Inkwell: Authors and Artists
David Wilson (dlwilson) Sun 22 Apr 12 11:11
I found some real problems with "But Beautiful." The primary one is that there is only one photo reproduced that refers back to the text. This from a book that riffs off of photos to construct a narrative. And I like Dyer and am a big fan of John Berger's writings.
Nancy White (choco) Sun 22 Apr 12 13:32
Dan <sunspot> - your follow up post about resonance by women not being necessarily about Joni having a "feminine" voice really resonated for me. >And now that I think about it, reflecting on something I said last night, maybe *that's* why so many women connected with Mitchell as well. It's not that she was a strong female voice necessarily - it's that women were hearing something *other* than a male voice and sensibility (or a female voice of the era, which like most of the male voices tended to concern itself with things stereotypically female for the times). Women had this whole inner life that wasn't being fully reflected much in the broader culture, and suddenly here were these thoughts and feelings that had gone unreflected being bounced back at them. I think it was EXACTLY that the voice was not the stereotype "feminine" voice of the time. It was deeper. Now, back to movies and books (I just bought the Bear book and downloaded the Herbie Hancock music. YOu are bad on my budget, folks!)
Dan Flanery (sunspot) Sun 22 Apr 12 15:17
Yeah, not what pop culture was presenting as an "approved" feminine voice, but saying and observing things actual women felt and observed - things that weren't properly "feminine" by the ridiculous standards of the time. And doing so in a genderless way, so that plenty of men (especially gay men) could immediately relate to it as well. Prince was a huge Joni devotee, and he also transcended race and gender boundaries in his work. He was lumped in with the gender benders of the '80s, but in a way I think he went far beyond what Boy George or Annie Lennox accomplished in regards to crossing and blurring gender lines, and did so in a genre where that kind of thing hadn't been done before in such a prominent way. During the '80s I recall reading a critic who said Annie Lennox was the link between Joni Mitchell and the future, and I think that more or less turned out to be the truth. Lennox had an androgynous sound and perfected an incredible androgynous look (something she was driven to by sexism in the music business), but her work was very much rooted in a strong feminine perspective. What made her unique was combining such forcefulness with that perspective - "I've got a delicate mind, I've got a dangerous nature, and my fists collide, with your furniture..." It was militant, and I think the LGBT community of the time immediately and strongly identified. I think she kicked down a lot of doors for the in-your-face female singer-songwriters who followed, everyone from Tori Amos to Alanis Morissette to Pink. I don't think they transcended gender the way Mitchell or to a degree Prince did, but they achieved a greater degree of equality for music from a woman's true point of view. I think Carly Simon was instrumental in setting the stage for acts like Annie Lennox and Chrissie Hynde as well (although I gather Chrissie's not a fan!). She didn't transcend gender the way Mitchell did, but I certainly think she was one of the first (along with Laura Nyro and Janis Ian) to really get the no-bullshit, uncensored versions of a woman's thoughts and feelings into the pop charts. Boy George was a transvestite performing these sublime Motown love songs, written to another man. He didn't bend gender, he really broke it! It's amazing to look back and realize how successful Culture Club were, and I think they made it on pure pop talent. It's a pity what the drugs did to him - "Karma Chameleon" was on the Muzak at the grocery store yesterday, and I was immediately struck by what a wonderful pop song it still was, and by that incredible sound they had. He was able to produce brilliant work like that for 2 or 3 years, and then... >Well, she [Taylor Swift] strikes me as an incongruous and even >bizarre casting choice. She's blonde. She's pretty. She can sing (well, kinda). She can play. That's close enough for Hollyweird. Hell, if she put on 30 pounds they'd try to cast her as Boy George in the Culture Club biopic. Anyhow, could be worse. They coulda tapped Lohan... >"Furry Sings the Blues" is one of the great moments in music >in terms of confronting the debt that white musicians owe to >the black experience and the distance that can never fully be >bridged. It certainly doesn't say everything that could be >said about the subject, but it says a lot. Yeah, was listening to Hejira in the car yesterday on the way to Pt. Reyes. It's an interesting track both in its observational power related to that subject and also as another vignette on the album detailing Joni arriving somewhere in her travels as a total outsider, one who can't really ever hope to fit in. "While our limo is shining on his shanty's street."
