Joni Mitchell. Where do I even begin talking about this woman? I will start with confessing that I never really liked her, and it took me a long time to convince myself to like her, and an even longer to then genuinely like her music. Joni Mitchell is one of those stilton cheese type of artists: you can only appreciate them at a certain age (meaning your age as a human being, not the age of the cheese). You need to have experienced a certain amount of heartbreak and disappointment from life before Joni Mitchell’ s lyrics start to make sense. You need to have experienced a certain amount of “spoilt” humanity to listen to Joni Mitchell’ s lyrics and go “Oh Joni, you are so right”.
My first introduction to Joni Mitchell happened in London, during my first year of College. At this point I must tell you that if you are a musician in England (especially if you are a jazz musician) you are not allowed to listen to “happy” music. You would be instantly ostracised by your fellow musicians and considered a person with poor music taste. I became aware of the “C” word (meaning “cheesy”), and promptly eliminated all happy music from my iPod, replacing it with more introspective, minimalist, musician-friendly music. And that was when Joni Mitchell came into the picture.
Still, I hated her voice. I grew up listening to Ella Fitzgerald and her warm voice, that wraps you in a comforting and muscular hug, like a basketball player. Joni’ s voice felt like being hugged by an old lady with arthritis. But since I was so determined to like her, mainly to feel accepted by the musician community, I exposed myself to the ultimate test. I wiped out the entire contents of my mp3 player, I uploaded one single album, Blue, and I took it on a trip to Barcelona. Just Joni Mitchell and I, for a weekend.
Once I overcame the psychological and aesthetic barrier of the unfamiliar sound of her voice, I started getting interested in the lyrical content of her music. And line after line the vocal and lyrical fragility of this woman completely won me over.
I wish I had a river I could skate away on
The desire to run away, the longing for freedom and independence that you start grasping in your twenties.
But when he’ s gone…The bed is too big, the frying pan too wide
Finding poetry in everyday things.
I could drink a case of you darling and I would still be on my feet
The greed of love.
All these themes started resonating with my personal experience. And when an artist manages to do this, there is not much more I could ask for.
My personal suggestion goes as follows: go to Barcelona and listen to Joni Mitchell. I allow you to use this excuse. Alternatively you can just listen to this Herbie Hancock arrangement (if you are used to more “basketball player”-like vocal textures).
Please feel free to share your listening experiences of Joni Mitchell’ s music, especially if they involve a holiday somewhere.