"I hated Joni Mitchell - and then I loved her."
June 17, 2013 6:11 PM   Subscribe

I guess you've seen her from both sides now.
posted by jonmc at 6:25 PM on June 17, 2013 [20 favorites]

Slouching Toward Bethlehem was my doorway into Joni Mitchell. And she's a huge hero of Emily Saliers of Indigo Girls, who continue to be one of my top 5 groups ever... So, I dunno. I can't see hating Joni, but I get that some people don't "get" her.
posted by hippybear at 6:32 PM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

That was my doorway into Yeats.
posted by hal9k at 6:37 PM on June 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Well, the door works both ways. I knew Yeats long before I knew Joni.
posted by hippybear at 6:41 PM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

I felt essentially changed when I discovered her music, having heard CSN's version of Woodstock countless times but never realizing the depths of her original.

Don Juan's Reckless Daughter (the entire album, but only the title track is linked here) captivated me. Many albums of hers later, I realized that she augmented my soul.

fwiw, I knew Yeats' work long before I found Joni.
posted by Radiophonic Oddity at 6:44 PM on June 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Q had an extended interview with Joni last week. Part one is here (warning: video will autoplay). Links to parts 2 and 3 are further down the page, or you can choose one of the tinier excerpts.
posted by maudlin at 6:46 PM on June 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

a singer whom millions enjoy, who does not, after all, make an especially unusual or esoteric sound
She has a very idiosyncratic sound; I think it's unusual but melodic. I'm not sure how to describe it but she does have unconventional progressions of notes sometimes, often layered, and you end up realizing how perfect it is. It's jazz-influenced, certainly. That and she has some fantastic lyrics.
I like this demo of "Edith and the Kingpin" and the harmonies she's trying that end up horns and flutes on the record.
posted by Red Loop at 6:47 PM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Joni "Anderson" on the Oscar Brand (Canadian folk music) television show 1965.

Me and My Uncle.
posted by bukvich at 6:47 PM on June 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

Blue, Court and Spark, the Hissing of Summer Lawns. Three albums that should be in everyone's collection.
posted by Annika Cicada at 6:49 PM on June 17, 2013 [7 favorites]

Ladies Of The Canyon, too.
posted by hippybear at 6:51 PM on June 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

And Hejira, really.
posted by Red Loop at 6:54 PM on June 17, 2013 [9 favorites]

My first real, serious girlfriend was a huge Joni fan. Also looked exactly like Joni (and still does). I thought maybe that, secretly, that was why she liked Joni so much. I didn't appreciate Joni then, and am just beginning to now. Oops.
posted by JimInLoganSquare at 6:58 PM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

I did not care for Joni growing up where a Best Of album was in regular rotation. Big Yellow Taxi and her high pitched caterwauling in California annoyed me and my young ears.

But then when I was about 20 I heard this:
I'm porous with travel fever
But you know I'm so glad to be on my own
Still somehow the slightest touch of a stranger
Can set up trembling in my bones
I know no one's going to show me everything
We all come and go unknown
Each so deep and superficial
Between the forceps and the stone

13 years later iTunes says I have listened to no other artist as much as I have Joni.
posted by munchingzombie at 7:05 PM on June 17, 2013 [6 favorites]

I love Court and Spark and have read many interviews with other recording artists from all over the genre spectrum who cite Court and Spark as one of their favorites.

Tom Scott and the LA Express are also simply outstanding on the album and I imagine I will never tire of hearing the album.
posted by bz at 7:14 PM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

For the Roses is my all time fave, followed by Hejira. Long history with both of those and they are sometimes difficult for me to hear, but I can't turn them off. I also really really love her first record, Song To A Seagull, but oddly, Clouds and Ladies of the Canyon drive me a little batty. The very first really big love of my life, whom I met when I was 17, and who also SMASHED my heart beyond all repair is responsible for my love of Joni Mitchell, but I took that back and made it my own over the years.
posted by PuppyCat at 7:20 PM on June 17, 2013

Q had an extended interview with Joni last week.

Yeah, this was is a Big Event: she very rarely does interviews, and she invited the crew into her house for the conversation. There are photographs and a background article on the CBC website. She's a genius, pure and simple.
posted by jokeefe at 7:25 PM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Joni "Anderson" on the Oscar Brand (Canadian folk music) television show 1965.

Me and My Uncle.

