Do you love Joni Mitchell as much as I do?

By Caitlin Kelly

If you took away every other piece of contemporary music and allowed me only one artist to listen to, it might well be that of fellow Canadian Joni Mitchell.

Joni Mitchell, performing in 2004
Joni Mitchell, performing in 2004 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

She’s now 70, living in L.A. dividing her time between there and her property north of Vancouver in Sechelt, B.C.

Friends of mine in Toronto last week had the rare and fantastic opportunity, at the annual Luminato Festival, to hear her sing — when she had only agreed to read a poem. So jealous!

You may never have heard of her — while those of us who grew up singing along to her work keep playing and re-playing her work — after all, there are 28 albums listed on her official website.

She officially retired in 2002, although you’ve likely heard one of the 587 (!) versions of her song “Both Sides Now”, written when she was only 21. Singers including Taylor Swift and Madonna have cited her as a major influence on their work.

A winner of eight Grammy awards, her classic album “Blue” was named one of the 100 best albums ever made by Time magazine.

She started out as a visual artist but got pregnant, gave her daughter up for adoption, and only by accident fell into her long career as a singer/songwriter.

Here’s one of her paintings, from 1987, linked to her song “Night Ride Home”, one of my many favorites.

She started out living in a small Western Canadian town, where her mother “raised me on words.”

She’s even inspired 47 songs by others, as recently as 2011 — including the classic “Our House” By Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” by Neil Young, yet another Canadian.

Many other artists have recorded her work, some of them making her songs into hits. A favorite, “Michael from Mountains”, off the 1967 classic by Judy Collins, “Wildflowers” is a song written by Mitchell.

Cover of "Hejira"
Cover of Hejira

I have so many favorites among her work, but Hejira is an album I could play all day every day and never tire of. The word has several meanings, one of which is “a journey to escape something dangerous or undesireable.” It came out when I was a second-year university student, living alone in a crummy small apartment in Toronto, struggling to combine freelance photography with full-time studies at a large and demanding bureaucratic institution.

(If you’re lucky enough to be in Pacific Beach, CA on November 9, 2013, a band called Robin Adler and the Mutts will perform the entire album. Wish I could be there!)

Hejira expressed the aching, overwhelming multitude of feelings I felt so powerfully then — joy and excitement at leaving my family home for good; fear I would not do so successfully; dating a succession of men, many of them unlikely; trying to define who I was as a young woman in the larger world.

I love this lyric — talk about the wrong man!

No regrets, coyote

We just come from such different sets of circumstance

I’m up all night in the studio

And you’re up early on your ranch

This is a verse from “Amelia”, nominally about Amelia Earhart, but which resonates for me, still, as someone happiest in motion, in flight, traveling somewhere new:

The drone of flying engines

Is a song so wild and blue

It scrambles time and seasons if it gets thru to you

Then your life becomes a travelogue

Of picture post card charms

Amelia it was just a false alarm

Here’s a fantastic, recent hour-long exclusive interview with her by fellow Canadian Jian Ghomeshi on his CBC/PRI show, “Q”.

I love that it ends with an audible hug.

Are you a fan as well?

Have you ever heard her in concert?

46 thoughts on “Do you love Joni Mitchell as much as I do?

  1. I suppose it shouldn’t be remarkable that you would suggest someone hasn’t heard of Joni Mitchell or at least heard her music but then once you have heard her it’s impossible to separate her from the music that clings to your subconscious. She’s one of a limited number of truly unique musicians who continues to resonate so strongly.

    ‘Little Green’ was one of my absolute favourite songs as a child and my ears would prick up when it came on the radio – it just connected without any processing. Years later in university it led me to ‘Blue’ which I listened to endlessly and still love to put on.

    Am I waving a white flag in the Battle of the Sexes if I posit that female artists seem to age better creatively than their male counterparts? See also Kate Bush’s ’50 Words for Snow’ to reinforce my argument.

    A bit of love for Joni? I love it!

    1. Little Green was written for/about her daughter, whom she gave up for adoption but found in later life and now has a relationship with.

      Not sure about your thesis. I recently saw British singer/songwriter Richard Thompson — who is now 64 — and he is still AMAZING in concert. One man, one guitar, no breaks and a two-hour show. Loved every minute of it. Leonard Cohen (another Canadian!) is still recording and touring at 78 and David Bowie just released a new CD at 66…



  2. Thank you for bringing Joni into the light again. She was the singer of the times for me, too, growing up in Canada in that era. What a great, big, huge, creative blessing she is. I have never seen her in concert but I would go in a minute if she were near.

