Oh, you're not goin' anywhere, Miz Joni.
I mean that. She just can't. I mean, the woman reads my mind. In fact, all my life, I've felt like Joni Mitchell was reading my diaries. And my dreams. And was telling me the truths I didn't want to admit.
I "met" Joni when I was in high school. I was a member of a motley crew of fanciful flower children dedicated to giving peace a chance and attending weekly Lincoln Park "be ins." And for us, Joni was sage and shaman.
Have to confess, though. At first, her reedy, folkie voice did not appeal to me. But the lyrics and chord choices--especially--intrigued. No one played guitar or piano quite like Joni Mitchell. To this day many R & B artists, rappers and jazz musicians--including Prince and Herbie Hancock--cite her as a major influence, in part due to her innovative and iconoclastic "ear."
For me, the big conversion came when I ran off to London at 17 with two of my best women friends. A London station played Blue in its entirety the day of its European release. And we realized, as we listened, that that damned Joni Mitchell had gotten into our business yet again.
First, there was Blue itself. Having just lost a dear friend to what we called "chronic overboogie" and an overdose of heroin, we flinched at the lines:
Acid, booze and ass/Needles guns and grass/Lots o' laughs/Lots o' laughs...
And though we weren't from California, her tribute to it still expressed our intermittent bouts of longing for Sweet Home Chicago very eloquently:
Oh, you get so lonely/When you're walking, and the streets are full of strangers/All the news of home you read/Just gives you the blues...
She had, like each of us, even had a fling with a local "devil" to whom she crooned:
Oh you know it sure is hard to leave here/But it's really not my home...
And so I would sit, curled up on the window seats under the huge windows of our London apartment, draperies closed to hide my tears, watching Lancaster Gate traffic rush by as Joni sang my thoughts.
I was a homesick teenage girl. And she had "outed" my real feelings so precisely that I couldn't stand it/couldn't stop listening to it.
And she kept on doing it. Over and over again--channeled my parents, in Let the Wind Carry Me:
She don't like my kick pleat skirt
She don't like my eyelids painted green
She don't like me staying up late
In my high-heeled shoes
Living for that rock 'n' roll dancing scene
Papa says 'Leave the girl alone, mother
She's looking like a movie queen.
After bad break ups and lovers' quarrels, Joni had the comebacks I'd been too upset to think of. Here's just one example, from A Woman of Heart and Mind:
You criticize and you flatter
You imitate the best
And the rest you memorize
You know the times you impress me most
Are the times when you don't try
When you don't even try...
And oh, my God, from The Blonde in the Bleachers, this, for all the young dudes with whom I would travel as a rock critic during my Chicago Sun Times years:
The bands and the roadies
Lovin' 'em and leavin' 'em
It's pleasure to try 'em
It's trouble to keep 'em
'Cause it seems like you've gotta give up
Such a piece of your soul
When you give up the chase
Feeling it hot and cold
You're in rock 'n' roll
It's the nature of the race
It's the unknown child
So sweet and wild
It's too good to waste
Jeez-us. Nailed it. Want more? Go to Joni Mitchell and explore. She's got your number, too.
I mean, long before there was an "app" for everything, Joni had a song for everything in my life.
And she just can't go. She just can't. I was looking forward to spending my wild wise woman years being guided by the even wilder, even wiser woman who'd been my trailblazer for soooo long.
Stay with us, Joni. We're not done yet.
Photo credit: "Joni Mitchell (1975)" by Asylum Records - Billboard, page 1, 15 November 1975. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
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