Charlotte, NC – “The Blair Witch Project” – The Great Aunt Stella Center – September 17, 1999

The Great Aunt Stella Center is a church and a beautiful one at that, full of light, stained glass, pews, echoes, and a plush red carpet. I rushed to grab our video camera to record its magnificence but as I opened Moby’s trunk, Chris’s pastel blue coffee press flung itself out at me like an exuberant participant at a surprise party and crashed to its demise at my feet. I was in shock, filming the disaster, when I heard Delucchi shriek from behind me, “N O ! ! ! ! !”

I whipped around in time to catch his distressed, palms-to-cheeks expression. We held a quiet band memorial for the press over the bathroom trash can. I apologized to Chris for my part in the tragedy. He said it was all right, but I knew it would be a while before he got over the loss of his old friend.

Every day I’ve known him, Chris has followed the same morning ritual—first gas station of the day, while Moby guzzles fuel, Delucchi “borrows” hot H2O and 5 paper cups from the station’s coffee center. What follows is a 5-10 minute wait whereby the rest of us clear the van of yesterday’s chip wrappers and apple cores. When Chris reemerges through the swinging station doors, it’s with his signature bouncy step, the sky blue coffee press held aloft like a trophy, and an exuberant “Who wants black juice people?!?!” It was the end of an era and I felt terrible about causing it. I vowed to find him an even better press.

The venue couldn’t accommodate a full band so I’d agreed to do the opening act solo for David Wilcox. But I was nervous. I hadn’t played a gig on my own in a long time and didn’t want to make a fool of myself in front of David Wilcox’s audience. Soucy, watching me pace backstage, knitting needles in hand, agreed to join me for a few songs near the end. Still, I bit my nails to the quick in hospitality, picking at trays of fruit and chicken salad.

I donned my mama’s vintage skirt, sewing the ripped seam with dental floss with it already on. The skirt, I knew would bring me comfort. It’s something she used to wear for luck throughout her early career. The boys wished me luck from behind the organ and pushed me out into the pool of light on the stage.

As nervous as I was, I was delighted by how easy it felt once I started playing— akin to the first time I rode my bike without training wheels. After the fifth song, I announced cheekily, “Is there anyone in the crowd who knows how to play guitar and coincidentally, also knows all the chords to my songs?” At my rhetorical question, the audience laughed and Soucy flung his arms in the air like a crazed muppet, screaming, “Pick me! Pick me!” and rushed down the aisle like a contestant on “The Price Is Right.”

It goes without saying, that David Wilcox put on a GREAT show. I studied him on stage like an art student trying to capture the lines of a nude. His act was a work of fine, artful storytelling and soul-bearing music. I was captivated.

Some college friends of Soucy’s approached after the show and asked if we wanted to spend the night at their camp. I was game to save a couple of bucks on a hotel room and we agreed to follow their car out into the middle of nowhere down some mile-long, god-forsaken, briar-lined, back road that scraped Moby’s paint like nails on a chalkboard.

Mike and LG’s camp was an actual camp! complete with tire swings, a pond, a pool, volleyball nets, and cabins with creaky slanted floors. We were so far off the grid that the stars were bright enough to navigate by, even without a moon in the sky.

Our hosts told us there were enough beds for everyone, “but two people will have to sleep in the cabins across the pond.” The rhythm section—Bri and Kenny—drew the short straws. “Are there any snakes around here?” asked Bri with a nervous giggle, staring at his dwarfed stick.
“Sure are,” said Mike, “Copperheads. Big ones.” Brian’s face went white, his lips hung limply under his nose like wet noodles. Brian and Kenny insisted on a second beer before agreeing to let us drive them across the pond over to their accommodations.

I’ll never forget the homesick look on their faces when they discovered there was no electricity out there. Mike handed them each a flashlight and told ‘um not to make any sudden moves if they heard a bear.
As we slowly pulled away on the flatbed of Mike’s truck, I called out to them “You guys didn’t see Blair Witch Project, did you?”
“Not funny, Sally. Not funny,” shouted Kenny as the night closed around them and a mysterious bird sang a sad two-note song.

