Dissecting “You’re So Vain” by Carly Simon

Ever since December 1972-January 1973, people have been trying to piece together the meaning of Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain.” The problem is that everyone wants to know WHO the song is about, as if everything in that song is so straightforward that all that’s needed is the final clue to know what it’s about.

I would suggest instead that maybe people pay attention to the chorus. It brings out a definite color to the words, and gives meanings that have been missed for many years.

(but then, I’ve been way off before. I took one word that was meant to be a filler word, took it as intended and totally misread the lyrics; so take this blog with however much salt you feel safe with).

(Note: All lyrics come off the song page on The Official Carly Simon Website)

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

If you notice, it’s about a guy who seems very much focused with impressions. His focus on his entrance, his dress, the scent (or is that color) of his scarf, his movements; everything calculated to impress. He even thinks that he’s impressing the girls, as well. (or, if we’re talking with Geffin, with the guys and Carly Simon felt the need to edit so that everyone could understand her).

Then we come upon the chorus (yeah, I transferred the “and” from the verse to the chorus):

You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you
You’re so vain, I’ll bet you think this song is about you
Don’t you? Don’t you?

And the songwriter is smirking. At the guy.

The song isn’t about HIM, it’s about WHAT HE THINKS ABOUT HIMSELF. We don’t know if the guy was actually a dud, but from the above verse, it’s obvious the guy’s a bit too taken with himself. And the song’s about that. Not Him, but what he thinks about himself.

On to the next verse:

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, clouds in my coffee and….(chorus)

Was this some boy she dated for a while in the past? Warren Beatty (who WOULD wear an apricot scarf and know how to Gavotte)? David Crosby? David Geffin? Some guy who thinks that if he writes enough lovesick letters that he’ll win this woman? Her father, maybe (remove “you said that we made such a pretty pair” and you have the picture of someone whose ambition led him to give away everything for the sake of success. Include the line, and you have a record of her parent’s divorce, maybe?)? Herself?

Of course, she’s always said this was a composite, although it’s likely that she used one person as the main inspiration for the song and sprinkled other people’s foibles into the mix to make things harder.

Next, the third verse:

Well I hear you went up to Saratoga and your horse naturally won
Then you flew your Lear jet up to Nova Scotia to see the total eclipse of the sun
Well, you’re where you should be all of the time
And when you’re not you’re with
Some underworld spy or the wife of a close friend
Wife of a close friend, and…. (chorus)

This reminds me of Charles Bukowski’s self-characterization – Better than everyone else, and thus deserving his good luck. Granted, Charles made no attempts at self-aggrandization; indeed part of his pose was that he knew himself and kept to his strengths: Finding jobs when he needed them, always good with the ladies who saw underneath his exterior, smart with the horses (and knowing that horses were the best way to gamble), no nonsense with his poetry, loved his drink, had good taste in various things he could afford, and lived to write (of course, the guy worked for the USPS so he was able to do all this without the constant seeking of work that would have wore him down in truth). Add in the idea of always being at the right place at the right time (unless you chose to do something else), and you have the perfect self-image of someone who thinks everything about thmselves.

Hence, again, my thought that the chorus skewers the subject of the song by basically saying “What you think of yourself is SOO mock-worthy.”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

That, of course, would leave the question of WHOM Carly’s talking about up in the air, but it would make for the possibility that the guy was some small-potatoes person who thought of himself as more than he was. Not exactly uncommon.


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