inkwell.vue.439 : Michelle Mercer: Will You Take Me As I Am, Joni Mitchell's Blue Period
permalink #0 of 110: Ed Ward (captward) Tue 10 Apr 12 11:11
    
The Well is happy to welcom Michelle Mercer, whose book Will You Take
Me As I Am: Joni Mitchell's Blue Period, is a rare work of actual
criticism about an artist whose work can stand the scrutiny. Newly out
in paperback after a short time out of print, it's bound to get people
talking about things they already thought they knew. 
  
inkwell.vue.439 : Michelle Mercer: Will You Take Me As I Am, Joni Mitchell's Blue Period
permalink #1 of 110: Ed Ward (captward) Wed 11 Apr 12 08:21
    
Michelle Mercer writes:

I'm a writer of books: Footprints: The Life and Work of Wayne Shorter
(Penguin) and Will You Take Me As I Am (Simon & Schuster). My writing
has appeared in New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Village Voice and
numerous magazines. I'm also a public radio person, with essays and
reported pieces about music going out on All Things Considered's
airspace.   Here in Colorado, where I live with my family, I report on
a broader range of issues:  one of my recent pieces investigated
natural and manmade causes of some local earthquakes, e.g..  I'll spend
this summer (2012) in Norway researching music on an artist's
residency.  Other fellowships and residencies have come from the
Sacatar Foundation in Brazil, the Vermont Studio Center, and the
Anderson Center for the Arts.  

My interest in Joni Mitchell goes back to 1988, my sophomore year of
high school, when an astute boyfriend shared her Mingus recording as my
entree to jazz.  Joni is by far the most fascinating person I've ever
talked with, because she's never compromised a thing when it comes to
her art.  And a big loaded statement like that is probably not a bad
place to start this discussion.  Thanks so much for having me here.  
  
inkwell.vue.439 : Michelle Mercer: Will You Take Me As I Am, Joni Mitchell's Blue Period
permalink #2 of 110: Ed Ward (captward) Wed 11 Apr 12 08:22
    
Leading the discussion will be the Well's <john-p-mcalpin>, who
describes himself thusly:


John P. McAlpin is a writer and newspaper editor who lives in suburban
Philadelphia with his wife and their daughter. The first LP he bought
was the Beatles' "Help!" and hasn't stopped since exploring music and
the arts of performing and recording. He enjoys discussing both as a
member of The Well and the Philadelphia Area Audio Group. And he is
forever grateful to the woman who gave him and a friend those "miracle
tickets" so many years ago.
  
inkwell.vue.439 : Michelle Mercer: Will You Take Me As I Am, Joni Mitchell's Blue Period
permalink #3 of 110: John P. McAlpin (john-p-mcalpin) Wed 11 Apr 12 20:25
    
Hello, Michelle, and welcome.

I'd like to start by asking how you came to the book and to it's
focus, Joni Mitchell and her deeply autobiographical approach to
songwriting.

There's a bit of you in the book, from the introduction's description
of litmus test for potential boyfriends -- his reaction to what else,
Mitchell's music -- to a pointed but ultimately defining Colorado
camping scene involving Dan Fogelberg songs. Did your relationship to
her music change over the course of writing this book? 


You spoke to Mitchell for the book. How did that come about? As you
say above, she never compromised for her art. Can she be objective
about it now given the places in her life where this music started?


   
  
inkwell.vue.439 : Michelle Mercer: Will You Take Me As I Am, Joni Mitchell's Blue Period
permalink #4 of 110: John P. McAlpin (john-p-mcalpin) Wed 11 Apr 12 20:34
    
Many Mitchell's listeners know, or at least think they know, the
stories behind the songs. What changes in us when we find out the
specifics behind a song's origin?


Two songs and their stories stand out for me having read the book:
"Court and Spark" and "A Case of You." Listening to both after reading
about them, I do come at them differently; my experience now of "A Case
of You" is the most changed. 

Is there something about music that assumes, or at least attempts, an
intimate connection between artist and listener where too much detail
ruins the experience?
  
inkwell.vue.439 : Michelle Mercer: Will You Take Me As I Am, Joni Mitchell's Blue Period
permalink #5 of 110: John P. McAlpin (john-p-mcalpin) Wed 11 Apr 12 20:41
    
The bold-face names associated with Mitchell's songs are well known,
Nash, Taylor, Cohen. Decades of attention have gone to her
relationships with those men.

