Inkwell: Authors and Artists
david gault (dgault) Sat 14 Apr 12 07:26
I like the earlier stuff more, these days.
david gault (dgault) Sat 14 Apr 12 07:28
more than I used to like it, that is.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Sat 14 Apr 12 08:56
I'm sure Joni would hate me. I still consider "Blue" her career peak, and find the later stuff pretentious and unrewarding (although there's a lot of it I haven't listened to).
Scott Underwood (esau) Sat 14 Apr 12 09:09
The thing I admire most about Joni is (or was) her inability to stay in one place. Most commercial artists would have made "Court and Spark II," or at least "Help Me Again," and I'm sure the pressure on her to do so was enormous. The run from "Court and Spark" to "Mingus" is both perverse and wonderful. I can well imagine she lost lots of shallow fans and her integrity must have cost her some sleepless nights, but give me failed pretensions over stasis anytime. (Neil Young comes to mind.) Which is not to say I agree that her work is pretentious.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Sat 14 Apr 12 09:40
I have stuck with Neil through many strange changes (I even liked "The Shocking Pinks!") but Joni lost me after "Hejira."
Michelle Mercer (milkmaids) Sat 14 Apr 12 12:40
Scott: I think that's what I most admire, too. Joni has never pandered to commercial interests--the experimental Hissing of Summer Lawns was not the expected follow-up to the immensely successful Court and Spark--and has been true to every creative muse that came along, creating the music she wants whether or not people embrace it. So in some ways she's earned the right to her self-confidence, which is roughly equivalent to, I don't know, Muhammad Ali's. Of course I'm ambivalent about some of her comments. Every time she's quoted as saying something about Dylan being a plagiarist, or how her only peers are Picasso and Miles, I cringe in anticipation of the reception. (Though having spoken with her, I'm keenly aware of how misrepresentative these soundbytes can be, as they're plucked from the long, complex, strings of thought that are her conversational trademark). At the same time it's refreshing to hear such swagger coming from a woman artist.
Michelle Mercer (milkmaids) Sat 14 Apr 12 15:12
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"? I'd love to answer this completely, John. That would take more time than I have just now. Here's just one example of that relationship. More later. After Blue and For The Roses, many fans were experiencing a near-rapturous identification with Joni's songs. But Joni herself was getting tired of being so closely identified with her lyrics. The speculation about which boyfriend might have sparked a particular song and so forth. Also, when she went on tour with Jackson Browne in 1972, she was envious that for all his personal songwriting, Browne was viewed as an artist separate from the persona in his songs. That probably had something to do with her next move, along with having a genuine interest in a new musical direction. Anyway, she made a radical change. The first single released off her next album, Court and Spark, was "Raised On Robbery." Totally different than her previous music. The song rocks. And rolls. In the 50s sense. She has backing band, Robbie Robertson on electric guitar & lots of studio production. She moved away from the autobiographical singer-songwriter setting, away from performing as a lone girl with guitar or piano. This new musical style, combined with a different approach to lyrics, distanced Joni's personal identity from the work. "Raised on Robbery" is the story of an imagined character, a prostitute or lady of the night, who tries to pick someone up but fails. There may have been some fans who still assumed Joni was singing about her personal experience on the track. It's pretty clearly not her, though. Of course there's plenty of autobiographical material on Court and Spark, too. Chrys asked about Joni's performances of personal material with a band. It's a good question. Maybe I'll have a fresh listen to Miles of Aisles, the live album from the Court and Spark tour. See if any ideas turn up.
Michelle Mercer (milkmaids) Sat 14 Apr 12 15:18
Any questions or comments about my previous posts? I've touched on lots of different topics and am curious about your thoughts.
