Tuesday, February 06, 2024

Joni Mitchell: Blues For Ms. Havisham

[I wrote the piece below late last year, with the New Yorker's "Shouts and Murmurs" section in mind; alas, the New Yorker folks found its satire less droll than I do. It did, however, strike me as newly pertinent today, in light of the artiste's unfortunate appearance at the past weekend's Grammys. At which, inexplicably, somebody who did the booking apparently felt it would be a good idea to let Joni croak like a Marleine Dietrich-esque frog for a couple of minutes in front of an international audience. But read on, please.]

Okay -- that's pretty funny, if I do say so myself. I particularly like the rationale behind the album title.

But look, if the piece strikes you as somehow in bad taste, just chill. I'm a big Joni fan, and have been since her brilliant David Crosby-produced debut album in 1968. When she's on, there's few people better.

I mean, I get all warm and runny just THINKING about "River," let alone hearing it.

But c'mon -- it's also not exactly a secret that she's always had a huge pretentious streak/bullshit quotient, which often leads to embarrassing and unintentionally hilarious moments. Like the entirety of "Coyote," for example. Or, more recently, that cringe stuff at Sunday's awards ceremony.

Feel free to disagree. This is a matter of personal taste, obviously, and as Chuck Barris famously posited, some people like cold toilet seats.

But if you think Mitchell is such a holy bovine in her old age that making fun of her is beyond the pale, then -- well, in the immortal words of that great moral philosopher Mick Jagger -- you should relax is my impression.

Thank you.


Gummo said...

steve, I luv ya BUT --

Funny is funny and sexist crap is sexist crap.

That's sexist crap.

It would never occur to you to make the same joke about a man.

Sal Nunziato said...

"somebody who did the booking apparently felt it would be a good idea to let Joni croak like a Marleine Dietrich-esque frog for a couple of minutes in front of an international audience."

If you're just trying to get a rise out of people, then congratulations. Joni hardly "croaked" on Sunday. I had expected her to, but instead was moved to tears. Her voice was aged but there, and the arrangement was stunning. Not sure what you were watching. Jeez.

Anonymous said...

no disrespect but she reminded me of Solomon Burke sitting there in the upholstered throne chair with her fancy carved walking stick. certainly an icon.

Allan Rosenberg said...

Come on Steve: The girl knew how to have a good time.

Captain Al

BG said...

Lighten up, people! I think this is very funny. And he created the graphic well over a month ago. The dig at Jann Wenner is well-deserved.

Cleveland Jeff said...

I'll second both Gummo and Sal. I'm not so sure that Joni is the one with the "pretentious streak" this time.

Jai Guru Dave said...

I agree with Sal. I had expected it to be terrible. But instead, I found it really moving. It was the perfect song to do - the lyrics speaking of seeing both sides of life. Here she is, as she is now; contrasted with my memory of her as young, beautiful, and vital as she was so long ago. Now and Then, indeed.
For me, it resonated.

John K said...

Shouldn't Joni and Billy Joel have been scheduled to be on much earlier? Their audience is old like me and the late appearances messed with my usual bedtime.

Allan Rosenberg said...

If you were Crosby, Stills, Nash or Young back in 1970 Joni might very well have messed with your usual bedtime at one point or another!

Captain Al

daudder said...

While what you say has some truth (and could be aptly applied to ALL artists, even those names Bruuuuuce), isn't it the definition of an artist to be, at times, pretentious? Isn't that how they push through, break new ground and redefine themselves? Name an artist without pretentions or high BS quotiant?

Jai Guru Dave said...

That’s easy - Miley Cyrus!

Michael Giltz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael Giltz said...

John K -- now that was funny!

Joni Mitchell has a MASSIVE ego. My comment on her artistic legacy is that Joni Mitchell is even greater than she thinks! So yes, she has an ego. As does Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Frank Sinatra and every other musical genius you can name with the possible exception of Ella Fitzgerald. So what? It's almost required to have a massive ego when you're going to create world-beating music and then stand on stage and expect 20,000 to pay rapt attention. She's earned that ego.

I have a thing for artists who have seen their voice degrade over the years but know so damn much about singing that they make brilliant use of the voice they have, rather than trying to recapture what they did when that voice could soar. Late period Sinatra? It can give me chills. Joni Mitchell at Newport and here on the Grammys with "Both Sides Now" was a marvel of timing and rhythm and squeezing meaning out of the lyrics to a degree her pure clear voice in her 20s never could. It's undeniably moving not because she had a major illness and is old but because she's singing so well. Lots of old acts just can't sing anymore and can't adapt. Joni did and can.

mistah charley, sb, ma, phd, jsps said...

joni and i were in the same room only one time - when i took my first serious girlfriend* to see her when we were in college in 1969

*[the last time that young woman and i were in the same room was 1971
- later she ran for lt. governor of michigan on a socialist splinter party ticket - she passed away early in the 21st century, i learned several years after the fact]

joni is obviously not the same as then - but neither am i

it's not dark yet - but it's getting there, as a dylan song puts it - i recall having heard of joni excoriating him as fake all the way through - "his name is fake, his voice is fake"

edward said...

Probably would have been funnier 50 years ago. Very National Lampoonish (I was a subscriber then).
Give the 80 year old woman a break.
I feel the same about Yoko.

getawaygoober said...

I've always wondered why you never see Joni Mitchell and Axl Rose at the same place and time.

ChrisE said...

1) I like Steve's piece about the "lost" Joni Mitchell album - I find it funny, I'm not really offended by it.

2) I don't find "Coyote" pretentious or embarrassing, it's actually one of my favorite songs by her.

Anonymous said...

Nothing more to add except I have been a huge Joni fan buying her first 5 albums.
I wouldn't be surprised if he song " The River" wasn't an influence for another woman important composer - Chrissy Hine and her song. - 2000 miles.

Jim G said...

Not a Joni fan AT ALL, but the song is a classic and I found the performance moving. She's beloved by many and I don't begrudge her a victory lap at all, espec since so many of the other performer Sunday will deservedly never get one.