The other week I was watching a documentary on Netflix, called God Knows Where I Am. It’s fascinating and somewhat horrifying. A woman’s body is found in an empty house, with two journals detailing her stay in this self-imposed isolation — free in theory, and yet unable to leave due to the dictates of her mental illness. Once she had been full of the joy of life, but this was where her life ended.
In her journal, she wrote one night about the wind, and how it reminded her of a Joni Mitchell lyric — “The wind is in from Africa, and last night I couldn’t sleep…“
And there it was. All of a sudden, I realized that, until that moment, a much-loved song that had been a fixture in my singing/strumming repertoire had completely disappeared from my memory! How could that be? How could a song whose every chord, rhythm, trill, lyric, feeling had been so well known to me have gone so completely from my consciousness?
What sort of life have I been living where the things that gave me not only pleasure, but joy, are no longer part of my life? Am I relatively content? Well, yes. Do I have moments of pleasure, vacation breaks, and so forth? Sure, but over the years, my life has become focused first on responsibility and obligation, with little thought to including the things that fulfill me as “me”.
Of course, I have now become obsessed with listening again to Joni Mitchell’s “Carey”, I am struck again by the joyous rhythm, the uniquely-Joni-esque vocal jumps of an octave plus a fourth, the bright strumming of the dulcimer, and the pure spirit of a twenty-something with the freedom to go where she pleased and be with whomever she chose for as long as she chose.
I don’t think I myself was ever that free. In spite of socializing with friends and family, my twenties mostly were spent finishing university, articling in my chosen profession, working, and then getting married. Joni herself may only have been free in particular interludes or in performance, as by that time she had given up a child to adoption and been married and divorced.
According to NPR, Joni Mitchell described her voice at that point in her life as “a helium voice”, with its effortless rising into the sky. I’ve started singing “Carey” again — my one octave plus a fourth vocal jump, while achievable, is not quite so effortless as Joni’s was, more like a pole vault that I have to prepare myself for, but still so very satisfying to sing. And that high accompanying trill in the last verse, starting an interval of a third above that earlier jump, also feels thrilling. If only my guitar-playing were up to snuff. Even years ago, I played only enough to accompany myself, and now being so out of practice, my songs can only go at the slow pace that my fingers can handle.
Wow, but singing along at top volume in the car, driving to pick up my son from school, now that was a great feeling! Of course, I played a bit of the Joni recording for my son, who diplomatically said, “I can hear that she is very talented… but I don’t like it,” and promptly connected the car stereo to the heavy metal on his phone! Ah well.
Might be worse if my husband didn’t like Joni’s songs (even though he prefers Led Zeppelin) — I seem to have started him on a Joni kick, too! I’ve been listening over and over to Blue, which is such a wonderful album. My (now former) brother-in-law gave me a cassette tape of it, when I was in my late teens, and I really enjoyed it then. I wanted to sing like Joni, and while I can sing along and hit most of the notes, Joni is and was a true original. I loved the way she switched effortlessly from chest voice to falsetto, using her voice like an instrument. Often the vocal timing would be off of the traditional beats, as she is feeling the lyrics, which I (as a rule-follower) find difficult. Many of the songs on Blue are not happy pop songs, like “Carey”, and she got lot of flack for that at the time. A good example, is the song “Blue”.
Brandi Carlile, another singer who I have really been enjoying lately, tells the story of when she first started dating her now wife, Catherine. Catherine brought Joni Mitchell’s Blue and put it on the car stereo. Brandi said, “Yeah, I don’t like Joni Mitchell.” Catherine, in no uncertain terms stated, “I don’t think this can continue, unless you can learn to understand Joni Mitchell!” Well, they are now married with children, and Brandi (who most certainly has the voice and unafraid vocal stylings for it) has become accomplished in Joni Mitchell covers, even to the extent of doing the complete Blue album in an LA concert in late 2019 for an audience including both Joni Mitchell and Elton John!
Carlile was so inspired by Joni Mitchell in the end, that after a huge argument with her wife, she wrote the Joni-esque song, Party of One. Visualizing the video for it, she approached Elizabeth Moss (The Handmaid’s Tale), who agreed to star, resulting in a moving story performance for the song.
I hope I can get back to more blogging — another thing that I’ve let fall away from my day-to-day life. Wish me luck!
[Edited to correctly link to the song, “Blue”. Apparently if you link to one song in an album playlist, the link points you instead to the first song on the album. Something else I found out — if you wrote a post in Classic Editor (as this one), the iPhone WordPress App will not let you edit it. Has to be done on the web editor. Sheesh.]