Encore

The union of Carly and James

Soft-rock stars Simon and Taylor vowed a lasting love 23 years ago

I've got a lot to be happy for tonight,'' announced an elated James Taylor at his Radio City Music Hall concert on Nov. 3, 1972. Earlier that evening, the 24-year-old troubadour had wed balladeer Carly Simon, 27, at her Manhattan apartment. No matter that the bride's first hit had been the marriage-skeptical ''That's the Way I've Always Heard It Should Be'' — the audience roared its approval when Simon joined her ''steamroller'' on stage.

Their union seemed made in soft-rock heaven. Though they came from backgrounds of privilege — Simon first spotted 2-year-old Jamie Taylor eating cotton candy on Martha's Vineyard, the tony Massachusetts island where their families summered — both performers combined folk, blues, or pop melodies with personal lyrics that articulated the concerns of an alienated middle-class youth culture.

The couple divided their time between New York and the Vineyard, where handyman Taylor expanded his bachelor hippie cabin. But with every added room, staircase, and deck, the marriage grew shakier. Sweet Baby James was a heroin addict who wrote his 1970 hit ''Fire and Rain,'' about a friend's suicide, during his second stay in a mental institution. Simon's childhood stammer and stage fright appeared more benign — a misconception she corrected in a recent magazine article, attributing her problems to her upbringing in an ''atmosphere of erotica'' created by her mother's open love affair with a live-in college student. She also claimed Taylor's flaws reminded her of her father, a founder of the publishing house Simon & Schuster.

Dueling careers didn't help, and despite a shared passion for activism and their children, Ben and Sally (now 18 and 21), the pair concluded they didn't have time for the pain and split in 1981. Taylor married actress Kathryn Walker in 1985 (they separated this year), and in 1987 Simon wed writer Jim Hart. Of the two, Simon has had the more high-profile career, winning an Academy Award in 1989 for Working Girl's ''Let the River Run,'' and penning four children's books. Taylor sings the part of a buffoonish God on Randy Newman's newly released Faust.

At a benefit concert on Martha's Vineyard last August, Taylor and Simon appeared on stage together for the first time in 16 years. The two danced cheek to cheek in front of another wildly cheering crowd during their signature duet, ''Mockingbird'' — and for a moment, it seemed the way they always heard it should be.

Originally posted Nov 03, 1995 Published in issue #299 Nov 03, 1995 Order article reprints