But what about Mitchell and her relationships to the places in her
life? What did that cottage in British Columbia and those caves in
Crete bring to her music and the songs she wrote at the time? 
  
inkwell.vue.439 : Michelle Mercer: Will You Take Me As I Am, Joni Mitchell's Blue Period
permalink #6 of 110: John P. McAlpin (john-p-mcalpin) Wed 11 Apr 12 20:52
    
You covered in the book a few albums I knew by title -- and have since
picked up -- but I never felt left out at all.

So one last thing to throw out as we get started, did you have an
ideal reader in mind when you were writing? Did you write for a reader
who had loved and lived with these albums? Can someone only slightly
familiar with Mitchell's music read the book? 
  
inkwell.vue.439 : Michelle Mercer: Will You Take Me As I Am, Joni Mitchell's Blue Period
permalink #7 of 110: Michelle Mercer (milkmaids) Thu 12 Apr 12 08:16
    
Hello, John, and thanks for all your thoughtful questions.  One
question at a time.   

Joni was often considered a confessional songwriter just by virtue of
being a woman who sang alone to her own accompaniment.  She hates being
ID'd as a confessional songwriter, and I understand her frustration
with the term: makes it seem as if songs just pour out of her as
unfiltered experience, without the transformation of invention and
careful expression, without art.  What Joni's aiming for in much of her
work is insight, I think.  She wants to find and express human truths.
 During what I call her "Blue Period," or on her early to mid-70s
albums, those insights, those human truths often came from looking
closely at her own experience, then seriously transforming that
experience into the stuff of poetry, lyrics.  And whether she likes it
or not, she does not create in a vacuum; she's definitely working in a
literary and musical tradition.  So to me it seemed necessary to trace
the history of confessional & autobiographical literature from St.
Augustine all the way up to the 70s songwriters, and see how Joni's
autobiographical songwriting fit in.  

I first spoke to Joni back in 2004 for my biography of the jazz
musician Wayne Shorter.  Wayne is one of her favorite subjects.  And as
anyone who's spoken to Joni knows, she's a marathon conversationalist,
chain-smoking her way through hours of rigorous, amusing, wide-ranging
discussion.  So when I started the book about her autobiographical
period, in 2007, I already had plenty of material.  I developed the
structure of the book--each chapter as a kind of cultural essay on a
different theme--before I spoke to her again.  In 2008 we met up for a
few nights on British Columbia's Sunshine Coast, where she summers. (It
would be totally pretentious to use summer as a verb in the Sunshine
Coast world, by the way. And that's what Joni likes about it.  Unlike
L.A., where she lives otherwise, on the Sunshine Coast locals are
unimpressed by having a famous person in their midst, or are at least
discreet enough to let her buy tomatoes in peace.)  After that it was a
series of long phone conversations.  

I'd say Joni's not objective about her art.  During the second half of
the 70s, when Joni's work turned more experimental, some critics and
fans deserted her. Unfortunately, that experience of losing part of her
audience at a time she felt she was doing her most creative work,
well, there's still some residual bitterness from it.  I think it
taints her view of her "Blue Period," the work the preceded her
experimental turn.  She has a bit of disdain for her more accessible
and popular music--or more accurately, for the people who prefer it.  
  
inkwell.vue.439 : Michelle Mercer: Will You Take Me As I Am, Joni Mitchell's Blue Period
permalink #8 of 110: Michelle Mercer (milkmaids) Thu 12 Apr 12 08:55
    
"Is there something about music that assumes, or at least attempts, an
intimate connection between artist and listener where too much detail
ruins the experience?"

Such a complicated question.  I'm happy you've asked, John. 

In answer to this question, Joni would say "Yes!" and probably hit her
fist on the table for emphasis.  She hates any discussion of a song's
origins for the very reason you suggest: she believes such details
somehow block a listener's ability to identify closely with the song on
his own terms.  I agree that biographical info may affect the way we
hear a song.  But in the case of Joni's music, knowing something about
how a song came to her actually enhances my appreciation for it, cause
I have more perspective on how beautifully she transforms personal
experience into work with universal meaning.  

