This audio interview was broadcast on the Nicole Sandler Show on April 3, 2015, shortly after (and because of) Joni's aneurysm.
From Nicole's website, recapping the Apr 3, 2015 show:Every Friday, I usher in the weekend with a musical blast from the past. This week, as Joni Mitchell is in our thoughts (or prayers, if you roll that way), I decided it was time to pull out the interview I did with the legendary musician back in September of 1998.
The interview was for an article I was hired to write for a radio trade magazine (totallyadult Magazine), so the recording was never intended for air. Joni was eating lunch, and I was off-mic, but the interview was so raw and riveting that I thought it was worth sharing. I hope you'll listen... and you can read the article I wrote from that interview here (coming soon).
As many will be celebrating religious holidays this weekend (and many of us will pass), I know we'll all be thankful for the potential peace in our future, and will keep Joni Mitchell in our thoughts and/or prayers....
From the Apr 3, 2015 show:
Audio transcribed by Lynn Gruenwald
Nicole: Well, I wish I was playing this under better circumstances, but I'm hoping, uh... as we're all joined in whatever your beliefs may be, sending prayers, or just good thoughts and ah...you know, towards Joni Mitchell, who is ailing in a Los Angeles Hospital. Joni's been on our collective minds this week. So I thought, well today would be a good idea, or a good day, uh to play back the one interview that I've ever been fortunate enough to do with Joni Mitchell.
I've met her on a few occasions. Um, I got to interview her once and as I explained earlier, it was an interview for print. I will post the link to the final article on the blog today at radioornot.com, so you can read what I wrote based on the interview we did.
Now this interview was never intended to be for air. This interview was for a print article. But we did record it, and then I, you know I had the recording transcribed, and from that I wrote the article. Um...but now, at - I mean this happened on September 9th, 1998. So, you know, it's almost 20 years ago. Right? Yeah. And um, you know with Joni ailing and us all thinking about her I thought this is a great day to play this.
Now I gotta' warn you, it's long! This interview runs over an hour, so the show will run late today, much later than usual...'cause I'm gonna let the whole thing play out. And also, because it wasn't for air, I'm not miked. So, um, I put the mike in front of her, so I can hear everything she said, which is the important part. But you can still hear me, I'm just off mike.
And, again because it wasn't for air, Joni was actually eating lunch while we were speaking. The setting was the Bellaire Hotel. Her album, I think it was "Taming the Tiger," had just been released. And so this was a, you know, a media tour she was doing. And I'm amazed they gave me so much time with her.
And again, the article that I was writing, this, ah...the magazine I was writing this article for was called "Totally Adult." It was a trade magazine for radio stations, like what I used to work at...uh...some, some of the trade publications called it Adult Rock. Some called it Album Alternative or Adult Album Alternative. Regard[less], it was about good radio. Radio stations that actually played good music.
When I walked in the room, we all, we just started talking. And we were talking about radio. And the station that I had previously worked at in Los Angeles, that played her music and in fact she did an event for us. A live broadcast we did of a concert she gave at the Autrey Museum, the Gene Autrey Museum in Los Angeles, because our station was owned by Gene Autrey. And at the time of this interview, I was actually working in San Diego. I was co-hosting the morning show on a station called 91X, still there, an alternative station, but the rumors were that there was gonna be a new Triple A station, Adult Album Alternative station, coming on the air in Los Angeles.
So when I flicked on the recorder, that's what we were talking about. Again, it's not gonna' be the most professional sounding radio interview because, again, this was never intended for air. So it truly is a special edition of our Flashback Friday feature...
Today, with the awesome, Joni Mitchell. Here we go:
Nicole: Yeah, one of the things that I'm hoping for, there's a wild rumor circulating that the company that I'm actually working for now is trying to buy a frequency that's based in Santa Monica, It's Groove Radio, it's 103.1. The rumor is that they're gonna' buy it and change it to Triple A. So that's what Joni and I were just talking about, keeping our fingers crossed that that happens.
Joni: Well Triple A changed. It came out like a good idea and soon became a catch-all for every release, you know it just became a place to dump...
Nicole: Everything they don't know where else to put.
Joni: Yeah. Um whereas it had an opportunity, I felt, for public service. And that is to eliminate this concept of music as disposable. You know, to keep alive some of the things, that maybe weren't exposed a lot to the public but were, were worthy of further exposure.
Joni: One case in point, you know, suddenly I was on the air waves again, so I was very happy. 'Cause I hadn't had an outlet, I didn't fit anywhere until that station came along.
Nicole: Right. And I know, I remember your comments at the time very, very vividly that you know, at the beginning you, you know, you were like, "Great, there's a place where my music's getting heard again." And then after about a year or so, um...(and I'm not saying I agreed with the programming philosophy there I was not Program Director.) But, um, I remember reading an article in which you were a little critical and you said, "Well, you know they were better when they first started, now they're kind of turning into...I don't think you used the words dumping ground but that's basically what you were saying - it's kinda' like everything else.
Joni: Well album-oriented radio meant that they could...they could play any cut, it was closer to the old FM programming that I enjoyed so much in New York and there was one station out here...B. Mitchell Reed had a show...
Joni: You know? It was, you know - I miss that kind of radio. It was never as broad as those shows even the way it was. But at least, you could go back and, and play, they could go back, that's the main thing. As it went along they weren't going back at all, they were just playing current releases.
Nicole: Well we did go back, but it - it - the problem with that decision was, and a few different problems, and one of them was the fight for ratings. And, and differences of opinion at the, you know, management level on what it would take to get that. And -
Nicole: I think we were not true to the ideals that we set out with...
Nicole: Which was to expose music that wasn't getting heard elsewhere, and that the people who wanted to hear that, were gonna' seek it out with us. Um, I think -
Joni: Well I think their numbers were large.
Nicole: Well they were. And in certain places, that's why it would be so great if, if this happens with Groove because their signal is based on the west side, which is where our audience was. Um. And I think if we had stayed true to that ideal that we started out with, we would have done a lot better. And we still, we did okay, it wasn't a question of us not - not making money. It was a question of Gene Autrey just selling the thing and, um...
Joni: How do they find out, like, ratings? I mean how do they know, the idea - how do they know how many people are listening and whether they're buying the product or not?
Nicole: Well we don't have anything to do with whether or not they're buying, like records. But the way that radio stations are rated is the most unscientific, antiquated mythology. They send out diaries. They call people, first of all. They'll call you at your house, say it's dinner time. And you'll answer the phone and they'll say "Hi, we're calling from a company called Arbitron. We'd like to talk to you about a survey on radio listening." Now if you get - most people would say "No thank you," click, and hang up.
Joni: Right. That's what I do when I get surveyed.
Nicole: Exactly. As do I, and the problem with this type of radio station is, our audience is typically adult, educated, professional, busy, they have a life. And they get a phone call like that and they say "No, thank you" and they hang up, if they're even that polite. So...say they get through that, then they say "Okay what we want to do is send you a diary, that you will fill out for a week and keep track of your radio listening..."
Joni: Oh God, who'd have time for that?
Nicole: ...And any time you listen in a period, every 15 minutes, any time you turn on a station for 5 minutes or more, you have to write it down in your diary. Nobody's going to do that accurately. And if they do...it's not gonna' be this kind of audience -
Joni: They're 14.
Nicole: ...who's gonna' do it. So, what they do is, then they need a certain amount - they, they need people from each demographic cell. And depending, they flood the city with these diaries for as many people as say will do it. Then they see what they get back. Then they assign a weight to each one so that the demographics of what they get back equal what the census says the demographic makeup of the city is. So it's - it's just a horribly outdated, unscientific method that is not very conducive to this type of an audience.
Joni: And it's killing...it means that the best, you know, I don't think the best music could possibly make it onto the airwaves at any given time. You need, you need at the helm, like the old days of radio, people who loved music!
Joni: And who listened broadly to a lot of different things. The best DJs were very broad audiophiles.
Nicole: And right now -
Joni: And they played what they liked. So that, you had a guy who was kind of an expert by his love of music, you know, flooding the airwaves. Now with all of this stuff, you know, that's when you get, you know, "What if God Was One of Us?" being Song of the Year. I mean...it's tragic, you know that, that...Song of the Year! I mean -
Nicole: I know. And what, what's really sad though is, even on a station like this, where, you know KSCA started up great and it was made up of all these people like me who love music.
