Joni Mitchell still alive - another look at her influence

Brian Eno said about the poor selling Velvet Underground debut “They may have only sold 30,000 copies, but every person who bought that record started a band”.

The same need be said about Joni Mitchell and her paramours.  She may have had only 10 lovers, but every one of them went on to form a super successful band that came to define the sound of California” – you may, and should, quote me on that.

This began as a follow up piece to my ‘muse’ series.  I had talked about how she and Patti Hansen/Boyd/Harrison/Clapton basically were the inspiration of all songs.  ALL of them.  I had wondered where was our new great muse.  I found her. Scary times, indeed.

I did some more digging and found Joni Mitchell literally was the inspiration for every single song every written in America.  Patti covered England, of course.

It might get loud in here, I am about to drop some very heavy names.

I just read that Joni Mitchell passed away STILL ALIVE – but reports vary greatly on her health.  She is anywhere from ‘fine and responding well’ to ‘in a coma and unable to care for herself’. (as of late April 2015).  This makes me very sad, and it should make you sad.  Perhaps you say “weird chick, who everyone reveres for some reason… but no one actually listens to?”  No, that would Patti Smith.  Joni gave us ‘Big Yellow Taxi’, ‘Both Sides Now’, and ‘Coyote’, which we’ll talk about below.  I am not here to celebrate Joni’s music as much as I am here to celebrate her impact on music.  She is, one would argue, the most significant muse of all rock history. 

I wrote about this here, but here is a short cut.  Many, or perhaps all, of Graham Nash’s songs are about her.  Same with James Taylor.  Even Led Zeppelin’s masterpiece ‘Going to California’ is about Joni Mitchell.  In fact, she was also a paramour of David Crosby.  Perhaps his songs are all about her, too.  If you are a 70’s music fan, you have heard of the ‘Laurel Canyon scene’.  That is fancy speak for ‘It’s where Joni Mitchell lived, and artists and singers just filled in the rest of the canyon.  Let’s not forget Jackson Browne, who was also Joni’s boyfriend for a period.  Keith Richards, too.  Oh, and Leonard Cohen.  Cohen wrote one of the most beautiful and haunting songs ever.  It is called ‘Suzanne’, and it is such an amazing and perfect and unique song… we should simply assume it’s about Joni.

The Eagles, they sure captured the California sound.  I mean, that wasn’t Joni, too, right?  UH… yup.  She is in the mix.  She dated both Jackson Browne and JD Souther… both Eagles songwriters.

Basically, every soft rocker dated Joni Mitchell in the 70s.  I think it was a law.  Perhaps you are thinking ‘man, is there anyone in music who wasn’t her boyfriend at one time in the 70s?  It appears she somehow was not the inspiration for ‘California Dreamin’ by the Mamas and the Papa’s.  I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out she was.
Side note, holy shit I think it was.  Guess who was Joni’s neighbor during that era?  Mama Cass AND John Phillips.  Not sharing zipcode and grocery store neighbors… but more like ‘your dog shit up on my lawn again… and ‘do you have some sugar’ neighbors.  Laurel Canyon is where everything, and every song, came from in the late 60s and early 70s.  Let’s see who lived up there:  Jim Morrison, Frank Zappa, the Eagles,  Crosby Still & Nash (thanks to Joni), Mama’s and the Papas, the Eagles, and Linda Ronstadt (who birthed the Eagles, did you know that?)

We don’t need to cover that here, again.  I talked about her glowingly right here in these pages.. almost ten years ago. Most recently, though, I had written about what a mean jerk she had become.  Consider she was the direct inspiration for ‘Our House’, ‘Something in the way she Moves’, and ‘Going to California’, I expected more grace, I guess.  I mean, this is the gal who literally wrote the book on Woodstock.  Since she has passed, I should feel bad about that angry last piece.  However, I did it while she was alive.  Btw, I was right about that.  David Crosby just said about Joni… again… this was while she was alive

We can agree she always lived on her own terms, and I totally respect that.  I can’t think of anyone else who always lived 100% on their own terms, at every turn, except Neil Young.  I just gave you the high, and the low, of Joni.   Oooh, wait!  Before we move on, I have to share this gem.  Joni was due a ‘greatest hits’ compilation to her record company.  She said ok, but she will only consent to that if she could release a companion album of her favorite songs that didn’t take off… called misses.  The cover art for both is subversive fun. Hits… and misses. That is funny, and wicked courageous.  All of these stories you can find on our own, and have been told a 100 times.  

I want to tell a new story about Joni, and my attachment to her.  My love for her and her music comes from a song called ‘Coyote’.  It’s a fun and silly and strange and perfect piece.  I met the song on the soundtrack to ‘the Last Waltz’.  Let’s just stop and enjoy the song, then I will explain more

Here is what I love about that song.  Joni explained through her lyrics the greatest question every man has had about women.  Women say they want a guy who is sensitive, and funny, and appreciative.  Every guy on Earth knows this to be a crazy and mean lie.  Women say these things, but the sweet guy gets pushed the side every time.  What women seem to actually want is confident jerks.  The nice guy will forever be stuck in the ‘friend zone’.  I can assure you, on behalf of nice guys, this drives us all to rage and confusion. 

Joni, though, managed to explain the discrepancy.   In a few short perfect, and eloquent words, she managed to unlock the great female mind.Keep in mind, this comes from the gal who was single-handedly in charge of, and responsible for… all sensitivity throughout the 70s.  In the song, she gives us the skeleton key of why women want nice guys, but always choose the jerks.

The last two lines say it all.  That is word choice, and touches about something no other gal has every managed to articulate.  Maybe that is how she got to be the influence of every great soft rock song of the 70s.  Maybe that gift for words is how she literally wrote the book on Woodstock, even though she wasn’t there.

May God speed you to your happy place, Joni.  You made all the difference in the world of music.  I know a lot more about Joni’s condition and symptoms than I have put here.  However, unlike the rest of Earth, I am going to respect her privacy and her HIPPA rights.
Fun tangent here on how I accidentally killed Joni Mitchell on the internet.

Note... like Courtney Love, I have a love/hate relationship with Joni.  Let's look at her from Both Sides, Now.   Yes, I did just compare Joni to Courtney... only because it would likely enrage them both


lee woo said…
Do not take life too seriously. You will never get out of it alive. See the link below for more info.

MiSa said…
Great post! I enjoyed a lot, great writing on a great woman.

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