New York City – “You’re Sylvain” – The Mercury Lounge – September 9, 1999

I remembered the green room from our show 3 months ago at the Mercury Lounge. It was the worst backstage accommodation I’d ever been in and it remained largely unchanged now. Here is what I wrote about it from our June 11th gig:

The Mercury Lounge is a dark, black box of a venue so while on stage, I was unaware how large our crowd was. When the lights came up, I was delighted to find so many of my NYC friends who’d somehow heard about the show without my direct interference. I was glad my publicist Ariel Hyatt was in attendance so I could congratulate her on promoting the gig so successfully.

My best friend from kindergarten, Rachel Zabar, embraced me with golden glittering eyes and her huge smile which has always seemed to me, to escape the perimeters of her face. Jim Hart, my stepfather, had heard about the show from a colleague at work. A bunch of people from high school, Boulder and Brown were present, and a trickle of people who insisted we’d met before and ‘did I remember their names?’ were there.

This game of “Do you remember my name?” is always embarrassing and no one comes away from it looking good. I learned early on from my dad to lead with context when approaching an acquaintance.
Ex. “Hi, it’s Sally Taylor, from Martha’s Vineyard. We went to camp together, you might not remember, it was a long time ago.”
And to re-introduce people to each other leading with context as well.
Ex. “Hey Dad, you remember Kate, my freshman roommate.”

This way, even if there isn’t immediate recognition, the person can say something like “Of course, now what have you been doing since then?” and no one has to feel embarrassed.
My friend Adam (Yes, Adam Natusch from The Boogies) used to love to make prank phone calls (these were the days before people got caller ID boxes). I’d be at his house and, with his red phone already off the hook he’d say, “Give me a number.” One day I gave him my mom’s digits and when she answered the following, now infamous, conversation ensued:

Mom: “Hello?”
Adam: “Is this Carly?!?!”
Mom: “Yes.”
Adam: “You’re never going to guess who this is.”
Mom: “Who?”
Adam: “It’s Sylvain”
Mom: “Who?”
Adam: “Sylvain Brown. Don’t tell me you don’t remember me. I’m already on the ferry on my way over to the Vineyard to see you. You wrote a song about me.”
Mom: (Sounding worried) “I did? What was the song?”
Adam: “You’re Sylvain!!!!”
Mom: “Hmmm…I’m not sure which song you might be—”
Adam: (Singing You’re so Vain) “You’re Sylvain, you probably think this song is about—”
Mom: (Click, dial tone).

Adam and I rolled around laughing on his floor for a few minutes before I tried to call her back to apologize for the prank (Side note—Do not feel sorry for my mom. She is the queen of pranks and practical jokes and can dish it out as good as she can take it). But she’d taken the phone off the hook, clearly to avoid another call from “Sylvain,” who definitely thought this song was about him. The next day when I went to call her, she’d already changed the number. Mom laughed hysterically when I told her later, that the caller had been Adam and to this day calls him ”Sylvain Brown.”

Midway through signing CDs at the Mercury Lounge, someone dropped a slice of paper on the table in front of me and disappeared into a blur of faces. Ariel and I squinted at the serrated square which read “I ENJOYED THE SHOW. YOU ARE ALL GROWN UP!” and was signed ‘Oren Segal (3rd grade).’ “WHICH WAY DID HE GO?” I shouted to Ariel. “THAT WAY,” she yelled back and pointed toward the front exit “HE HAD A WHITE T-SHIRT ON!” I didn’t have time to explain Oren had been my first crush. He’d bought me a porcelain doll for my 7th birthday and I was sure the gesture meant he wanted to marry me. The delusion of this early proposal dissolved over time but I kept that doll through adolescence displayed up on a shelf hoping someday Oren and I would meet again. It’s sort of disappeared since we left our apartment in New York, but I’m sure it’s somewhere, packed in mothballs and memories, somewhere between the center of the earth and the tips of my fingers.

Outside, the hot streets offered a miraged horizon of blurred red, yellow, and green lights. I marched myself up to the first white T-shirt I saw and said “Hi” just hoping it was Oren, but it ended up being one of those people who insisted we’d met before but whose name I did not know and ‘Did I remember their name?’ I never found him.

Dejected, I walked back to the venue. There, a very pretty woman named Ann Taylor (no relation) introduced herself. She’d come across our web page in the most unexpected, roundabout way. “I was looking on a search engine for Sally Taylor Orchids,” she said, “did you know there is a flower called The Brother Sally Taylor?” I said I hadn’t known but was delighted all the same. “Well,” she said tossing a blond lock behind an ear, “I was searching for this flower when the engine came up with your web page and I clicked on it. I’ve been following your Road Tails ever since and that’s why I’m here tonight.”

