It's one of the enduring mysteries of pop. Just who is the subject of Carly Simon's 1973 hit You're So Vain? The mystery edged a little closer to being cleared up last week, before plunging back into the darkness again. The debate started following a recent interview that Simon gave to Uncut magazine to promote her new album, Never Been Gone. "The answer is on the new version of You're So Vain," she revealed. "There's a little whisper - and it's the answer to the puzzle."
The little whisper needed teasing out, as it appears backwards, but some pundits declared instantly that it was the name "David". "Aha!", exclaimed the Sun newspaper, in that case it must be the music and film executive David Geffen. Simon, they said, had become increasingly frustrated at the time with Geffen's concentration on Joni Mitchell's career at the perceived cost to her own. It was a dig at him.
An American website then weighed in. Nonsense, said Roger Friedman in The Hollywood Reporter. "David Geffen had nothing to do with Carly Simon in 1972. He ran Asylum Records. She was on Elektra." The two didn't merge until the following year, so the timing doesn't fit. Plus, it was Simon's album Hot Cakes that clashed with Mitchell's Court and Spark and both were released in 1974. Simon could hardly have been miffed at Geffen's apparent favouritism two years earlier, when You're So Vain was recorded.
In support of this were comments made by Simon's ex-husband Jim Hart in an online Vanity Fair piece fuelling the debate. He, too, was 99 per cent sure that the subject was not Geffen. The Vanity Fair article went on to reveal recent comments made by Simon's publicist, Alisse Kingsley, who had admitted that the word "David" was in the new cut of the track, but that it didn't refer to Geffen. Later, Simon's previous manager, Arlyne Rothberg, spoke to the same reporter and swore that there was no David at all. "It is definitely not Geffen or any other David. As far as who it is, we were all sworn to secrecy from the moment the song was recorded, and everybody agreed." The guessing game continued.
For the dedicated sleuth, there was an addendum at the bottom of Friedman's column that offered further possibilities. Friedman wrote that according to someone who worked on Never Been Gone, there were two other names spoken backwards and hidden in the recording. One has been identified as Warren, the other is unintelligible. Warren Beatty is a name that has long been associated with the track, along with Mick Jagger, Cat Stevens, Simon's former husband James Taylor, and Kris Kristofferson. Simon herself has spun out the guessing game for nearly four decades, constantly teasing interviewers who plague her with the question.
She married Taylor one month before the track's release, but he was definitely not the subject, she told Rolling Stone in 1973. Ten years later, she was mysteriously vague about Beatty to The Washington Post. "It certainly sounds like it was about Warren Beatty. He certainly thought it was about him. He called me and said thanks for the song," she said coquettishly. But in 2000, on the Pure Oxygen talk show, she denied that it was Mick Jagger (who recorded backing vocals for the song) or Warren Beatty.
"You're kidding me?" asked the interviewer. "I may be kidding you," she replied, before adding that it certainly wasn't about Beatty. Simon has dropped hints that the name contains the letters A, E and R, and Howard Stern last year claimed that she had told him the track was about three men. Things are hardly less confused after her latest revelation in Uncut. Simon, it seems, is all about the thrill of the chase. "You know, I could never really solve it because if I did, then no one would have anything to talk to me about," she said on an American television show in 2001. Therein, perhaps, lies the real truth.