they were clouds in my coffee, clouds in my coffee
In August 2003, she agreed to reveal the unknown names to the highest bidder of a Martha’s Vineyard charity auction. Dick Ebersole, the head of NBC Sports, won with a bid of $50,000, but he had to agree to never reveal what she told him.
And so, to this day, Carly Simon’s mystery men have remained a mystery.
Randal C. Hill is a rock ’n’ roll historian who lives at the Oregon coast. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.