You mention the song "Court and Spark," and I think it's a great one
to look into. Someone reputable told me the story of its origin: Joni
actually met a madman in a Berkeley park and briefly entertained his
rather crazy ideas about her songwriting, then went home to L.A.  Once
I knew the story, the next time I listened to the song of course I
decoded the lyrics, was primed to hear references to this originating
event.  And they're definitely there.  But when I listened yet again, I
was moved by the poetry she found in her experience.  In Joni's hands,
the real-life encounter behind "Court and Spark" became a more
universal story of failed seduction, a song with the haunting sound of
a road not taken.  Again, knowing the experience behind the song makes
me appreciate just how powerfully she spun that experience into the
stuff of a great art.  
  
inkwell.vue.439 : Michelle Mercer: Will You Take Me As I Am, Joni Mitchell's Blue Period
permalink #9 of 110: Michelle Mercer (milkmaids) Thu 12 Apr 12 09:52
    
I sure wish I had more interest in celebrity journalism, John. It
makes for popular books.  But to me celebrity journalism seems fueled
by a paradoxical drive to both elevate the ordinary lives of the famous
and bring the famous down to our own level.  I just don't get it. 
That's another conversation.  Anyway, Joni's love life is only
interesting to me in terms of how her lovers may have influenced her
songwriting.  Leonard Cohen helped Joni develop an appreciation for
poetry, for example. So I explored that aspect of their relationship.  


There were some under-examined themes in Joni's work, stuff that came
up repeatedly but had rarely been discussed.  I decided to have a go at
them.  Along with the previously mentioned area of autobiographical
songwriting, there was the play of Buddhism in the album Hejira, and as
you mention, the impact of landscape on music.  

Certain songs on the Blue album are aural postcards from Matala,
Greece, where she wrote or at least conceived them.  For example: the
sound of "All I Want" is all earthy, like a Mediterranean landscape. On
the song she accompanies herself with the dulcimer she played in
nightly jam sessions in the Matala caves.  "All I Want" discusses
traveling, metaphorically, of course, but she was also traveling in
Europe when she wrote it.  She even later called one of her dulcimer
tunings her "Matala tuning," cause she discovered it there.   

So there's that level on which landscape is reflected in her music. 
But i think it goes even deeper than that.  Joni grew up on the
Saskatchewan prairie, where the landscape is all-encompassing. 
Flatlanders' early perceptions of landscape are not set apart from
themselves.  People who grow up on the plains sort of merge with their
surroundings, I think, feeling and seeing them in one experience.   So
in Joni's music--on the composition "Paprika Plains," for example--she
can at the same time dramatize an approaching storm and the effect it
has on people.  I should mention this analysis comes from my own
experience growing up on the plains.  Joni was amenable to it.   

As for British Columbia, which you also asked about, it might be best
to simply drop in an excerpt from Joni's liner notes for 2007 album
Shine.  "One Week Last Summer" is an instrumental piece, and here's
what she writes about it: 

“I stepped outside of my little house and stood barefoot on a rock.
The Pacific ocean rolled towards me. Across the bay, a family of seals
sprawled on the kelp uncovered by the low tide. A blue heron honked
overhead. All around the house the wild roses were blooming. The air
smelled sweet and salty and loud with crows and bees. My house was
clean. I had food in the fridge for a week. I sat outside ’til the sun
went down.

“That night the piano beckoned for the first time in ten years. My
fingers found these patterns which express what words could not. This
song poured out while a brown bear rummaged through my garbage cans.

“The song has seven verses constructed for the days of that happy
week. On Thursday the bear arrives.” 
  
inkwell.vue.439 : Michelle Mercer: Will You Take Me As I Am, Joni Mitchell's Blue Period
permalink #10 of 110: David Julian Gray (djg) Thu 12 Apr 12 11:26
    
Hello - first I'd like to Ed, John and Michelle for making this happen
- it's great to see Ms. Mitchell get this kind of critical attention -

I just got the book and need more time to absorb that and some of the
thoughtful discussion we see above already - 
I just thought I'd post a thought I had during a lonely run in the mid
1970's - I think around when "Hissing of Summer Lawns" came out - 
My reaction to Ms. Mitchell's albums had been the same since "Clouds"
- which I loved unequivocally before it came out (was seeing her in
clubs) - on first listen I would think dismissively "Oh, poor Joni, why
should I care" - and later that day, or the next day I would
invariably think "This is the greatest thing I've ever heard - pure
truth and beauty" - she does have a way at getting at universals - even
one's so deep we don't always know we share them, and always with the
most beautiful music ... and the music is of a piece with the word...
nice to know her achievement was her ambition (which, along with her
ago, appears boundless)... Great talent is wasted without great
ambition ...
  
inkwell.vue.439 : Michelle Mercer: Will You Take Me As I Am, Joni Mitchell's Blue Period
permalink #11 of 110: Susan Sarandon, tractors, etc. (rocket) Thu 12 Apr 12 12:28
    

>She hates any discussion of a song's
 origins for the very reason you suggest: she believes such details
 somehow block a listener's ability to identify closely with the song on
 his own terms.