Nicole: And we started out very broad. But then, you know, the consultants come in and the people go, Oh My God the ratings didn't go up fast enough, they didn't go up high enough, fast enough so we need to -
Joni: Based on these diaries?
Nicole: ...narrow, because Arbitron is the only game in town, and that's what, that's what advertising rates are based on...
Joni: Mmmm, man.
Nicole: ...are the ratings. And the thing that, what happens is - it's the most unbelievable thing - that the stations with the tightest playlist that play the fewest songs and play them the most often, are the ones that have the biggest ratings. So, the theory is, well, in order to get the ratings higher, you have to tighten the play list, and spin the songs more.
Joni: Yeah, it's tragic.
Nicole: It is tragic. I still believe that a station can do well but it's, by not doing that, by going against that grain, because people will seek out a true alternative. And they'll go to find music that they want to hear.
Joni: So, like everywhere in the music business, we're building everything off of false measures. And the false measures are leading us into mediocrity.
Joni: You know?
Nicole: Very much so. Well, I wanted to ask you about "Taming the Tiger" as I'm - I was - I've been living with it for the last week or so and then I drove up from San Diego today. And the line jumped out at me about, "As the radio blared so bland, formula music, genuine junk food for juveniles." And, I'm working actually at an alternative station, the format is known as Alternative, now, which is...that's exactly what it is. It's sublime and it's ... um...
Joni: Well people complain. I mean, you know, and all kinds of people. 'Cause my friends are not, you know, are all different kinds of people. You know, they're thinking type people and they're feeling type people and they're different walks of life. They're not all in the star system and certainly, not in show business necessarily although most of them can dance. (laughs) And, the lament, you know, across the board is the same. I mean at the time I was writing it I was trying to like the radio, and what I did is I'd start at one end of the dial, sat there for a couple of days, and I listened. Um. And then I'd move onto the next. And it just made me madder and madder and madder. And then, you get to know color lines. You know, you get up there, well, you've got a Japanese announcer, you know, I just happen to know this, he sounds like a black but he's, you know he's got an Oriental sensitivity.
Joni: And you got a lot of slogans appealing to less violence. And, and, it's still - it's still color oriented. That isn't even living up to, you know you've got Chicano call-ins and a Japanese disc jockey, like, pretending to be black. You know, like and...but I - I went down the dial and the formula...the formula got to me. Like, the evenness of the drum samples, for instance, in certain genres. Like the same, like dictated, "Use this kick drum sound, use this - you have an option of these 7, transparent sort of synthetic string sounds, that, the chorus and the voices should be at this level..."
Nicole: And you can pick that out because you know what you're listening for where the average person just knows, you know what, that's familiar and comfortable, I guess, and so it - it's again...
Joni: I guess!
Nicole: ...The least common denominator that, that's what, oh, it's kind of what you're conditioned to, maybe.
Joni: Yeah, so you pick, you pick your conditioning, but that is not music! You know, music is the dictates of the muse to an individual. Not to say that the great masters of other eras didn't pander. I mean, I ran into this story about Beethoven! Beethoven had a friend who was an inventor. And he invented, among other things the metronome.
Joni: Right? And he also invented music boxes, quite elaborate, that could duplicate brass band sounds. They were big brass cylinders that played against little tongues, you know? And quite elaborate compositions would be played on them. So, he came to Beethoven and he hit him with an idea which Beethoven turned down and he said, "Aw the trouble with you, Beethoven, is you have no sense of showmanship. I mean, if you would just write a piece of music that contained things that were familiar to the people, I mean the people, they're like" - and he's talking about the courts, it's -people with money, you know? - "They're like children, you know, and they have all this money and they don't know what to spend it on. You know, like if you would just, write a piece of music, stick a bit of the French national anthem in it, a little bit of the English national anthem in it. We'll have it performed, first in France and then in England. And then we'll put out the brass roller of it and we'll make a mint. I'll cut you in!"
Beethoven says "Oh I couldn't." Well anyway he gets talked into it, you know and, and - he writes this crapola piece of music, which is a hit! And suddenly he's renowned in France. He's renowned in England. It must've been humiliating to him. So that, like, by pandering to the common denominator, by giving them that snippet of the familiar, you know. Whereas here's a man driven by the dictates of the muse, to make these chords that describe his feelings in the same way that Van Gogh's colors described his feelings. The psychology of looking at those colors side by side. Or the psychology of hearing those chords side by side, you know.
You, you...And this is the only arena in town 'cause I'm not really a jazzer, I'm not really an anything. So I have to work in this community.
Nicole: Right. But it didn't used to be like that! I mean it used to be that artists, and they were artists, could create something that was different -
Nicole: And that still piqued people's interest enough, then, and these songs could still become hits.
Nicole: It seems now that that's happening less and less.
Joni: You can't even get it through the labyrinth of, of prejudices unless it adheres to - and it's like paint by numbers. Use this drum sound, and use it at this volume, and use this and this. I mean I made this last record by myself, basically, and then brought in guests. But I still had to work with an engineer, you know, and several engineers. And the engineers, they too, need to be associated with a quote-unquote "hip" project, because you know,
Nicole: It ups their worth.
Joni: It ups their worth, right? So you see that they're very vulnerable to hip, whereas I could give a damn about hip. You know, like I'm on a pro[ject] - I want to discover something, I want to thrill myself, I know that there's gonna' be somebody that'll get it, you know? It's not that selfish, really. I was just gonna' look for a -
Voice (Off Mike): What can I get you?
Joni: An ashtray.
Voice Again: Oh, I'll get you one. Here it is.
Joni: Thank you.
Voice: Mm-hmm. Nicole, do you want anything?
Nicole: I'm fine, thanks.
Nicole: I'm great.
Nicole: But you have the luxury of being established, and - and not needing, you know, to have a hit. You already - you have a following, and people are gonna' go out and buy your records because you're Joni Mitchell -
Joni: But not enough, you know, I have a goal, it's an ambition. And you know, you know...Billboard is supposed to be on my side, like translated as "She want to be bigger." No, I don't! I've got enough fame. But I want the satisfaction of...like I want to do an album of standards next.
Nicole: That would be wonderful.
Joni: You know? However, I would like to be paid for it. Now the only way that, you know, I'm not recoup - I'm not selling enough records to recoup the cost of making my albums, so I keep carrying a debt, which means that I'll never see a record royalty. So, I still make money off of writing the songs, 'cause the company hasn't devised a way, although they're trying to, to get at that yet. And - and, you know, 'cause anything to squeeze you, squeeze you, squeeze you so they can get their goddamned graft to go up the way it is now. You know, you've got these people at the top of the business and they could care less about, you know, music. All they care about is money. So they're killing music with their goddamn grafts and their Wall Street Journals. You know. And, and - they are my natural enemy. They're the enemy of music, and they own the music business.
Joni: And, they're the devil himself! You know, and, and - you know, in order to make music and keep it pure in this arena, and also to make a living at it - which I feel I'm good enough - I'm an established artist - that I deserve to see a record royalty.
Joni: I haven't seen a record royalty on all my Geffen catalog, because the records, cumulatively, cost so much to make and they were not allowed the airplay, and I can't get my product to market. You know. What I need is to get my product to market and make an announcement, that, that it's out. The prejudice could be chronological age, whatever it is. You know. I have this goal. I want to sell enough records this time, my optimism, to get the debt... The last one won two Grammys, and didn't recoup the cost of making it. You know. Like, the company was shrinking, there was no publicity on it, there was no announce - you know. It meant nothing that it won two Grammys!
Nicole: I'm wondering if maybe it isn't, you know. We - you have seen this business change, I mean, talk about -
Nicole: Talk about Geffen, from when you started with David Geffen and with Elliot Roberts, and this, it seemed like the camaraderie of it was about the music and it was about the art to where it's now multi-billion dollar corporations and everything is so expensive and it's about the money and not about the product.
Joni: And also a hostile press has come up in the meantime. So that basically, this generation of journalists has a love/hate thing with celebrity. So the moment that you get a little bit of success, they want to tear you apart. And, and that, you know... Presidents, it's obvious, I mean this whole thing with the president is absurd. You know, it wouldn't have happened, if journalism hadn't sank into the pits the way it has. You know, who knows why this generation is so bitter, you know, that they want to tear down everything and have no respect for - you know. To get to the underbelly. Is it the Geraldos, is it that appetite for seeing people fall on their face? But whatever it is, there is very little dignity left.
