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?

She's 17, Broke, Scared, Determined — A New Film Heroine in 'Winter's Bone'

PARK CITY, UT - JANUARY 30:  Director Debra Gr...
Debra Granik winning the Grand Jury prize for her film. Image by Getty Images via @daylife

Go see this film!

It is not cute or fun or charming. It does not have singing penguins.

The squirrels in it are shot and skinned and fried for the family’s food.

The film is “Winter’s Bone” which every reviewer is (fairly) calling the best film of the year. It’s the story of 17-year-old Ree, whose Mom is mentally ill and medicated and useless and her 12-year-old brother and 6-year-old sister. Her Dad who “cooks crank” for a living, has disappeared and they will lose their Ozarks home and land if Ree can’t find him and get him to meet his court date.

She heads off to beg from a variety of friends and neighbors and relatives for help. What she encounters is a world filled with darkness. Here is a kind of poverty and desperation so deep and so bitter and so hopeless it’s almost unbearable to watch, moderated only by her kindly neighbor who takes in their horse and brings them left-over venison.

Ree is amazing. She soldiers through a life that would break most of us and there are scenes that are so sad and so horrifying they will sear you.

The women are cracked and worn with deep wrinkles in their faces and wear little make-up. The clothes are the uniform of many rural poor — hoodies and camo and thick black sneakers. There is almost no music, no soundtrack to soften or prettify this tale. The only singing is from the locals singing early folk songs.

Go anyway and admire this extraordinary young woman and the film’s female director Debra Granik and the book’s writer.