This internet thing is amazing!?!?! Until recently, I’d assumed I was shouting into the void. But maybe my words are actually making it through the abyss. Perhaps real people are reading this and enjoying it and what we have to offer. Maybe they’ll consider coming to a show or listening to our music in the future. I can’t believe it. My mind is legitimately blown. Now back to vocal rest and on to Rhode Island.

Boston, MA – “H.O.B.” – The House Of Blues – September 9, 1999

I’ve become a paranoid flosser. I think it’s because, when I made an appointment with my dentist in Boulder for cleaning next month, the receptionist asked how long it had been since I’d last seen a dentist. When I told her she replied, “5 years!?!?” I winced and responded, “Wow, sorry, is that a long time?” She must’ve thought I was being facetious as she didn’t deign to respond to my frank and honest question.

How often am I supposed to see a doctor?!?! My parents always arranged such things when I was a kid and ever since I left for boarding school at 13, I’ve only ever seen the medical community in the case of an emergency. Are you supposed to go yearly? Monthly? On your birthday? Honestly, how would I know? I could hear the receptionist’s angry fingers typing over the phone line. “Do you floss regularly?” she asked. “Yeah,” I lied. “‘Cus if you don’t,” she warned, “THE DENTIST WILL KNOW.” She was obviously used to patients, like me, telling flossing fibs. But she scared me enough that ever since then, I’ve been carrying a roll of floss everywhere I go. Anxiously I floss at least 5 times a day just so that the dentist won’t bust me.

Flossing on the Ferry in my favorite Purple T-shirt (which I lost while on Nantucket!!!)

I floss anywhere and everywhere —in the van, in museums, on ferry boat rides. So it’s no surprise that I happened to be flossing when we pulled up to the H.O.B. (House of Blues) in Boston. The thread was still hanging haphazardly from the left side of my cheek as I stepped out of the van into the bright windy afternoon and examined the sign with my name painted on it. It was beautiful and it waved at me in the wind above the specials sign which offered tonight’s special: “Chicken in a cone.”

Sal at House of Blues next to Chicken on a Cone sign

It was 9/9/99 and wasn’t the world supposed to end today or something like that?

Load-in was a bitch. Hefting “Fat Amy” (Brian’s drum case) up the narrow blue, chipped, and warped back stairwell was backbreaking and heartbreaking when we remembered we’d need to take it out again at the end of the night.

The dressing room was like a glorious gypsy caravan. Green velvet couches plumed like pea pods from layered plush Moroccan rugs. Multiple multi-colored candles left drip marks on glass holders that looked like piles of fainting ladies. George Rodrigue’s blue dog paintings stared longingly from the walls. There were points of interest on every horizontal surface—sequined pillows, a voodoo doll, a belly dancer lamp, a rhinestone-covered skull.

The boys had a crush on our merch girl, Daniella, and fought over who got to go down and exchange the too-large H.O.B shirt Kenny’d bought for his wife. As we waited for our show, I did vocal warm-ups and picked apart an order of tortellini. Every few minutes, I was surprised by another old friend popping up to the dressing room to say “hi.” aI started getting excited to play knowing it was going to be a sold-out show with so many familiar faces in the audience. Thank you, God! And The Boston Globe who’d penned us “The hot ticket to have in Boston.”

It was a joyous, energizing, and monumental show. I didn’t know how much I needed big crowd energy to replenish my flagging spirit after so many under-attended gigs. I knelt off to stage left and sold freshly signed CDs to a bouquet of faces that offered kind words, delicate eyes, shaking hands, and generous hugs. I felt very loved. Thank you all for coming.

We drove Boston’s cobbled streets to my mom’s pad which she’d allowed us to stay in under the strict understanding we leave it in the condition we found it. But as we neared her apartment, I realized I’d lost my music journal (which besides housing all the songs I’ve written this year, also contained directions on how to turn off the alarm system in the house). Delucchi, hearing the panic in my voice, tucked Moby up on a curb on a dark, West Cedar street and we frantically searched for my zebra-striped book. Rats stole between gutters. The moon pointed sub-optimal light through Moby’s tinted windows. I tore all the clothes out of my over-stuffed bag and onto the urine-stinted streets of Beacon Hill but could find my book nowhere. I ended up having to call my poor mom at 3:00 a.m. for the alarm code, which I hated doing because she has insomnia. But of course, she was a heavenly angel on the phone even though she had to go downstairs to her computer for the information I needed and probably wouldn’t get back to sleep before morning. Oh, bless her heart.