Joni: And, and - Everything is suspect, you know, to being dissected, by ignorant fools! You know, like the whole thing with...I mean, the whole thing with the president, the moment she sent her dress to her mother, you have a blackmailer on your hands and that she just...she should not be given the public arena or the time of day. Let alone to take a man away from serious business when he's got - you know, impending wars and all kinds of things that need his attention. You know? So he wanked off, you know, like I mean - ?
Nicole: I know. You mean to say that no other president has done anything like this? They all have, but there wasn't that bloodthirsty press that there is now.
Joni: The bloodthirst for the famous, it's not a nice time to be famous at all!
Joni: And, and, and - at the same time, you know, mediocrity is being pushed to the forefront in all fields. You know. Is it that they can't tell the difference, or, or --? I don't know. Like I mean, money, to be monied used to mean that you could have the finer things in life. But even if they get money they don't even seem to know what the finer things are. So -
Nicole: It's what's pushed out most in front of them. Well now. So then my next question would be, would be...with the advent of the internet,
Nicole: And other means of distribution to get things out there, it's, now the whole landscape can change.
Nicole: Um...Record companies don't have the monopoly of distributing music anymore. Or, over the next couple of years, people will have other ways to get music than just, you know going to the record store and getting the few albums that the record companies deem fit to push in front of our faces.
Nicole: Is this something that you could see doing maybe? I don't know what your deal with Reprise is now, but -
Joni: I'm almost out, I've got this and one more record, and -
Nicole: ...doing it on your own. Make your own record and distribute it yourself, or with your own private company.
Joni: It's the way of the future because the artist is really, like...you know, Prince was gonna' tattoo SLAVE on his forehead, you know. But we are sharecroppers. I mean, it's absurd. If you look at my early contracts, you know, like, it's criminal. And then you have of all...you know, 30% goes off to the people that support you. You have to pay a tremendous amount of money. Then the government takes the rest. And then, I've been also subject to injust taxes based on the fact that I had a clause in my contract which meant that I didn't have to have a producer so that I could keep my art pure and not be forced into it, not slotted. So if anything I'm cutting my economics by choice, in order to keep the art pure, working against this system. And I was taxed a tremendous tax by the government of California. Twelve people had that tax levied after them, and all of them because they copied this independent looking clause of mine. Right?
So, you know...there's been a lot of, kind of, injustice levied as the greed descended on my industry. And, uh...yeah, I would very much like to get out. I mean, I nearly quit, and only the excitement with this new instrument, you know, has kept me in the business. And, you know, as the album reflects, like a lot of what's going on inside of me is a negative attitude towards my business. "Taming the Tiger," you know, the tiger being analogy for the business...you can't tame it! You know, like I mean...I'm speaking out against it now, you know, I guess I'm taking a couple of swats at it, but it's a big thing. The only...and the only way is independence.
Joni: You know. So the greed of the business I think will eventually collapse it. Like United Artists. You know, the performers will only, you know, take so much and then finally they go their independent way.
Joni: You know, actors and actresses, you know, if anything are - it goes the other way. They, they're able to manage to get, you know, more than the lion's share since so much money is generated in that industry.
Nicole: Right. It seems totally different. But with musicians -
Joni: We're expected to do charity work for their tax deductions. You know there's a lot of false charity in the business. They have us by contract to do charity work now, in the contracts. Charity is not a contracted idea. It begins at home and with the heart, you know! So there's a mockery of charity involved in my business too. I don't think they know what it even means any more.
Nicole: It's a shame. It is a shame that music is art, or it started out as art and it's become business, and, and the art is suffering because of it. Um. Let's talk about the new album for a minute.
Nicole: And the instrument...what is the instrument?
Joni: It's a...it's a...called a VG8, it's basically a box that contains a lot of pre-sampled guitar sounds, kind of...from Duane Eddy to Eric Clapton, couple of Keith Richards, if you want to go that way with it.
Joni: And then you can go inside. And, you know there's a sample sound, but then you can open up the box and see what is making it up, and there's - and you can alter it. Like with reverb and what amps it's going through, what kind of a guitar. So I took basically a preprogrammed Stratocaster sound, put it through a jazz chorus which also was kind of invented for me, to double the, to digital delay. If I'm to understand it right. At the time when there were about four boxes you could put a guitar through: a phaser, ah...a wah-wah...there weren't very many effects at that point. I went to a merchant in town and I said, "Do you have anything you can put a guitar through and make it sound like two guitars?" He didn't, but when the Roland representative came, he ran it by him. And a few months later, like six months later, they came back with a prototype of a jazz chorus, digital delay which is used on everything now. And, so the first jazz chorus was how I was able to kinda' duplicate the double guitar sound on "Hejira" in performance. So, I'm using digital delay, and I'm using a certain amount of reverb on a Strat and that's about it, but it gives me a big fat orchestral sound for my guitar. And, and I can put all my tunings in this box.
Nicole: That's what I was gonna' ask you...
Joni: That's the main thing...that, that...a lot of people, they enjoy this instrument, but I'm the only one as far as I know that needed it. I mean, in order to go on, I needed somebody to invent something...that I can go "dink, dink, dink" that fast, from one tuning to another...where it was - it would take 15 minutes to get it in tune and then the strings are still stretching. So I was always out of tune in performance which drove me crazy 'cause...you know...I have good pitch so, it saved my life. It saved my musical life, this instrument!
Nicole: So that's so you can play with one guitar and you can change the setting and you're in another tuning.
Nicole: How...and being just a fan of music and not very musical myself... Is this something that is innate to you, that you, you knew these different tunings or you experimented? And is it something that's just learned, or...?
Joni: Well, the - the standard tuning, the way guitars are built is to Spanish tuning and it's turned a certain way. The banjo is tuned a different way. And most of the old black musicians went from banjo to guitar and nobody told them about Spanish tuning, so they tuned guitars into banjo tuning, which is Open G, that's what Keith Richards plays in. And in the VG8, Keith Richards' two - two slots, are actually five strings like a banjo with the sixth string removed, in open G tuning, and that's what all the Rolling Stones, that's what I think Keith plays in most of the time. So, that tuning was known in coffee houses because of the black blues players.
Um...then there was a D Modal where you take your top strings and drop them down from Es to Ds, and it gave you a kind of a modal sound. That was kicked around. And then, just...and there were about three tunings that were known. But I started as a piano player. As a young child I wanted to be a composer. I - I heard beautiful melodies in my head and loved classical music and had friends who were baby classical musicians, who went into adjudicated competition and were quite precocious, and...you know I was the painter so I was just kind of the sidekick to all of this, but I absorbed competitive classical music attending their performances. And began to kind of dream of playing the piano beautifully. Well...took lessons, got my wrists slapped for wanting to play by ear and quit. And came around to folk music as a hobby just for pin money in art school, no intention of making a career of it. And all this repressed talent didn't really come out until I began to write my own songs. My own songs were...if you listen to the first album it's much more like German Lieder than it is like folk music. It's more like classical guitar. Um, already I'd gone into the tuning family. Then as my ear got more and more modern or, quote, more and more jazzy depending on how you look at it. You know, color juxtaposition like painting the chords that I wanted to describe. Like, some of my text is pretty sad, you know, like if you just used minors with it, to me it would be kind of - it would sound like the Smiths - not to be - it would sound like downer...you know...but -
Joni: Like "The Beat of Black Wings" is a really tragic song, but the music is very light, so that you create irony as opposed to melodrama. There's a, you know, so in order to - because of the very dramatic nature of my writing - to prevent melodrama which I abhor, which gets very high ratings (laughs)...You know, like the chords had to become more symphonic and underscore, and they had to be appropriate, you know, like to the text, you know? But...to a lot of ears it's just Joni's weird chords...so that a lot of people can't really perceive my art.
Nicole: From your background as a, as a painter, it sounds like...you see the music visually.
Joni: Yes. Yeah, very graphic.