Steve Silberman (digaman) Sun 22 Apr 12 15:51
This is a wonderful interview! Thanks to <tnf> for alerting me to it. Michelle, alas I haven't had the chance to read your book yet. On the basis of your thoughtful comments here, I surely will! I have a very long relationship with Joni's music. I also had the utterly mind-blowing experience of being a 19 year old student at Naropa Institute when "Hejira" came out. When I heard "Refuge of the Roads," my first thought was, "Oh my God, she's talking about Chogyam Trungpa!" (the Tibetan Buddhist teacher who founded Naropa). But then I thought, "Jesus Christ, Steve, not everything is about YOUR LIFE." So I ran out in the hall and asked an older student if Joni ever met Trungpa. And of course she had, and of course my first impression was correct! Michelle, did you ever talk to Joni about her experience meeting Trungpa, or about Buddhism in general? To my ears, it has informed her music even when she isn't talking directly about it, with "Sweet Bird" and "Chinese Café" as ready examples. For the record, I love pretty much all of her music up through "Don Juan's" -- and I have to assume that anybody who says she lost them after "Hejira" just hasn't listened to "Don Juan's" very carefully; the first time I heard her play "Coyote" live, it just segued into "Don Juan's Reckless Daughter" as if it was a single epic song. You probably know that she changed one lyric in "Don Juan's" for the album, and while the final version is just fine, the earlier version is also great. Final version: "The eagle and the serpent are at war in me. The serpent fighting for blind desire, the eagle for clarity." Original version: "The eagle and the serpent are at war in me. The eagle for high ideals, the snake for sensuality." Dare I ask, what's going on with the Morgellons stuff? I read that recent interview with her in the LA Times, and frankly, as much as I love and respect Joni and fully consider her the artistic equal of Picasso or Miles Davis, she seems to have become *so* bitter and defensive and obsessed with Morgellons of late. I'm a science writer, and I've looked very carefully at the evidence for Morgellons. While I'm sympathetic to people who believe they have disorders unrecognized by medical science, I haven't been convinced by the evidence for Morgellons. Is she as obsessed with it as she seems from a distance? That said, she gets a lifetime pass from me for nearly anything, and I consider her a Living Global Treasure (in the Japanese sense). She should be able to do WHATEVER she wants for the rest of her life in peace and comfort. I just wish she seemed more comfortable!
Steve Silberman (digaman) Sun 22 Apr 12 15:57
By the way, I love a lot of her post-"Don Juan's" music too. I thought "Mingus" was an awkward record (though I adore "The Wolf that Lives in Lindsay"), but there are great songs on every record that followed, even if they're not "perfect" like the earlier albums were. For instance, I think "Taming the Tiger" is terribly underrated -- "Love Puts on a New Face," "Crazy Cries of Love," and the title track are all sublime to me. For anyone who thinks Joni's later music is all crap, put on "Night Ride Home" -- to me, it's a classic up there with her best early work (but in a new way). I like "Shine" quite a bit too, particularly "If," which I think is a masterpiece.
David Julian Gray (djg) Mon 23 Apr 12 05:40
how common are "perfect" albums? I was about to agree with steve, but, and I'm sure I'm as manic a joni fan as anyone - I don't find her pre-Hejira output any more perfect than her post Hejira work - I skip, or skipped, about as many tracks on "Clouds, For the Roses, Court and Spark, Hissing of Summer Lawns as I did, do on Wild things..., Dog Eat Dog, Night Ride Home or Turbulent Indigo (for examples) ...
Steve Silberman (digaman) Mon 23 Apr 12 13:49
Well, uhm, the word "perfect" was probably the least important word in my posts. And I forgot to mention how much I love "Turbulent Indigo."
