Being Joni




Gathered from a search on Facebook, apparently I first logged on sometime in 2008. Not more than a year or two after I joined my first group, which was a Joni Mitchell page. When I discovered that I could belong to a group centered around a communal interest, that was my immediate thought: Joni fans! 

Joni was my first real musical love, the one with passion that never waned even through her phases I could not relate to; I loved so much of her music so deeply that it did not matter what she produced. I was attracted to her spirit: creative, independent and strong. I envied her life of freedom evidenced by her pursuing creative whims regardless of critical acclaim and the artistry of her words that wooed me from teens til today some forty years later.

Adoring fans of the Joni group have always been really cool, posting memorabilia, personal and published, of Joni music, pictures, album covers, news bites, interviews and just anything Joni. The fans truly keep her present from her distant highly pronounced and productive past to her quiet selective present. I have enjoyed seeing the occasional post on my wall to remind me to return, which frequently results in hearing a song, evoking a memory, a smile and a tune to hum or ruminate in for the rest of the day.

So, when I finally decided to post something of my own on the fan site, as I had never done before in my silent witness of the love, a stalker, I was rather taken aback at the reception of my contribution. Maybe I had not paid attention to any of the comments under the pictures and songs to prepare me for the backlash or to prevent me from posting anything in the first place.

I had written my short reaction to The Guardian article about Joni’s illness through the lens of what it means to her, Ms. Grant, to be a Joni fan, as long, it seems, as I have been, and thought it would be great to share with adoring fans. While my writing is not as polished as it is honest, I thought the few paragraphs about my own vision of Joni’s illness, mortality, and immortality, ending in a declaration of my undying devotion and a toast to her good health and long life, was a positive tribute from a lone fan.

So I posted my blog post on the Facebook site and the first comment was a lambasting exasperation with doomsayers like me about Joni’s illness and imminent death. Yes, my title is misleading, “The Last Time I Will See Joni”, which is riffing on her song, The Last Time I Saw Richard, one of my favorites. But the commenter admitted he had not even read my piece, and would not read such “sensationalism.” Soon another commenter chimed in about the doomsayers who should be wishing her good health and not predicting her death, even insinuating my “piece” (she objected to my ascribing that term to what I wrote) was self-indulgent (actually used) crap (insinuated).

I was stunned. Sure, whenever I put myself out in writing to a public space, I expect criticism of my content, point of view or writing. But I was rather surprised when the first commenter would criticize without even reading what I wrote. The second chimer was even more vociferous in her utter repulsion that I would write what she and others deemed a dirge, a hex, a bad vibe, when I should be wishing her good health, as it was too premature to talk of her death.

Admittedly, I mentioned in my post that she was 72, a dedicated smoker and ill, inevitably mortal, which did not bode well for longevity.

There were others who were supportive of my fan post on a fan site, but the experience had me perturbed and then ponderous. There seemed to be a protocol to fandom I was missing, and some fans appear so much more invested in the person of the adored than the persona, the latter of which was my confessed interest. Aside from the few on that site who actually did meet and have a relationship with Joni Mitchell, the rest, I assumed, merely love her music, her image, her history, and actions. 

Celebrity worship is not a new phenomenon, but I never paid attention to it, despite my own daughters’ obsession with boy bands and boy idols. For them, I regarded excessive preoccupation a healthy distraction from real boys and drugs and other far more detrimental obsessions. But my “negativity” as it was deemed by the same commenter who did not read the post before condemning it, was eschewed from a protective standpoint, fans wanting to keep positive so that Joni could heal, a great notion but one that is sorely mis-calibrated if exercised as censorship. 

Had I been insensitive? Had I intruded upon someone’s family and callously cited the mortality of the matriarch? If a stranger visited my home, took one look at my mother and told me she was not going to last long (she is in fact dying), I would feel injured, even though it is the truth. 

But I had not, as far as I know, disregarded the sensibilities of a relative or friend. If the ruffled fans who commented so strenuously are her friends, like real life friends who shared laughs and sorrows, and so reacted in fear and hurt, I can reconcile the reaction with logic. But if not, then these are fans who would defend Joni’s sensibilities over those of real life people in their presence, disrespecting those present living beings in their space.  After all, I was merely offering my version of appreciation for she who produced the music they all love. 

I am as guilty of fantasizing as anyone else. We think we “know” her through her music, right? Even if we read everything about her, we do not actually know her if we have not even met her let alone spent time with her.

I read about celebrity worship syndrome in an article on webmd. Sure, some people go overboard and fantasize a relationship with their adored celebrity. Most, though, are just overzealous fans who displace some of their own boredom or inadequacy, projecting themselves into someone else’s life, a “fascination with celebrities” as “a substitution for real life–with the focus on a celebrity replacing the focus that should be on our own lives.”

Apparently, we are biologically inclined to idolize celebrities, in our DNA.

“What’s in our DNA, as a social animal, is the interest in looking at alpha males and females; the ones who are important in the pack,” says Fischoff. We are sociologically preprogrammed to “follow the leader,” he says, and notes we are biochemical sitting ducks for the Hollywood star system; even the stars themselves get caught up in the mystique.”

However, not everyone succumbs to their encoded instincts to the same degree.

“In research published in the British Journal of Psychology, psychologists established a “sliding scale” of celebrity worship — one in which the devoted fan becomes increasingly hooked into the object of their attention, until their feelings begin to resemble addiction.”

The fans who characterized my writing as a premature eulogy were annoyed, fearful of losing Joni. They cared for the health and longevity of the person of Joni Mitchell while I was writing about her as symbol as an idea I inscribed in my flesh, as a musician who filled the gaps in my confused youthful yearning and disappointments–just an imaginary presence living inside the music. 

“In this respect, a celebrity can act almost like a support group — helping us to see that life is OK, that I can do this, you can do this…”

Yes, I fantasized countless times about being her, being desired for my talents and beauty. Her voice was my siren song long before I knew of sirens. But since growing in and out of relationships–boyfriends, breakups, marriage, children and friends–my feel-good dream of being loved for my talents and beauty borrowed from someone else evolved. I later craved to be loved and adored for being me. 

“Indeed, if there is a key to being a ‘healthy’ fan, experts say it is in our ability to enjoy what a celebrity brings to our life, without them becoming our life.”

Joni helped me become me, like an old trusty friend in the lyrics circling my mind and moods, a phrase or passage to accompany most any grief or joy life threw me. She enhanced my life, providing comfort and pathos. I am grateful for her, and the world is so much more enriched in her having been born. But she was never my friend, not sure I would have even liked her as one, and so, while I wish her good health and long life, as I would anyone as a compassionate being, I would not cut anyone else down who did not do so or spoke out against her. The human being that is before me, the one that criticizes and interacts with me, is real, immediate and present. Joni Mitchell is a stranger to me, while her persona fills me throughout, always will.

“If you can just have fun with it, if it’s not replacing emotional connections in your real life, then it’s really all OK…” 

4 Replies to “Being Joni”

  1. It was just too much reality for some of her fans. It makes sense, to some these artists are more than human. I was on a cat site on FB, and I remember trying to help some distraught owner with her cat who was just diagnosed with kidney disease, and there are stages and then the outcome. She got very upset with me even talking about what to do to make the cat more comfortable and keep them alive longer. It is the denial stage and that brings anger at the deliverer in some cases. In the case with Joni, they just didn’t want to hear it, they can’t bear the thought. Perhaps the title was too severe for them, it scared them.

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