Joni: But not the normal staff, you know. I see it more in terms of color and, and line, painterly line. You know? Like I want the line to enter here, you know, and I want it to get out here. When I play with other musicians like Wayne Shorter for instance, I cut him loose on twelve tracks...and just scribble everywhere. But then I edit him. Then I know like I want, you know, something to come in here, and take what I think are the most beautiful scribbles that he did across this thing, and some of them are just genius! I mean, they're just splendid, that he could lock into the design that astutely. You know, like...like my own hand. You know, like, so that you don't get -It's collaborative but it meshes together like classical composition?
Nicole: And that's when it's art. And that's when - when you feel it.
Nicole: You know. Full circle, that's kind of what's missing in a lot of music. I always say that one of the marks of a truly great song is when it elicits a physical response in you and maybe when it does, hit a different sense. You can visually see the music as art, not just the notes on a page, but -
Joni: Like Wayne, Wayne Shorter's solo on "Facelift," in the bridge? It's just - to me is just - it's genius and I don't use that word. I stammer to use it. Michaelangelo is a genius I always say. You know, genius is bantered around too freely. But, um, and the funny thing is, is that he said something to me - he's, he's a trained musician...Berkeley School of Music...that they were taught at Berkeley School of Music never to go from a sus chord - never to stay on a sus chord, a suspended chord, very long. And never to go from a sus chord to a sus chord.
Well I was taught in art college about, you know, a little later in time than he went to music college...you know, never to use colors of the same intensity, 'cause they'll create a vibration. Well psychedelic poster art came along. Also I was taught, that there was a distinction between commercial and fine art which Andy Warhol broke down shortly after I - you know. So the rules are generally - most of them are broken - that they would still be standing. I don't really know what a sus chord is, but I know that I like chords that have an unrequited or an open-endedness to them which I suspect is a sus chord. And that my tunings, I suspect, are sus chords. And I'm barring so I'm going from a - I'm staying on a sus chord, going to a sus chord, and adding in another one and a lot of people don't like that. But to me it sounds fresh.
And also, my life is in suspension. Those chords, you know, depict the way - you know, there's been some resolution in my life, my child was returned to me.
Joni: Right? Now there's an occasion to get back to some good old-fashioned majors!
Joni: You know? But all my life, between the bomb hanging over me and my child being out there somewhere, there's be - no wonder I like chords that have a second running through them all the way. And that's, I guess, that's the deadly sus chord perhaps, that you're not supposed to go from one to the other. But my life was in suspension! So, if you're listening to the dictates of a muse...it's not like I broke that rule. It wasn't to break it for breaking its sake, I didn't really know what a sus chord was. Or I didn't know the rule. But I knew that that movement, when I listened to it personally, was a depiction of how I felt.
Nicole: And you've always seemed to do that anyway, you're gonna' follow what feels right to you rather than the rules that someone tells you well this is what you're supposed to do...that's...you know follow that.
Joni: Yeah. That's an artist's ego - you know and because an artist is a solitary person, and used to standing back and adjud - and judging themselves, there's no one there. You know, like, and if you - art school could kill that in you but you need to stand on your own judgment. You know? So that's one reason why I never wanted a producer. You know I figured "Gee... You know, did Mozart have a producer?" No! You, you have to judge what you're trying to get at yourself, and...
Nicole: Well it's your production just like your painting is your...
Joni: Well, it's composition...really more than production. You know production again is the idea of us as produce going to the marketplace. It's not, it's composition.
Nicole: So your daughter was returned to you.
Nicole: Now, I guess - I did a lot of reading. I mean, I've been a fan of yours for so many years, but knowing that I was gonna' talk to you, I just - I went through the internet and just pulled articles from throughout the years from different eras just to see the, you know, the - how attitudes were different or, you know. Um. The fact that you had a daughter was not known until some, somebody talked to an old college roommate?
Joni: My - my roommate at college, who also was an unwed mother and should know the stigma at that time, and the disgrace of it, sold me to the Enquirer for her personal gain.
Nicole: Ugh! Oh my God.
Joni: That's how it started.
Nicole: Had you lost touch with, or - ?
Joni: I had. Occasionally we have reunions, like, you know, not - mostly for dance parties. She attended my 50th birthday.
Joni: And it was that, it was right about after that, that...ah... Like many of the women that I grew up with, there's a resentment that I could come from where I came from and quote-unquote, "make it," you know. I kept a couple of good men friends all my life, from my hometown. But most of the women resented the fact that I went out into it and, you know, and made it. I don't know if there's a colonial attitude, or...?
Nicole: I think it's a female thing. I think it's a catty female thing.
Joni: Well you see it in sit-coms, you know, but usually the, when the successful one comes she rubs their noses in it. You know, like I didn't rub...if anything, I'm placating them all the time. Because all of their little achievements, you know, like I understand. You know. And I never wanted to be a star. You know, so, the thing in our community was to have your own business and have a cottage at the lake. You know, that's a beautiful...I understand that. So if they have a cottage at the lake they'll go, "Of course it's not like a mansion in Malibu!" Right? So always they're measuring themselves against this stuff and hurting them and then being mad at me. So, difficult...I'm managing to, like, through repetition to get them kinda' used to me by reminding them I haven't forgotten them, you know by reminiscing, say. I don't know what they think, you go away and you completely cut yourself off from your roots?! Turn your back on it? You know, you can't; it's in your blood.
Nicole: So she went out and sold a story to the Enquirer...and...I...I, haven't been there but I can only imagine that, you know...
Joni: It was very painful. And then the New York Times picked it up and they dropped the name of Calgary in it, and Calgary got all full of themselves, because their name was in the New York Times. You know this is really small colonial crap, you know? And then they went exploring around and found a picture, you know, asked around to see who I went with in school, and managed to find and suck the father into all this. So, you know. All of it in the final wash, you know I always mean to call Laurie and say "thank you." You know, because after the initial pain of it, it sped up the processes and it probably...I don't know how long it would have taken. There's no way I could find Kilauren. She would have had a hard time finding me without, without this. So no doubt -
Nicole: Had you been looking for her?
Joni: I'd tried. I - you know, I went to Toronto right around the time of the Ethiopian things, there was an Ethiopian concert up there. And there was a nun who used to conscript me to do charity work for her. She was very forceful. I'm not Catholic, but she really...She'd - I'd go and play for depressed people, her nuns. She wanted me to be a nun. She wanted to conscript me. She thought...she likened me to, um...what's that guy's name, he was a Protestant. Morton? Merton? Merton. Anyway, he was a very original Catholic thinker, and a good priest. You know, like, and a fresh tributary into Catholicism. And the son of two painters that travelled around the world. So he had... But anyway, she thought I was, you know, she wanted to conscript me and was always after me. So I thought, well I kind of, you know, not that I keep score, but that she would help me 'cause I've done some things for her.
And...I attempted to do it, but things conspired, because in Toronto where I had my daughter, two or three people knew and those two or three people had big mouths and so...you know, the legend as it blankets that particular zone. When I was in town that time a boy came up to me at a table and said you know, my daughter - or, "My girlfriend really loves you." "Oh thank you," I said. "I mean, no she really loves you." I said, "Well, tell her thank you very much." "Her name's Kelly." I said, "Oh that's a pretty name," 'cause I named my daughter Kelly. But I didn't think of it at the moment. He said, "Kelly!" and he leaned into it, and I said, "Oh. How old is she?" And he told me and I said "Well you tell her that she's too old." So at the time that Kilauren, you know, was looking for me - which this article helped, sped things up by five or six, maybe seven years - um, there were 30 other girls claiming me. So, there was a sorting process that had to be done. And... But she's my kid alright!
Nicole: Wow. That's, is that...
Joni: Oh, it's...
Nicole: ...the most amazing thing?
Joni: the MOST amazing. Yeah.
Nicole: I can imagine.
Joni: Yeah. Just...
Nicole: It's wonderful.
Joni: Really fulfilling.
Nicole: So, I, I...I don't want to tread where I don't belong and I don't want to get too personal, but this must've opened up a whole other floodgate of emotions and experiences and...
Joni: Oh yeah. Finding a... You know, like "Stay in Touch" applies, although it wasn't written specifically, it's almost prophetic. Because it applies very well, you know, to this kind of a union. Because it's - it's...um...I'm sure that there will be or even have been books written on it but... I've seen two movies on it, they're "Secrets and Lies" and "Flirting with Disaster."