Michelle Mercer (milkmaids) Mon 23 Apr 12 18:57
Steve Silberman: Trungpa and Buddhism, so happy you've asked! Those are the primary subjects of my book's final chapter, which looks at Hejira as the culmination of Joni's Blue Period. Along with tracing the lineage of autobiographical literature up to Joni and looking at the idea of landscape in her music, teasing out the influence of Buddhism on Hejira was a big goal of mine. (These themes just scream mass market, don't they?) Joni tells a fascinating story about meeting Trungpa, who somehow caused her to lose her sense of "I," as she puts it, for three days afterward. After visiting Trungpa in Boulder, she traveled East with friends. Then she traveled back West alone, writing much of Hejira along the way. I hear Hejira as her attempt to compose herself into the grace of those three egoless days. She tried to write her way back to that temporary state of equanimity. We spoke about this quite a bit. Here's a relevant quote from Joni: . Everything about the journey was unusual. but the journey back was reflective. I went and bought all Trungpas books to understand this abnormal consciousness that had occurred and how hed done it to me. And the journey back was one of detoxing basically from Rolling Thunder the year before . . . process of cleaning up from the drug habit. So that whole album was written coming out of the fog and having been really delivered from the fog into a state of absolute mental health temporarily with no I thing. The journey was quite an exceptional journey, mentally and physically, and I think that the writing on that album reflected it.
Michelle Mercer (milkmaids) Mon 23 Apr 12 19:01
Dan <sunspot>: I want to join the Well just so I can read your posts.
damage my pre-conceived views (chrys) Mon 23 Apr 12 19:09
The story about Trungpa Rinpoche is one of the most interesting to me of all the Joni Micthell stories. <<"He was the bad boy of Zen. I wrote a song about a visit I made to him called "Refuge of the Road." I consider him one of my great teachers, even though I saw him only three times. Once I had a fifteen-minute audience with him in which we argued. He told me to quit analyzing. I told him I couldn't - I'm an artist, you know. Then he induced into me a temporary state where the concept of "I" was absent, which lasted for three days. [Later], at the very end of Trungpa's life I went to visit him. I wanted to thank him. He was not well. He was green and his eyes had no spirit in them at all, which sort of stunned me, because the previous times I'd seen him he was quite merry and puckish - you know, saying "shit" a lot. I leaned over and looked into his eyes, and I said, "How is it in there? What do you see in there? And this voice came, like, out of a void, and it said, "Nothing." So, I want over and whispered in his ear, "I just came to tell you that when I left you that time, I had three whole days without self conscious-ness, and I wanted to thank you for the experience." And he looked up at me, and all the light came back into his face and he goes, "Really?" And then he sank back into this black void again.>> jonimitchell.com/music/song.cfm?id=7
Michelle Mercer (milkmaids) Mon 23 Apr 12 19:21
Joni and I actually discussed this at length, so there's a much more elaborate version of the story in my book, as well as quite a bit of analysis. Maybe you didn't read that far, Chrys.
Michelle Mercer (milkmaids) Mon 23 Apr 12 19:29
I'm also sympathetic to people with conditions not recognized by mainstream medicine. Still not convinced about Morgellon's, though. Me, not so long ago: "How's Joni?" Joni's close friend: "Much better than she thinks." Sad & telling.
damage my pre-conceived views (chrys) Mon 23 Apr 12 19:44
<Maybe you didn't read that far, Chrys. > Oh no, I read the whole book. The heart of the Rinpoche story got muddled, I thought, in the tale about the Reiki healer, Robben Ford's wife and the roadtrip with the former lover and the new object of flirtation. Though it *was* good to get down the "this is my god and this is my prayer" part of the story. (Which I'm not inclined to type that up. Page 191 if anyone wants to check it out.) I thought it would have been better set in terms of Mitchell's music and how that experience led to Hejira.
Michelle Mercer (milkmaids) Mon 23 Apr 12 20:30
Chrys, it's strange to me that you'd read the chapter in this way. Its subject is Trungpa, Buddhism, and their impact on Joni and on Hejira. There is no "tale about a Reiki healer" in the book. There is a story about a dinner I had with Joni, during which she re-told the Trungpa story, and at which Joni's friend, whom I identify as a Reiki healer, was present. When I quote Joni on her roadtrip with the two men, it is because she's explicitly discussing Trungpa's effect on her interaction with them. You are of course free to dislike my book. And even though I'm an invited guest here, you are also free to be less than collegial toward me on this board. But you are not free to misrepresent my book.
