Blue, songs are like tattoos
You know I’ve been to sea before
Crown and anchor me
Or let me sail away…
—-Joni Mitchell, “Blue”
Yes, I am a complete Joni Mitchell nerd. When I studied voice back in the 1970s I performed “Blue” on stage. The words, the chords, the mood, exactly equated my life at the time. Forty plus years later, Joni’s lyrics remain true to my psyche.
So, of course, I preordered “Joni Mitchell: In Her Own Words, Conversations with Malka Marom.”
I knew I made the right choice for my next book to read when I opened to the introduction and it read, “One November night in 1966…the coffeehouse was a dark hole…on the lit-up stage…stood a girl who must have picked out her miniskirt at the Salvation Army…she turned to face the empty seats and, leaning closer to the mike she strummed a succession of chords with a surprisingly assertive hand…and then she started to sing…” Musician and broadcast journalist, Malka Marom, continues her first meeting with the then unknown Joni Mitchell, and then pulls lyrics from Mitchell’s songs from that late night to include “The Circle Game,” “Song to a Seagull,” and “Urge for Going.”
It was easy to hum each song and relive my overwhelming delight when I heard the first LP, Song to a Seagull, by this newly discovered singer-songwriter in 1968. Joni can thank me as part of her fan base that brought her success and fortune.
In three parts, Marom’s interviews with Mitchell begins in 1973. Mitchell is in the studio recording Court and Spark with a band—a departure from her pure folk roots. In her own words, Mitchell recalls her early days as a child struck with polio, to her failed marriage, an out of wedlock birth of a daughter and giving her up for adoption, thru the time when after years of working clubs and folk festivals, she is discovered, and her legendary music is introduced to the world.
I finally put Part 1 down when my late-night eyes could read no longer. But when it was time for me to peddle for a half hour on my stationary bike, Part 2 hooked me like the song “Blue.”
Part 2 picks up in 1979 and Mitchell has linked with jazz musician Charlie Mingus—much to the shock of Mitchell fans and music critics. Mitchell’s last few releases were not commercial hits. Critics were all over her musical change. To me, however, the album “Hejira” perfectly matched my life at the time. “Mingus” I loved and it perfectly paralleled my life-changes.
Mitchell shares her relationships and inspirational performers like Bob Dylan and Miles Davis. I heard sarcasm to elation in her words.
Day three of this book in hand was Part 3—the final interview in 2012. Suddenly, like me, Joni has aged. She’s slowed down. Disease strikes her, like cancer struck me. Life’s perspective changes again. But the will to overcome wins, but not without its changes—making “Both Sides Now” more poignant than when Joni first wrote it in 1967.
“In Her Own Words” may not appeal to some, but for the boomer who matured with every song by Joni Mitchell playing on vinyl, tape and CD, it’s a must read.