Reading Music III

October 22, 2020  •  7 Comments

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La Jolla, California

I arrived late for the Joni Mitchell bandwagon. I'd heard the overplayed top-40 songs from their initial release well into their "Classic Radio" days but two of her masterworks, Blue and Hejira, had escaped my attention until, well, until they were considered classics themselves.  My interest in Joni's music wasn't as a fan-- I'd listen when it played, wouldn't switch the channel, tapped my foot and hummed a few bars, but that was about it.  

Then, Blue happened.  Sometime around the turn of the century (it's so cool that I can use that phrase) I came across the song California and decided to look into it and discovered the album, Blue.  Now I'm hooked, a fan for life. More of her ancient albums started taking their place in my CD collection (my LP story will have to wait), Court and Spark, Ladies of the Canyon, etc.  Then, just a few years ago, I came upon Hejira and now that and Blue stay in regular rotation on my stereo. 

As I mentioned a while back I asked for a Joni Mitchell bio for my birthday. The one I received was, Joni Mitchell, In Her Own Words by Malka Marom.   Marom is a one-time singer who turned journalist and over many years did three long interviews with her now friend Joni.  Those interviews were turned into this very personal and reflective book where Marom will ask a question or comment on an aspect of Joni's life and then allow Joni to run with it and wander about, verbally considering her life and times. 

She's a very accomplished artist and seems to love it as much as songwriting.  If you've seen many of her albums you'll notice that there are a few with her painted sketches as cover art.   

The book is about personal friendships, performances, her creative process and her long career.  In the early chapters she reflects upon her childhood, parents, music, her painting, and life in the Canadian plains. She doesn't discuss much of the polio that left her left hand somewhat weakened and how it caused her to use "open tunings" to accommodate her weakened condition.  Not being a musician I have no idea what open tunings are or how they're used but it gave Joni's music a unique sound and I'm grateful for that sound. 

Now, go find Blue wherever you find your music and listen.  Then, listen again. 




My favorite remains 'Both Sides Now'.
As a long time Joni Mitchell fan, I enjoyed your post. I also use open tunings when I play. It’s a rabbit hole I can dive into and enjoy for days at a time. Covering some artists songs just wouldn’t be the same without them. Looking forward to reading Joni Mitchell, In Her Own Words now, too. Thanks.
I kinda grew up with a familiarity of Joni via my Mom as is a big fan, a typical 1960's hippie. Like Monte, I kinda never dove into her work in-depth, but I could never turn it off because of the familiarity in growing up with her sound. But your post has made me want to check out Blue in more detail, to see if it sticks.
Monte Stevens(non-registered)
Wow, on the image! I never really got into her music although I did listen to her and did not turn her off. Interestingly I listen to little music unless it's the background music in a coffee shop. When oldies come on I perk up and listen. The newer stuff goes in one ear and out the other.
Todd Henson(non-registered)
I never got into her music but I always love seeing folks becoming passionate about music and musicians, especially enough to want to learn more about their life. And it was interesting when you mentioned her polio and open tunings. Last year I'd have no idea what that meant, but this year I've been learning guitar, so slowly learning some of these terms. And that makes perfect sense if she lacked hand strength and played acoustic guitar. Most times to play nice sounding chords you need to press your fingers on the strings on the neck between the frets. That creates a different note on each string that sound great together (a chord). But pressing those strings does take some finger strength (as I'm learning the hard way). So apparently you can retune individual strings such that you can play some nice sounding chords without having to press down on those strings on the neck. Sounds like it worked really well for her. I'm always amazed at how people with various conditions are able to find ways to play instruments and create great music.
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