Loved this biography of Joni Mitchell

 

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By Caitlin Kelly

If you’re a fan of fellow Canadian, legendary musician and songwriter Joni Mitchell, it’s a book well worth your time.

You know how everyone has a song, or an album that indelibly marks a moment in your life and every time you hear it, there you are — catapulted back to being six or 18 or 27 or 43.

For me, living alone in a studio apartment at the back of an alley in a lousy Toronto neighborhood — all I could afford — it was Hejira, Mitchell’s album from 1976.

The word itself means migration, or flight from danger and the songs are all about movement and restlessness.

On it, Neil Young — another Canadian — plays harmonica and the stunningly talented Brazilian bass player Jaco Pastorius makes this distinctively different from her previous work.

It was a tough year for me, my sophomore year at University of Toronto, both of my parents traveling far away, long before cell phones or the Internet, when a long-distance call to Europe or Latin America was really expensive. I was living on very little, freelancing as a writer and photographer while attending the country’s most demanding school full-time.

I dated all the the wrong men, (as Mitchell did, for decades), discarding them as quickly as I found them. Connection was both alluring and exhausting, a theme of that album.

Mitchell also has a home where my mother — also a fiercely independent traveler for many years — lived for a while, the Sunshine Coast, north of Vancouver.

Here’s the first verse of Refuge of the Roads. (Now, after reading this book, Reckless Daughter, by David Yaffe, I know she’s referring to a Buddhist monk.)

I met a friend of spirit
He drank and womanized
And I sat before his sanity
I was holding back from crying
He saw my complications
And he mirrored me back simplified
And we laughed how our perfection
Would always be denied
“Heart and humor and humility”
He said “Will lighten up your heavy load”
I left him for the refuge of the roads
The book offers a great ride through her life, from her years in small-town Saskatchewan to her initial success in the coffee-houses of Toronto to playing Carnegie Hall and touring with Bob Dylan.
It offers insights into her addictions — to cocaine and to cigarettes — and her deep ambivalence about marriage, which she tried twice.
It’s a compelling portrait of a fiercely independent woman.

From Rikers Island To Backing Michael Buble — Sharon Jones' New Album Says It: 'I Learned The Hard Way'

INDIO, CA - APRIL 25:  Sharon Jones of Sharon ...
Ms. Jones in action. Image by Getty Images via Daylife

It takes a soul of steel to work, as Sharon Jones did for 16 months, as a corrections officer on Rikers Island. Being told she was too dark-skinned and too fat to make it in the music industry might have helped.

If you love soul music, you need to know about her; her new album, “I Learned the Hard Way” will be released April 6. These days, she’s been backing Phish, Lou Reed, Michael Buble and Booker T.

From New York magazine:

After three decades of near obscurity, Jones is in demand; she and Brooklyn soul curators the Dap-Kings will release their fourth album, I Learned the Hard Way, on April 6. In recent years, she’s sung with Lou Reed in the stage version of Berlin and with Phish for their re-creation of Exile on Main St.; she duetted with Michael Bublé on Saturday Night Live and sings a funkified version of “This Land Is Your Land” in the opening credits of Up in the Air. “I feel like I asked God, and it took me a while,” says Jones. “So instead of ‘Why?’ I say, ‘Thank you.’ ”

Her belated acclaim is one of pop’s unlikeliest second acts, and she barely had a first. Jones was born in Georgia but grew up in Bedford-Stuyvesant, where her mother moved her six children after leaving an abusive spouse. After graduating from Brooklyn’s Thomas Jefferson High School, Jones—resplendent in an Afro and bell-bottoms—formed a funky party band called Inner Spectrum. But she had little interest in what followed: disco, crossover pop, then rap. Defeated after her aborted eighties audition, she spent a dozen years in a wedding band. She also did a sixteen-month stint as a guard on Rikers Island, where one night inmates demanded she sing “Greatest Love of All” before lockdown.

In the early nineties…she was also flirting with cocaine, struggling with difficult boyfriends, and bunking with family members when she was financially strapped. To this day, she lives with her mother in a project in Far Rockaway that she won’t even let her manager see.

Writes Jim Fusilli in The Wall Street Journal:

Out next week, “I Learned the Hard Way” (Daptone) features the Dap-Kings laying down a solid foundation under Ms. Jones, who as a vocalist is somehow defiant yet vulnerable. To be sure, Gabriel Roth’s arrangements and production celebrate classic soul recordings, but to call “I Learned the Hard Way” retro is to miss the point: This is the kind of American music whose commercial fortunes may ebb and flow, but as an art form it is everlasting. “There ain’t nothing retro about me,” Ms. Jones told me. “We’re not hopping on anybody’s band wagon.”

The Dap-Kings comprise a three-piece horn section with a bone-rattling baritone sax, two guitars, Mr. Roth’s bass, drums and Ms. Jones—a tiny dynamo with a big voice and bigger stage presence. In concert, they come out and hit hard from the opening note of a soul revue hosted by their guitarist Binky Griptite. On disc, the Dap-Kings are wall-to-wall soul, with abundant nods to their predecessors. But they’re well aware it’s no longer the ’60s music scene. If it were, and radio played soul and R&B with the joy and frequency it once did, two songs on the new album—”She Ain’t a Child No More” and “Better Things”—would be hit singles.