Joni Mitchell

joni mitchellJoni Mitchell
Seventies Feminism: Where You Can Sleep Around Like You Mean Business
By Shelbie Freedman (SugarBuzz Philadelphia)

I started reading a book called “Girls Like Us” the other night, which led me to read another book called “Hotel California”. “Girls Like Us” is about women like Carly Simon and Carole King while “Hotel California” is based around the exploits of the rock supergroup, TheJoni Mitchell Eagles. Both books drew a vivid depiction of a musician’s life in the Laurel Canyon of California during the Sixties and Seventies. I was fascinated by the freewheeling Sixties, with the free love and the free drugs and the musicians who wrote, played and partied together at the Troubadour in Los Angeles. In turn, this commune of sharing and caring, of creating and sharing love and accolades and music, turned into the expansive stadium tours of the Seventies, with millions of dollars rolling in and conversely, millions of grams of coke shoved up our now-detached artist’s noses, as they sped around the world from limousine to limousine, and airport to airport, covered in groupies and dripping with diamonds. I read with interest, being the gossip hound that I am, about Jackson Browne, and the tragic suicide of his first wife, Phyllis Major Browne. Oddly enough, both books spoke about another former girlfriend of Browne’s, Joni Mitchell, and how Joni also tried to commit suicide after her short affair with Browne ended. He left her for Phyllis, by the way. Oh, the tangled web we weave. It seems that once the Pill was created, people went crazy, and hopped beds more frequently than a bedbug catching a ride, in your spanking new Samsonite suitcase, out the local Holiday Inn and into your very own Home Sweet Home.

I decided that I wanted to write about Joni Mitchell, who inspired a generation of women, who slept with the hottest men in the music business, from Graham Nash (think “Our House”, Nash’s ode to Mitchell) to James Taylor to Mick Jagger. Mitchell came from a small town in Canada, got herself pregnant (before that all-saving grace, The Pill, wasJoni Mitchell created), married a local boy (who was gallant enough to put a ring on it, but was not her baby’s father), abandoned the baby in hospital (the adoption papers read, “Mother left Canada for US to pursue career as a folk singer”), and hit the road for LA, to carve herself out a piece of the American Dream. Ah, the seduction of fame and fortune, it’s enough to literally make a mother abandon her own child. WHEW!! That’s quite a ride, and quite a legacy, and maybe not a positive legacy to be honest, which all happened before Joni even made it to the Big Times, with the draw and the name recognition to bag men like Jagger and Taylor and Browne. Mitchell was eventually reunited with her daughter, and wrote the song “Little Green”, trying to put into words her motivations for leaving the little girl at birth.

At first thought, I was pretty sure that I had no idea who Mitchell was, other than an out-of-date folksie type, or even if I’d heard any of her songs at all. But after a brief Internet search, I realized that I knew many, many of Joni Mitchell songs. So many Mitchell songs were the fabric of my youth, from “Big Yellow Taxi”, “Help Me”, “Circle Game”, “Both Sides Now” to “Woodstock”, whichJoni Mitchell was nicely immortalized by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and still has a prominent place on my play list. That’s a string of hits that would make any artist proud, especially a woman breaking into the male-dominated music scene of the Sixties. However, after listening to Joni’s songs, the ones that don’t get air play where I live, I  found that I enjoyed her songs like ”River” or ”A Case of You” more than the ones that I recognized from the radio. Her songs are poetry; they are stories ripe with imagery, from “the sun through yellow curtains, and a rainbow on the wall” in “Chelsea Morning” to “Songs like tiny hammers hurled” in “Ladies of the Canyon”. In fact, when I listened to Mitchell perform in her early days, her voice seemed almost shrill and child-like to me- her voice was jarringly high, like nails running down a chalk board. As she matured, as her reputation grew, and as she moved from lover to lover, searching for love maybe or maybe just an equal, it seems to me that her voice became stronger, less little girl lost and more woman who had loved and lost. The Mitchell I like, in fact, is the grown woman who was strong enough to publicly explain why she left her own baby girl at birth, to describe how she had clawed her way to the top of LA’s fickle music scene, and to delineate how she had stolen the heart of a generation, touching both men and women alike.