Scott Underwood (esau) Tue 24 Apr 12 21:03
I'd be sorry to see this end on an uncomfortable note. I think Chris read your book entirely and came away with a story you didn't intend; knowing her as I do I'm sure no insult was intended, and I didn't get from her remarks that she disliked the book (surely, she wouldn't have finished it if she had). I'm sorry my schedule didn't allow me to read the book at all, but I've enjoyed this conversation, and I've felt compelled to revisit this great period in Joni's career.
Dan Flanery (sunspot) Tue 24 Apr 12 21:44
>Dan <sunspot>: I want to join the Well just so I can read >your posts Because they're so good or so bad? Well whatever. I was an only child and always the entertainment. >Still not convinced about Morgellon's, though. I have a theory that it's possibly related to neurological damage of some sort, in Joni's case perhaps caused by polio. Other diseases and even parasites are known to impact mammalian behavior - for example, toxoplasmosis. If a parasite from cat crap can cause mice not to fear cats, who knows what polio can do to a human brain. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toxoplasmosis#Possible_link_to_psychiatric_disord ers (and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toxoplasmosis#Behavioral_changes from the same article).
Ed Ward (captward) Wed 25 Apr 12 01:31
The conversation's not over until tomorrow, though -- or, put another way, we have a new one up starting tomorrow, but this one can continue, and Michelle is, after all, a Well member for the entire run of this conversation and a while afterwards, so she's free to roam the wilds of Well discourse if she chooses.
Michelle Mercer (milkmaids) Wed 25 Apr 12 07:20
Thanks, Scott. And Dan, I meant to praise the excellence of your posts, of course. May my entertaining only child grow up to think and write half as well as you. One more thing, before the curtain falls. A body of work as rich and masterful as Joni's rewards reexamination. We can go back to songs and albums and hear sly humor we didn't hear in our earnest youth, for instance. And I'm still discovering choice music/lyric pairings in her work, even on my 311th listen. A body of work as rich and masterful as Joni's is also hard to get a handle on. I've talked to culture-makers who say, "Oh yes, Joni Mitchell. Of course she's widely revered. She's a legendary folk-singer. " That covers maybe three years of her career. Now, especially, with the announcement of Taylor Swift's willingness to play Joni in a film, I've beent thinking about artistic legacy. Some fans argue Taylor Swift would bring a new generation of fans to Joni's work. She would. But she'd also popularize a very narrow vision of Joni's life and work. I'm afraid that narrow vision of Joni is the one that would stick for good. I wonder, though, if it's even possible for Joni to be widely recognized and remembered for the full scope of her contribution to music and culture. Can you all think of any complex artists who are?
Ed Ward (captward) Wed 25 Apr 12 08:49
There aren't many artists -- at least in the pop music arena -- who are that complex, and the ones who come to mind immediately (Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Patti Smith, John Cale) guard access to the full spectrum of their complexity pretty tightly. Who are you thinking of here?
Virtual Sea Monkey (karish) Wed 25 Apr 12 11:44
<milkmaids>, you're seeing <sunspot> at his very best in this discussion. His contributions elsewhere on the Well are more complex.
David Gans (tnf) Wed 25 Apr 12 12:15
Heh. But I do hope you'll stick arund - the WELL is a pretty interesting place on many levels.
Gail Williams (gail) Wed 25 Apr 12 13:28
This has been a good one! For ongoing participation, you may want to add the <music.> conference to your List. It's a great way to get new insights and music tips.
Ed Ward (captward) Wed 25 Apr 12 13:31
And <byline.> and maybe <writers.> and <newmusic.> and lots of others. But we're not through yet, are we?
Gail (gail) Wed 25 Apr 12 13:37
I have a slightly rude comment, in relation to Joni's legacy. It's about the one song that is an earworm in a negative sense, and it's that damned jinglebells thing about it's comin' on Christmas. I used to love it, and then eventually I clearly did not. Anybody else have a least favorite of the time?
Michelle Mercer (milkmaids) Wed 25 Apr 12 13:40
Big Yellow Taxi is song I could go without hearing for a long while.
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