Socialist Worker

Three decades of Joni Mitchell’s idiosyncratic talents

by Nick Grant
Issue No. 1945

Joni Mitchell defies categorisation

Joni Mitchell defies categorisation


A Woman of Heart and Mind
Joni Mitchell, £15.99

You may only know her giggly eco-protest about how “they paved paradise and put up a parking lot” from her song “Big Yellow Taxi”. But Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell is an utterly serious artist with a unique and idiosyncratic talent.

Her 22 albums over three decades reveal the complete opposite of the whimsical femininity she is often misrepresented for.

Joni Mitchell is indeed a woman of heart and mind, as this DVD’s title rightly insists. As a lyricist, musician and performer, she is probably second only to Nina Simone in stature as a female musician of the last century.

And like all greats, she defies generic categorisation.

Folk, jazz, world and rock sections of a record store could easily include her work.

Joni Mitchell is most prolific as a frank chronicler of the ups and downs of romantic love. But she has also written trenchant commentaries on celebrity, war, militarism and sisterhood.

Here you can see performances from throughout her career, from her earliest versions of classic songs “The Circle Game” and “Both Sides Now”, right up to her reworked symphonic version of the latter in 2000.

Her guitar playing is sometimes hypnotic, at others slippery and shifting around the timing of the tune. Her chord and string handling is unique, and partly forced on her by the effects of childhood polio.

The only downside of this DVD is its framing narrative. As an unknown art student, Joni gave birth to a daughter in February 1965. The father had fled.

Poverty stricken and alone, Joni gave Kelly up for adoption six months later. But in 1997 Kelly got in touch out of the blue. This coincided with Joni’s retirement from recording.

The idea is that Joni’s art was motivated and bookended by Kelly’s loss and return. A few songs are retrospectively explained by this story.

Yet, traumatic as this may have been, Joni’s art cannot be reduced to a psychological cliché. Besides, her retirement is as much to do with the eventual wear on her riveting soprano voice by a lifetime of cigarette smoking.

She has also railed against the dumbed down artistic values of the global corporate music industry, and effectively gone on strike. A Woman of Heart and Mind should open your ears and eyes to an artist of exemplary independence and originality.

Official website: www.jonimitchell.com


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Sat 2 Apr 2005, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1945
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