Joni: I watched it with Kilauren. She nearly fell asleep. She likes comedy. She - she loves comedy. So "Flirting with Disaster" was more interesting to her 'cause it had more humor to it. But...ah...the balancing is difficult in the first - we had one major kind of altercation in the process of getting to know each other in which I had to confer with her father. And, you know, we had a kind of a - ah - it's hard without knowing the scenario for me to capsulize all of this, but we came through all of it. Made us all closer. Um, you know. There are difficulties coming out of the blue and especially with me being, you know, in the position that I am...um...being a public person. It - it, kind of a shock. Although Kilauren was a model from 14 to 27...
Joni: So she, she had been around the world, and she'd had her own taste of celebrity, and that all helped.
Nicole: She inherited the artistic...
Joni: She's a painter. And a swimmer.
Nicole: Oh my.
Joni: She loves to paint. So she's got that drive.
Nicole: Wow. Um...you...You're a painter, you're a musician, and a singer and a poet. And, a dancer.
Joni: Which, you know, I never really exploited that.
Nicole: Um, and I read somewhere where, it was, I guess you saw a show that was a tribute to your music, it might've been the drag thing in New York...
Nicole: And - and you said you, you know, you enjoyed it, but wanted to get in there and take some control, I don't know if it was the director, if that was the show, or if it was a different show you were talking about.
Joni: No, definitely John Kelly. I sat, like, I desired no control. I went expecting to be lampooned...and instead I was very moved by the whole thing. Some of it was just an homage, more than - he had some of it down alright, and I liked his costume changes. And even my rambling narrative style, you know he had somehow managed to emulate, but in his own way. So what I saw was, was a kindred spirit who loved my music.
Nicole: That's great.
Joni: And, you know, he sang "Shadows and Light" in full tenor, you know, in Joni drag, from his heart. And I cried my eyes out. No, there was nothing I would've changed or directed in it at all, I was, I was truly honored. And the audience was a New York audience and they're so cool, you know. And at the end they kept going, you know, flicking their bics and throwing flowers, and responding like my audience to him, and ignoring the fact that I was there. One person in the audience kept checking me out to see what my response was, but everybody else ignored that I was there, until the very end. We gave him two encores. My boyfriend called out "We love you Joni!" and he blushed, 'cause he knew where were sitting, he knew who was - and, and when the encores were over the audience stood up, and faced where we were sitting. And only then did they -
Joni: ...acknowledge that I was there. So it was very very moving, and...
Joni: It was a wonderful experience! No, I don't know what that would've been. I'm doing a TV show that I want to take control of, because I tried to keep it from being a cliché and I feel...
Nicole: What was that?
Joni: Oh. Well I'm about to go up and edit - I did a TV show that I think, you know, I would love to designate duty, if people would not revert to formula.
Nicole: Is this, like a, like a concert special or...?
Nicole: Oh for VH-1 or?
Joni: I don't know whether they're gonna' sell it everywhere, pay TV initially, and then BBC and CBC and I don't know what the American market is yet. I think that there's a trade show coming up and that remains to be seen, where they'll place it in terms of America. But no, I...
Nicole: I think what, what, but what I was getting at was, and I don't know what it was in relation to, something you said, I don't really remember, it doesn't really matter. What I was gonna' ask about is, whether or not, you mentioned you want to do an album of standards, which I think is - I'd love to hear,
Joni: Yeah, I just wanna' be a singer.
Joni: Nothing else, just sing.
Nicole: But if you'd ever, because you are a dancer, if you would ever entertain the thought of, of a Broadway show, or something like that? Of writing a musical and choreographing it, and just expanding in that arena?
Joni: Well, I - I never really...I was a Lindy dancer, I was a partner dancer in high school...mainly that was the dance. And it was, you know, I was good on a small town scale, and I lived for it and I loved it! I mean, I loved it with a passion, the same passion that I then applied to folk music. Like, and all my dancing friends, suddenly like I'm this, you know introv - I mean, it was almost like schizophrenia to them. One guy said, if you don't Anderson (that was my maiden name) if you don't put that guitar down, you know it was a ukulele, I'm gonna' break it against the wall. You know, 'cause when I got it, I took all the energy that I put into dancing, and I'd huddle in the corner at parties and go in - and romance this box with strings on it, you know.
So it - it - it developed. My inner life had been kind of secretive. I wrote poetry always but didn't like poetry. Never showed it to anybody unless I had to turn it in on an assignment. And I just, rhyming Joan, I was taught to rhyme almost in infancy by a Cockney woman! You know, so rhyming came easy to me. I put my thoughts down in rhyme because it was structured, you know. But I've never really liked poetry, I've always thought that it was, there wasn't enough meat on it.
Joni: Then I read Nietzche and he felt that way about it, you know, 'cause nobody ever knew what he was either. Was he a philosopher with poetic bent or was he, you know, a poet with a philosophical bent but he was very hard on the poets. And, I laughed when I read the things he said like, horrible things about them...you know, and all in my opinion, true. And you know, I, like he, wanted to make a new brand of poetry...that had more...that was more cinematic, I guess. You know, like in my, you know...like one of my favorite compliments came from a black hairdresser at last year's Grammys. You know. She came up and she said, "Girl, you make me see pictures in my head!" I said, okay, you know 'cause poetry is too vague for me, for the most part. And almost like it out-hipped itself or something and you're digging and you're digging, and you know I don't have the time to go digging and find out there was nothing there in the first place and I just. How, it was a shaggy dog story you know, like about light on a leaf or something? You know, like...I like haikus. And...but I never could get into "Ode to a Daffodil" and some of that stuff in school. You know and I loved flowers. But...some of it needed more meat to it to me?
Nicole: No, I know what you mean about poetry, I'm the same way. Lyrics to songs move me. I'm not one who can open up a poetry book and read it. Very rare poem that will grab me in itself.
Joni: Yeah. You can always feel the poetic stance or something. Like the effort to be poetic. I'm saying this as someone who writes the stuff. But, but again, my prejudices are many but they're the lines of my creativity, that's why I don't really like to get into "What do you think of so-and-so" or anything, because I'm so hard on what I think is good. And I don't want it falling - bad enough I - I can take it myself, 'cause I do it to myself. You know, like I've set these enormously high standards for myself, you know, to strive towards.
Nicole: But you haven't explored the dancing part of your -
Joni: Well. You know my girlfriend Ola, I, we used to - Slash's mother - was a dancer, and I ran into her in the streets of Paris, oh about 10 years ago. And she'd gone at forty-something and joined a Paris dance troupe, and got back to her dance. And I thought that that was kind of amazing, at forty something. At 55, you know, like, I doubt that I'm going to, you know, turn into Isadora Duncan or anything. But with the revival of swing dancing, and with a group of friends who are blessedly younger than me and good dancers, some of the popper camp, you know and some out of show dancing, ballet. You know, it's our intention to start going out and dancing more, more for fun, but I never got to do videos either. That's another thing, I put up my own money to do my own videos to prove. I thought, well the record company thinks that I'm, you know, middle aged, but I could pull off youth on camera, well I could at that time. You know, now it's a little harder. But you know, but I'm still you know, an energetic old bird. You know, like if - if uh, but that outlet was never allowed me as a form of expression which is kind of a shame. You know. It was just, the door was closed.
Nicole: I, yeah. It is a shame. It should have been something and if that's a standard thing, however then you're running up against the MTVs and the VH-1s of the world, which are the same as radio.
Joni: Same old problem. Yeah.
Nicole: Because the outlets are fewer. Janet Jackson sampled "Big Yellow Taxi" and what, did she approach you about that, or?
Joni: Yeah. She asked my permission. We spoke on the phone and yeah, I was honored and I loved the record. You know, I like dance music. And it distinguished itself, I think. If you listen to that radio station which I did for several days. And it wasn't just 'cause I was a participant in it. It was outstanding in its confirmation. I loved the groove. It stood out among thematically. It just uh - it stood out, I was really proud of it.
Nicole: Yeah, I was amazed when I heard it, I thought it sounded great.
Joni: Did you see the video?
Nicole: Never saw the video.
Joni: Ah! The video was my favorite video ever! They, it was really casual. It had a look of, it was sepia with color in it, like old magazines...?
