JONI MITCHELL

If there have been any genii of music in the past 50 years, then she is one of them. Back home, in Canada, she is considered a living national treasure. There was a time when hundreds of thousands of walls in houses and student residences were covered in her posters. Even half of Led Zeppelin was in love with her. But then she stopped playing by the rules and became too difficult for mass consumption.



Joni Mitchell

But those who love her do so even more precisely because of this. Herself, her music, her sincerity, and her wholeness influenced such an impressive number of musicians that naming them all would take up too much space.

Though this is only true for men. Joni was once asked about her relationships with fellow female singers. Joni said drily about some of them: ‘I don’t follow the careers of female pop singers,’ and about others: ‘I’m afraid she’d enjoy breaking my legs.’

But talent is something special. When her old friend, another great Canadian Leonard Cohen was asked what it was like to talk to Joni Mitchell, Leonard first did not say anything. Then he sighed and replied: ‘Have you ever tried living with Beethoven?’

Joni Mitchell was born and raised in the small town of North Battleford in Saskatchewan, Canada. Her mother’s ancestors were Scottish and Irish, whereas on her father’s side, she traces origin to Norwegians and Laplanders.

At age nine, just like Ian Dury, whom we recently mentioned, she caught polio, but unlike Dury, she was successfully treated. While she was in hospital, she became interested in singing.

“I was told that I might not be able to walk and that I couldn’t go home for Christmas, and I hated that. And then I started singing Christmas carols, and I sang so loudly that the boy lying next to me started to complain.”

Joni Mitchell

Still at nine, Joni started smoking and then learned to play first the ukulele and then the guitar. She loved Debussy, Stravinsky and Chopin, and was carried away by Nietzsche.

“As a child, I was surrounded by classical music. Most children whom I was friends with were classically trained in music; this is just what everyone did in North Battleford. Pop music aired on the radio, but no one would even think of playing it. Everyone was into classical music.”

Joni herself, however, did not take music lessons, because teachers would make her play by the notes, whereas Joni wanted to make her own music.

When she finished school, she told her mother: ‘I am going to Toronto to begin singing.’ This is exactly what she did: she played in clubs, on the streets, everywhere she could. She sang and wrote songs.

By 1967, having already got married, had a daughter and got divorced, Joni moved every professional singer’s mecca, to New York. Her singing began drawing attention.

Once when she was playing at some small club, in came David Crosby who then completely swooned with appreciation for her and her music. Joni moved with him to Los Angeles where he helped her record her first album. And she took it from there.

Her second album Clouds helped her win her first Grammy.

Charming and incredibly talented, Joni could not help fascinating others. First California, then the whole world. At first, both her albums won the hearts of almost the entire generation. Then Crosby with Stills and Nash sang her song ‘Woodstock’, and that song became the soundtrack of the film of the same name. This was ranking in the top league.

Her third album instantly became gold. Even though after recording it, she decided to take a break from concerts and dedicated her time to painting, song writing and travelling, she was still named Best Singer of 1970. The songs she wrote in that year were included in the album Blue which immediately became her most successful album and, according to critics, ‘the climax of her earlier period’.

Joni Mitchell

She says so herself: ‘It is a very pure album; as pure as Charlie Parker.’

This album may have been ‘the climax of her earlier period’, but it was a bumpy road.

Joni herself admitted that in that period of her life she felt poignantly defenceless and ‘as transparent as cellophane on a cigarette pack’, without any protective devices between herself and the world.
She reacted as she could: with new songs. The lyrics were becoming more mature, and the music deeper and more complex. But instead of distancing her from the people, her new albums won her a bunch of awards and turned her into a star of international scale.

Her later path disappears from the sight of mere mortals and leads beyond the clouds.

Joni Mitchell

Though it seems like she has been there from the very beginning. When critics called her early albums ‘folk music’, they found it difficult to discern the most complicated harmonic structures n what seemed to be simplicity. According to Joni, ‘they just saw a girl with a guitar.’

She started playing with the best jazz musicians of Los Angeles. Then she moved on to playing with the best musicians of the world, such as Wayne Shorter, Herby Hancock, Jaco Pastorius, and Mingus; and not on her initiative. It was them who wanted to play with her.

Certainly not all her listeners wanted to hear this, but her new fellow musicians in fact simply helped her bring to the surface various unusual things which had always been present in her songs. Then Joni ventured into experimenting with electronic music and even had a special guitar keyboard set up for her. What was there to do? Beauty comes and demands to be expressed, and one cannot refuse. What else does it need? To be let in and not to have to wait in the cold.

This is how she lived and created. But in 1998 she did something which is probably what many dream of doing, but almost no one has enough courage for. She just turned around and quit music.

Joni Mitchell

“The dump well they call music business had driven me into a state where I no longer wanted to or could write music. What was happening to me then was very similar to what I had read about Van Gogh and Gauguin.”

For the next ten years or so, she did not touch the guitar.

“My writing style is entirely shaped by movies. I guess I’m an unaccomplished film director. Once someone said to me: ‘Your songs create a series of images in my mind’, and that was a big compliment for me. This is what I aim at.

I have always used song writing as some kind of self-analysis. Take the album Blue, for example; when it came out, people were shocked by its level of sincerity. Back then pop stage required you to describe yourself as ‘superior to life’. And I remember thinking: ‘Well, if it’s so important for them to worship me, let them know whom they’re worshipping.’ As I understand, it turned out shockingly unprotected for that time. But there is nothing to do about it.

Joni Mitchell

I’m a punk; I’ve never dealt with popular music. In general, I don’t like poetry. When I read classical poetry, it makes me feel weird. How many poems can you write, saying ‘You’re so beautiful that you must multiply my kin, and I’ll help you with it’? I consider singing great when the singer sings for God. “

And with all the praise made today for Joni, I did not reveal the main thing: why exactly I wanted to speak about her today.

But I really do not know, can I use words to talk about the main thing? Let me try, though.

The first chapter of the Bible illustrates creation of the world, and that chapter ends in quite simple and clear words: “And God saw all the things that he had made, and they were very good.”

Since then, this has been a bit forgotten and the ‘very good’ world created by God is now referred to as ‘the vale of suffering’. This is why I consider it to be a great gift if someone continues to view the world as ‘quite good’; and not just view, but fall in love with it and share their admiration.”

This is why I say ‘thank you’ to Joni Mitchell and you all.

Joni Mitchell