Thursday, October 13, 2005

I Love Joni


Funny thing is, I once hated her. Back in 1974, when “Court and Spark” was released, and “Help Me” found its way to the play-lists, I didn’t understand the song. I was 16. Didn’t understand the sax part at all. Didn’t understand the lyrics, the production, nothing. The first few notes of that song would send me into one of my juvenile classic rants of incoherent profanity and anti-whomever-was-my-target-at-the-time invective.

That all changed when in 1976 “Hejira” was released. The stations started playing “Song For Sharon,” which was amazing when you consider that it clocked in at 8:30! People can say what they want about every generation bathing in the nostalgia of their youth, but very obviously radio was better when I was a kid. In 1974, I was still in high school and hadn’t yet dabbled in marijuana. That all changed in 1976. That was the year that I gave in and decided to find out what it was that everyone was going on about.

I found out.

How can I ever know if the over all affects of an illegal drug were positive? When you take the left fork, you can’t go back and take the right one and have it be the same as if you’ve never taken the left. You now have the experience of the left, and the passage of time. So I can’t ever know. I do know that everything changed for me, and I believe it was for the better. I was able to see myself in a completely different light. I stepped outside of myself and looked in, and saw an angry, self-righteous idealist and no longer wanted to be him. I am what I am, and some might say I haven’t changed since then, but at least I saw it inside of me, and have tried to temper and mitigate those tendencies.

My best friend had gotten a Camaro for his High School graduation present, (his family was a tad more financially well-off than mine – I think I got $100 and Cross Pen and Pencil set!) and we both stayed local for our college educations. He had a pretty decent stereo in the car for the time. My mind was now an open book when it came to music. I realized that I could like anything if I thought it was good based on the intrinsic musicality and artistry of the piece, regardless of my prejudices and preconceived notions.

It was one night in ’76 or ’77. We were on “the ride” which was basically cruising the back roads of Nassau county after having smoked a bowl, talking about life and listening to music. “Song For Sharon” came on, and I probably told him to turn it off, as I hated Joni Mitchell. He turned it up, saying, “this is a great song.” As I did then, as I do now, I listened to the music first. Lyrics on initial auditions are ignored. I listened to the instrumentation and the melody, and I was swept away by the sound, the majesty of that record.

I learned perhaps a year later that the lyrics of that song seem to be about what many of her songs seem to be about, which is her personal struggle of being a free-spirited artist who longs for the intimacy of long-term relationships, but also fears them and finds herself doing things to sabotage them. Sad.

Over the years, Joni has become one of my favorite artists. Her music is unique, and over time went from folk, to pop, and then to blues, world-music and jazz. She is a creative and accomplished guitarist, a respectable pianist, and sings like canary. Her lyrics are literate, poetic, deeply personal and conjure up vivid images in the mind of the listener. Her songs are often melodically complex, and sometimes require repeated listens before their beauty can be completely realized. One song in particular that comes to mind is the title track from “Hejira.” It took a few years before I “got” that one, but now it is one of my favorites.

She lost some of her creative spark after the release of Hejira, but taken as a whole, her artistry ranks with the best that the 20th century had to offer.

Song For Sharon
By Joni Mitchell

I went to Staten Island, Sharon
To buy myself a mandolin
And I saw the long white dress of love
On a storefront mannequin
Big boat chuggin' back with a belly full of cars...
All for something lacy
Some girl's going to see that dress
And crave that day like crazy

Little Indian kids on a bridge up in Canada
They can balance and they can climb
Like their fathers before them
They'll walk the girders of the Manhattan skyline
Shine your light on me Miss Liberty
Because as soon as this ferry boat docks
I'm headed to the church
To play Bingo
Fleece me with the gamblers' flocks

I can keep my cool at poker
But I'm a fool when love's at stake
Because I can't conceal emotion
What I'm feeling's always written on my face
There's a gypsy down on Bleecker Street
I went in to see her as a kind of joke
And she lit a candle for my love luck
And eighteen bucks went up in smoke

Sharon, I left my man
At a North Dakota junction
And I came out to the "Big Apple" here
To face the dream's malfunction
Love's a repetitious danger
You'd think I'd be accustomed to
Well, I do accept the changes
At least better than I used to do

A woman I knew just drowned herself
The well was deep and muddy
She was just shaking off futility
Or punishing somebody
My friends were calling up all day yesterday
All emotions and abstractions
It seems we all live so close to that line
And so far from satisfaction

Dora says, "Have children!"
Mama and Betsy say-"Find yourself a charity."
Help the needy and the crippled or put some time into Ecology."
Well, there's a wide wide world of noble causes
And lovely landscapes to discover
But all I really want right now
Is...find another lover