Joni: And - It was very very, the spirit of it was very dignified. The men looked like men. Um. The images were very African. Teeming with humanity. The video was teeming with humanity. And a quiet dignity. And Janet was radiant and very ethnic with cornrows. And, a warm presence in it. Um... It was a great sense of activity and inactivity, I can't explain it. But basically it came from somebody's photographs I believe, that were taken in South Africa, maybe in the 40s or 50s? So the men were wearing hats. But, there are ceiling fans. There are images like a guy with a parrot on his arm, and a bunch of black kids up on a billboard with a big black head. I only saw it once, so I don't remember whose face, whether it was a political face, or whether it was important or whether it was just selling toilet paper or what, you know? But just all these kids huddled, you know, like leaning down like over a billboard, so the images were candid looking.
Joni: A woman washing her hair. Another woman doing that big bum African dance like with the - you stick your bum way out and you rotate it in circles. Um, squat toilets.
Nicole: So with the TV special that you're doing, are you experimenting with any of this kinda' stuff? I mean do you want - would you want to branch out into directing something like this, or, 'cause you, you're obviously very creative and think in such a visual...
Joni: Well I've never had any budget. So most, I've done all my videos up until this show, anything that was visual I edited myself, and, you know, on a really low budget. So, and the videos that I did, I flew to Tokyo and I sold $120,000 worth of paintings, the only time I've sold, and churned it all back into videos...
Joni: "The Beat of Black Wings" being one of them, in which I play a black man. You know, I wanted to show, I can act! Which is, you know. And, and the record company looked at it four times and didn't realize that it was me. You know, like, like so...nobody ever saw any of this stuff. So they just kinda' sat in the can. It was kind of a waste, it was a waste of...you know. I spent a lot of money. And I thought if I could prove it to them then they would get behind it with the record but the doors were closed. So nobody ever did anything and I proved nothing, it was just another, you know, economic loss and a source of frustration. You know, almost like...I kept thinking about Elvis, you know. Elvis could act, and they kept putting him in those cornball B movies, and he was dying. 'Cause he was so much more intelligent than that. You know, this was in its own way, you know, another kind of waste of talent.
Nicole: Mm-hmm. Any plans to do any art exhibits? I saw one - right when Turbulent Indigo came out, they had a little record release party for you in Santa Monica, that little gallery and showed your...
Joni: Overnight, yeah. I have fly-by-night exhibitions.
Nicole: Yeah. Is...any plans for a major show?
Joni: I hadn't, you know? Like one of the things when we were trying to figure out how to promote this album since, again, I used a lot of the paintings on it...was to try and organize a traveling show, like of museums or something across Canada. But museums book like two years in advance. So, you really had...and it's a lot of work to mount an exhibition. And you have to appear and hang it. I wouldn't let anybody else hang it, you know, 'cause sequencing is also an art form...be it, sequencing an album. That's why I like editing film. You know. Like, 'cause I like sequential problems and fancy myself to be good at it! (Laughs)
Nicole: Um. Charles Mingus sought you out, to, to collaborate with on his final work. Is there anybody that you know of, a young talent...somebody that you think is, is artistic and creative and, and talented, that you would like to work with, that you would want to collaborate with?
Joni: Well. The only thing...not so much young. I'd like to produce Wayne Shorter. Mainly to not produce him, just to, just to give him his full lead, you know, so that he doesn't get produced! Same thing Crosby did for me on my first album, you know. To - to pretend to produce him, so to speak.
Nicole: Right. To be there.
Joni: To give him his lead. 'Cause I think he gets...you know, and I also know his talent very well, I think at this point and would be...you know, where selections need to be made, I think I can judge what is his best work, you know?
Joni: Uh...but...No, I can't think - I'd like to do some more of that, like, take old music of mine, and turn it into dance music?
Joni: That kind of intrigues me.
Joni: You know, to pull slogans, to pull the sound bites, out of the old tunes?
Nicole: Like sampling...
Joni: The hooks? You know. Sort of like the Janet Jackson thing,
Joni: I got a thrill out of that. You know. If it's well done like that I believe was. Um. There's another group too that's been sampling me. That, they took a piece, a guitar loop, "I Had a King" and another one from..."Sweet Bird" I think, or? Something. Anyway, the recycling of old stuff, that appeals to me. But, no I can't think of a, a young artist that I've seen yet, that...I mean there's a lot of artists I like. I like Bjork's talent, I think she's an original. You know, that she's got a fresh approach.
Nicole: Uh-huh. Who else?
Voice: Excuse me, Nicole, how are you doing, on time?
Nicole: Um. Good. Another like 10 minutes or so?
Voice: Yeah. That's fine.
Joni: There are things that I hear that I think are pleasant. That I like a song here and a song there. You know. For my own personal enjoyment, like environmentally, when I'm out I enjoy a lot, you know, of found music, 'cause it's everywhere...
Joni: You know. But when I'm looking for musical inspiration, no, it's not an inspiring crop and mainly because they're being over-directed I think. Left to their own devices? Making their own judgments?
Nicole: Mm-hmm. Joni: You know, would - would increase the...you know, if you turn it over to somebody else and leave the studio and let them build your tracks for you and all of that? You know, like, I'm not a fan of processed music in the long run. I wouldn't own an album, but I could act - but some of them turn out nice in spite of it...
Joni: You know, and I could say, "That's a pleasant song."
Nicole: Are you familiar with Patty Griffin?
Nicole: She just released her second album which is with a full band. But it was right before KSCA went off the air. And this little record came across my desk. Actually I had heard about it from a friend. And it's just her with a guitar, um, "Living with Ghosts" is the name of the album, that's the first one she did. And, and - What they decided, she did some demos with a full band and they said go back to the originals, and it was just her with a guitar and it's some of the most beautiful music. Terrific voice and lyrically it's tremendous. And now she put out a record with a full band that rocks, and it's - it's actually quite good. But I still love that first record she did, even - I think, I think you might like it.
Joni: Well one thing, one of the most exciting things that I heard, was on the first Deep Forest, album? Was "The Pygmy." The most sophisticated, heartfelt, gorgeous pitch, gorgeous compositional sense. A rondella, so to speak, you know. Like, like a, I mean unbelievable! Pierced my heart, just made me feel...um...a lot of contemporary singers don't touch me either because it's gotten like opera, either they're singing in a tradition, and the tradition...the tones, a lot of the tones of the females are either shrewish or whiney, or they have false coming in their voices, like catches in their voices...that are supposed to sound sexy but they put them on articles and things like that. So I got so that I couldn't really stand to listen to contemporary singing, you know, between the black affections of the males, whether they were from Australia or England...
Joni: ...you know? Or, or, the whining or the shrewishness, or the false eroticism of the females. You know. But Deep Forest, which was a round up, you know of, of people who aren't in show business. You know, who probably pray, a lot of them, before they raise their voice? You know.
Nicole: Because there was a genuineness there.
Joni: Yeah. That's all - I got so I could listen to them and the Sons of the Pioneers?
Joni: That's how I ended up covering that one, because they were my favorites when I was a preteener, in terms of vocalists.
Nicole: Mm-hmm. Um. You did a little, the short, West coast tour with Bob Dylan and Van Morrison.
Nicole: I was at the last one, at the Anaheim Gorge Show which was just such a wonderful night. Um. I just want to know about that, how it went?
Joni: Well I got really sick. I - you know, coming out of Vancouver, we took a bus to the Gorge. And they'd glued the carpet down with some kind of really stinky glue. And I don't know whether it was that. And also there was air conditioning. And it was a long ride, about 8 hours but when I got off the bus the whole roof of my mouth was inflamed and my throat. It looked like an allergic reaction which made the rug kind of suspect, but it was diagnosed as a virus. And he gave me, um, penicillins which were, which I had a radical reaction to and I lost my motor functions for part of a day. So I had a whole lot of, what was to be a travel day, blessedly, the worst... I did the two Gorge dates in a state of delirium. Then the following day I couldn't get out of bed. I couldn't chew and I couldn't walk. I was eating and I had to tell myself. "Chew, chew." "Walk," you know. So we called the doctor, a Chinese doctor and he said, you know, that it was toxicity from the medicine and I was having an allergic reaction to that. So the San Jose concert, I apologized to my audience. I don't remember it, all I knew was, by that time, if I hit a high note I felt like I was gonna' black out. So all the way up until the very last concert, I was really behind the wheel.