One of the top 3 music clips on YouTube. Love it!
posted by Ironmouth at 7:35 PM on June 17, 2013

She had the great bassist Jaco Pasotorius on her Hejira album.
posted by BlueMarble72 at 8:10 PM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

posted by Doleful Creature at 8:11 PM on June 17, 2013

Which is basically the most perfect song
posted by Doleful Creature at 8:12 PM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Joni talks about Jimi Hendrix.
posted by BlueMarble72 at 8:25 PM on June 17, 2013

My 15 year old daughter, just sat down on my couch, picked up my guitar that is more than twice as old as her, and played and sang me this, so, just sayin?

I win.
posted by timsteil at 8:28 PM on June 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Q had an extended interview with Joni last week.

Fascinating stuff, with a wide range of ideas. The video is not safe for those who are offended by nicotine. Towards the end she says that Dylan just stole his shtick from some old hillbillies. Then she does a swell Dylan impersonation.

One thing they don't go into detail about is her unusual guitar tunings. Joni is like the Sonic Youth of California.
posted by ovvl at 8:30 PM on June 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

I sometimes have problems separating artist personalities from their work. I'm that way with Joni. Her performing live in blackface has forever put me off her work.
posted by dobbs at 8:44 PM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Raised on Robbery may be my favorite song ever recorded. I wore out two LPs of Court and Spark in high school. Still have the third.
posted by trip and a half at 8:49 PM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also I get the California stuff, but she is a Canadian artist to me.
posted by trip and a half at 9:04 PM on June 17, 2013

Don't forget to check out Shadows and Light, the live film of her tour with Jaco, Pat Metheny, Lyle Mays, Micheal Brecker, and Don Alias. Fantastic performances by all - a particular fave of mine is "Dry Cleaner from Des Moines". 'Cuz Jaco fucking Pastorious.
posted by fingers_of_fire at 9:20 PM on June 17, 2013 [5 favorites]

Just rewatched that "Me and My Uncle" clip. The finger style! Lord yes. And the performance--suddenly at the key turns of the song near the end, she eyes the camera for only a few moments. So perfect.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:22 PM on June 17, 2013

The chord changes in "Help Me" remind me of those in "Starship Trooper". Or maybe that's the other way around. Listening to Court and Spark is like watching a team hit home runs in their first three at-bats.
posted by kurumi at 9:25 PM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

My boyfriend is in the room doing a project, and he's never really heard much Joni. He asked what I was reading. So I'm up against it; how do you even begin to introduce her to someone new? I find myself bouncing back and forth; the early, folksy stuff, the lushly overproduced Both Sides Now (an astonishingly effective breakup album, if you need such), some mid-period Hejira... no idea how to explain her.

The author of the piece is right. There's no analysis; there's just a point that comes, and passes without recognition, when you start loving Joni. And then you can get lost in her work endlessly.
posted by MrVisible at 10:17 PM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, and if you've never heard it, take the time to listen to the last three songs on Shadows and Light. Amelia, Pat's Solo, and Hejira. Absolutely astonishing.
posted by MrVisible at 10:25 PM on June 17, 2013

The wind is in from Africa,
Last night I couldn't sleep
posted by gottabefunky at 10:29 PM on June 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

Pure perfection.
posted by gottabefunky at 10:36 PM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seriously, Joni is etched into my heart so deep.

When I was 19 I was deeply in love, lost in San Francisco, staying in youth hostels, riding my bike all over that goddamn city. Court and Spark was on a mix tape, given to me by my best friend before I left, who I was I madly in love with, and was the reason I bailed on Dallas for a cross-country journey on Amtrak to SF in an attempt to run away and nurse a love that could never see the light of day, me a punk shit, her the beautiful daughter of a GM exec.

Every facet of Court and Spark is a love letter carved into my psyche. The whole thing. It was my life at that time. I conquered the hills listening to that album on a sony walkman. I must have listened to it a thousand times over the two months I listlessly roamed that city, with sour grapes because I lost my heart... as a troubled child, breaking like the waves on Malibu
posted by Annika Cicada at 10:40 PM on June 17, 2013 [5 favorites]

Yes, Joni. Pure, unadulterated genius. It is a cliche, but I grew up with her music, and to this day it still sounds as fresh, pure and poetic as it did when I was an angsty teenager. Even today,as a grumpy, older man, Cherokee Louise moves me in ways few songs can. And Amelia! What a song.

While we are on other links, etc.,Woman of Heart and Mind (2003) is well worth checking out and is available on Vimeo.

