Behind the Song: “You’re So Vain,” Carly Simon

In 1972, a blossoming singer-songwriter, Carly Simon, began a decades-long guessing game with her hit single, “You’re So Vain.” The critical, but cryptic retrospect of a self-absorbed past lover ironically comes from her third studio album, No Secrets.

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For years, fans and media pressed the artist about the infamous hook: You’re so vain / You probably think this song is about you. Guesses ranged from Warren Beatty, Mick Jagger, Kris Kristofferson, Jack Nicholson, and Cat Stevens—all previous flings.

Finally, after 43 years, Simon admitted to People Magazine in 2015 that “the second verse is Warren.” Their fleeting New York City romance is summed up in the following lines: You had me several years ago when I was still quite naive / 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.

In her 2015 memoir, Boys in the Trees, Simon shares an intimate anecdote to illustrate Beatty for her readers. After staying over with the award-winning actor, Simon told her therapist about the evening to which the therapist responded  “All I’ll say is, you’re not the only patient of mine who spent the night last night with Warren Beatty.”

In addition to that clarity, Simon also revealed that Beatty isn’t the only sorry subject of the song. But remaining on brand, she told People,  “Warren thinks the whole thing is about him!”

According to the artist and her slow-burning response to the age-old question, there are two other men who served as muses for the two remaining verses of the hit song. At the Martha’s Vineyard Possible Dreams charity auction in 2003, Simon promised to reveal the identity of the subject—or subjects—to the highest bidder. The only caveat was the winner would keep the revelation to themselves. Dick Ebersol, president of NBC Sports, placed the highest bid, becoming Simon’s lucky confidant.

In 2017, Simon played a never-released verse from the song with BBC. The lyrics were originally printed in the memoir a few years before, and as a 71-year-old, she sat down at the piano to sing: A friend of yours revealed to me / That you’d loved me all the time / You kept it secret from your wives / You believed it was no crime.

Keeping the spirit of the song alive, much mystery remains around the legendary lyrics. In that BBC interview, she explained that People promised her a cover spot in exchange for some information. Clarifying her past statement, she added, Now, that doesn’t mean that the other two verses aren’t also about Warren. It just means that the second one is.”

Beyond her closest friends and Dick Ebersol, the world may never know for sure who a young Simon was singing out to in the song. But the endless possibilities of men who still sweat over the song when it plays over the radio are who and what made “You’re So Vain” a classic.

Photo Credit: Ed Caraeff/Getty Images

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