When we were kids in Maidstone, Sharon
I went to every wedding in that little town
To see the tears and the kisses
And the pretty lady in the white lace wedding gown
And walking home on the railroad tracks
Or swinging on the playground swing
Love stimulated my illusions
More than anything

And when I went skating after Golden Reggie
You know it was white lace I was chasing
Chasing dreams
Mama's nylons underneath my cowgirl jeans
He showed me first you get the kisses
And then you get the tears
But the ceremony of the bells and lace
Still veils this reckless fool here

Now there are 29 skaters on Wolmann rink
Circling in singles and in pairs
In this vigorous anonymity
A blank face at the window stares and stares and stares and stares
And the power of reason
And the flowers of deep feeling
Seem to serve me
Only to deceive me

Sharon you've got a husband
And a family and a farm
I've got the apple of temptation
And a diamond snake around my arm
But you still have your music
And I've still got my eyes on the land and the sky
You sing for your friends and your family
I'll walk green pastures by and by

Hejira
By Joni Mitchell

I'm traveling in some vehicle
I'm sitting in some cafe
A defector from the petty wars
That shell shock love away
There's comfort in melancholy
When there's no need to explain
It's just as natural as the weather
In this moody sky today
In our possessive coupling
So much could not be expressed
So now I'm returning to myself
These things that you and I suppressed
I see something of myself in everyone
Just at this moment of the world
As snow gathers like bolts of lace
Waltzing on a ballroom girl

You know it never has been easy
Whether you do or you do not resign
Whether you travel the breadth of extremities
Or stick to some straighter line
Now here's a man and a woman sitting on a rock
They're either going to thaw out or freeze
Listen...
Strains of Benny Goodman
Coming thru' the snow and the pinewood trees
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

Well I looked at the granite markers
Those tribute to finality - to eternity
And then I looked at myself here
Chicken scratching for my immortality
In the church they light the candles
And the wax rolls down like tears
There's the hope and the hopelessness
I've witnessed thirty years
We're only particles of change I know, I know
Orbiting around the sun
But how can I have that point of view
When I'm always bound and tied to someone
White flags of winter chimneys
Waving truce against the moon
In the mirrors of a modern bank
From the window of a hotel room

I'm traveling in some vehicle
I'm sitting in some cafe
A defector from the petty wars
Until love sucks me back that way

23 Comments:

Blogger XTCfan said...

I love Joni, too. I've listened to her music for a long, long time, and have always grouped her with the Great Ones, the musicians who constantly push the envelope and try new things as they follow their muse.

That said, I have to disagree that "She lost some of her creative spark after the release of Hejira" ... she had some great albums after that, including Mingus, featuring -- as did Hejira -- Jaco Pastorius on bass, plus a host of other jazz greats; Wild Things Run Fast, featuring the incredible Vinnie Colaiuta on drums, and her first of several fine albums with bassist and sometimes-husband Larry Klein; and Chalk Mark in a Rainstorm, which features duets with the widest range of musicians you can think of, from Billy Idol (!) to Willie Nelson to Peter Gabriel.

Joni has pretty much retired now -- she's taken to mining her back catalog or interpreting others' songs -- but what a career she's had. Not too many artists out there who could look back on such a varied oeuvre with such (deserved) pride.

arnov

11:36 AM  
Blogger The Viscount LaCarte said...

I like the records you've mentioned, including the ones with orchestral arrangements, but none of them since "Hejira" strike me personally as great.

Jaco is on about half the songs from "Hejira" and on all of "Don Juan's Wreckless Daughter" and his style worked well with Joni's.

11:57 AM  
Blogger steakboy said...

howdy viscount

xtc fan pretty much beat me to the punch of respectfully questioning the loss of creative spark matter you raise; my primary motive for the drive-by posting really is to say thanks and right on.

joni mitchell's contribution to the recorded pop music literature is of high quality and high value.

i am particularly fond of the double live "shadows and light"

good gravy-- WHAT a band... brecker? metheny? pastorius? don alias?

and, hopefully you've fully come around on that whole "help me" / sax thing. tom scott's a badass. love him on that song (flat out love that song), but not quite as much as on the outro solo on steely dan's "black cow," which makes the haris on my arms stand up just thinking about it...

anyhow, glad i stumbled into your blog. i shall revisit.

best, sb

12:19 PM  
Blogger The Viscount LaCarte said...

Welcome SB.

and, hopefully you've fully come around on that whole "help me" / sax thing.

Indeed. The original last line of the post prior to the lyrics was "Needless to say, I now love 'Help Me' and the sax part..."

Then I thought, well if it was "needless to say..."

;^D

12:32 PM  
Blogger XTCfan said...

Hey SB, is that a meat pop you're eating there? Yum...

