As always, Sidey got me thinking with the weekend. Blue. Hmmm, I’m not showing you yet more pictures of sea or sky. Not today. I have been feeling a bit off this week- panicky, meh, reluctant to engage- but I don’t know how to describe all that, and anyway, I’m grand now. I decided we should all go on a bracing riverside walk yesterday afternoon. It did wonders for my mood, and made everyone else grumpy. (We were looking for a cafe, but at a critical point turned right instead of left.) Girl2 believes we walked a thousand miles. Girl1 started playing music on her phone after I advised she couldn’t call a taxi. Jake has hardly moved since. Never was there such an exhausted dog.
Apart from the fact that my legs are like lead I’m all bright eyed and bushy tailed now. With a clear head, there’s only one blue to write about. Joni Mitchell’s album ‘Blue’. Released in 1970, I only became familiar with it 25 years later. It’s astonishing.
Mitchell’s distinctive voice and style combined with poetic lyrics, soaring melodies and heartbreak. You’ll know many of the tracks, even deep in the back of your mind. ‘River‘ gets played every Christmas time. I heard a bride sing ‘A Case Of You’ to her partner- one of the most moving parts of any wedding event ever.
In a 1979 Rolling Stone interview with Cameron Crowe, Mitchell said of Blue:
There’s hardly a dishonest note in the vocals. At that period of my life, I had no personal defenses. I felt like a cellophane wrapper on a pack of cigarettes. I felt like I had absolutely no secrets from the world and I couldn’t pretend in my life to be strong. Or to be happy. But the advantage of it in the music was that there were no defenses there either.
Mitchell is keenly attuned to the interconnectedness of joy and despair. She realizes that there would be no heartbreak without the exhilaration of fresh love… Depression gave her the gift of total emotional transparency. She held nothing back.
The word “blue” reappears throughout Blue so often, it becomes the album’s dominant motif. Without true love, there can be no true heartbreak. “My Old Man” is a love song of disarming tenderness to a man who is “my sunshine, he’s my fireworks at the end of the day.” Here, love and a passionate embrace of living are the only antidotes to the creeping fog of depression.
It feels like poetry set to music, and even though many of the lyrics are simple (“All I really, really want our love to do is to bring out the best in me and you,” from the opening track All I Want), often the music seems to be accommodating the words.
Blue introduced a new paradigm for rock: the solo singer-songwriter confessing her woes, making her way in the world alone, without the solace of a band… these songs became indelibly stamped on the minds of Americans and young people everywhere, isolated and bewildered at the start of a new decade. Carey (which was, tune-wise, Big Yellow Taxi’s slight return), the title-track and The Last Time I Saw Richard may have been highly personal, with speculation that they were about, respectively, former beaus James Taylor, David Blue and her ex-husband; A Case Of You may have been as private as a love letter; and Little Green, about giving up a child for adoption, may have been excoriating autobiography. Nevertheless, these songs, sparsely arranged on piano, acoustic guitar and Appalachian dulcimer, delivered with a jazzy looseness and enhanced by the sustained mood of quiet despair, soon became the property of everyone.
If Mitchell were only a singer, she’d be a giant. If she were only a pianist, she’d be a legend. If all she ever did was play guitar, she’d be an all-time great. If she only wrote songs that other people sang, her place in pop-music history would be secure. But she did it all, and did it better than just about anyone who had ever come before or since. She was and is that rarest of creatures: an original.
Thanks, Sidey for promting me to spend the morning listening to wonderful music. I tried to sing along, but, well, you know…
References and chunks of text from http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/reviews/rvzb and http://www.avclub.com/articles/joni-mitchells-blue,45633/