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By James Leahy:
Date: September 23, 1994
Time: 8 pm - 9:30 pm
Weather: Warm and dry.
Denise Donlon - director of programming for MuchMusic; former host of The New Music; married to Murray MacLachlan
Jane Siberry - singer/songwriter based in Toronto
Moses Znaimer - owner of City-TV, MuchMusic, believes that the printed word is dead, that mindless, noisy TV is where it's at; is said to have a plaster cast of his erect penis on his mantlepiece
Murray McLachlan - sixties Toronto folksinger, onetime CBC radio host, married to Denise Donlon
Lorraine Segato - left-wing lesbo icon; lead singer of Parachute Club ("Rise Up, Rise Up")
Donald Freed - Saskatoon singer-songwriter
Ed Begley Jr. - blond actor; longtime friend of Joni's; in town to film a movie at the time
Tomas Jardim - window person; dreadlocky young guy; fearless autograph hound
The Girl Who Cried - window person; hanging out with Tomas
Moe Berg - lead singer of Toronto band The Pursuit of Happiness
The Handsome Guy from Saskatoon - a window person; knows Joni's dad from the golf courses in Saskatoon, Joni's home town
Queen Street West - formerly a hotbed of anarchist artists/poets/musicians; now home to MuchMusic, Starbucks, and the Gap
Joni gets a taste for performing live again; in May she sings four songs at the Great Music Experience in Japan; in August the Edmonton Folk Festival (she turned down Woodstock 94); in September in Toronto for whirlwind media blitz to promote Turbulent Indigo, to be released October 25. Her publicity gigs for Reprise represented a new direction in the promotion of her work. On a gossipy note: In July the checkout rag "The Globe" printed a story about the baby Joni gave up for adoption in the 60s. On the Internet, rumours circulated that Joni and Larry Klein, her husband of over ten years, had split up. It was also rumoured that Joni had throat cancer.
A Historic Moment in Canadian TV:
Joni Mitchell: I&I was historic for a number of reasons. It was her first extended singing gig in Toronto since 1983. Toronto was a major launching point in her early career. Although she moved to Detroit in 1965, she came back often, singing in all the city's major and minor folk clubs and at the Mariposa Folk Festival up to 1971. Seeing Joni singing on Queen Street with the streetcars rattling by in the background brought back all sorts of memories. This 90-minute show was also Joni's first-ever major TV appearance. She'd done a half-dozen songs for the CBC in 1967, a few Johnny Cash shows, a few taped concerts in England, but this show was an epic in comparison.
What Is an I&I?
It's a showcase for performers to play live, answer questions from the host and audience, and respond to telephone calls, faxes, and e-mails. Holly Cole was one of the first to do an I&I. After Joni, Annie Lennox did one. I&Is take place in MuchMusic's main studio, a street-level affair with huge windows that allow passersby to look in at TV in the making.
Banned Topics in Joni's Toronto Interviews:
Her separation from Larry Klein
Her new boyfriend, Donald Freed
Probable reason for the ban: Joni's parents in Saskatoon were watching.
Smoking Policy: MuchMusic waived its strict no-smoking policy for Joni. During the show she smoked only about half a dozen cigarettes -- those darn songs kept getting in the way. She smoked Player's Light regulars -- a truckdriver's cigarette that'll scorch the lungs of a less hardened smoker.
Number of Ashtrays: One, not counting the floor.
Refreshment of Choice: Sake
Joni's Entourage: Various record company people; Joni's guitar technician, Joel Bernstein, who tuned her guitars backstage; Gloria Boyce, Joni's personal assistant. Donald Freed.
Enter the Multitudes, Their Noses to the Window:
An hour before the show, MuchMusic's Monika Deol gave us a preview of the set, designed by Toronto artist/singer Kurt Swinghammer: a warm, intimate space, like someone's living room, including a little recess filled with sunflowers flown in from California and a blue-sky backdrop. Deol also interviewed some of the people waiting in line to get into the show. Jane Siberry was there; so was Lorraine Segato and Ed Begley Jr., who talked about his favourite Joni Mitchell albums. Deol talked to some of the people who couldn't get tickets, including Tomas, a 19-year-old in Bob Marley-type dreadlocks holding a copy of the Mingus LP for Joni to sign. He got the autograph, and more - you'll see later.
As host Denise Donlon began her introductory patter, she walked over to the window and opened it up, letting in the sidewalk fans -- much to their surprise and delight. One of them shrieked "This is the most exciting moment of my life!"
What She Wore:
Beige overalls on top of a white blouse. Hair moussed, skin tanned. In a word, casual but glamorous. A week later, on the Canadian Music Video Awards TV show, Jane Siberry sang a song about Joni's I&I overalls and mused aloud about why a star of Joni's luminescence would wear something so plain. Jane's conclusion: the overalls meant that Joni was "free."
Sex Kills(ed) Indigo?
Joni decided early on to use Sex Kills as the linchpin of her new album, and she sang it over a dozen times in her promotional appearances. I wonder how much this had to do with the album's poor record sales. How many people watching her on Letterman would go out and buy the album after hearing such a humorless, moralizing song? This was the song Joni chose to open the I&I. However, it was still fresh for me, and I was amazed at how much antsy rhythm her left hand was able to slap out of that bluesy, minorish tuning. It was worth wading through the lengthy explanation of how she came to write the song and about her search for justice.