The first time I saw Joni live was at my first concert, in 1974 (Jesse Colin Young, the Beach Boys, JM, and CSNY, at Roosevelt Raceway on Long Island ... something close to 100k people there, it was absolutely insane).

Tom Scott and the LA Express backed up Joni on that tour, and they killed. They came out and played on their own for about an hour, then she joined them. That's when I really fell in love with her ... I was very jealous of John Guerin, her drummer and boyfriend at the time.

wvoxic

12:52 PM  
Blogger XTCfan said...

While we're commenting on Joni, and talking about her lyrics, I should post a set from "Jericho," one of my favorite songs from her, which was first included on Miles of Aisles (then later on Don Juan's Reckless Daughter), which she recorded on that '74 tour with Tom Scott and the LA Express.

This song belongs at every wedding. I know we played (and danced to it) at mine:

Jericho
I'll try to keep myself open up to you
That's a promise that I made to love
When it was new
"Just like Jericho," I said
"Let these walls come tumbling down"
I said it like I finally found the way
To keep the good feelings alive
I said it like it was something to strive for

I'll try to keep myself open up to you
And approve your self-expression
I need that, too
I need your confidence, baby
And the gift of your extra time
In turn I'll give you mine, sweet darling
It's a rich exchange, it seems to me
It's a warm arrangement

Anyone will tell you
Just how hard it is to make and keep a friend
Maybe they'll short-sell you
Or maybe it's you, Judas, in the end
When you just can no longer pretend
That you're getting what you need
Or you're giving out anything for them to grow and feed on

I'll try to keep myself open up to you
It gets easier and easier to do
Just like Jericho
Let these walls come tumbling down now
Let them fall right on the ground
Let all these dogs go running free
The wild and the gentle dogs
Kenneled in me

2:19 PM  
Blogger cali said...

I love Joni even more.

The only time I've seen her live was at the Santa Barbara Co Bowl must have been in the summer of '84. The strange thing is, the song she played that thrilled me that night (she was so so good!) was her cover of Heard It Through the Grape Vine.

One of the CDs I've been listening to a lot when out driving, is the "hear music" one with her favorite artists and songs. It's stunning. And, yes, there's a Dylan tune and Steely Dan as you'd expect/guess but other surprising and wonderful choices.

I love her paintings too. One of my dreams is to own one someday.

"No regrets, coyote."

3:58 PM  
Anonymous Decatur Dem said...

Joni, you had me at Both Sides Now.


Bows and flows of angel hair and ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere, I’ve looked at clouds that way.
But now they only block the sun, they rain and snow on everyone.
So many things I would have done but clouds got in my way.

I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now,
From up and down, and still somehow
It’s clouds' illusions I recall.
I really don’t know clouds at all.

Moons and Junes and ferris wheels, the dizzy dancing way you feel
As every fairy tale comes real; I’ve looked at love that way.
But now it’s just another show. You leave ’em laughing when you go
And if you care, don’t let them know, don’t give yourself away.

I’ve looked at love from both sides now,
From give and take, and still somehow
It’s love’s illusions I recall.
I really don’t know love at all.

Tears and fears and feeling proud to say I love you right out loud,
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds, I’ve looked at life that way.
But now old friends are acting strange, they shake their heads, they say
I’ve changed.
Something’s lost but something’s gained in living every day.

I’ve looked at life from both sides now,
From win and lose, and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall.
I really don’t know life at all.

________________________________
In my late 50's I can instantly reconnect with the callow undergraduate of 1969 who first listened to this. A Man of a Certain Age, fluttering to the songs of his youth. An unflattering and potentially comic stereotype, to be sure.
Deal with it, kids.

6:38 PM  
Blogger Bobby Lightfoot said...

Nice Lightfoot sez: Nothing unflattering or comical about it. Most people aren't worth a crap until their late 50's if ever.

Regular Lightfoot sez: I was always a Chachi guy.

uwcawe

6:55 PM  
Blogger The Viscount LaCarte said...

Both Sides Now

One of my favorites. Just her and the guitar, but it takes over the whole room. Funny thing is, I heard her version first. It was years later that I heard the Judy Collins remake that was the actual "hit." To my ears it sounds sterile and medicore by comparison, as if like she didn't even understand English, and just memorized the words by rote.

A Man of a Certain Age, fluttering to the songs of his youth. An unflattering and potentially comic stereotype, to be sure.

DD, you have me by 10 years, but I know exactly how you feel.

7:10 PM  
Blogger Kevin Wolf said...

A reason I like yer blog, man, is I learn things. I'm, like, takin' notes.

Joni is one of the many who are on my list of "get to know better - beyond the hits."

Sometimes, I have no idea where to start, so it's great to get the input.

7:40 PM  
Anonymous blue girl said...

