Monday, March 4, 2013

Joni Mitchell

Nope - sorry! That's not Taylor Swift. This is a great picture of the original acoustic-wielding blonde Joni Mitchell. Taylor Swift could do well to consider what musical genius is really all about and spend some time with the great body of work Joni has left for us to hear!

I don’t know what prompted this. I was thinking the other day about how Joni Mitchell re-connected with her daughter, whom she gave up for adoption before her career took off in the late 60s. This was in 1997 or so – quite awhile ago now. I think I was looking for some clips of Joni on youtube from recent times. She is always interesting to listen to – musically or philosophically. Now, I don’t have all of her stuff. But I have a good chunk of it. Some of her more recent efforts have slipped by me – although I did manage to keep up in the 90s (the 80s were a bit tough to get into – I’ll probably rediscover that stuff eventually). Then I stumbled upon some footage of Joni re-uniting with her daughter. Gadzooks – talk about a transformation. In some of those clips it’s obvious how literally overjoyed Joni Mitchell is. Heartwarming indeed.

Contrast with another clip of Joni Mitchell performing in what looks to me like the Bitter End club in New York City. The video claims the date to be about 1967 and I have a hunch that’s correct (witness the Blues Project bass drum head on the kit behind her). The song she is singing would not be released commercially until her fourth LP – Blue – in 1971. Yet, the song – Little Green – was complete in this early clip which predates her signing with Reprise Records (her first LP came out in ’68 I believe).

What I never knew about this song is that it is a direct telling of Joni’s decision to give up her daughter for adoption – which only happened two years before this performance (possibly less). Holy Christalmighty I cannot imagine what’s going on inside her mind during this performance. Her fateful decision was a carefully guarded secret for most of her adult life. Very few, if ANY, people knew just how personal this song was until the 1990s. In an age where everything hits the internet as soon as it happens these days – it’s amazing how long some secrets could be protected by even the most public figures.

Joni Mitchell is a great singer, songwriter and indeed – guitar player! She’s got a great technique – one of the most interesting right-hand techniques I’ve ever seen. Take a look at this clip of her in 1979 – the song is “Amelia” from the Shadows and Light tour with the great jazzbos (Jaco, etc…..) backing her up. Yet this is a solo performance. She’s got those long fingernails and uses them nimbly on that big box electric. Besides technique – I saw the Shadows and Light film a bunch of years back when I bought it on DVD. When the video got to this song – which I hadn’t been familiar with at the time – it stopped me cold. It’s the emotional high point of the film. I was going through a particularly rough point in my life and, although the lyrics to the song are oblique – the emotional theme is clearly all about DEVASTATING LOSS. Joni Mitchell has a bunch of those kinds of songs in her catalog – of course it’s well known now where that emotion springs from……….

Funny though. I’d been a Joni Mitchell fan since I first heard “Big Yellow Taxi” on the radio – her version (no snazzy cover versions existed in those days). It was such a catchy song – I was real buzzed to find it on the “Ladies of the Canyon” album. I got that along with her first record – “Song to a Seagull”. Over the years I kept adding LPs. I think I picked up the “Blue” album because Big Al Anderson from NRBQ name-checked it as a favorite record of his (I’m NOT making this up – seriously! I read this once!). Pretty early on I also picked up a lesser-known LP – “For the Roses”. I have to admit – it’s not one of my favorite Joni LPs, but it does have some nice moments on it. “For the Roses” was her first LP on Asylum Records, but it had the misfortune of being the LP released between “Blue” – her last for Reprise for quite a while – and the classic “Court and Spark”. But there was a fairly provocative picture of Joni on the inside flap of the “For the Roses” album……………..

Basically – she’s nude with her back to the camera and her front facing the crashing waves of the ocean. Very picturesque, back to nature and peace-n-love – not meant to be anything more than what it is. Now, this is where my story gets a little awkward. Having observed womens’ bodies over the course of my time on the planet – mostly clothed, but still – it really appeared to me that what I was looking at ………… look, when women have children their bodies can change and it can be obvious if one is inclined to notice. Not that this is at all bad – certainly not. But I couldn’t help thinking – there’s something to the way she looks here. Yet I hadn’t read up to that point anything about Joni Mitchell having children. I really thought this all through long before the story came out about her daughter. Seriously!

Well, I’d have to admit there certainly was / is something about Joni Mitchell’s looks I appreciated – she’s certainly distinctive, but I like her! Yeah! In fact – I had a girlfriend years ago who was a dead-ringer for Joni Mitchell (and an exceptionally great gal too – fond memories). In fact, she reminded me a LOT of Joni Mitchell – independent spirit and all. Uncanny, in fact.

I hate to admit this – I don’t yet have her 2007 release – “Shine”. I really must amend this situation. I’d been keeping up with Joni pretty decently through her “Taming the Tiger” album in 1998. After that there seemed to be these endless “Greatest Hits” packages – she effectively retired from the music biz until “Shine” appeared. I was especially smitten with her 1991 LP “Night Ride Home”. Great record that was! And phooey on all those knuckleheads who want to criticize the change to her voice in recent years – I think it’s still beautiful, even though its different – dark and dusky. I can dig it. I also terribly regret not seeing her perform in 1994 at the old Woodstock site in Bethel, NY. That summer there was a concert held called “A Day in the Garden” and Joni performed – an increasingly rare event in those days and – sad to say – a nigh impossibility now. Dangit. I knew I should have gone.

Since then – there have been tributes – Herbie Hancock had a Grammy-winning CD out with Joni’s music on it a few years back. Well deserved. She was a pioneering spirit – and a real advocate for authentic American music (American as in all of the Americas, really). Like I said……I don’t know what brought all this on. I really just admire her talent and spirit – her ability to turn heartache into art – and the magic of time to heal old wounds. She’s got quite a life story there. Lets hope some exceptional writer does her story justice in a nice biography some day. Until then – STILL LISTENING!

No comments:

Post a Comment