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.

Boulder, CO – “Nisa” – March 16, 1999

Nisa’s been my best friend since I was 7.  We shared the same babysitter, Valarie Nuick, who wore vanilla bean essential oil, spoke softly and seemed to swallow her laughter before it escaped her lips.  She was young and fun and sometimes let us tag along to her retail job.   She worked at “The Song of the Reed,” a magical clothing store known on Martha’s Vineyard for importing Afghani jewelry and Middle Eastern textiles. 

On weekends Val would lug us into the store. She’d unbolt a door built into the stairwell, hand us two dull knives, and leave us to work breaking down boxes for a quarter an hour while she lit Nag Champa and put Jackson Brown on the tape deck.  Nisa was older than me by two years and the most glorious creature I’d ever seen.  Her skin appeared to emit flecks of gold.  I, on the other hand, was scrawny with gangly legs that threatened to tangle in the wind and cornsilk hair that disobeyed hairbrushes.  Nisa was beautiful the way goddesses and queens are beautiful.  She carried herself above the rest, looking out on the world ambivalently while braiding her heart in thorns and barbed wire.  Oh, how I dreamed of getting past her defenses and scoring the privilege of knowing her heart. 

Slowly, one box at a time, I gained her confidence.  Under the bare blub, under the “Song of the Reed” stairwell, we found occasions for laughter.  We discovered we were both boy-crazy and confided our crushes to one another. After flattening boxes, we played dress-up, admiring ourselves in floor-length mirrors wearing headscarves and beaded kaftans. We got drunk on incense. 

Before we could drive, Nisa and I would ride my tiny white pony bareback through the woods to meet up with her boyfriend.  “Gusty,” who was 30, spicy and infuriated at being made to trot two tittering teenagers around, often succeeded in bucking one or both of us off.  Barefoot, I’d wait outside Nisa’s boyfriend’s house to keep a lookout for grown-ups while she got to first base.

Later, we dated two brothers, the eldest of “The Blackdog” family.  Robbie and Jamie Douglas were windsurfers.  When Nisa got her licence we’d drive to meet them on the shore in her beefed-up black jeep. We’d stop at Dairy Queen and splurge on XXL rainbow sprinkle ice cream cones which would stick to our hair in the wind while we watched our brothers skip back and forth over the waves.  We daydreamed about marrying them and becoming sisters one day. Jamie is the one who “takes to downtown, brown suburban in the rain,” in Sign of Rain.”

Nisa came to all my Boggies shows.  She raided the island’s thrift stores and found ways of making polyester sexy.  And when I told her I was moving west, starting my own band and going on the road she said “When should I be there?”

“You’ll come out on the road with me?!?! Really?”

“Of course!  I’ll sell your merch for you and beat the boys away.”

“Well, come on then.”

She’s been with us since March 1st.  Having Nisa in the van is like having cotton candy for breakfast.  It’s fun, delicious, and slightly naughty.  Reunited we’re immediately 7 again, back under those stairs at “Song of the Reed,” getting bucked off my pony into puddles, picking rainbow sprinkles out of each other’s hair and daydreaming about what we’ll be when we grow up.  I am so blessed to have scored the privilege of knowing her heart.  I am so privileged to have her along on for the ride that is this life.

Martha’s Vineyard, MA – Fausta’s Shack – July 12, 1997

“So, you do or don’t think it’s crazy for me to consider a music career?” I ask my barefoot, hippie, moth-eaten sweater-wearing, therapist.  We’re in the shack we meet in weekly.  There are lace doily-like curtains in a single pane window and otherwise, no light in the damp hut.   I can’t believe I’m speaking these words out loud, let alone considering the possibility I might follow in my parent’s footsteps.  But I was recently in a plane accident in Peru flying in a small plane over the “Nazca Lines” where an oil tank unceremoniously flew off my side of the plane.  Before I could even wonder what happened, the propellers on either wing clamped still like a bear trap. 

The cabin went completely silent. I remember the acrid smell of stale cigarette smoke on a fellow passenger’s breath and thinking, with curiosity bated, “I wonder what happens next?” I watched the pilot, whose seat I sat directly behind, slowly stitch his shoulders to his ears.  There they dangled like frozen icebergs. Past him through the windshield, I saw what I thought must be a runway, a good sign I thought, until I noticed cars driving on it.  We would be forced to make an emergency landing on The Pan-American Highway. The angle at which we hit the blacktop was steep and made the plane jump and stumble like a drunk at a traffic stop.   As we slowed, our left wing hit a car.

Miraculously, no one was hurt, and a shaman who said he’d intuited the whole affair, climbed out from the back seat and rubbed blessing oil on each of us before helping us push the plane out of the road. Confronted with mortality, we hitched a ride back to the airport.   Two things were overwhelmingly clear in my mind. 

Before I leave the planet:

 1. I want to have a child.

 2. I want the songs I’ve written organized on a CD.

At sixteen I started waking up with lyrics and melodies in my head. Each morning throughout high school and into college I’d diligently retrieve them upon waking, weeding through the shrapnel of dreams and dusting off half-bent choruses and meandering verses.  I kept a sandwich-sized cassette recorder by my bedside and hit record immediately after hitting my alarm.  I would sing into it what I could groggily remember before teetering off to the rec hall for eggs and oatmeal.

My mom bought me a D-1 Martin guitar at “Manny’s” in Times Square in New York on a snowy weekend home from Brown during my freshman year. Overhearing some of my morning songwriting sessions she insisted I have a way to accompany myself.  Soon after I began performing some of my songs, securing a weekly local gig at “Z-Bar,” a smoke-filled sports bar on Providence RI’s legendary Wickenden Street.

As my life and death flashed before my eyes on that tiny plane in Peru, I imagined all those songs I’d written, those sweet little gifts from the depths of my unguarded night-time heartbeats, strewn across miles of cassette tape never to be finished or polished or probably ever heard from again and I wanted to finish them in a way I felt honored them.  But at what price?  It was pure madness to consider following in my famous parents’ musical footsteps.  Wasn’t it?

My therapist, her face cradled in a nest of wiry graying hair (1/2 of which I’m sure I put there), crooked her head in consideration.  Her eyes fix on the ceiling as though there were something other than a field of white up there and responded:

“No, not so crazy.” 

However she agreed that I should put some parameters in place to protect me from any potential success or failure.  Together we imagined some preliminary measures if I, in fact, ever decided a life in music was the right path for me…

  1. I shouldn’t be tempted to take the same path my parents had.  I should probably not sign a record deal (if one is ever an option for me) and instead get my hands dirty.  I should teach myself the ins and outs and the nitty-gritty of running a label myself before delegating roles to others.
  2. I should never read reviews.  This was my dad’s advice “If you believe the good reviews, you’ll believe the bad reviews when they come.  Best not to read them at all.”
  3. If at any time your ego gets in the driver’s seat don’t be afraid to “Jump Ship!”

But as I left my Fausta’s hut and walked barefoot back through the woods to my house I discounted my urge to record my own music.  I was happy enough playing with my disco band “The Boogies,” every Thursday night.  I didn’t need to put myself out there for the sake of some songs on a sandwich-sized tape recorder.  Or did I?