Kathleen and I have been watching specials about and interviews with Joni Mitchell. I have been listening to her music, especially from her jazz period: “Shadows and Light” and “Mingus.” On the former, her band is Pat Metheny, guitar, Jaco Pastorius on bass, Lyle Mays on keys, Don Alias on drums and percussion, and Michael Brecker on tenor sax. Let that sink in your consciousness. Better: let the music itself sink in. She has also recorded with Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter.
One inept interviewer pivoted any time Joni said something philosophical, which was often. He was more concerned with her relationship to fame (which she hates) and her creative process. She is a painter and a poet and a songstress. As an artist, she had the courage to never rest on her laurels, which are considerable. Like John Coltrane, she restlessly seeks more.
As far as I can tell, she has a Buddhist worldview mixed with astrology and with an appreciation for Nietzsche, who she quotes from memory.. She said, “I’m doomed by astrology to be a deep thinker.” What a sad viewpoint. Astrology dooms no one, since God is the “lord of the star fields, Ancient of Days” (Bruce Cockburn). She is seething with words and images and music. Who knows, but I imagine her words-to-length-of-songs ratio is very high (at least in one period of her career) when compared to other singers. She says a lot about many matters, and always poetically.
Oh, Joni Mitchell! Your songs are our companions. Your voice is unparalleled. Your sorrows run deep. She said her basic message was “You’re on your own. And that’s OK.” But we aren’t, and thinking otherwise is not OK. One of her songs has the lyric, “We’re gonna raise up Jesus from the dead.” What an odd idea. Too late! He has been raised and he will come again, bringing his own with him in great glory, a glory that makes the majesty of Joni Mitchell’s voice seem as almost nothing.
I wish I had an hour–at least–to listen to and talk with Joni Mitchell–and not because she is famous or talented or beautiful. Of all her words, some have spoken of God or the church. In the 1980’s she was angry about “snake bite evangelists.” So was I. Of all her words, I cannot think of any that recognized, let alone worshiped, the God who gave her the gift of being “a deep thinker” and the gift of being a singer extraordinaire. But I don’t know here entire oeuvre—so many words, moods, textures, voices.
Perhaps, I really don’t know Joni Mitchell at all.