Dan Flanery (sunspot) Sat 14 Apr 12 16:29
Did Joni consider The Hissing of Summer Lawns to be experimental? It's always struck me as her most cinematic record - it plays like the soundtrack to some early '70s movie, and tells extremely visual stories of the upper middle class - but not radically experimental. Musically it isn't radically different from Court & Spark. What felt different about Hissing was the subject matter. Mitchell had taken her razor sharp powers of observation and turned them on her generation instead of herself. I think that engendered something a backlash, not the minor tweaking of her musical style the album represented. It's probably my favorite Mitchell record, along with Hejira and Blue and Court & Spark. >I have stuck with Neil through many strange changes (I even liked >"The Shocking Pinks!") but Joni lost me after "Hejira." Really? Because I've always thought of Don Juan's Reckless Daughter as Hejira Part II. I don't think it's as good a record, but if you like Part I then I can't see how Part II would lose you. Mingus maybe, although even it isn't as radically different as the (over)reaction would lead one to believe. The album where she lost me was Wild Things Run Fast, which just felt like pandering to New Wave and then-current adult contemporary sensibilities. It's easily her most dated work I think - there's an ineptness about the production that grates. The songs themselves weren't that bad though, as I learned when I got Travelogue, where the orchestral versions of her Wild Things tracks are some of the highlights. Does Joni regret any of her records, Michelle?
David Wilson (dlwilson) Sun 15 Apr 12 10:14
This came over the radar today: Joni Mitchell and Don Alias <http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/article.php?id=41782>
Michelle Mercer (milkmaids) Sun 15 Apr 12 12:21
Hi, Dan. Hissing of Summer Lawns: "The Jungle Line" has a moog synthesizer, etc, in a big drone of sound over a sample of Burundi warrior drums. That was innovative and yes, experimental in 1975. It pushed boundaries. When she decided to drop some Burundi action into the mix, the outcome was unforseeable. She's said (I'm not saying this) that with this track she started World Music without ever being fully credited for it, so I assume she considered it to be experimental, too. Yes, agreed, the album's other significant shift was a lyrical one, into character sketches and social commentary. Though as I noted in my previous post, that shift began on Court and Spark with "Raised on Robbery." As for her regretting any particular album, I've never asked Joni that question directly. My research didn't extend that far. The focus of my book wasn't Joni's entire musical career but rather her "Blue Period." David: It looks like it might be worth picking up Don's book. I linked to that excerpt on AAJ in an earlier post.
Ed Ward (captward) Sun 15 Apr 12 12:41
>>She's said (I'm not saying this) that with this track she started World Music without ever being fully credited for it You're too well-informed to say something like that! Hell, it probably started with the Bulawesi Sweet Boys' "Skokiaan," in 1954, unless you want to consider Ukranian or Yiddish "world music." What she did was grab the sample before Malcolm MacLaren did.
Michelle Mercer (milkmaids) Sun 15 Apr 12 13:30
Right! And what's Bela Bartok, chopped liver? If we cast our net a bit wider, finding the first use of "world music" gets even more complicated. "World Music" is one of those deeply problematic terms. It's someone else's local music. As I understand it, "World Music" as a term didn't get much play til the 80s, when the marketers got hold of it. Paul Simon's Graceland album would have demonstrated just how big the market for it could be.
Ed Ward (captward) Sun 15 Apr 12 13:39
It was coined in a pub by some people I knew -- Joe Boyd, Ben Mandelson, Jumbo van Rijnen, and some others -- because they needed a name for the records, largely African, they were releasing on their little labels. Early '80s, as I remember. Joe's writing a book about it.
Michelle Mercer (milkmaids) Sun 15 Apr 12 13:51
Fascinating. Can't wait to read that book. I can see how "world music" might have trumped "Hot Hindustani Sounds of the Subcontinent" for ease of identification. And I'll admit to using the term at times. In the interest of brevity.
David Wilson (dlwilson) Sun 15 Apr 12 14:12
<39> Was that 3Mustaphas3?
Ed Ward (captward) Sun 15 Apr 12 15:46
Ben had gone from Orhestra Jazira to the Mustaphas, but the main focus was his GlobeStyle Records, which he and Rockin' Roger Armstrong did via Ted Carroll's Ace label. They did field recordings in Tanzania and Kenya and licensed Congolese stuff and, most successfully, Ofrah Haza's return to her Yemeni Jewish roots after a career as the Israeli Streisand. The Mustaphas, however, were perfect "world music," blending indigenous music like 17 Hippies do today. This drift has been in honor of my good pal Ben Mandelson, who turned me on to Orchestra Super Mazembe's absolutely perfect "Shauri Yako," Sam Mangwana's "Maria Tebbo" (still the ringtone on my phone), and much else. We return you now to our interview with the charming and talented Michelle Mercer.