P.S. Chris D. ended up finding my journal later, buried in my knitting bag. Oh, Sally!

Martha’s Vineyard, MA – “Sharing Mom’s Spotlight” – Hot Tin Roof – August 28, 1999

This stage is where I had my first taste of the spotlight. Back then I knew, curled around my mom’s stems, shaking from head to toe with nerves, I never wanted to leave. I’d sung backup “Lalas” on a song called “Jesse” for my mom’s most recent album and she invited me to join her on stage for a live performance of it.

Sally on the “Lalas”

I was both terrified and enticed by the invitation. I thought “Maybe, if I’m good enough, I’ll get a record deal and go on the road and get to skip school and my friends will like me because I’m famous and not just because my parents are famous and then I’ll feel worthy of being my parent’s child and not have to feel ashamed of being unworthy of the life I was born into and try to make myself invisible or people please to make up for not being good enough, pretty enough or talented enough.” I probably didn’t have words to go with these last thoughts, the nuances of those would come to the surface only after years of excavation in therapy, but that was the spirit of them. I stood in the shadow, stage right waiting for Mom to say my name, and then finally…

Photo Credit: Peter Simon

“For this next song, I’d like to introduce my daughter Sarah Maria, or as we call her ‘Sally’ to the stage.” The Hot Tin Roof was packed to the gills. A roaring cheer erupted from the crowd as I stepped into the spotlight and took my first hit of off the stage light. It electrified me like heroin. I knew immediately, the way a junkie knows the first time they taste their drug of choice, I’d need more. My eyes adjusted to the light as I approached my mom. She’d pulled her mic off the stand and held it to my mouth. I said something nervously like “hu-llo,” which lit up the crowd with laughter and more applause and made me wish I’d said more cause it felt so damn good to feel their attention and adoration.
Mom counted off and I stared up at her waiting for my cue. There were other performances, other “lalas” on other stages. But after the Hot Tin Roof, I was only ever chasing the dragon. That performance was the closest the stage has ever brought me to seeing God. It was an out of body experience. I felt my feet go numb, my breath caught in the butterfly netting between heartbeats, the room spun and all the smiles in the audience were pumped, like one big jucy hit of cold air into my tiny 4-year-old body.

Now, it was my turn to hold the spotlight at the Hot Tin Roof and invite my mom to the mic. It was one of those moonless, chilly, fall nights and trees whirled their leaves like pompoms in the dark. The venue was packed to the rafters with familiar faces and I joked between songs, “I think it’s fair to say I’ve either kissed most of you or that we’re related.”

When I introduced Carly Simon, the applause came in deafening waves. She sauntered out swinging a strut so familiar I almost forgot we weren’t back at home in our living room. I was so proud to have her on stage with me and imagined how she must have felt, 20 years ago, watching little Sally, wander into her spotlight. Mom was as shimmering—perfect, gorgeous, dazzling, and mesmerizing as ever. We sang in perfect harmony, hamming it up for the crowd and dancing in moves we rarely displayed outside of the privacy of our backyard. Being together on stage, on THIS stage in particular, was the most fun I’ve EVER had, and at the end of the night—after the stage lights were cut, and the doors had been kicked open and the scent of wood fires filled the air, and the August winds rushed around the club like a Tasmanian devil, I was still intoxicated from the buzz of the stage.

The leftovers from the crowd huddled around the bar, in patches of ferrydust-filled halo lighting. It was just like old times. As a summer job at 18, I used to take tickets at the Hot Tin Roof and I remember sitting slumped over, shoes off, throwing limes, and slinging beers down the bar to the other staff after the last encore had been sung. It was nice to see the post-show tradition lived on.

Jeremy Lichter
—the guitar player who didn’t work out—was there. He said he was playing in a cover band called “Weed.” While we’d parted ways under not-so-good terms, there were no longer any hard feelings. Just goes to prove time does heal all wounds.