And this from someone whose occasional blog is called "Caught In The Middle"..... [Self-link, apologies]
posted by vac2003 at 10:55 PM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

"No, I can't hear it. It's horrible. And that bit's just 'Jingle Bells.'"

I hadn't expected to get anywhere with this line, and was surprised to see my husband smile, and pause for a moment to listen intently: "Actually, that bit is 'Jingle Bells' - I never noticed that before. It's a song about winter... makes sense."

When I first read this article, I laughed out loud at the dinner table in twinkling recognition of both sides (now), and then laughed at how spacey and convoluted I sounded trying to explain to my SO about what had struck me so.

But when I think of that Joni Mitchell-hating pilgrim, standing at the east window [...] I truly cannot understand the language of my former heart. Who was that person? Petulant, hardly aware that she was humming Joni, not yet conscious of the transformation she had already undergone. How is it possible to hate something so completely and then suddenly love it so unreasonably? How does such a change occur?

And then I read this bit and nodded in happy melancholy with a different inexplicable look on my face, and I immediately and intensely needed to go immerse myself in EM Forster, wondering abstractly what other authors leapt vividly into the minds of other people.
posted by desuetude at 11:10 PM on June 17, 2013

Mermaid Cafe makes me cry everytime I hear it, or even when I sing it. "let's have another round for these freaks and these soliders, another round for these friends of mine..." I'm tearing up just typing it. It's a lot of good things, but that song especially is the best lament of lost youth I can imagine.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:27 PM on June 17, 2013

I read this essay a couple weeks ago. Man it's good. I was pretty agnostic about Zadie Smith prior but damn is that full of some righteous prose.

What kind if amazed me most was the notion that anyone could not be swayed by Joni from the second note. There's an intelligence and vibrancy there that you just can't ignore can't deny.

That said, I didn't recognize it until maybe ten years after I first heard her (first heard as a teenager pining for another teenager who could not understand that I could not see the genius. She was right, and I think there's something perfectly 'boy' about that depth of emotional ignorance) coming back to the music later and having it floor me was a real 'wakey wakey!' Moment.

As Smith writes so piercingly, 'how the fuck did I miss THAT?'
posted by From Bklyn at 12:01 AM on June 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

I hated The Hissing of Summer Lawns, but never read anything about it until now. So much critical praise... I'm probably missing something and will have to relisten.

I've probably heard Ladies of the Canyon 50 times, and I still love it.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 12:23 AM on June 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

I should confess at this point that when I'm thinking of Joni Mitchell it's "Blue" I'm thinking of, really.

As a Joni die-hard this article bugs me for the same reason most people's Joni-appreciation does: Zadie only knows Blue!

I haven't listened to Blue straight through in years and if I listen to anything it's The Last Time I Saw Richard. While I still love the album I find its emotional tone doesn't resonate in my life in the way her later work does. It doesn't have as much richness, frankly. That's not a diss on Blue — it's simplicity of emotion is its strength. And I'm sure next time my heart breaks I'll come back to it, desperate for its sadness.

But I'm in my 30s now and I am looking back and I am looking forward and I am struggling still to make sense of the now and there is the hope and the hopelessness I've witnessed, you know? There's ups and downs and repeated lessons of loss and change and it's so nice to have Joni there to help me through it. We're only particles of change and then the perfectly-world-weary I know, I know

Beyond the emotional resonance, her poetry is just the goddamn best. Lines get stuck in my head for days: These are the clouds of Michelangelo / Muscular with gods and sun-gold; White flags of winter chimneys / Waving truce against the moon / In the mirrors of a modern bank / From the window of a hotel room; And you were in the parking lot / Subterranean by your own design / The virtue of your style inscribed / On your contempt for mine

Some favorites that haven't been mentioned yet:

Night Ride Home (live, solo, sitting by a river)

Paprika Planes (15 goddamn amazing minutes long: The rain retreats/Like troops to fall on other fields and streets ...)

Live at the Wells Fargo Theater, 1995 (solo concert on the radio with her lovely later voice. Haunting Cherokee Louise and the whole damn thing is great)

I'm so glad for this thread because I am feeling adrift and quite alone these days and it makes me feel so warm to hear how deeply felt others' love for Joni is. Love you guys!!
posted by wemayfreeze at 12:56 AM on June 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

I liked the commentary by writer/director Richard Curtis on the use of "Both sides Now" in his film Love Actually.