Bobby had bronchitis, and he's allergic to air-conditioning and fluorescent lights too, which the halls are full of. So he sat mostly in a blackened truck. And Van came to me at one point and said, "Has he spoken to you?" and I said, "Yeah, we talked at one point in Vancouver." And he said, "Well he hasn't spoken to me." You know? I said, "Well come on, let's crash his show." So we went, we went on this one song just as a kind of a lark at the Gorge and, looking at the faces of the people, loved it. Looking at the reviews, some criticized it and some loved it. You know it was controversial. We were going to do, I think it was the last show, the one that you went to...that we had planned to do it again, and actually rehearsed that day with Bob's band, because he wanted to do it this time in my set. And, we rehearsed and prepared for it but it didn't happen. So he's an enigmatic character. And also, you know, he saves his stamina pretty much for the show, I think. But it was a great triple bill.
Nicole: It was. Wonderful.
Joni: And, you know, it was hard. Most people thought, I think, if they thought I wasn't giving it my all, they attributed it to rustiness. Or you know, not having been out of the chute for so long. But in fact, I - you know. I was like really really sick.
Nicole: Oh wow. Well it didn't show the night I saw you. I think that was the end of the -
Joni: Yeah, I was starting to come out of it.
Nicole: Will you be touring for "Taming the Tiger?"
Joni: I don't think so. It's my instinct to go into the studio right away because this album has been held back for a year by the company pretty much. You know, I'm behind - way behind schedule and I want to cut an album of standards.
Joni: And I'm excited to do that right now so I think I'm gonna go straight back into the studio. And then I'd like to tour...um, you know, with symphonies.
Joni: 'Cause I got, I got a taste on the Stormy Weather Review, of singing standards with a big band. And, there's so much controversy about my music; they love it, they hate it, you know. I'm sick of white boys saying that there's no melody here and it's too jazzy. You know, like I just want a break from it for a while and I'm gonna' sing old standards, just be a singer.
Nicole: Any songs picked out?
Joni: Yeah. "Stormy Weather." And Marvin Gaye's song "Troubled Man," those are the two I've been doing. Uh...a couple of Billie Holiday things. Some Gershwin. Um, yeah. I'm combing repertoire now. Looking, looking for stuff.
Nicole: Oh okay. Um. I'm about done, all these notes and I just want to make sure I'm not... What do you think of the whole Lillith phenomenon?
Joni: Well, ah...you know I think for some reason in a male dominated business, the whole business seems to be surprised that women can do that kind of box office. You know? I didn't see the show, so I can't really, I can't really comment on it.
Nicole: How was Woodstock?
Joni: Mmm. It was wonderful.
Nicole: Was it?
Joni: It was wonderful! It was - It didn't rain during my set, it was precipitous, it threatened. It was a very warm audience. And, you know, coming down the coast...the - the criticism that was levied against me, again and again and again...was that I didn't do my earlier material, and that it was too jazzy. Right? Well when I got to Woodstock there was a banner about 8 feet long that said "Joni's Jazz" and all these heads like up above it, so it was like, you know. And they applauded my players when - 'cause these musicians I'm carrying are of a fine caliber, and they responded to them beautifully. They didn't seem to have any problem with the music. It was, it was really a thrill. And my daughter and my grandson were there. And my daughter said it was the best day of her life.
Nicole: Oh how wonderful!
Joni: So...you know, and there was some trepidation. You know, in some ways I think she'd rather that I was fat and lived in a trailer park. (laughs) You know, than to land in on all of this, you know, until we adjust. 'Cause the press, you know, ate us alive initially. And, and...you know - to come in to this carnivorous world. Um...So it was the first time that she'd seen me perform. And she was probably worried that she might not like it. You know. After all, it's her mother.
Nicole: How old is your grandson?
Joni: He's five.
Nicole: Oh. Oh, how great!
Nicole: Oh so you kind of get to enjoy the little child aspect...
Nicole: And he was there.
Joni: Yeah, and he was three when we met and he's growing into a little boy, so, yeah...
Nicole: Oh that's so great. Oh, I'm so happy for you.
Joni: Yeah. It is!
Nicole: That's so wonderful. You know, driving up here, I had a two hour drive. Well, before I even get to that. That'll be the last thing I'll ask you about. Um. I just moved to San Diego a few months ago, but, I bought my first house two years ago in Laurel Canyon. And, all I could think of when I was like buying this house, 'cause I love that area, it's still has a magical feel to it.
Joni: Mm-hmm. It does, and the smell of it, all the eucalyptus?
Nicole: Oh. Yes!
Joni: It's got its own odor.
Nicole: And I tell people...my family's in Florida. And I would say, "If you were helicoptered in blindfolded and airdropped into my house, you would not know that you were in the middle of L.A."
Joni: Yeah. Yeah, that's -
Nicole: Pure, in the mountains somewhere...
Nicole: It's quiet. It smells good. It's peaceful. You can hear the crickets, you can hear the squirrels...
Joni: The houses are cottage-y, they're not real houses a lot of time.
Nicole: I bought a cottage that was built in 1920, or something.
Joni: Yeah. Yeah.
Nicole: Just, just...and I always joke, I always say "Well I'm one of the Ladies of the Canyon now!"
Nicole: You know? Um. And one of the fantasies I had that I never did, was to do a documentary on the musical history of Laurel Canyon.
Joni: Or the history, the history and that being part of it, 'cause when we first moved out from New York...Geffen and Elliot and all of us. And David Blue. Kind of, we came out in a herd. Um. We all moved onto Lookout Mountain. And Joel Bernstein, I don't know if you know who he is, he's kind of the court historian...he works with Neil Young now, I think he's putting together Neil's boxed set. But he'd photographed all of that canyon scene. I brought him out from Philadelphia, he was a fan of mine that used to follow me around. And he was 15 with braces on his teeth but he took good pictures of me, so when I got my record deal, I plucked him out of college to come and photograph me...and he never went back.
But he found - and he's kind of an egghead - and he found an old book that said, "Ask anyone in America where the craziest people live and they'll tell you in California. Ask anyone in California where the craziest people live and they'll say L.A. Ask anyone in L.A. and they'll say Hollywood. Ask anyone in Hollywood and they'll say Laurel Canyon. Ask anyone in Laurel Canyon and they'll say Lookout Mountain." So there we were, all along this line.
Well at the time that we arrived, Tom Mix's house, which was across from Houdini's house, was occupied by Frank Zappa. And my house looked down on Frank Zappa's pond, which had ducks on it, which I drew on the back of the cover of "Ladies of the Canyon." The view in my skirts is across the street, looking up to Wonderland Avenue I think, going up the hill? And that house with the turrets on it, Chaka Khan occupied at one point. And, looking out my window there was a pond. I got really sick at one point and my mother came to visit. She looked out the window one day and there were all these white ducks going around, and you know Zappa's groupies, like completely nude floating around on their raft, you know so there was... And in the spring there were cherry blossom blooms that I looked at. It was like a viewmaster reel to look out of my dining room onto this pond with these ducks. But eventually it kind of suffered and fell into decay. You know. But the house that I had was charmed. It was just a tar paper roof kind of cottage built by a black piano player in the twenties but it was really, really a charming place.
Nicole: Now, is that - does Ron Stone live there now?
Joni: He - he did for, he raised his family there. And wanted to buy it from me, 'cause if you've ever lived in it, it's got - it's charmed, it's... Well, apparently there's an Indian burial ground next to it. Now I never felt any bad vibes at all, but a friend of mine who's a - a saint, you know like a drummer? Who belongs to a certain order, with a great sensitivity to the dead. We went there 'cause I have a new tenant that wanted to put in a new stove, and we went to visit him. And as we turned the corner, Jose, he said - his brother, Javier said, "Joni look at Jose's arms!" And all the hair was standing up and he said, "There's a graveyard around here, somewhere." And we were approaching, I said, "Look don't worry about it, whatever it is, is - Yes, the property has a very, very strange karma to it." You know, it's like, but it's benign. You know, it's not dark. It's protective of this particular plot of land.