John P. McAlpin (john-p-mcalpin) Mon 16 Apr 12 05:47
Once again, Well drift adds to my ever-growing list of music to explore.
John P. McAlpin (john-p-mcalpin) Mon 16 Apr 12 06:12
Michelle, you've certainly given us a good deal to consider. I'm finding it interesting in reading along that some people are able to define a point where they stopped following along with her career, one album or another was enough of a change for them to drop away. For me it brings up ideas about the nature of the contract between artist and audience, ideas I'm still fumbling with to be able to articulate here. One thing it does raise in my mind that I'd like to talk a bit is this: For me, by the time I was fully able to appreciate "Blue", Mitchell was already doing "Shine". Not only was the "Blue" album long done, it was a defining moment in her career and rightly or wrongly a point of comparison for her work. But for me the listener, I could buy "Blue" and "Court and Spark" and "Hejira" all at once and come to each for the first time in one sitting. So there it was, in a sense, her development all laid out for me which is a far different experience than catching on at the start of Mitchell's "Blue" period and growing in my appreciation for the work as she developed. Any thoughts to the differences in listening experiences? Is there something about this with Mitchell that might be different than with another artist?
David Julian Gray (djg) Mon 16 Apr 12 07:35
The term "World Music" was coined by ethnomusicologist Bob Brown, who ran the floating school "Center for World Music" which started at Wesleyan in the early 1960's and, after several years on its own in Northern California can to rest, as did he, at San Jose State - I didn't have to look that up in wikipedia, where it's correctly attributed, I studied with and worked for him in the mid 1970's - Re: Paul Simon - he beat Joni to the "hey let's record our own work over an 'ethnic' track" with his 1960's pop hit "El Condor Pasa" ...
David Julian Gray (djg) Mon 16 Apr 12 07:42
back to Ms. Mitchell - RE: Music as a physical space - I like the section where you speak of that in the book - about your own discovery - as a musician - this isn't allegorical or metaphorical - this is reality - it IS space! - When I play with a good bass player, it's not *like* I'm on solid ground, - it's the difference between walking (or running) on smooth dry ground and slogging through mud or treading water - RE: the ambiguity in Joni's chords of inquiry (and if this was posted elsewhere, earlier, forgive me) there's a great story of an exchange between Herbie Hancock and Joni where he says "Joni, there can't *all* be suspensions!" to which she says "Why not?" and Herbie (and the zen sages would say) attained enlightenment in that moment ...(or at least had no good answer).
Kevin Wheeler (krome) Mon 16 Apr 12 16:16
Wanted to check in to say that I am reading and following here and looking to see if/when we get to a book discussion of how Joni got hooked up with Carlton, Metheny, Pastorius, etal. After Blue but what I think was her most blooming period and certainly the records which made me listen closer. These guys were well regarded studio players and I m wondering who picked whom.
Dan Flanery (sunspot) Tue 17 Apr 12 19:26
"The Jungle Line" was I suppose fairly experimental, but synths and African drumming weren't *terribly* exotic by 1975. Stevie Wonder had already deployed some pretty heavy synth riffs on chart-topping albums by that point. Steve Miller too, for that matter. Maybe new to Joni's core audience. And that was only one track. "Shadows & Light" would be the other somewhat experimental track I suppose, although again she'd done sparse / no accompaniment before ("The Fiddle & The Drum").
From Rachel M. (captward) Wed 18 Apr 12 02:47
Via e-mail: Hello music lovers. I'm struck by all the male comments here. I seem to remember my older sister being mad for Joni's words and messages through this "strung out on another man" era. Was my sis a freak, or did Joni strike a meaningful emotional chord to her female peers? Also, are there many women at the well these days? Thanks, guys.
Ed Ward (captward) Wed 18 Apr 12 02:49
I'll leave Michelle to get to the larger part of that question, but remark that it's been interesting how many men have been a part of this discussion so far. One tends to think of female singer-songwriters as kind of "girly" acts for the most part, but there definitely is something about Mitchell's art which draws guys in as well.
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