      1. I was getting my hair done a couple of weeks ago and the stylist heard my accent (what accent?) and when I told her I was born in Canada she said “I thought so.” I don’t hear it at all but others do.

  3. It’s not just about output though, is it? There are lots of artists who are still going and I feel reasonably up to speed with the three esteemed gentlemen you mentioned but not all appear to continue expanding, growing, deepening. Or maybe it’s a different quality of growth or expression I’m tapping into…

  4. What an enduring talent. I grew up at the right time to enjoy her songs and Wildflowers remains my favourite album to this day. My daughter grew up listening to me play Joni’s work and she enjoys it too and recognised songs like Big Yellow Taxi when done by others. Both Sides Now has to be one of the most played songs ever, whether by her or another artist. Farewell to Tarwathie is one of the most haunting tracks I’ve ever heard. Whatever ‘IT’ is Joni has it in Spades.

    1. Being Canadian! πŸ™‚

      Farewell to Tarwathie is amazing…Wildflowers (which only has one Mitchell song on it, I think) is one I could also play all day every…

      “She comes to the gate, dressed in lavender and leather…”

  5. πŸ™‚ Love Joni Mitchell. So much of her music has been the background soundtrack to my life. Alas, I have not had the pleasure of seeing her live.

  6. Don

    Hejira. One of the most profound albums ever made in its communion of lyrics, voice, and arrangement. It owes a lot to Jaco Pastorius, who took a break from Wayne Shorter and Weather Report to contribute that swooping, throbbing bassline that is the heartbeat for most of these songs.

    Another Joni uniqueness, at the time, was her origins. At a time when rockers and folkies came from strong, vibrant scenes ranging from Greenwich Village coffeehouses to the roadhouse jams of the South, she was from a particularly bleak part of the West not unlike my own. Not too many voices from the High Plains out there!

  7. Hi Kaitlin – yes, I love Joni and her music like you do – along with Neil, and CSNY, of course. “The Circle Game” brings a tear to my eye even more today, than years ago – and of course Joni’s “Woodstock” was an anthem for a generation.

    I never saw Joni in concert, though it’s too late now that her singing voice is gone. I heard that on the CBC ‘Q’ interview that you mentioned. It was great to hear Joni’s ‘take’ on things, though I was taken a-back by her rather harsh analysis of feminism. I was so glad a few days later, when another CBC listener made a comment about the interview, admiring Joni’s incredible artistic contributions, and at the same time the listener made a strong yet gentle defense of the overall positive achievements of the feminist movement over the years.

    Thanks for writing about this wonderful fellow Canadian, Joni Mitchell.

      1. A good thing to have Dylan brought back to earth – good on Joni. I’ll have to listen to in full via podcast. Thanks for the heads up.

        Great post & take care Caitlin – Bruce

  8. I saw Joni in concert twice. Once in 1975 in Saratoga and once in 1983 in Washington DC. (Merriweather Post Pavilion). I’m also partial to Hejira, but also Court and Spark, Blue and The Hissing of Summer Lawns, which are all very different, of course. I’m sorry to hear she’s in poor health, although that non-stop smoking can’t be a good thing.

  9. Hi! I’m so behind on my blog reading, I decided to just skim the reader this afternoon, and try to pick a few posts/bloggers to catch up. You made my heart beat a little faster with this title, because YES! Yes I do πŸ™‚ I wore out my vinyl copy of Song to a Seagull, and did the same with the cassette. I’m now insanely jealous of your friend. I never saw her live, wish I had. Truly a rare talent, such a pure voice, lyrics that tap into everything, just brilliant.
    Thank you for this πŸ™‚

    1. I think those of us who know her music are complete fans…it saddens me that she is not known by younger listeners.

      This afternoon, listening to another huge fave…Elton John.

      1. Love Elton John, and him I’ve seen in concert several times. He’s timeless, I know many younger people who know his music (and Bernie Taupin’s lyrics) as well as I do. For some reason, I don’t think she translates as well for the younger generation. Maybe, though, among serious music students.

      2. Lucky girl!!

        Listening to an old one — Tumbleweed Conection. I bought it used in Flagstaff and played it during the 90 minutes driving north alone to the GC. Some music is the perfect soundtrack for a place/time. That was it!

  10. Sandy

    I have found memories of sitting in my bedroom of our family home with my little record player and singing along to many of her wonderful songs. You’ve inspired me to listen to her again!

  11. LOVE Joni Mitchell, and ironically she’s come up recently because my sister heard an interview with her on NPR and forwarded to me, but I can’t find the link! 😦 Anyway, she is a goddess/genius, she does sound very Canadian, very straightforward, strong and fearless too. Have you seen “The Kids Are Alright”? Great scene with her music in that movie.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s