“I remember listening a lot to this new version of Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now before I started to write the film [Love Actually] and so kind of the song in a way lead to the film because Joni Mitchell wrote this song when she was about 25 or something and it actually seemed like quite a precocious song, saying what love is about and life is about, to have been written by someone so young. But she rerecorded it recently and she’s probably in her late 50s by now and it just seems like in this new version her voice is brilliant, strong and old now, it seems like a work of real wisdom.”
posted by guy72277 at 1:51 AM on June 18, 2013

Put simply, you need to lower your defences.

This is the key. There is a lot of good music that our own prejudices (and preferences) keep us from enjoying. Joni Mitchell is an American Canadian! genius. She wrote "Woodstock" for chrisssake!

I came upon a child of God
He was walking along the road
And I asked him where are you going
And this he told me
I'm going on down to Yasgur's farm *
I'm going to join in a rock 'n' roll band
I'm going to camp out on the land
I'm going to try an' get my soul free

posted by three blind mice at 2:26 AM on June 18, 2013

As a callow youth, I listened to Joni because the hippie girls I was chasing listened to Joni. Years later, I really listened to Joni. Those hippie girls are (mostly) forgotten, but I'm still listening to Joni.
posted by tommyD at 3:40 AM on June 18, 2013

The last time I saw Richard was Detroit in '68,
And he told me all romantics meet the same fate someday
Cynical and drunk and boring someone in some dark cafe
You laugh, he said, you think you're immune, go look at your eyes
They're full of moon
You like roses and kisses and pretty men to tell you
All those pretty lies, pretty lies
When you gonna realize they're only pretty lies
Only pretty lies, just pretty lies

He put a quarter in the Wurlitzer, and he pushed
Three buttons and the thing began to whir
And a bar maid came by in fishnet stockings and a bow tie
And she said 'Drink up now it's gettin' on time to close.'
'Richard, you haven't really changed,' I said
It's just that now you're romanticizing some pain that's in your head
You got tombs in your eyes, but the songs
You punched are dreaming
Listen, they sing of love so sweet, love so sweet
When you gonna get yourself back on your feet?
Oh and love can be so sweet, love so sweet

Richard got married to a figure skater
And he bought her a dishwasher and a coffee percolator
And he drinks at home now most nights with the teevee on
And all the house lights left up bright
I'm gonna blow this damn candle out
I don't want nobody comin' over to my table
I got nothing to talk to anybody about
All good dreamers pass this way some day
Hidin' behind bottles in dark cafes
Dark cafes
Only a dark cocoon before I get my gorgeous wings
And fly away
Only a phase, these dark cafe days

posted by shakespeherian at 4:55 AM on June 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm gonna blow this damn candle out
I don't want nobody comin' over to my table
I got nothing to talk to anybody about

Hey, careful there. You start quoting lyrics from Blue and you're going to have some of us weeping at our desks at work.
posted by aught at 6:06 AM on June 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

For me, these days, it's Sweet Bird.

Out on some borderline
Some mark of inbetween
I lay down golden in time
And woke up vanishing

Sweet bird you are
Briefer than a falling star
All these vain promises on beauty jars
Somewhere with your wings on time
You must be laughing
Behind our eyes
Calendars of our lives
Circled with compromise
Sweet bird of time and change
You must be laughing
Up on your feathers laughing

Golden in time
Cities under the sand
Power ideals and beauty
Fading in everyone's hand

Give me some time
I feel like I'm losing mine
Out here on this horizon line
With the earth spinning
And the sky forever rushing

She wrote that in her thirties, but oh how it resonates at 54.
posted by jokeefe at 7:40 AM on June 18, 2013

Reading these quoted passages I was thinking, yeah she was probably a better lyricist than melodist.

Then I re-listened to a load of my favourites on Spotify and re-evaluated that pretty quickly.
posted by greenish at 7:50 AM on June 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

Pruitt-Igoe: "I hated The Hissing of Summer Lawns, but never read anything about it until now. So much critical praise... I'm probably missing something and will have to relisten."

Hissing probably has my favorite songs; though a third of it doesn't appeal to me much, the rest are fucking amazing. Also, if you're a fan and you haven't heard "The Seeding of Summer Lawns" yet, DO IT NOW. All of the songs are on Youtube, at least.
posted by Red Loop at 10:50 AM on June 18, 2013

Court and Spark man. Court and fucking SPARK.

