Forgotten Joy

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.]

19 thoughts on “Forgotten Joy

  1. SO much in this post. (One of my at the moment abandoned drafts is about my current surprising alienation from music. I can totally identify with wondering how it got to that point with forgetting a song that had meant a lot to you.) Also Joni Mitchell — did you ever read that biography? I own _Blue_ (the only thing of hers I own) but I haven’t listened to it in years. I bought it originally because a friend of mine in college played it all the time. I really agree that she makes her singing sound as if she doesn’t worry too much about anything.

    The question of being carefree in your twenties is an interesting one. I just had a discussion with Obscura about her elder child (who is now in her twenties) and we were reminiscing about our twenties and I have a similar reaction to you. I mean — in my twenties I got four academic degrees in quick succession and on my thirtieth birthday I got my first tenure track job. But I also think of it as a time when I was relatively carefree — I think because I didn’t have this constant feeling of obligation pressing on me (as you mention) but also because it seemed like there was room for mistakes then. Now I have to get everything right the first time.

    Liked by 1 person

      • I think that’s true. Every time someone complains to me about “helicopter parents” I point out how much higher the stakes are now than they were, even twenty years ago.

        Liked by 2 people

    • For years, for some reason, I’ve only been listening to talk radio and audiobooks in the car. It’s nice to be singing along again. I finally started the biography when I was away. Of course now that I’m back, it’s been put aside. Reading is another thing I have to make sure stays in my day-to-day life. Strangely, Blue is the only album of hers I own too. I should probably fix that.

      Definitely my twenties were more carefree than now and I had more leisure time built in. I hadn’t thought about the consequences of mistakes, but you’re right. When you only really have to worry about yourself and there are endless years to change course, it makes a difference.


      • I’ve been trying to figure out why my relationship with music has deteriorated so much, and one reason that I’ve listened to so much “word” programming on the radio is that I preferred not to risk engaging my emotional life while on the road. At some point in 2019 there was a real transition for me: music that calmed me down before made me uncomfortable later. There’s just been no emotional space lately and I think my move away from music reflects that.

        We’re in a situation now where even people who do everything right are not making it. (There was an interesting radio piece on this that I heard over the weekend:

        There was this one period near the beginning of the Trump administration where I realized that all of my “rule of thumb” advice was now useless. I’d been coaching something like ten students toward taking the foreign service exam and then the foreign service announced they were not hiring. No one can predict something like that. We are making it increasingly impossible for young people to succeed in ways that were pretty normal even ten years ago.

        Liked by 2 people

        • I do the same with audiobooks. It means I can think about someone else’s thoughts instead of my own. i remember my mum, after my dad had died. We thought buying her music that had made her happy would be a good thing. But she told me that it made her sad, I guess for the lost times.

          My older son decided to go into a trade. He has been doing very well financially. But, being a male-dominated trade and in a small shop, where does he meet anyone female? So, his work life and finances are great, but what about his personal life? And especially given the COVID situation. Even for meeting people, the world has really changed.

          Liked by 1 person

          • I have the impression that nowadays one must essentially look for people online. I always used to say “go to church,” but that world has really changed insofar as the young people who are still going to conventional church tend to be super-committed. I also still say “make time for volunteer work that you love,” but of course most of the people who have time for volunteer work are not of marriageable age. I do think people meet at gyms and bars still, but that would not personally be my choice.

            Liked by 1 person

  2. Singing along loudly to music is wonderful! I tend to do that a lot when I’m alone in the car (which is not that often anymore now that I don’t drive to work). Next best thing is playing music and dancing along to it as I do fold laundry (which I was doing this afternoon). It does free the soul and make you happy.

    Joni Mitchell – I’ve never listened to her much, know little of her music. So nice that you have re-discovered her again.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I miss the drive to work! Now I drive my son to and from school, but I can’t really sing along to his heavy metal! At least I can do my own thing in one direction. Dancing is fun too!

      I was a teenager in the ’70’s when Joni had hits, so that makes a difference.

      Liked by 1 person

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