This strikes me as a very Kubrick-like approach to art in that it 
demonstrates great respect for the audience's half of the artistic 
experience.
  
inkwell.vue.439 : Michelle Mercer: Will You Take Me As I Am, Joni Mitchell's Blue Period
permalink #12 of 110: Michelle Mercer (milkmaids) Thu 12 Apr 12 17:20
    
Rocket: Now I'm getting all worked up thinking about resonances re:
Kubrick and Mitchell. Something of a shared philosophy, yes, in their
belief that the audience or listeners must experience the thrill of
discovery, that discovery makes ideas in art more powerful.  They also
both spent time at the Chelsea Hotel. Most of all, they both have, or
had, a Nietzsche thing.  Much has been written about the Nietzschean
thrust of Kubrick's films, the theme of the superman overtaking
mankind, especially in 2001.  Joni's songs like "The Three Great
Stimulants" and "The Reoccuring Dream" are clear takes on Nietzsche's
ideas. She also often says she found her poetic ideal in his
Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, who envisions “a new breed of poet, a penitent
of spirit," someone who "writes in his own blood."   

But getting back to the topic at hand, don't you think there's room
for listeners to discover and identify with a Joni song, *and* to
appreciate how she's transformed personal experience into poetic truths
in the song? 
  
inkwell.vue.439 : Michelle Mercer: Will You Take Me As I Am, Joni Mitchell's Blue Period
permalink #13 of 110: Michelle Mercer (milkmaids) Thu 12 Apr 12 17:36
    
David, I've often had that experience of at first feeling indifferent
or even aversive toward a record that I later find brilliant. And I'm
so glad you brought up how words and music are given equal opportunity
in Joni's songs.  For her there's never music as mere background to
lyrics. The sophisticated interplay of words and music in her songs is
what truly distinguishes them.   My first recognition of this was when
I heard her sing "love so sweet" in "The Last Time I Saw Richard" on
Blue. She flattens the phrase's notes to complicate the lyric, making
the meaning bittersweet. It just gets more complex from there on out.
And you could give a seminar on her phrasing alone: she often pushes at
the structure of songs, spilling words out over musical lines,
changing the meaning of them.    

Her famous alternate tunings are key, too.  She wants to paint emotion
with sound, and she uses odd tunings in the service of pure
expression, so that almost every note and word is spirited and shaped
by feeling.  She likes to talk about her "chords of inquiry." And more
on that when I'm back again. 
  
inkwell.vue.439 : Michelle Mercer: Will You Take Me As I Am, Joni Mitchell's Blue Period
permalink #14 of 110: Robin Russell (rrussell8) Thu 12 Apr 12 21:01
    
I am enjoying this thread immensely. 

Joni Mitchell certainly has an innovative approach to the guitar.
Among acoustic guitar players, she is held in the very highest regard.
She blends a fabulous sense of rhythm and a deep understanding of music
to colour her words.

Song for Sharon from 1976 (Hejira) is a fine demonstration of her
narrative approach. "I went to Staten Island, Sharon / to buy myself a
Mandolin". And here is Joni at Mandolin Brothers, Staten Island:

http://i68.photobucket.com/albums/i20/rrussell8/Guitars/JoniMitchellMandolinBr
others-1.jpg

I do think Joni cares about her listeners but somehow I get the
feeling that she is not in tune with how many of us there are, how
deeply we love her work, and what tremendous stature she has in our
estimation.
  
inkwell.vue.439 : Michelle Mercer: Will You Take Me As I Am, Joni Mitchell's Blue Period
permalink #15 of 110: (chrys) Thu 12 Apr 12 23:05
    
Welcome Michelle!

I confess I had difficulty reconciling your view of the universality
of Mitchell's music (which I agree with, by the way) and the insistence
on digging into the particulars of her relationships.  This book seems
preoccupied with a *romantic* notion of Mitchell.