Amagansett, NY – “Days off with Mama” – Stephen Talkhouse – June 9, 1999

My two days off with my mom on Martha’s Vineyard were delicious. She fed me on memories of her childhood, tucking them around me like feathers in a nest. Like a thirsty plant, I drank her history in gulps letting her sensory-rich imagery add new coats in scene-by-scene detail. She painted a picture of herself as a young girl, growing up in an apartment building in Greenwich Village which her father bought to house his entire extended family. There were grandmothers living together on the 3rd floor and naughty uncles in the basement. There were crewel aunts with voodoo dolls, cousins who organized family choral groups, and doormen who shuttled them between each other’s lives. She was a free-range child in this colorful building of characters, visiting different familiar portals whenever she got tired of her current settings.

Lucy, Uncle Peter, Mama

She described how she used to steal jewelry from her mother, like Robin Hood, to give to her nanny Allie 2 floors down. It became a joke the grown-ups had as they watched Andrea Simon’s jewelry carted out in little Carly’s heavy pockets each morning to be returned by Allie before dinner as they all laughed behind their hands at young Carly’s early Socialist instincts. Mama described her sister Lucy’s love for bread inspiring her to hoard and, later for others, to discover molded glutenous stashes in the back of drawers and under beds. She gifted me visuals of her mother’s high pompadore hairstyle and shoulder pads which bolstered her 5’4” frame to what my mama considered Amazonian proportions. She described her mother’s wide toothy grin and charm bracelets that tinkled when she came to kiss her goodnight in mink stoles before the theater. She recognized her father’s charm, creativity, and depression. She remembered his last days huddled in a topcoat in an overheated room pulling down the shades on the windows and locking the doors as a means of shutting death out. We drank tea, our long legs tucked under us like deer hooves, laughing in bathrobes and leotards meant to inspire some form of fitness that never came to pass.

Despite the restful break at home, I found myself missing the road and my band even more. My pal Heidi, who’d already planned to attend our NYC show, offered me a ride and on a overcast morning, picked me up down my long, puckerbrush-lined, dirt driveway. In a reversal of roles, I kissed my mom fairwell and headed back on the road.

We were on track to meet the boys on Long Island well ahead of schedule, but just before exit 1 on I-495 N, Heidi’s check engine light illuminated. “Check Engine?” Heidi mused aloud before panic set in and smoke billowed from under her hood. Something metal inside the car screamed and green coolant splattered the windshield. This chaos was exacerbated by our convertible’s top being down. We pulled over, wet and coughing, and I called AAA.

Our rescuer, Dave, towed Heidi’s vintage Aston Martin and, charmed by Heidi’s beauty, repaired her car on the spot. We expressed our gratitude with a CD and a dime bag of weed and made it to the Long Island ferry just in time.

Stephen Talk House at first glance, looked like your run-o-the-mill Long Island bar, but inside, lining the walls, were photos of every famous musician you can think of. It was surreal to think I’d be playing on the same stage as legends such as – Jimmy Buffett, Paul Simon, Taj Mahal, Ronny Wood, Keb’ Moe, Luther Allison, Koko Taylor, and Kris Kristofferson just to name a few. Unfortunately, we hadn’t publicized our gig very well and The venue was quiet, save for a few delightful fans and sports enthusiasts there for the NBA playoffs, their occasional cheers reminding me of past gigs played under the shadow of televised sports.
Despite the mixed audience, we had a memorable night, hoping for a return – ideally, after the Knicks win an Eastern Championship.

Pittsburgh, PA – “Uncle Liv” – Three Rivers Festival – June 6, 1999

I’m up in the air. Uncle Livingston is flying. He lets/makes me take off and fly the plane for a couple of minutes, under his supervision. I’m scared, and who could blame me after my plane accident in Peru, landing on the PanAmerican Highway and hitting a car. *(See plane accident here. Be sure to scroll)

My voice is scratchy, and I’m exhausted after an all-night drive from Ocean City, MD, to Pittsburgh last night.

We’d rushed loadout and departed at 2 am after the gig.  In the door light of the passenger seat, I changed out of my pink top and tight black skirt trading them in for green sweatpants and a pair of knee-high orange striped tube socks. Starting a road trip so late at night reminded me of road trips we used to take from New York City to Martha’s Vineyard when I was a kid.  Since my mom was not fond of flying we’d drive up to our summer home in an old 1978 New York City Checker Taxi my dad bought and painted white.  

We’d slip out of our apartment on 135 Central Park West after the scary paparazzi that swarmed our stoop from noon til night had all gone home. I remember the coldness that bit at my exposed skin as my father bundled me in a duvet and escorted me from the building to the chubby car. I remember the empty streets and the traffic lights that turned from green to red for no one.

