Last night I dined with a Joni fan, someone with whom I found common ground initially on that fact alone, tossing her words at the appropriate emotion or situation, as if to say, “You know what I mean?” Oddly enough, we did not talk about Joni, though she was there, framing our discussion, our gestures and postures on love, men and the world. We are both children weaned on her music and so look through her lenses, her lyrics and voice, in daily life.
Joni has been on my mind lately for the same reason as Linda Grant has written about her in It’s not always easy to be a Joni Mitchell fan, but her illness devastates me in the Guardian. Joni is ill, has been for a while, and it looks as if life’s accumulations have conspired to bury her soon, if not from this latest episode of falling unconscious, then perhaps not long after. She is 72, a dedicated smoker, and embittered by all accounts.
But it is not the person but the persona of Joni Mitchell that I have adored all my life. She captured the spirit of my youth and has been my creative mother, in some ways, a decade older and wiser, tethering me along on her words and experiences that resonate with and color my own. She is always first, and my footsteps follow in the safety and security of her words and melodies to accompany my heart breaks, my pride and creative yearning.
I agree with Grant. When she goes, her music will survive, but something, the undergirding of a culture, a huge part of its iconography, will be lost and will be suffered by some of her daughters, ones like me whose history of love has always been bathed in her coursing stream of heart songs, like the loss of a limb.
She has called herself “a scientist of love”; how to love is what she’s trying to get to the bottom of. Like Jean Rhys, she has drawn the anatomy of a woman’s heart, the men we fall for, the loneliness, the fatal choices. The accretion of age, the disappointments of living, are part of the journey we’ve all been on with her, so this life-long fandom can’t have a happy ending. Or even a happy middle. Pity the poor children with an indelible online record of the day they wept when they heard Zayn Malik was leaving One Direction. Perhaps the lifelong experience of being a fan, an admirer, an acolyte or a student of an artist will turn out to have been a fluke, a small window of privilege, and from now on careers will burn up in a year or two, the experience fleeting for the adorer and the adored alike. I don’t think she knows how much she’s venerated. Or maybe she knows and it doesn’t matter. It fulfils nothing. It makes no difference. She’s as alone with her music as we are.
Critical acclaim and personality contest winners have never been criteria for my musical tastes, so I will die a Joni fan no matter the latest news of her quirks and habit–or her death. Here’s to you, Joni, and wishing you good health in as long a life as you permit.
Last Time I Saw Richard
by Joni Mitchell
The last time I saw Richard was Detroit in ’68
And he told me all romantics meet the same fate someday
Cynical and drunk and boring someone in some dark café
You laugh he said you think you’re immune
Go look at your eyes they’re full of moon
You like roses and kisses and pretty men to tell you
All those pretty lies pretty lies
When you gonna realize they’re only pretty lies
Only pretty lies just pretty lies
He put a quarter in the Wurlitzer and he pushed
Three buttons and the thing began to whirr
And a bar maid came by in fishnet stockings and a bow tie
And she said “Drink up now it’s getting’ on time to close”
“Richard, you haven’t really changed” I said
It’s just that now you’re romanticizing some pain that’s in your head
You got tombs in your eyes but the songs you punched are dreaming
Listen, they sing of love so sweet, love so sweet
When you gonna get yourself back on your feet?
Oh and love can be so sweet Love so sweet
Richard got married to a figure skater
And he bought her a dishwasher and a coffee percolator
And he drinks at home now most nights with the TV on
And all the house lights left up bright
I’m gonna blow this damn candle out
I don’t want nobody comin’ over to my table
I got nothing to talk to anybody about
All good dreamers pass this way some day
Hidin’ behind bottles in dark cafes dark cafes
Only a dark cocoon before I get my gorgeous wings and fly away
Only a phase these dark café days
© 1970; Joni Mitchell