The collaborations I hoped to read about were the musical ones. How
she took the very personal and poured it into music with people like: 

Tom Scott

<<"I remember I was in the studio trying to find this voicing on the
piano that I would later translate to woodwinds and I said to her in
the booth, 'Is this Cm7 with a &' well, some technical question. There
was a long silence and then she pushed the button down and said, "Tom,
ignorance is bliss.' And that was it. From there, I was on my own and
as I started to work with her I learned I could take chances and do
things very harmonically advanced for the style and idiom, and she
loved it. I couldn't seem to go too far out for her and once I found
that out, I tried to go with my first impulses. So in a sense we were
both responsible because it took her to respond to what I was doing.
She's a perfectionist, regardless of her lack of technical ability, and
that's something I responded to immediately.">>
http://jonimitchell.com/library/print.cfm?id=1933

Jaco Pastorus

<<“I had tried all along to add other musicians to my music,” recalled
Mitchell in her documentary Woman Of Heart And Mind. “Nearly every
bass player that I tried did the same thing. They would put up a dark
picket fence through my music, and I thought, why does it have to go
ploddy ploddy ploddy? Finally one guy said to me, Joni, you better play
with jazz musicians.” Her search for that elusive bass sound ended
when guitar player Robben Ford played for her Jaco’s head-turning debut
solo album. “They were touring when my solo record had come out,” Jaco
recalled. “He played her the album and she was knocked out. She just
tried to get a hold of me, and that was it really. I just went and
played. I didn’t even know anything about Joni Mitchell; I hadn’t even
heard her music.” Joni used Jaco on four of the songs that made up her
next album Hejira, including its stunning title track.>>
http://bassmusicianmagazine.com/2011/12/jaco-at-60-his-legacy-lives-on-by-rick
-suchow-%E2%80%93-bass-musician-magazine-december-2011-issue/


and of course, Charles Mingus. (I can't find my favorite bit about
Mingus right now.)


What was it like for Mitchell when she went out to perform with her
first 'band'? How did that mix for her with the very personal content
of the music? 

(On the Miles of Aisles tour, she seemed to divide the show into the
solo/very personal set vs. the full band sets with the less personal
material. It wasn't until perhaps Hejira that she brought those
together.) 
  
inkwell.vue.439 : Michelle Mercer: Will You Take Me As I Am, Joni Mitchell's Blue Period
permalink #16 of 110: Ed Ward (captward) Fri 13 Apr 12 03:07
    
Incidentally, as always, this Inkwell discussion is open to the
public, so if anyone reading this outside the Well wants to take part
by asking a question, just e-mail it to inkwell@well.com and we'll post
it.
  
inkwell.vue.439 : Michelle Mercer: Will You Take Me As I Am, Joni Mitchell's Blue Period
permalink #17 of 110: Michelle Mercer (milkmaids) Fri 13 Apr 12 08:12
    
Hello, Chrys. Thanks for your comments.  I'm definitely of the "writer
should never answer to critics" persuasion, though this forum seems
set up for just that.  I'd also love to learn more about the musical
partnerships you mention, and I'm very curious about the evolution of
Joni's musical performance.  The subject of my book was the development
of Joni's autobiographical songwriting during what I call her "Blue
Period."  I limited my focus to her autobiographical songwriting & its
defining intensities.  You might be interested in this brand new
excerpt from Don Alias's autobiography, which has stories of Joni's
work with Mingus:  
http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/article.php?id=41782&pg=1 

And if you're interested, I did explore Joni's musical relationship
with the jazz musician Wayne Shorter in my 2005 biography of him.   

As for your suggestion that I zeroed in on the particulars of
Mitchell's relationships and am preoccupied with a romantic notion of
Mitchell . . . for the life of me, I can't see how the book reflects
that claim. It's probably more fair to say I have a preoccupation with
St. Augustine, since more pages in the book are devoted to the Saint
than to Joni's one-time partner Graham Nash, for example. The book
spends way more time with landscape in music than with Joni's lovers.
That said, I did how Joni's approach to romance colored her
songwriting. To have left romance out altogether would have been a huge
oversight, since it's a major theme in Joni's autobiographical
songwriting.   Joni's ex-husband Larry Klein once said the "focal point
of her work has been an inquiry into the nature of modern love."  I
don't think he's far off.  