Inside the Checker, my dad would have laid two massive cushions from our couch upstairs into the foot well on either side of “the hump” and that’s where Ben and I slept while my mom and dad took the front seat and blinked back sleep to drive through the night. My mom would wake us when we got to The Woods Hole Ferry.

Those mornings on the water, the first boat of the day, sipping clam chowder from styrofoam cups, feeding gulls oyster crackers off the bow of the deck. Those moments with my mom and dad still together, before the sky shook off the stars, before the haze lifted off the shoreline, our eyes still coated in dreams- those were truly the best times of my life. I can still feel the excitement of summer just beginning, barely opened, like an unwarranted gift.

Back in the van, I propped a hard-cover book behind me to support my lower back and pressed some yellow earplugs into my ears. Brian drove the first shift and somewhere outside of D.C., stopped for gas. In the parking, Bri made silly pig faces and grunting noises at me which I videoed through 4 a.m. blurry eyes. We sang “Happy Now: …stopped for coffee on the way….” when he returned from the gas station with two pipping cups, one for each of us. Our singing woke the rest of the band.

We all swapped seats and Delucchi took the wheel. Having secured the comfiest seat for the first stretch of the drive, I agreed to the least comfy seat for the second. The least comfy seat is the one directly behind shotgun. It’s wretched because you have to sleep with your knees propped into your chest in a vertical fetal position. Somehow as the drive continued, I managed to maneuver into a horizontal position with my feet against the door panel but when I woke up at 6:00, Soucy’s butt was on my ponytail stapling my head to the seat, so I just went back to sleep.

When we arrived in Pittsburgh it was sweltering. The haze was thick and it was as muggy as the inside of a shower stall. My pants stuck to my legs as the five of us birthed ourselves from Moby’s womb and slugged through The Three Rivers Festival fairgrounds. Dazed from the all-night drive, we wandered past cotton candy and fried dough stands and shacks advertising “Chick’n on a Stick’n” and “Veggitarian’s Delight All Pork Hotdogs.” For breakfast, I chose a $4 Chick’n on a Stick’n” and a cherry snow cone which melted immediately in the heat into a pool of cherry slush.

Our outdoor arena featured a giant lawn and a big stage with a white clamshell dome where we found my glorious, tall, and very awake, Uncle Livingston. He was a sight for sore eyes and his Taylor-isms made me miss my ol’ man. I was delighted to introduce him to my band who fell in love with him on the spot, mesmerized by his interminable energy and captivating storytelling. When I mentioned we had two days off he offered me a ride to Martha’s Vineyard on his plane in the morning. I took him up on it.

Now, halfway through our 3-hour flight, and almost at the bottom of a thermos once full of coffee, Liv excuses himself: “Can you hand me that gallon pee jug in the back?” I giggle as he puts the plane on autopilot and turns himself around in his seat. But half an hour later I’ve got to use it too!

The clouds are curdling up here as we float close enough to skim them like foam off the top of a latte. The peacefulness of the untouched sky is unmatched save for some of the snowshoed forevers I’ve been privileged enough to meet.

Thanks for the ride Uncle Liv.

Mother’s Day 2024 – “The Gift” – A Special

What do you give someone who has everything?  I Googled with a crinkled brow and hitched breath.  Various sponsored sites offering floral arrangements, gourmet culinary delights, and silk pillows appeared on the screen, but Google didn’t understand!  I needed something better than all that.  I needed something huge, timeless, weightless, touching, surprising, customized, and easy to pack. You see, my mother isn’t just anyone – she’s a songwriter. A lauded, celebrated, ‘You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you’ kind of songwriter. She’s Carly Simon. And I’m her daughter, Sally Taylor – a musician in my own right, treading pathways she pioneered.

The Star That You Are

Growing up, the offspring of such an iconic figure could easily engulf one in a shadow so vast, it might seem impossible to find your own light. But here’s the thing – Mama always had an uncanny way of making space for my cacophonies amidst her own symphonies. She was an oak that made sky for a sapling, an ocean that welcomed a stream.  To me, she is more than just a mother; she is my first and final audience. Imagine, then, trying to encapsulate all my gratitude and all of those feelings into a single gift.

