Not Her “Secret Place” But Close To It: Joni Mitchell’s Recent, Long Interviews

It’s all here, nearly two hours of it.  And I hope the CBC doesn’t pull it.  Jian Ghomeshi is the interviewer.  In the words of that great philosopher, Humphrey Bogart, playing Philip Marlowe in the flick, The Big Sleep, she’s “too big” for him.  Give him a chance, though.

Joni is 70 this year.   I think she’s doing it all, saying it all now because one of these days, she will be silent.  Not dead yet, but just silent.  It happens with certain legends; they just stop being public people, slowly and gently, until no one knows that they’ve effectively bowed out.  So it is a shock when the death announcement comes.

It’s just that there will soon be nothing more  for her to say about anything, this self-proclaimed “black man in a blonde woman’s body.”   Well, she wishes when she says that, but for real, she wouldn’t want the headaches.  Maybe she’ll get her wish in the next lifetime to be a black man.  I can only hope that by that time, things will be better for all of us.  I also note that she calls herself a black man and not a black woman.  Umph.  It’s sorta the weirdness I have found with some black transvestites and transsexuals.  They swoon over wanting to be the epitome of white glamour women and actresses, but hell no.  Not a black woman.

I think Joni should have married that brother, the percussionist Don Alias, their relationship outlined for all time in Girls Like Us by Sheila Weller but, as he said about their final sundering, “It was like a guy breaking up,” he marveled, of her attitude.  “It really hurt the hell out of me!”  Meaning, she had more stones than he.  And when it was over, it was OVAH.  Oh, well.

Nothing more to say soon.  Nothing more to say about anything.  So you’d better catch her before there is nothing more to say.

One of Joni Mitchell's self portraits that hangs in her L.A. home near her easel.  This woman has always been beautiful and informed by beauty (Courtesy: CBC Radio)

One of Joni Mitchell’s self portraits that hangs in her L.A. home near her easel. This woman has always been beautiful and informed by beauty (Courtesy: CBC Radio)

She paints these days.  She’s always been an artist.  We saw her art on her album covers.  But she would rather do that regularly than music.  Joni’s really down on the music industry, she’s down on a lot of things like a curmudgeonly grandma, and even in other interviews, she has made some rather tone-deaf comments.  In other words, she’s probably turned into another version of her mom.  I’m glad you gave away and later found your daughter, Joni.  And that was your decision and I don’t dog it, but leave other women to make their own decisions and their lives, okay?  Older people talk very easily about how things have changed for the worse in their view.  This new time is not their time any more, it appears; it seems the world doesn’t want them enough to leave them a space or receive their input.   Hey, sometimes you’ve got to fight for it, but one gets tired more easily, too.  Someone may be looking after her: a younger black man, Mark Gaillard, a son of Slim Gaillard, and a brother-in-law to Marvin Gaye, was present during the CBC interview.  Yes, you really don’t know who she knows, but as always, they connected first and foremost through music.

Joni’s more likely to appear but not sing at tributes to her work, as she will very soon in Canada, her home country, as part of the Luminato Festival.   That voice we all heard in the Sixties and Seventies is not all gone, but it is not the same singing voice.  And she may not have the stamina left to do such sustained tours.  I imagine that it’s huskier with age and cigarettes, and that her range is now quite limited.  Trying to vocal trick audiences with a shell of a voice like some older troubadours would probably disappoint.  She’ll read her lyrics, which is after all, poetry.

Joni Mitchell  on Sunday, June 16, during an interview at the Luminato Festival (Courtesy: Toronto Star)

Joni Mitchell on Sunday, June 16, during an interview at the Luminato Festival (Courtesy: Toronto Star)

The tribute, with an all-star lineup of musicians and vocalists interpreting her songs, takes place just ahead of her 70th birthday, which is Nov. 7. She will recite a new poem with musical accompaniment by her long-time drummer and collaborator, singer-songwriter Brian Blade, and trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire as part of the tribute program.

Her music, which progressed from folk and pop through jazz and experimental styles, is her legacy. Long considered a master songwriter, Mitchell is heralded for albums such as Hejira and Blue, which Rolling Stone ranked No. 30 on its list of 500 greatest albums.

“The trick is if you listen to that music and you see me, you’re not getting anything out of it,” she said in her CBC interview.

“If you listen to that music and you see yourself, it will probably make you cry and you’ll learn something about yourself and now you’re getting something out of it, you know.”

Amazing that Rolling Stone still lauds her, even though the magazine’s writers were known back in the day for detailing her conquests throughout the rock hierarchy with a mixture of withering sexist distaste and jealousy.  Once, I heard, they illustrated her at the center of a tree of her current and former lovers.  One holiday issue, one I actually read, they dogged her as being “Everyone’s Old Lady.”  I remember my lips hanging open at that monumental diss.  Now, knowing Jann Wenner‘s propensities for young men, and now knowing that every male rock critic at that time lived vicariously through their heroes—that they too could fck as many groupies and band-aides—the fact that Joni could love and bed some of the biggest rockers, and leave them enthralled and aching for more like girls (even when she had had enough of the bullsh*t) definitely threw a fast curve ball dead into their fantasies.

One thing for sure, selecting Taylor Swift to play her in an upcoming flick based on Girls Like Us, to me, would be an insult.  Swift is a vapid vessel compared to Joni back in the day.  The actresses I had in mind were Cate Blanchett or Tilda Swinton, high cheekbones and all.    They’ve got it to bring the young Joni back to life.  And no, they are not too old.

