Friday, November 07, 2008


When I first saw your gallery, I liked the ones of ladies

Songs to aging children come;
Aging children, I am one.

— “Songs to Aging Children Come”

Roberta Joan Anderson was born this day in 1943, in a small town in southern Alberta. That makes Joni Mitchell 65 years old today. Her first album was released in 1968, making it 40 years old this year. That album isn’t very well known, though, and most think of the following year’s Clouds as her first — it includes “Chelsea Morning”, “The Gallery”, “Both Sides Now”, and the above “Songs to Aging Children Come”.
Oh, won’t you stay? We’ll put on the day
And we’ll wear it ’til the night comes.

— “Chelsea Morning”

My favourite Joni Mitchell album is 1970’s Ladies of the Canyon, with the songs “Morning Morgantown”, “Conversation”, “Big Yellow Taxi”, “The Circle Game”, and “Woodstock” — though she didn’t actually appear at the Woodstock concert (Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, who did appear there, cover the song on their Déjà Vu album).

The seasons they go ’round and ’round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on a carousel of time
We can’t return, we can only look behind from where we came
And go ’round and ’round and ’round in the circle game.

— “The Circle Game”

Blue, from 1971, is the one most people like best, and I have to admit that it’s a close choice. The title song is wonderful, as are “Carey”, “River”, and “A Case of You”.

I wish I had a river I could skate away on.

— “River”

Joni Mitchell also paints, and did art for most of her own album covers, including Clouds, Ladies, and the 1972 album For the Roses. That album also has a semi-nude photo of her (from behind), prompting a small stir (but not as much of one as fellow Canadian Buffy Sainte-Marie did with a cover that showed a bit too much breast, or Blind Faith’s 1969 album, released in the U.S. with an alternative cover).

If you’re driving into town
With a dark cloud above you
Dial in the number
Who’s bound to love you
Oh, honey, you turn me on
I’m a radio

— “You Turn Me On, I’m a Radio”

Court and Spark gave a hint of the beginning of a change in Joni’s style. At the same time, it still sits alongside her earlier work, and also starts to show a bit of the jazz to which she was headed. “Help Me” and “Free Man in Paris” are the most well known, but try her cover of “Twisted” to hear the real toe-dip into the jazz pond.

’Cause I’ve seen some hot hot blazes
Come down to smoke and ash
We love our lovin’
But not like we love our freedom

— “Free Man in Paris”

Ah, and then Miles of Aisles, her brilliant two-record live set, the first of two — Shadows and Light will come later — gives us live versions of a nice collection of her songs. And Tom Scott on sax. What could be bad?

Young love was kissing under bridges
Kissing in cars kissing in cafes
And we were walking down Main Street
Kisses like bright flags hung on holidays
In France they kiss on Main Street
Amour, mama, not cheap display
And we were rolling, rolling, rock ’n’ rolling

— “In France They Kiss On Main Street”

The Hissing of Summer Lawns — what a great title. And what a great album. She’s solidly into the jazz, here, fusing it nicely with her folk and rock-and-roll roots. No covers; they’re all hers, and she blends the styles well. Follow that with Hejira and Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter, and then we get to Mingus, recorded with jazz bassist Charles Mingus, his last project before his death — and more of Joni’s paintings. And her second two-disc live set, Shadows and Light, solidly covering the jazz period.
African sand on the trade winds
And the sun on the Amazon
As they push the recline buttons down
With dreamland coming on

— “Dreamland”

I lost track of Joni Mitchell’s music at that point, as she changed record labels and tuned her sound again. She drifted away from jazz and I drited toward classical music. I don’t know Wild Things Run Fast or Dog Eat Dog, but a friend of mine gave me his copy of Chalk Mark in a Rainstorm because he didn’t like it. I did.

Her albums were coming now with longer gaps between, three or four years apart instead of one or two. The next album of hers that I bought was Both Sides Now, covers of classic songs (“Comes Love”, “Stormy Weather”) and updated jazz/blues versions of her own “A Case of You” and the title song. She followed that with more compilation albums, and it looked like the end of her original releases.

And then, last year, she put out Shine for, of all companies, Starbucks. In addition to new material, she revives “Big Yellow Taxi”. I understand that her contract calls for a second Starbucks album. She’s not done yet.

And for some nostalgia, here’s Joni singing a duet of Lefty Frizzell’s Long Black Veil with Johnny Cash in July of 1969.

Happy 65th, Joni!

Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

— “Big Yellow Taxi”

1 comment:

Lisa Simeone said...

Like Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan, she is one of the great poets and troubadours of the modern age. Her work will stand the test of time.