Friday, August 1, 2008

Joni Mitchell 1

It is very difficult to write concisely about Joni Mitchell's music, because apart from the fact that it is so good, and you have the desire to write about all the songs you like, there is so much of it. Some would say she is the female Bob Dylan of her generation. I would prefer to say that Bob Dylan is the female Joni Mitchell of his generation. That's how good she is. And I believe her best albums were in the late 60's/ early 70's. She had a definite lull in the 80's where she comes across as less certain and less inspired. Then there are the smallish number of lovely albums in the 90's. Not much after that, in terms of quantity, anyway.

Joni's first album was called 'Song To A Seagull' (1968). It isn't her strongest album but it's a great start. Some of the songs have lyrics that are too abstract or wordy (not features of her best work), but it does contain the beautiful title track. It showcases her lovely, high voice, and has stunning imagery:

'Fly silly seabird
No dreams can possess you
No voices can blame you
For sun on your wings

My gentle relations
Have names they must call me
For loving the freedom of all flying things
My dreams with the seagulls fly
Out of reach out of cry

I came to the city
And lived like old Crusoe
On an island of noise
In a cobblestone sea
And the beaches were concrete
And the stars paid a light bill
And the blossoms hung false
On their store window trees
My dreams with the seagulls
Fly out of reach, out of cry'

It reminds us of later songs like 'Amelia' and 'Black Crow' with its flying imagery and desire for freedom. It is the city that entraps you. And yet the city is portrayed as full of fun loving freedom in 'Night in the City':

'Night time night time
Day left an hour ago
City light time
Must you get ready so slow
There are places to come from and places to go

Night in the city looks pretty to me
Night in the city looks fine
Music comes spilling out into the street
Colors go flashing in time.'

She is capturing the high spirited times perfectly and the music is bouncy and optimistic and matches the lyrics perfectly.

The other outstanding song on the first album is ironic and wry and reveals the sense of humour that we see especially on later albums like 'Court and Spark.' It is about her ill-fated marriage and the humour is in the hopeless mismatch that it had to be:

'I had a king dressed in drip-dry and paisley
Lately he's taken to saying I'm crazy and blind
He lives in another time
Ladies in gingham still blush
While he sings them of wars and wine
But I in my leather and lace I can never become that kind

I can't go back there anymore
You know my keys won't fit the door
You know my thoughts don't fit the man
They never can
They never can.

I had a king in a salt-rusted carriage
Who carried me off to his country for marriage too soon
Beware of the power of moons
There's no one to blame
No there's no one to name as a traitor here
The king's on the road
And the queen's in the grove
'Till the end of the year.'

In 'I Had A King' Joni has 'paisley' and 'crazy' rhyme by delaying the words 'and blind' for half a second. Joni portrays herself as the leather and lace woman who is at odds with the naive or superficial women in gingham who enjoy hearing of wars and wine. 'Beware of the power of moons'- a warning for everybody who acts foolishly and impulsively in 'love.'

The New York times at the time recognised true talent and said 'Joni Mitchell leaps from image to image but seldom leaves you hanging. Occasionally her lyrics seem to lose relevance and become frosting without any cake, but then she's like a sand dune: you like the idea of her' Fair criticism, but something that she could not be charged with again for a long time. The album 'Clouds' (i.e. 'Both Sides Now') was next.

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