Getting back to Joni’s music:  that entire For The Roses was me at a particular time in my life, with Blue a close second, Court and Spark, and then later, Chalk Mark in a Rainstorm.  For example, “The Blonde in the Bleachers,” certainly wasn’t about me and I am certainly not blonde, it certainly illustrated the kinds of men I was meeting, the love ’em and leave ’em types, the guys with a catalog of women from which to choose from.  I couldn’t hold the hand of a “rock and man” for very long either.  Rock and roll, stripped down to its actual meaning which is, of course, sex.  I love that line, “She tapes her regrets/To the microphone stand.”  In some ways, Joni is not just singing songs about love, Native Americans, and the environment, which is endemic for certain Boomers.  She is a chronicler, a female chronicler as it were, of the sexual as well as economic politics of rock and roll in its second wind in the Sixties and Seventies.  Who do you think is that “Free Man in Paris“?  David Geffen who ran Elektra and Asylum Records back in the day.  So she could step back, be a part of it all, but be able to critique it.  I admire that insight greatly.

One of Joni's landscapes of British Columbia.  Oh, Canada, indeed (Courtesy: CBC)

One of Joni’s landscapes of British Columbia. Oh, Canada, indeed (Courtesy: CBC)

The Detroit News, like most of us Americans, is just looking over the fence bemused at the big doings.  They’re making this is a big damn deal in Canada, where it seems that all the s/heroes went down to the Lower 48 to make their fortunes and never really came back.  Like Bonanza‘s Lorne Greene (“The Voice of Doom”), Michael J. Fox (dual citizenship), William Shatner (well…), Alanis Morissette (dual citizenship, married an American rapper, Mario Treadaway), and now Joni Mitchell.

[Jian] Ghomeshi is not the interviewer of our dreams, he often abruptly changes the subject at times when we’d like Mitchell to keep going on whatever sidebar she’s exploring. He appears to be mostly interested in roving or disproving his own points about her career.

Speaking through a cloud of cigarette smoke, Mitchell is as prickly as we’ve come to expect, and goes on at length about her usual punching bags — former husband Chuck Mitchell, music critics (who she claims, bafflingly, did not like “Blue” at all when it came out), the medical establishment, the directors of her former art school, society in general.

The singer explains that she doesn’t think of herself as a recluse, but she has been ill for the past few years, and at 69 (she turns 70 in November), she doesn’t sing anymore or make appearances. (She will appear at the Luminato festival in Toronto, but won’t perform).

As far as who her peers are, at first she says “Dylan and Leonard (Cohen),” then says no, musically she only looks up to Duke Ellington and Debussy.

But the interview above occurred in Los Angeles, La-La Land.  This  interview (second video) happened or was published on June 16 in Canada during the festival.  I’m sure this too will be recorded for nationwide release.

Some choice moments from the CBC interview:

On being cast in the role of ’60s hippie goddess

“Most of the hippie values were silly to me,” Mitchell says. “Free love, come on. It’s a ruse for guys. Look at the rep I got. It was a list of people whose path I crossed. It wasn’t even — in the summer of love they made me into this love bandit. So much for free love. Nobody knows more than me what a ruse that was.”

On the Blue album

“When I realized how popular I was becoming, it was right before Blue and I went, oh my God, a lot of people are listening to me,” Mitchell says. “Well then they better find out who they’re worshiping. Let’s see if they can take it. Let’s get real. So I wrote Blue, which horrified a lot of people, you know. And then it created a lot of attention that was really weird. And so then I bought a property in British Columbia and dropped out. Because what had happened is they’re looking at me and all I’ve done is revealed human traits.

“Kris Kristofferson went, ‘Joni! You know, keep something of yourself.’ Johnny Cash said, ‘The world is on your shoulders.’ They all recoil because the game was, I’m bad, I’m bad, make yourself larger than life. Don’t reveal anything human and my thing is, why?”

On facing death

“I’ve had a very interesting and a very challenging life. A lot of battles, just disease after disease after — I mean, I mean I shouldn’t be here, you know. But I have a tremendous will to live and a tremendous joie de vivre, alternating with irritability,” she says, laughing.

Wonderfully, though, she’s not down on everything but hip to all others.

While the crew is wrapping up, I (Leslie Stojsic, one of the CBC team) take the various mugs of water our crew used to her kitchen to clean them. As Joni and I stand over her sink, the conversation turns to the ballet she’s working on, and her work on its third act (“it’s the signal to the men in the audience that it’s time to wake up.”) And then to Love, Actually, a film where her 2000 version of Both Sides Now was featured prominently.

She said she heard it was to be a chick flick, but once she saw it she really enjoyed it. “If only they made all chick flicks like that!”


~ by blksista on June 18, 2013.

5 Responses to “Not Her “Secret Place” But Close To It: Joni Mitchell’s Recent, Long Interviews”

  1. Thoroughly enjoyed your piece – wanted it to keep going. Thanks – you get her, some still don’t.


  2. What a great interview! Joni is a hero of mine, and her songs have had an impact on my life. This interview shows her intellect and her originality – I love that she is more interested in her art than fame and all its trappings, and got the feeling she was striving to show her real self – a complex human with talent, feelings and faults. One thing is for sure – she is an original.


  3. Exceptional essay on Joni Mitchell, with whom I was completely enthralled aback in the 70’s. Thanks for sharing your insights.


  4. Would love to talk with you- could you drop me a line? I’m the co-editor of a book on Joni’s songs as poems…


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