Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Looking for Joni



IT was in the stillness of the car, driving along Bell Street, where something happened to cause me to take a sharp, inward breath. A was rustling in one of the back seats and I had the radio playing. The afternoon news. Half listening. Drifting slightly, but still concentrating. The speaker on the radio mentioning something about Joni Mitchell. Joni is never mentioned on the news. It suddenly hit me that she might be dead. Then it registered. No, not dead, but ill, in hospital, some sort of a collapse, like fainting perhaps. It sounded ominous in its own way- it was big enough news to make it on Melbourne radio, after all- but at least it wasn’t fatal.

I spoke to A in the back seat. A, although she is only six years old, has her own special connection to Joni. She listened in her own vague semi-conscious six year old way. She understood I was feeling stressed and concerned and wanting to tell other people, adults, right away. “Oh my God, I thought he was going to say she is dead.”

Naturally, after this, in fact for the next few weeks leading up to today, April 22, I have been, in a sense, contemplating life after Joni. The quietness about what has happened is extraordinary. No-one is saying anything. Joni has been in hospital at least three weeks and no-one knows anything. Every day I look at newspaper reports across the globe. These are either infrequent or are saying the same thing. Privacy is a wonderful thing, and in a way it is extraordinarily good that the whole world is dumb about this. But on the other side of the coin, for me, it is troubling. I would just like to know. I would like to be there, or at least send a message. Is Joni dying? Or is she really recovering ok as www.jonimitchell.com would have you believe.

Joni feels like some kind of relative. I have thought of her every day during this ordeal. The self-portrait of her wearing her heart on her sleeve on the cover of her orchestral album (Both Sides Now) is on my screensaver. Her songs are in my head. I fancy that I know her or have met her…

The closest I ever came, and ever will come, to meeting Joni Mitchell was when I was in London in 2002. I heard somewhere that she was leasing George Martin’s AIR studio in Hampstead for this aforementioned record. i soon discovered that I was two weeks too late. The man in charge saw that I was dejected by this news, so he took me to the vocal booth where she had sung so many of her songs just days earlier. “See”, he said, laughing, “you can still smell the smoke from her cigarettes!” I then met one of the mixing men, who explained that the songs were still in the stage of being finished. He played me the orchestral beginning of one song, but I couldn’t make it out. “I must be tone deaf”, I said. It turned out to be ‘The Circle Game’ which should be fairly recognisable.

So I play her songs like I have, often, since about 1978. Discovering new little things along the way, reading the book by Katherine Monk called ‘Joni’, which was ok but a bit disjointed and a bit gossipy, hearing the song ‘Man From Mars’ in a new way, knowing now that it is was written about her missing cat, Nietzsche, who appears on the ‘Taming the Tiger’ cover, and generally waiting and waiting, and hoping for good news, and wondering about the silence, reading about Morgellon’s disease, thinking that ‘there’s comfort in melancholy, when it’s so hard to explain.’


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