For a long time, listening to her lyrics, I assumed she was beset with
the conflict between love and freedom that plagues so many women in
their 20s.  And early on, she probably was.  But looking at how her
approach to writing about romance changed from Ladies of the Canyon to
Hejira, and talking to some of her close friends, I came to see that
she *deliberately cultivated* that love/freedom conflict for the
purposes of her art. From the time of For The Roses, Joni's lifestyle
followed a pattern: 1) fall in love & experience the love affair’s
stream of episodes; 2) break up & follow it up with the stillness of
solitude, when she could then worry those episodes into the big themes
of her songs. And with such dedicated practice in love, it's no wonder
that her songwriting persona evolved from wrestling with romance to
taking a more detached perspective on it.  It's all in the difference
between "My Old Man" (Blue) and "Strange Boy" (Hejira).  
  
inkwell.vue.439 : Michelle Mercer: Will You Take Me As I Am, Joni Mitchell's Blue Period
permalink #18 of 110: Michelle Mercer (milkmaids) Fri 13 Apr 12 08:31
    
Robin, it sounds like you might be a guitar player. Do you know about
the amazing collection of tablature at jonimitchell.com?  

Here's a link to the tablature for "Song For Sharon," which comes
complete with a standard tuning and "Joni tuning." 

http://jonimitchell.com/music/transcription.cfm?id=199

What's also intriguing to me about the wildness of Joni's guitar
tunings and her disregard for harmonic laws is that it's all untutored
& instinctive. She never studied music theory. She carefully maintained
her musical "illiteracy," while at the same time taking in or
absorbing music of great complexity, like the 1960s Miles Davis
Quintet. And this astounding natural talent belongs to a person who
still considers music her accidental profession.  
  
inkwell.vue.439 : Michelle Mercer: Will You Take Me As I Am, Joni Mitchell's Blue Period
permalink #19 of 110: Scott Underwood (esau) Fri 13 Apr 12 09:40
    
Michelle, I wonder if you've read Daniel Levitin's indightful thoughts
on Joni's music (and her relationship with Jaco) in "This Is Your Brain
on Music" (other Wellians are saying "Let it go, man.")

        Joni's genius is that she creates chords that are ambiguous,
        chords that could have two or more different roots. When there is
        no bass playing along with her guitar (as in "Chelsea Morning"
        or "Sweet Bird") the listener is left in a state of expansive
        aesthetic possibilities.... And when Joni strings together
        several of these amibguous chirds, the harmonic complexity greatly
        increases; each chord sequence can be interpreted in dozens of
        different ways, depending on how each of its constituents is
        heard... In this sense, Joni's music is as close to impressionist
        visual art as anything I've heard.

        As soon as a bass player plays a note, he fixes one particular
        musical interpretation, thus ruining the delicate ambiguity the
        composer has so artfully constructed. All the bass players Joni
        worked with before Jaco insisted on playing roots, or what they
        perceived to be roots. The brilliance of Jaco, Joni said, is
        that he instinctively knew how to wander around the possibility
        space... Jaco allowed Joni to have bass guitar on her songs
        without destroying one of their most exapansive qualities.
  
inkwell.vue.439 : Michelle Mercer: Will You Take Me As I Am, Joni Mitchell's Blue Period
permalink #20 of 110: Michelle Mercer (milkmaids) Fri 13 Apr 12 10:55
    
I had seen the Levitin, thanks. Yes, Joni often talks about how Jaco
solved that particular musical problem.  As she put it to me: "Jaco was
the most progressive bass player at that time, the one where the
innovation was taking place.  The way I wanted the bottom end to move .
. .  I was trying to guide bass players and they were stubborn with
me, they’d say 'I’m not playing that note' and I said 'Well, why not?'
and they said 'It’s not the root of the chord.' I said, 'Well, it will
be when you play it." So finally one of these guys suggested I send for
Jaco… " 

And we could talk about how Jaco rejected the plodding, lowrider role
of the bass, instead playing soaring, dynamic melodies and commanding
territory that had previously been the province of the vocalist or
saxophonist. But if you know Jaco's playing, you already know that.  

Here's another snippet about Jaco from one of our interviews.(I
haven't gone back and re-checked this transcription against the audio,
btw, which I'd usually do before publishing it anywhere).   

Michelle: (about Jaco) When I listened to the first few notes on
Hejira, you know, I think I hear him quoting Stravinsky.

