8th November 2020
There are certain singer/songwriters who become a deeply ingrained part of your life. The kind that helps you through teenage self-doubt all the way to the retrospection and hindsight that comes with the ‘Autumn’ years. Joni Mitchell is one of those people and, as it was her 77th birthday yesterday, it is only fitting to pay tribute to one of the true greats with a personal selection of three songs.
Trying to pinpoint a favourite Joni Mitchell song is an impossibility for me. I was a very confused 16-year-old when a family friend introduced me to both Joni Mitchell’s Blue and Carole King’s Tapestry in the same week. It was a week that deeply influenced my life and helped shape my tastes and deepen my appreciation for music.
I knew songs like ‘Clouds’ and ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ from her earlier albums thanks to ‘Going Gooding’, a wonderful late-night hour of ‘adult contemporary’ music that was the only relief to the bland ear- fodder that dominated playlists of the prime spots. Through Malcolm Gooding’s program I was introduced to (what was then) non-mainstream artists like James Taylor, Cat Stevens, The Doors and Gordon Lightfoot. It was an era of remarkable musical storytellers.
My first choice for today has to be from Blue. What hit a chord in me on hearing it must have had the same resonance with millions of others and it is cited as one of the most influential albums of the century. Joni Mitchell gave a probable reason during an interview with Rolling Stone in 1979.
“There’s hardly a dishonest note in the vocals,” she said. “At that period in my life, I had no personal defences. I felt like a cellophane wrapper on a pack of cigarettes. I felt like I had absolutely no secrets from the world and I couldn’t pretend in my life to be strong. Or to be happy. But the advantage of it in the music was that there were no defences there either.”
I’ve chosen the beautifully written, perfectly sung ‘A Case of You’ to start us off. 😎
I’m not going to pile on the facts and figures about how many albums have sold and the numerous awards that Joni Mitchell has received during her career. The undisputed fact is that she became a huge influence to many of musicians throughout the years, and will possibly continue to be so years after she has left us.
My second choice of songs comes from the 1977 album Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter. This was the second album where she explored the fusion of Jazz with her distinctive writing style. The double-album wasn’t a favourite with some critics at the time, but in later years has been recognized as the work of genius it is.
Weather Report’s bass genius, the late Jaco Pastorius, brought a magical dimension to Joni’s music. He lent his talents to the four Mitchell’s albums that are regarded as her Jazz phase; Hejira (1976), Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter (1977), Mingus (1979) and Shadows and Light (1980). A known and self-proclaimed ‘badass’, he was known as being awkward to work with, but Joni and he hit it off wonderfully.
In her words “There was a time when Jaco and I first worked together when there was nobody I’d rather hang with than him. There was an appreciation, a joie de vivre, a spontaneity. A lot of people couldn’t take him. Maybe that’s my peculiarity, but then, I also have a fondness for derelicts.”
Mine was a choice between ‘Paprika Plains’ (all 16+ minutes of it), ‘Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter’ and ‘Off Night Backstreet’ for the second slot today. The last on the list won and I think it a perfect example of Joni and Jaco mojo.
To close the Joni Mitchell birthday tribute today I have jumped forward a few years to the Turbulent Indigo album (1994) and a song that is maybe more pertinent and powerful now as it was when it was written – ‘Sex Kills’.Turbulent Indigo was Joni Mitchell’s 15th studio album and critics saw it as a return to form. This was probably a reaction to her semi-rock/synthesized Chalk Marks in a Rain Storm (1988 – which I particularly liked) that had some music-lovers confused as to the direction she was taking.
Turbulent Indigo won Joni two Grammy Awards. Some saw this as a resurrection of her popularity, which is ridiculous, she was and always will be popular. One shouldn’t base popularity or talent on award ceremonies.
It is well known that Joni Mitchell is no longer in the best of health. She was diagnosed with Morgellons Syndrome and announced in 2010 that she would be leaving the music business. A brain aneurysm in 2015 has required her to undergo ongoing physical therapy and daily rehabilitation. She has made a few public appearances, including the 75th birthday tribute concert. It is reported that she is regaining mobility.
The sad truth is that it is doubtful that Joni Mitchell will be with us for many more years and we can only wish her health and comfort. I am truly grateful to have fallen in love with a lady who painted her lyrics with poetry all those years ago. The closing video is a TV clip (Jay Leno I think) of Joni playing an acoustic version of ‘Sex Kills’. The paired-down rendition gives even more power to the lyrics.
Happy 77th Birthday you wonderful lady. 😎
The Loving the Music mini-features are written and compiled by me to support Loving the Music Facebook page and group. Join the community for regular themed three-part posts that do do more than just share a song.
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Words © Andrew Knapp 2020