I wasn’t just trying to say “Thank you” in a language that transcended words either.  Life, in its unforeseeable manner, began offering a challenging score for my mother in recent years. The once unstoppable force behind the piano had to confront her own vulnerabilities – first with hip surgery followed by two knee surgeries, daunting enough,  but in 2023 she was confronted with a Parkinson’s diagnosis and a smattering of other medical and emotional misfortunes that would have drown the most resilient swimmer.  Each recovery was an unwelcome intermission.  At times I feared her bed would swallow her whole as she lost bone density and muscle mass between the sheets. 

But never make the mistake of betting against Carly Simon folks.  My mama is one of the most resilient, humorous, spirited humans on the planet.  How else could she have battled a debilitating stammer, paralyzing stagefright, and the countless trials of being a female musician in the 60s, 70s, 80s & 90s to become known as one of the greatest singer/songwriters on the planet of all time?   My mission, after witnessing her multitudinous challenges was to help strengthen her greatest asset of all: hope.  It brought into sharper focus the need for a gift that was not just profound but healing, a reminder of the inner strength and resilience that still resided within her, regardless of life’s cruel twists. Something that would lift her out of her bed and lift her spirits by making her laugh.

I needed a gift that encapsulated a lifetime of memories and laughter while being light enough to fit into a carry-on.  When Google finally got the significance of what I was asking for it presented me with exactly what I needed: Songfinch.  I knew immediately it held the key to something special.  It offered a platform to have a song tailor-made for my mama, written by a professional songwriter (other than me) in a genre of my choosing and sprinkled with personal anecdotes. I decided, after hours of listening to their sample songs and envisioning my mother’s smile, that this was the canvas I needed.

The process was simple; I provided some details of my mother’s life, the key messages I wanted to convey, and a few inside jokes (for example, how much she loves tapioca pudding and would eat it exclusively if left to her own devices) and Songfinch took it from there. The result was just what I’d been looking for, a song that not only said “thank you,” but acknowledged the hard times and acted as a reminder of what a badass she is.

The song was delivered to my inbox, and with it came a cascade of laughter and joy.  It wasn’t just a gift; it was a handcrafted echo of inside jokes, focused prayers, wishes and shared memories.  I couldn’t wait to play it for her on my next visit.

On a cold February morning, under a four-poster bed overlooking Central Park, I asked Mama if I could play her a song. 

“Sure,” she said, always up to hear something new.  I’d handwritten the lyrics on a sheet of paper which I slid into her hands and hit “play.”  I watched the first verse light up her face as she realized the song was about her.  It prompted tears, laughter, and a shared moment of reflection that replayed the history and hope of our unique bond.  When it ended, she kissed me and said:

“Play it again?”

This time we sang along.  Through Songfinch, I found a way to send my prayers, offer my condolences, and sing my thanks in somebody else’s voice to somebody else’s beat.  I found a way to make my mother laugh and that, my friends, is The Gift.

Los Angeles, CA – “Best Night of My Life” – The Troubadour – March 20, 1999

Last night was the BEST night of my life and I don’t say that lightly. When
people say: “When pigs fly,” or “In my wildest dreams,”  I now know what they mean. I was in my wildest dreams last night and pigs were filling the sky. I don’t even know where to start, the shock hasn’t completely worn off and the grin (from ear to ear) doesn’t seem to go away even after sleeping.

We got to the Troubadour for a 6:30 load-in.  After losing my voice almost entirely after the Galaxy show, I did a vocal fast during the day, nervously opening my mouth at 5-ish to see if it was still there.  It was horse so I decided against a vocal warm-up (my usual practice). Luckily, it came back almost completely for the performance itself.

I’d never been to the Troubadour despite it being where both my parents made their start.  It’s a tall room with a balcony facing east and a huge stage that takes up 1/2 the room and faces west. We sound-checked, grabbed a bite, and did a little interview with a very nice Canadian man and his wife outside on Santa Monica Boulevard.

At 8:15 I went backstage to get dressed. My boyfriend, Kipp came up and said
“Sally, there’s some guy named Joel from Martha’s Vineyard here to see you.” I couldn’t think of who Joel might be. Confused, I followed Kipp into the hall.  At the bottom of the stairs, there was my beloved brother Ben and his girlfriend Bridge, who I’d previously been told were in New York. I was beyond surprised and excited.

My brother asked if I’d call him up on stage for “Happy Now.”  I was honored he wanted to sing with me but when I called him to come he said: “I’d like to invite one more person up here.”  In turn, I replied, “Oh great, I invite you up and the next thing I know, the whole audience is up here.” 