There was a fire - my neighbors burnt their house to the ground, and I was on the road. But a friend of mine saw the fire and stopped. And while he watched, late summer with the grasses all dry and everything, the fire billowed, burnt the house six feet away from mine. 'Cause you know they're kinda' close together, we were hooked to the same plumbing, they were built at the same time for party houses, to escape the summer heat? And, it burnt, charred my door, broke my windows, bubbled my paint, and caught on the roof, and was just about to take off and burn my house down when the wind shifted, radically, and blew it all the other way.
When the Stones were in there, there was a dead treehouse in the back yard. And one night in a high wind, and went and it snapped at root. It had been dead, it was dying when I inherited the house. There's an old picture of Judy Collins and I up in this treehouse. And I think it still had a couple of leaves on it, but while I was there it went completely barren. And, one night in a high wind, it snapped. And it went to fall on the baby's room. It would've gone through the roof, you know? But the wind shifted, at the point of the break, and threw it against the break in the opposite direction. So, anyone who ever lived in that house, experienced that something, something protects that spot.
Nicole: Hmm. Do you still own it?
Joni: Yeah. I'm scared to sell it! Ronnie wanted to buy it, but somehow or other...you know, I always think, the business being as treacherous as it is...my taxes would be peanuts, I paid 36,000 for it. You know? If everything else fails, I'm going back in that house, you know?
Joni: It's a great house for a little old lady, and uh, my ta - you know, my upkeep would be minimal. I would be able to afford it. Even if they robbed me again like they did in the 80s, you know! Like. I would still have a, so that's my safety valve, kind of.
Nicole: So who lives there now?
Joni: Friend of Ronnie Stone's. An associate, an Englishman and his family. Yeah.
Nicole: Okay. I, ah, I talk to Ronnie once in a while. So, I know you need to go. Uh, what I was gonna' say is, driving up here, I was listening to the new album. And it's a good two hour drive, and I pulled out "The Hits" which I love, and I'm just wondering, if you revisit that stuff? If you - ?
Joni: I don't look back.
Nicole: No, so you -
Joni: I had to for the, for, you know, for "Hits and Misses."
Joni: ...to go over everything. But, uh, No, I don't, I don't go back.
Nicole: Is there a reason? Because I, I understand, you know, obviously the creating process, and the composition, and, and uh - creating, and moving forward. But, it's - I love your music as, as...just as a snapshot in time.
Nicole: Well, I'm going through those things, I mean, each song brings back different memories.
Nicole: And then I think, in terms of creating that stuff...I went back and listened to "Both Sides Now" a few times, and boy you must've been so young when you wrote that and -
Joni: Yeah, it's one of my first songs, 21.
Nicole: And - and lyrically it's so wise, it brought a tear to my eye today, just thinking about, I've been going through a whole age thing, and growing older. And, you know when you're younger you think you know so much and then now...I- I'm 38 now and I realize how little I knew then, when I first heard that song. And, um. And, wondering what you think about it? But...?
Joni: I think, you know, everything, in a certain way...I think I was kind of fooling myself in my teens. Aside from some shyness, you know like some social awkwardness...you know which, um... But I kinda' lost it in my 20s. I kinda' broke down. I guess it was like, kinda' like a breakdown. You come down to nothing. And you rebuild. And I wanted opinions. Well I was an opinionated teenager, really opinionated, like, doing satire on the beats, and you know I would - (laughs) You know?
And, a lot of my insights as a teenager...I mean I feel like I've come full cycle. Like I knew that I was really myself in my teens and then I lost myself, in a certain way. But the losing of my child, I mean that was so traumatic. And - and also, you know, I took a double batch of an extremely powerful Owsley...saw cutting edge physics. You know, saw the vileness of electricity and certain things. It was, so there were certain cosmic revelations that came to me that were disturbing. And ah, caused me to - to see future difficulties for [society.] You know, they deepened me in a way that was kinda' permanent. Like -
Nicole: I'm sorry, what was it, that - ?
Joni: Two tabs of Blue Cheer Owsley.
Nicole: Oh wow.
Joni: You know, like - I took it alone.
Nicole: Oh wow.
Joni: Took it with my colors out. Like ready to do like kind of a psychedelic masterpiece.
Joni: The only time I took acid, the first one didn't work so I took a double dose, it was one of the most powerful batches. And, you know, I basically saw the luminous, what Hawkings talks about as theoretical physics, the luminous fibers, that we copy, telephone wires and things from. The reason why psychic [occurrences] - we're wired together. You know, we all, animal, mineral, and vegetable...we're not independent. You know, like we're all suspended in this plasma. You know, ah, and you know, we're kind of ah...you don't really want to know my vision. It was pretty devastating, you know, like and far reaching. And, affected my work. Deepened it, darkened it. And made me feel kinda like, a little like Paul Revere.
Joni: You know, so, you know - all of that, ah...coupled, um... Well, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should be, you know, says the Desiderata. But - but it gave me a sense of alarm like, that I knew something about our destiny as a species. Kinda' like Chicken Little? You know, that was my - since I had been given this vision - that it was my destiny to alarm and warn others. You know, which put me kind of in a peculiar position considering that up until that time I was kind of a good time Charlie, with a little bit of maladjustment to show business, you know, 'cause it's overwhelming. You know, to be suddenly elevated from the ordinary Joe, have people suck in their breath at the sight of you and all of that, takes a period of adapting. Especially since it's nothing that I wanted.
Joni: You know. Some people, that's - now their thrill has come. Me, it's like, "No, no, this is all a misunderstanding." (laughs) You know.
So I - I've ah...it's taken a long time to get back to now, I feel I'm almost as intelligent as when I was 19. You know what I mean?
Nicole: So, the - the wiseness was there.
Joni: I look at my grandson, you know, and there's layers and layers and layers on him. But, you know. He said to his mother when he was three years old. And I was there, we went, "What?" He said, "Well bad dreams are good in the great plan," you know. So all, all of that stuff, whatever that is...contact, the ability to, to tap into the big brain that knows everything? We all have lesser and greater degrees of ability, you know, to tap into the great brain. The collective. You know. Which is where universal wisdom and all of that, that's where all of the, the Eastern pursuits, you know the meditational pursuits to increase that ability I suppose. Um, you know I can see those traits innate in my grandson. But I also can see, you know the consumerism, and, you know, and too much TV. The "I want, and I want it now," from single parenting. You know, all the layers...the layers of superficiality, and, clouding over the depth.
Nicole: Right, and that comes with society, and -
Joni: Yeah, yeah! The very thing that "Taming the Tiger" is kind of striking out against. Only, worse, because they've latched onto a younger and younger audience.
Joni: You know, it horrifies me to see him playing these violent...you know, games. I mean he's sarcastic! He was sarcastic when he was three years old. Which shows like, kind of an intellectual contempt and sense of superiority already. You know what I mean? And all of this is...real life is not fast enough for him. And they're all like that, I think.
Joni: It's gonna' be a strange generation, this one coming up. My daughter doesn't like to hear me talk about generations, 'cause you know for the most part I see her as a complete individual, but like any generation she shares some traits. You know? I don't feel that I was particularly typical of my generation, except maybe in terms of costume. You know. I wasn't an anarchist. And I uh, the only hippie value that really attracted me was the rainbow coalition.
Joni: Maybe 'cause I'm a mutt. You know? But, um...
VOICE: I'm sorry, I have to cut you off.
Nicole: This has been just wonderful, I can't thank you enough.
Joni: Awwww. Give me a hug.
Nicole: A pleasure. And hopefully we can do this on the radio sometime soon.
Nicole: And If I have any say, and the station does happen. If I have any control over it, it will be a lot more like what we talked about...
Nicole: ...than what, um, you know, KSCA kind of morphed into.
Nicole: She wanted a hug from me! Oh my God, listening to that, it was almost 18 years ago, that that interview was taped. I gotta say, again, it was for print. I will post a link to the article that was the product of that interview...which I have not listened to since. And it was every bit as amazing as I remember it! I hope you enjoyed it as I do, or did. Um. Wow! Joni Mitchell. Get well soon. Because I don't even want to think about a world without you.
As far as we know, Joni is hospitalized in an LA area hospital. Don't know exactly what's going on but we keep our fingers crossed that she ah, um, is home soon. Maybe back at the little cottage in Laurel Canyon. Wow! What a treat. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.
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