Four Ages of Joni

April 13, 2012

Enough of this  computer nostalgia. Time for some music nostalgia. This evening I have been meandering around the YouTube landscape, as you do, and found myself settling comfortably into Joni Mitchell valley. Joni is an extra-ordinary figure. A genuine pop star but also a song writing genius, a poet, and a painter. Joni has been with me most of my life. Its fascinating looking back at the evolution of an artist.

Here she is  – Joni Anderson – on Canadian TV, in 1965. The song is very good, but somewhat like several other folk songs of that era… and she sounds just like Joan Baez ! She is not yet famous, but confidence and charisma is bursting out of her :

Next up, early 1970s, and Joni is a mature and deeply original songwriter. The song is a live performance of “For Free”, from Ladies of the Canyon. Its classic Mitchell in two ways. First, although the lyrics are straightfoward, they are perfectly judged and balanced; and the combination of tune, sentiment, piano and ethereal voice is amazingly moving. Secondly, it shows her discomfort with the celebrity life; but unlike Dylan, she didn’t go off in a huff.

On to the early 1990s and Joni the middle aged woman. (I have zipped straight past what is actually my favourite stuff – the jazzy late seventies records). This is “Night Ride Home” from the album of the same name, performed live for a  TV programme in Amsterdam. Whereas other pop stars, even very good ones, are burned out, or  re-cycling their past glories on endless stadium tours, Joni is producing hypnotic songs different from anything that went before.

Finally, here she is in 2000 at age 57 (same as me now) doing a spooky orchestrated version of “Both Sides Now”, her famous hit of 1969. The impossible high notes have gone; instead she has a smoky haunting voice. I find it hovers between profundity and schmalz; but her humanity wins.

Got to go and wipe my eyes now.