And out from stage right I see someone coming. It doesn’t look like anyone I know. And then, the spotlight catches her and I almost die right there on the spot. It’s my mommy. My sweet adorable mommy came all the way from the east on a plane (which I know she hates more than anything in the world). And there she is, standing next to me, and then on her knees hugging me, and were both laughing and floating 5 feet above this stage. This stage where 28 years ago she was discovered and I’m more happy than I’ve ever been in my life.

They joined me on Happy Now and then left me to finish up the show.
But I didn’t need to finish.  I didn’t need anything else ever.  I could
have just laid down and died and said I’d already lived my dream.

It just don’t get better than that does it!

Aspen, CO – “Post-Gig Gifts” -The Howlin’ Wolf – December 29, 1998

We’ve played The Howling Wolf two nights in a row.

My audience is so generous.  People shower me with unmerited gifts after shows.  Some give me pot, some mushrooms, some validation, some drunken hugs, and sometimes someone gives me pieces of myself I thought I’d lost for good or didn’t even know to miss.  Sometimes it’s a photograph or the recollection of a summer day our paths crossed at a county fair.  These are the most precious of post-gig gifts. The true benefit of celebrity affiliation is that people collect pieces of your life you didn’t know to make precious in the moment. Here are a few such gifts.

Boulder, CO – “My Stomach Aches for my Mama” – December 17, 1998

I’m feeling sick to my stomach.  Perhaps it’s because of the severe intestinal flu that sent me to the ER for an anti-nausea IV in the middle of the night on Monday.  More likely it’s from the confounding questions my new booking agent, Cassy Burbeck needs answers to before he can start booking a national tour for me.  Casey wants to know: What’s my budget? What’s on my rider? Who’s in my band? What is my stage plot (what even is a stage plot?) Will we be ready in time for the Lillith Fair?  Where do I see myself in 6 months?  A year?  A decade?  I can’t imagine where I’ll be in 6 days let alone 6 months.  But I need a booking agent.  Booking myself is just the pits!  Venues stiff me and won’t call back to confirm the show beforehand.  Having booked my shows for three months now, I know exactly how much I’d pay not to have to do this job anymore, and when Casey says the going rate for agents is 10% of all gigs, that seems more than fair to me.

But my stomach still hurts, even after reconciling with my choice to hire Casey and answer all his scary questions and when I ask my stomach to tell me what’s at the root of its dis-ease an image pops up in my mind of my mama.  Earlier in the week, she was driving in her car, just minding her own business and was delighted when one of her songs came on the radio.  As she retold the story to me later in the evening on the phone, I imagined her bopping along to “You’re so Vain,” or “Jesse” or “Coming Around Again” as she threaded her way home, over backroads lined with puckerbrush and winter white slush on Martha’s Vineyard. 

At the end of her song, the DJ took a random caller who said “I saw Carly Simon at the anti-impeachment rally the other day and she looked awful.  I tell ya, I used to dig her when she was hanging around with James Taylor but she’s gotten OLD man.”  My mama recounted the insouciant caller with a New York accent.

“Yeah, her skin’s all wrinkly.” agreed the DJ.

“I guess that’s what happens when ya get old.” the caller theorized, “Your skin starts fallin’ off the bone.” They both laughed.  My mama cried all day.  I would too.  “It’s not fair mama.” I told her, “You’re sooooo beautiful! You’re timeless. You’re so talented. You’re a legend!” and I thought ‘why am I going into this profession?!?!

As I hung up I just kept telling myself ‘It’ll be OK. The work I’ve done on myself will spare me the worst of my ego’s weaponry down the line.’  But more than anything, I worry about getting hijacked by the spotlight and imprisoned by the applause.  Here are some exercises I promise myself to do to avoid the consequences of my future successes and failures.

  1. I’ll make fun of myself.
  2. I’ll make a point of enjoying other’s successes.
  3. I’ll separate my self-worth from my music’s value to others.
  4. I’ll never be jealous or bitter.
  5. I’ll never do anything just because it’ll “look good,” or “boost my image.”
  6. I’ll believe in everyone I surround myself with.
  7. I’ll stay curious and humble and trust my decisions.
  8. I won’t trust anyone.

I hope it’s enough. I’m sorry mama. It’s not fair. My stomach aches for you.