Joni:  Yeah . . . (sings) Rite of Spring, yeah . . . 

Michelle: And also at the same time, he’s suggesting the character of
the song's narrator. Doing all that stuff at the same time  – his
playing always has layered metaphors in it. 

Joni: Oh yeah. In the end he got really selfish and wasn’t really a
good player. He'd just push you over to the left and it was all about
him and at that point he was no longer a team player. And at that point
he started to be bad and on the tour that we took him on he was
showing off so badly that he wasn’t really good.  On the day that we
shot the film, the dread was, it was going to make him worse. But
something happened backstage. His mother and his wife showed up. I
don’t know what they did to him, but thank God.  Whatever it was they
did, they humbled him in some way.  Because when he came out, he
powdered the stage and shoved everybody over to the left and started
up, the first few notes he played were “I was high and mighty!” And he
played it with such sincerity, you know, like (sings) and then he took
it someplace.  That’s kind of like Wayne, that’s one of the moments
when Jaco’s going into genius – pictorial thinking, you know, where
he’s playing more than notes. I mean how many people are going to pick
up on it? I mean thank god that you pick up on some of it, you know.
Thank god that there are people out there that will find the holograms
in the music, suddenly it’ll just become pictorial and they’ll see it .
. . you know, ‘see hear’ it . . ."
  
  
inkwell.vue.439 : Michelle Mercer: Will You Take Me As I Am, Joni Mitchell's Blue Period
permalink #21 of 110: My free and simple demeanor set everybody at ease. (pdl) Fri 13 Apr 12 15:34
    
I have a very minor, unimportant question--what stravinsky is jaco quoating
at the start of Hejira?

He definitely quotes the opening bassoon riff from Rites at the start of
Talk to Me off of Don Juan's Reckless Daughter. But I'm not placing the
phrase at the start of Hejira. Thanks.
  
inkwell.vue.439 : Michelle Mercer: Will You Take Me As I Am, Joni Mitchell's Blue Period
permalink #22 of 110: Michelle Mercer (milkmaids) Fri 13 Apr 12 18:21
    
PDL: That may have been a mistake. I just went back and listened to
"Hejira" on the Hejira album, where he doesn't quote any Strav that I
can recognize. Then I listened to "Hejira" on the live album, Shadows
and Light, where at the start of the song he *almost* quotes the
bassoon riff from Rites to which you refer.

It's interesting that Joni went along with it in the interview. Maybe
she assumed the riff led off "Hejira" cause it so easily could have:
when they were on tour he must have quoted Rite of Spring dozens of
times. It was one of his favorites. And it is definitely at the start
of "Talk To Me."  

Hope that doesn't detract from the larger point Joni and I were
pursuing in the interview. Jaco often layered references, metaphors and
what Joni would call "pictograms" into his bass playing, and she
really dug that aspect of his playing.    
  
inkwell.vue.439 : Michelle Mercer: Will You Take Me As I Am, Joni Mitchell's Blue Period
permalink #23 of 110: My free and simple demeanor set everybody at ease. (pdl) Fri 13 Apr 12 18:44
    
That doesn't detract from the larger point and thanks so much for that
response.  I was just wondering what I was missing--if the quote was from
some other part deeper into the Rites that I had not recognized. Jaco
definitely liked that phrase from the bassoon solo and used it now and again
in different contexts.

Thanks again!
  
inkwell.vue.439 : Michelle Mercer: Will You Take Me As I Am, Joni Mitchell's Blue Period
permalink #24 of 110: david gault (dgault) Fri 13 Apr 12 19:29
    

I read this book a month ago and I want to thank you for writing it.

I didn't get Joni Mitchell and I would have failed the boyfriend 
test dismally after the first 8 bars.  But your book encouraged
me to pick up her more recent work (since 30 years ago, at least) 
and it's fabulous.  Great book!  
  
inkwell.vue.439 : Michelle Mercer: Will You Take Me As I Am, Joni Mitchell's Blue Period
permalink #25 of 110: John P. McAlpin (john-p-mcalpin) Fri 13 Apr 12 20:09
    
Michelle, is there a relationship between Mitchell's development in
this autobiographical period and the expansion of her sound and musical
development from "Blue" to say "Hejera"?

And David, I would have failed the test -- or maybe gotten by with a C
minus -- at that age! I've come to appreciate this work much later, in
part through the encouragement of people here especially in the music
conference.




 
  

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