Up in a sterilized room
Where they let you be lazy
Knowing your attitude's all wrong
And you got to change
And that's not easy
Dragon shining with all values known
Dazzling you-keeping you from your own
Where is the lion in you to defy him
When you're this weak
And this spacey

So what are you going to do about it
You can't live life and you can't leave it
Advice and religion you can't take it
You can't seem to believe it
The peacock is afraid to parade
You're under the thumb of the maid
You really can't give love in this condition
Still you know how you need it

They open and close you
Then they talk like they know you
They don't know you
They're friends and they're foes too
Trouble child
Breaking like the waves at Malibu

posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:27 PM on June 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was kind of disappointed that Smith decided The Hissing Of Summer Lawns was a "minor" Mitchell album. I mean, there's a reason why it's one of Prince's favourite albums of all time, and it's not because it's some overlooked obscurity.*

Also: can some publisher just kidnap Zadie Smith and force her to channel all her creative energy into essays, instead of novels? White Teeth was nice middlebrow comedy realism, and the rest of her novels have varied, but her criticism and non-fiction essays – particularly this amazing piece on dialect, code switching, comedy, Obama and a whole lot else – have been consistently brilliant.

*I think it's also my favourite Joni Mitchell album, and if forced, at knifepoint, to give you my top five of all time, Summer Lawns would always be in there, even if the other four changed every time you asked me. Oh, and to add to Red Loop's recommendation above for The Seeding Of Summer Lawns – which is an album of demo versions of the final album – go and find it and listen. It's fantastic.
posted by Len at 2:08 PM on June 18, 2013

I think what I didn't like about it was the smooth 70s mellow jazz vibraphone sound the whole album (except The Jungle Line) had.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 3:46 PM on June 18, 2013

Joni Mitchell claims to have Morgellons disease. On the other hand, "A Case of You" is brilliant.
posted by infinitywaltz at 3:54 PM on June 18, 2013

Summer Lawns is very dated, it's true; that's not necessarily a bad thing, though.
posted by Red Loop at 4:40 PM on June 18, 2013

Yeah, I was wondering about the disdain for Summer Lawns, as I am still rather fond of it (although I no longer own a copy). I hated smooth jazz then and I hate it now, but I guess when I remember the album, the only song I really remember is The Jungle Line.

(And what that YT link just reminded me of: when I was 15 or so, my boyfriend brought me several flat, open, freshly printed LP covers from his job at the printing plant. Most of the covers were for prog-rock or metal bands, but the set included the cover for Summer Lawns. I taped all the open covers in a continuous, snakey line across the walls and ceiling of my room, and I made sure that the embossed cover for Summer Lawns was in a prime spot.)
posted by maudlin at 5:00 PM on June 18, 2013

I loved Joni Mitchell's music until I went to a concert in Boston around 1980. There was no opening act, and she showed up a half hour late. She played 2 songs, then made a comment asking people to stop 'milling about'. She played another song and then walked offstage. Fifteen minutes later someone came out and told us that the concert was over because she couldn't deal with the people 'milling about'. There might have been a dozen or so people moving around in front of the stage.

Thanks Joni!
posted by gnosys at 11:14 PM on June 18, 2013

I never particularly liked her music until I found myself listening to Court and Spark about 25 times in a row. Curiously, the other one I listen to over and over is Dog Eat Dog, which I don't think most people consider much good when they rate her work.

She wrote "Woodstock" for chrisssake!

Especially a fine job because she never actually went to Woodstock, and only heard about it second-hand. Her management thought the traffic jams and transportation mess would keep her from appearing on TV. (Crosby and Stills did make it in, and back out to the show.)
posted by LeLiLo at 12:55 AM on June 19, 2013

Joni Mitchell claims to have Morgellons disease.

Yeah, but she's (almost) 70. She gets to be a cranky old person like any 70 year old, disease-compaint-wise.
posted by aught at 8:46 AM on June 19, 2013

She was on stage for her birthday tribute at Luminato last night. Confounding expectations, she didn't just recite a poem, but she sang two songs on her own and Woodstock with everybody.

Man, somebody better have recorded this.
posted by maudlin at 8:49 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just the thought that Joni performed Don't Interrupt the Sorrow last night gives me chills.

If she ever plays again I will move heaven, earth, and a significant portion of my savings to see her.
posted by wemayfreeze at 12:34 PM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Last night: Furry Sings the Blues; Woodstock; poem "This Rain, This Rain."

Videos not of the best quality. However, I imagine more will be uploaded.
posted by TrolleyOffTheTracks at 1:50 PM on June 19, 2013

Better audio quality on this Woodstock from last night.
posted by wemayfreeze at 2:36 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

posted by TrolleyOffTheTracks at 3:53 PM on June 19, 2013

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