I was a late bloomer. Musically speaking, that is. When it comes to appreciating Joni Mitchell, to be more precise. There was a time when I thought her singing was closer to caterwauling. I know, I know. What the hell am I talking about? What can I say? I knew no better. Or maybe, just maybe, I can say that my taste in music has evolved over time and that which I could not fully appreciate then, my life’s experience has enabled me to, now. Whatever it was, Joni’s place in my musical roster is firmly established.
My second-favourite movie is “Love, Actually”. One of the characters, Karen, played by Emma Thompson, loves Joni. To her husband’s (Alan Rickman) disdainful comment: “I can’t believe you still listen to Joni Mitchel”, Karen responds: “I love her, and true love lasts a life time. Joni Mitchell is the one who taught your cold English wife how to love.” I would say my love for Joni started just before this movie came out in 2003.
The radio station I listen to (yes, I still listen to the radio), CBC Music, has a little thing every weekday morning called “Under the Covers”, which, as the title implies, means they play a cover of a song. Just this past week (I love serendipity, don’t you?) The Joni Mitchell song “Circle Game” was being covered by Buffy St. Marie. That was fine and dandy but what the DJ, Saroja Coelho shared is what grabbed my attention. Until Joni saw Buffy in concert in 1964, she was singing other people’s songs. Buffy taught her that women can write songs, too. Intelligent songs. Songs that mean something. That very day, she wrote her first song, “Day After Day” and was off and running. Joni gave a tape of her songs to Buffy who carried it around with her on tour, playing it for everyone. As Buffy says:
“Most of the people I played Joni’s tape for – friends and musicians – loved her music, but not the business boys. They were into Peter, Paul & Mary vanilla folk songs, and Joni and I were both originals… and Canadian (not so cool at the time). I played her tape for Joel Dean, my agent at Chartoff-Winkler Agency, and got a “no thanks”. But a younger guy in the same agency agreed to go see Joni play at a Greenwich Village coffee house. That was Elliot Roberts. He and Joni built a great career together and I’ve always loved him for that.”
Joni Mitchell has had her share of accolades: nine Grammy awards, inducted in the Juno Hall of Fame (Canadian Music) and in 1997 she became the first Canadian woman named to the US Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She also received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002 – the first Canadian to earn this recognition. Not too shabby, I say.
And she’s been an influence to the likes of Bob Dylan, Suzanne Vega, Alanis Morissette, and Prince. I mean come on, Prince? Doing a cover? “Drink a Case of You” is a lovely version by him.
My second favourite song of hers is her later version of “Both Sides Now”. Her voice is deeper and richer (smoke-altered) and she brings it down a notch – gives me goosebumps. For those of you who prefer the original, you can click here. For the others, here you go.
All of Joni’s songs tell a story. Her album “Blue” was so personal that Kris Kristofferson, when she played it for him, said: “God, Joan, save something of yourself.” He might have had a point because, as she said, while recording this album, they had to lock the doors to the studio because she was in a state of mind that today would be called a mental breakdown.
“It begins with a sense of isolation and of not knowing anything, which is accompanied by a tremendous panic. Then clairvoyant qualities begin to come in, and you and the world become transparent, so if you’re approached by a person, all their secrets are not closeted.”
When one creates such an album, it cannot help but become a classic and, in this case is called a “bastion of artistic expression”.
None of Joni’s music is meaningless. She mixes her voice (which has shifted from mezzo-soprano to contralto over time) with her superb guitar or piano playing to create music that ranges from folk to jazz to pop to rock to classical. Her songs reflect social and environmental ideals as well as her feelings about romance, confusion, disillusionment, and joy.
And, since Christmas is next week (what?), I had to bring in Joni last, because my favourite song of hers is sort of a Christmas one, which just so happens to belong on that wonderful album that is Blue…
Joni Mitchell definitely deserves her place on MY Rushmore.
Do please go visit Marc over at Sorryless to see who he put as his fourth member of HIS Rushmore. I know one thing for sure. You won’t come away untouched by his beautiful writing.