The Moon in the TV Monitor:
Moon at the Window, in the same guitar tuning as Sex Kills, is a song that I thought had fallen through the cracks. It was my favourite song on the otherwise cheerful Wild Things Run Fast. Now she drops the first verse ("It takes cheerful resignation ..."), starting on "Betsy's Blue ..." Truncated or not, this was a beautiful rendition -- the passion so controlled and modulated, the phrasing absolute perfection -- I've never heard Joni sing this well.
The Audience Plants:
The audiences at these I&Is are mostly friends of friends of record company types. The smart ones know enough to keep quiet. The others ask really dumb questions ("Do your personal experiences serve as inspiration for your music?"). What's more, the stupid, bland questions are encouraged. People are surveyed beforehand, and the most politically correct questioners are chosen and asked to wear an identifying badge. In this way the host knows where and when to go to a questioner and the star knows she won't be asked anything too dangerous.
Coincidence or not, it was pretty amazing that one audience plant asked Joni how she came to write "Magdalene Laundries" just before she was about to sing it. Joni told us the story about trying to write a cheerful song during the daylight hours and finally coming up with a song based on a newspaper story about Irish girls who used to be incarcerated in laundries just because they were unmarried. It was a story she was to retell a dozen times over the next year. But Joni's lengthy introduction to the song set the stage for an extremely moving performance.
The Interactive Part:
Technosluts abound here. The whole studio is filled with video guys, sound guys, video monitors, Denise with a headset. There's a guy on a computer reading an e-mail from San Francisco (reading? How archaic!). There's the obligatory fax, and then a question videotaped from CityTV's Viewer's Corner. The guy at the computer is furiously typing Joni's response as she speaks -- gee, wouldn't a phone call have been easier? In a way it seems odd to see Joni, the Luddite, surrounded by all this trendy techno overkill. Her attitude towards it was a kind of gracious, bemused detachment. Joni answered all questions with enthusiasm, intelligence, and humour. In fact, at times she was close to chewing up the scenery. Could she be practising for a new career as a standup comic?
The highlight of all this democracy in action was a telephone call from a young boy in British Columbia who said it all for us in his Canadian way: "Joni -- Thanks for the music, eh?"
The Canadian Tuning:
After a few commercials, Joni's back, this time sitting on a couch, her guitar tuned to the Canadian tuning -- her current favourite. In fact, Joni talks a lot about Canada during this show, insisting for her Canadian audience that she still considers herself a Canadian and actually lives here for a part of the year.
Joni's best when she's talking about her childhood. She tells us how she learned about bigotry when she was 13 when her Cree friend Mary came to grief. Her storytelling is eloquent and provides the perfect segue into a brilliant rendition of Cherokee Louise. The camera picks up Lorraine Segato's look of amazement.
I'm Travelling in Some Ambulance on Queen Street:
I wonder about that person lying in the back of the ambulance as it whined past the MuchMusic studio. Did he see Joni through the window? Was he aware that Joni joked about it in the middle of singing Hejira? ("I'm travelling in some vehicle ... [sound of siren] ... not that one!"). Now I call this interactive! By the way, another brilliant rendition -- just a look of panic in her eyes before the line "I'm porous with travel fever" -- Joni is notorious for forgetting the lyrics for Hejira just at that spot.
The Window People:
More noisy commercials. Now Joni's standing at the window, singing to Tomas, the Girl Who Cried, the Handsome Guy from Saskatoon, and curious passersby. Tomas became a media star that week because the camera kept picking him out for audience reactions. After watching this show, the second person you'd likely remember most vividly was Tomas and his great big hair! Joni does a rather shaky, enervated version of Night Ride Home, a song that goes nowhere and is totally devoid of tension. Then on to Love's Cries, in the same tuning, a song she wrote with her new boyfriend Don Freed (the one we weren't supposed to know about). I thought the song was great at Nara, Japan, with Wayne Shorter and a Japanese flute player accompanying her, but here it's a bit bland. But one of the window people is crying -- the Girl Who Cried. What could she be crying about? Her own life? Does she want to be like Joni? Is she in love with Tomas?
A California Kitchen in Toronto:
For the final segment of the show, Joni's back on the couch with her ashtray, a bottle of sake, and her guitar tuned to the California Kitchen Tuning. She launches into Just Like This Train. My god, I haven't heard her do that in years. And what a great version! A reaction shot from Moe Berg, intent as Joni retunes one of her strings for the next song. While tuning, she talks about mother-daughter conflicts in general and her problems with her own mother in particular, launching into a new song, Happiness Is the Best Facelift. A bit too personal? A bit dangerous? I guess you'd say that's the essence of Joni Mitchell's art.
Those Warner Guys:
As the show winds down, Joni discusses her short-story writing (she's having trouble finding her "voice") and talks about her favourite books (Rudyard Kipling's Kim and all the books by Castaneda). The titles begin to roll, and two execs from Warner Music present Denise Donlon with an award for MuchMusic's tenth anniversary. Joni tells them that they're being "opportunistic" but says so with style and humour and gets away with it.
I hope Tomas will eventually write his impressions of the I&I for this page, but for now, let me tell you what he told me. For some karmic reason, Joni gravitated toward him and some of the other window people after the show was over. Despite the pressures from her entourage to split, Joni insisted on staying and talking, signing their albums and posing for pictures with them. Joni even gave her secret mailing address to Tomas so that he could send her some of his poems. Tomas said she was a very real, warm person, a bit motherly. As he was quoted in The Toronto Star's review of the I&I the next day, "She makes you worship melancholy, if that's possible."
P.S.: Joni won a Gemini Award (Canada's Emmy) for her performance on Intimate & Interactive.