Can I join the "I Love Joni" fan club??!! Pleeeez? Because I do love her, too.

I love the song "Little Green" off her Blue album.

Need to get more of her CDs...thanks for the list here to choose from.

3:27 PM  
Blogger XTCfan said...

Pop genius Jason Falkner does a killer -- if rather obscure -- cover of "Both Sides Now"...

khikljuk

6:30 PM  
Anonymous toby said...

I've never been a real Joni Mitchell fan, although I love some women who would probably be fairly called her direct descendants. Nevertheless, she did write This Flight Tonight (best performed by Nazareth), so she can't be all bad.

But that's not what I came to talk about.

It's this:

"How can I ever know if the over all affects of an illegal drug were positive?"

and

"...but at least I saw it inside of me..."

I would like to refer you to a quote by Carl Sagan (writing as Mr. X in Lester Grinspoon's Marijuana Reconsidered:

"...the user has an illusion of great insight, but it does not survive scrutiny in the morning. I am convinced that this is an error, and that the devastating insights achieved while high are real insights...

And so I have a tape in which I exhort myself to take such remarks seriously. I say, 'Listen closely, you son-ofabitch of the morning! This stuff is real!'"

(I originally came to this quote through Michael Pollan's The Botany of Desire.)

As the (prolific and uneven) Ryan Adams said in (the disappointing magazine) Rolling Stone recently, while discussing a similar subject, (paraphrased) "There's value in opening your eyes a little wider."

And he's boinking Parker Posey, so he can't be all bad.

10:13 AM  
Blogger Soundsurfr said...

I agree with everything xtcfan said, including and UNDERSCORING the reference to the song "Jericho", one of her finest works. I just learned how to play it on the guitar, an exercise that really opens your mind to how brilliant an artist she was.

By the way, Viscount - I bought the Camaro with my own money. ;-)

1:00 PM  
Blogger The Viscount LaCarte said...

By the way, Viscount - I bought the Camaro with my own money. ;-)

My mistake. All those rides must have clouded my memory.

2:06 PM  
Blogger fuckstick2020 said...

You know, my mother enjoys a bit of Joni Mitchell here and again. I understand most of her likes but I don't get Joni Mithcell. I must be emotionally empty.

12:17 AM  
Blogger The Heretik said...

XTCfan, I saw you there at Roosvelt Raceway camping out the night before that legendary concert on the second Sunday in September, the ninth, I believe in 1974. You and your friends were among the rowdies that stumbled in from Old Country

Jesse Colin Young played a too short set and if I recall correctly did some back up with Joni who came on next. The Beach Boys may have even had Brian Wilson playing with them for a song that day.

By the way what ever happened to Ricky Lee Jones who said Joni Mitchell didn't come from the jazz side of life? All that jazz inflected stuff got lost on me after a while. Me, I enjoyed the song writer with the imagery of a song like Little Green.

Viscount,all the good backroads in Nassau County are on the North. Shore. So I figure you must be north shore boy, but I could be wrong. Oy.

Songs are like tattoos, you know I've been to see before.

11:22 PM  
Blogger The Viscount LaCarte said...

Heretik,


Viscount,all the good backroads in Nassau County are on the North. Shore. So I figure you must be north shore boy, but I could be wrong.

Quite correct. Soundsurfr knew all those roads. We would cruise along the shore in Oyster Bay, drive through Old Brookville, Lattingtown, Locust Valley, Bayville. One time we got pulled over for driving too slow. The cop told us, "You guys are doing great, but maybe you should just call it a night."

Oy
We were more gaba de gatz than oy if you get my drift...

7:49 AM  
Anonymous The Heretik said...

Viscount, let's drive Chicken Valley Road. It would be bitchin' if we took the Camaro to Canterbury Ales and then maybe head over to Reinharts for a Molson or two on the deck. Then we could finish up with some souvlaki Bayville way on the beach.

9:25 PM  
Blogger cali said...

"By the way what ever happened to Ricky Lee Jones who said Joni Mitchell didn't come from the jazz side of life?"

Sad to say, but I only saw one concert this summer. It happened to be: Ricky Lee Jones. Solo, acoustic and very good.

5:45 PM  
Blogger The Viscount LaCarte said...

Ricky Lee Jones. Solo, acoustic and very good.

Soundsurfr
recently turned me on to RLJ's remakes record, where she does a fine rendition of "Show Biz Kids" by Steely Dan.

Not sure what she means in her quote about Joni.

6:35 PM  
Blogger andrea joseph's sketchblog said...

Found this blog by accident and have enjoyed reading your thoughts! I love Joni too. Take a look at my own small little tribute to the great woman.

http://andreajoseph24.blogspot.com/2006/10/today-i-decided-to-draw-something.html

7:59 PM  

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