Pazz and Jop 1971 – #14

Joni Mitchell – Blue

My wife does not like Joni Mitchell’s music at all. I don’t feel quite the same (I owned on cassette and enjoyed often her 1988 sort-of comeback “Chalk Mark in a Rain Storm”), but in deference to the love of my life, I usually skip her tunes when they come up on a Spotify playlist. The problem is her voice: there are those too frequent moments when it sounds like a small bird is being gently murdered. She can never quite shake herself of the need to aim for those higher notes, even though the sound doesn’t really change, it just feels strained. I thus came to this with a lot of resistance, though half the tracks here were familiar from long passive exposure.

The songwriting cannot be faulted. I know next-to-nothing about Mitchell and her career arc, but would be unsurprised to learn she was a favourite of desperate artsy girls and boys lying stoned in dorm rooms trying to figure their shit out. There’s a nakedness to her confessional lyrics, a leaving-it-all-out-there (Kris Kristofferson supposedly told her to “keep something to yourself”) approach to her art that should draw young aesthetes to her. “I could drink a case of you, darling, and still be on my feet” just gutted me with that sense of desperate desire for another person that we all – if we’re both lucky and cursed – have felt. (And, weirdly, the strain in her voice works for this song.) I especially liked the songs where it is Joni and her piano (except “My Old Man”, which is a microcosm of the things that can make her a difficult listen) or guitar, and when she combines those and reins in somewhat the vocal tics, the results are sublime, as in “Blue” and “River”. “Little Green” was new to me, and I love this gentle song about the daughter she gave up for adoption. In the end, while I won’t be playing this regularly – I would like to stay married, for one thing – I can see myself coming back to it, all alone and wallowing in Joni.

(Originally posted on Facebook, April 18, 2021)

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