It rained all day today, and it is going to rain pretty much forever, it seems like a good time to talk about Joni Mitchell.
Rachel says that when you most feel like listening to Joni is when you absolutely shouldn’t. Actually, as I was listening to Blue and stuff to write this, Jim walked in and was like “Uh oh, you’re listening to Joni, I know what that means.” Next time you are feeling absolutely wretched about Christmas, or family, or the “holiday season” in general, just put on “River” and I will gaurantee you will feel, actaully, more wretched, but in a good way.
Listening to Joni when you’re sad is like picking at a scab, or, really, like when you have a pain in your tooth and you keep touching it with your tongue, making sure its there, it hasn’t gotten worse, yes. It is wallowing music, the equivalent of shutting the door and not answering the phone when you know that going out will make you feel better; it is stubbornly committing to feeling awful, and the satisfaction of that, but also the fact that deciding that makes it more awful.
Or maybe like feeling a spot where you broke a bone, now that it has healed, but you can remember the pain. “The pain of an old wound” and all that. For me, it’s a compounded nostalgia. Joni Mitchell records were the ones we had multiple copies of in my house; both my mom and my dad had them, and when they got together they had both. When I hear her voice I think of my mother, of her waking up on a camping trip and saying “the wind is in from Africa, last night I couldn’t sleep,” or how much she liked the line “I could drink a case of you and still be on my feet,” or “we’re only welcome for our drink and our smoke,” or, there are so many. My dad liked Joni too, but lots of music makes me think of my dad – the Talking Heads, anything Brian Eno, Jefferson Starship, the Beatles, lots and lots of stuff. My mom and I had less overlap in music, I think, but she liked Joni, and we listened to it all the time.
We didn’t listen to Blue so much, which is understandable – who wants to bring up kids in a house full of that? My parents had friends who hated Joni for Blue, and they thought it was pretty maudlin. But we listened to Court and Spark. That album, along with Red Octopus, Stop Making Sense and Luck of the Draw – that was what was usually on, in the car, on our big record player in the living room. Court and Spark is gorgeous, too. The way her voice falls and gasps on the first “help me”? Amazing, still.
These are albums I have physical associations with, like a physical touch, not just a sound. I like to listen to them with the album cover in view, too. Court and Spark is a nice one, but Blue….The only other record I can think of that is such a total package, where the album title, the cover, and the actual music all come together so perfectly is Loveless.
I only found out last Thursday when we see the Free For All that “I am as constant as the Northern Star” was Shakespeare first, but even when the big commanding man said it on stage, I had to whisper, “Constantly in the darkness, where’s that at? If you want me I’ll be in the bar.”