Woman of Heart and Mind


If the title of this blog post sounds familiar to you, then you, too, are a Joni Mitchell fan. I’ve been reading David Yaffe’s biography  of my favorite female singer/songwriter (Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell) and so often I’ve interrupted my reading to listen to one of her songs.

for the roses

The very first album (yes, I’m old, and albums were wonderful) I ever bought was For the Roses, Joni’s fifth studio album. I was 14 years old. For those of you who know me, and thought my first album purchase would be something by James Taylor, Mud Slide Slim was my second purchase. Those two sufficed for a long time. While I could stare at the cover of Mud Slide for hours, it was Joni’s lyrics that really resonated with me and my teenage angst.

mud slide

joni and james

I started collecting Joni’s earlier records, and reveled in “Cactus Tree” (‘she’s so busy being free’), “Michael from Mountains” (‘there’s oil in the puddles in taffeta patterns’), and “Carey” (‘maybe I’ll go to Amsterdam, maybe I’ll go to Rome’). By the time I was in college, I listened to her constantly, finding meaning in exquisitely-crafted lyrics. As a painter first, Joni crafted lyrics the way a painter creates art. In 1978, I was in Vienna with my friend Peter on Christmas Eve, and I think both of us were missing home separately. I wrote the entire lyrics to “California” on the bathroom wall of our hostel room. I apologize for the vandalism. I’d not yet traveled to California, but the words to this song felt right for that year abroad:

"Sitting in a park in Paris, France, reading the news and it sure looks bad
They won't give peace a chance, that was just a dream some of us had...

...Oh, it gets so lonely, when you're walking
and the streets are full of strangers
All the news of home you read just gives you the blues
Just gives you the blues...

Joni’s nearly 75 now, and after a brain aneurysm in 2015, she’s been reclusive. However, she did attend a James Taylor concert last month at the Hollywood Bowl. You Tube has many of her recordings, concerts, and interviews. And it’s comforting to know that her songs are timeless – from the folks songs of the Sixties to her jazz efforts in the late Seventies and forward*, this self-described “painter derailed by circumstance” has created works of art with her lyrics and melodies. I can’t possibly pick a favorite song, but one of the best, in my opinion, in this one (written about the baby girl she gave up for adoption – mother and daughter reunited years ago):

*By the way, I don’t mean to discount any of Joni’s brilliance post-Court and Spark. I marvel at her talent and can lose myself in her later recordings. But the earlier lyrics spoke volumes to me in my youth.