Transcribed by Lindsay Moon
A Special Conversation for Radio
Capitol Radio, London, England
David Jensen: Joni Mitchell, welcome back to England.
Joni Mitchell: Thank you. It's nice to be back.
DJ: I mean, you're no stranger to this country. You've visited it often. I mean, do you get to travel outside London when you're here?
JM: For many years I came directly to London and didn't depart into the country except on rare excursions, maybe a motor journey for an afternoon. But the last time I was here, which was at the beginning of the recording of the new album, my husband was working in the southwest near Froom --
DJ: In Somerset?
JM: Yeah. Which is a beautiful area. And we were there from January until I guess the first day of summer. We were there for several months. So that was really a taste of England for me for the first time I think. You know, because a big city is a big city.
DJ: Yeah, sure.
JM: But the English countryside is where you get a feeling for the country.
DJ: You recorded some of the Chalk Mark album in Peter Gabriel's studio in Bath, didn't you?
JM: Yes, uh-huh.
DJ: How did you end up there?
JM: Well, Larry had gone to the Wool Hall in Beckington to record Ben Orr, and they'd been there for some time and, you know, there's a community of musicians there. So Peter was recording his album, and hearing that Larry was in the neighborhood sent for him to play on a couple of tracks. And by the time I arrived it was just about the time the album was completed. Peter had his playback. I had two songs at the time that I needed to record and send back state-side, and with his studio sitting empty, he suggested that I go there and use it to be his guest since it was not in use.
DJ: Peter Gabriel is a lovely fellow.
JM: Lovely. We just did a video together for "Secret Place," which is one of the tracks on the album.
DJ: It's coming out as a single here, isn't it?
JM: Yeah, mm-hmm.
DJ: Has writing ever been a chore to you? Once you sign a deal with the record company, you are required to come up with a certain number of songs and albums and things like that. Or have you always enjoyed writing, the method of doing it?
JM: Well, any lack of enjoyment has not been the pressure of having to do it, but you do hit blocks where the writing doesn't go as you would like it. Maybe some idea dominates your head and you can't get it out that really is not what songs are made of. And also in order to write poetry, you have to go -- it's an introspective process. You know, there are -- I was thinking of what Dolly Parton said. When I met Dolly Parton, I played her the "Hissing of Summer Lawns," album, and she said to me quite shyly after the record was played back, "My God, if I thought that deep, I'd scare myself to death." (Laughs). So some of the process is indeed a little bit scary, you know.
DJ: We're going to come up to date in just a couple of minutes by playing songs from the new album, "Chalk Mark in a Rainstorm." Now in this album, you have an unlikely cast of characters performing with you, people that you would not imagine would actually go well, I guess, with your style. Notably Billy Idol; but there's also Willie Nelson and Tom Petty; Wendy and Lisa; Wayne Shorter, the jazz player; Peter Gabriel is on here as we discussed earlier on your new single. Did you write these songs with these people in mind?
JM: No. No. The songs are written always in the same process, pretty much the same process as in the beginning, voice and guitar, and fleshed out later in the production as we work in the studio and often in a very spontaneous way.
You know, I've pulled Lionel Richie and Jose Feliciano and various people from time to time into the project simply meeting them in the hallway over the coffee machine. Or A & M had four or five studios and always people were meeting in the halls on breaks. Sometimes I'd take a whole horn section over. Often these things were quite spontaneous, and it's not unusual for me to work with a varied cast. Since I'm not in a band, I rely on -- I can choose my musicians from pretty much any source.
DJ: Is it a sign that you are equally a fan of these artists then? I mean presumably you wouldn't work with people that you didn't have some regard for anyway.
JM: Mm-hmm. I like all their music.
DJ: What about "Dancin' Clown" then with Billy Idol? This is the one when we first read about this in some of the gossip papers here some months ago, some people were saying what is she doing now? Because people remembered your adventures into jazz, and this seemed to be another venture that was going to surprise us. The combination works. How did you come across Billy Idol?
JM: Well, we were sitting in the Grammys, my husband and I, and Billy was performing, and he was great that night. I just thought he was fantastic. The old spirit, the original spirit of rock and roll, was very much there and plus there was a new energy. It was both modern and nostalgic. And I said to Larry, "God, wouldn't he make a great Rowdy Yates?" And it's something that I've done a little bit of in my songs -- well, often I would do my own characters, like the waitress in "The Last Time I Saw Richard," you know, "drink up now / it's getting on time to close." So I would disguise my voice and play these characters anyway. So the natural evolution is to begin casting, which I did some of on the last album. Rod Steiger plays the preacher. So it was a natural extension of things I've been playing around with for years.
DJ: Sure. This is "Dancin' Clown" then from "Chalk Mark in a Rainstorm."
(Music up: "Dancin' Clown.")
DJ: Joni Mitchell. And on that track Billy Idol. As Joni was saying, a rock and roll performer with a real rock and roll charisma, which is really kind of rare these days with so much, I guess, corporate rock about and people being groomed. But he does have that spirit, doesn't he?
JM: Yeah, he does, he's like the call of the wild. He's like Elvis and he's great.
DJ: I think when I first heard this album, the first thing that I noticed was the sound of the album. It seems to be a production that is almost complete in every way and almost geared for the compact disc market because you can hear everything so clearly and it's just all-around sound. Did you go about doing this album differently from past albums in your production?
JM: Well, much of the sound, you know, must be credited to my husband and to Mike Shipley. And that's -- the finesse on it is their forte. My participation is in choosing the sounds. I'll say, "Oh, I like that sound," you know. They might want to fuss even more with it. I would say in some cases leave it alone. For instance, the sound on "Cool Water" was a sound that my husband, Larry Klein, was distilling and he was dissatisfied that there was -- what was it, Larry? There was a fibrous -- the vibrato in it was something that he wanted to eliminate it, whereas I loved it because I like some (sound of vibrato) thread to things so I said, "Leave it alone. Let me use that sound." And I sat down with it and improvised for about half an hour and from that, we took a snippet which becomes the intro of "Cool Water."
It was cut because we didn't think we were going to use it -- it was cut a little low in volume so there was a hiss on it, so I said, "Never mind. Give me some white noise." First of all, I was blowing air across the microphone because I thought the hiss is fine because we're out in the desert, you know, it should sound sandy. So I was going (blows across mike) like across the mike, you know, and Klein and Ships again in the finesse department were saying, "No, no, Joan." I said, "Well, okay. Set me up some white noise." So they set up this sound and we added it and sprinkled it in and masked the fact that technically it was not heated up enough to record it. So we compromised in those ways, you know.
DJ: I want to bring Larry Klein, if he's willing to -- he's sitting in the corner being very quiet at the moment -- and ask him about what it's like working with his wife in the studio.
The song "Cool Water" is a song you must remember from your childhood days in Saskatchewan or Alberta, I guess, because that's been around a long time, hasn't it?
JM: It was a song that I hadn't thought about for a long time until Don Henley called me up, and he wanted me to participate in a benefit on water issues which are very important for the planet at this time. You know, we're messing with our water tables, and we have serious problems in that area confronting us all around the world. So I felt it was an important issue, and I felt that I needed some appropriate material. And while I was racking my brain in an attempt to write something for the occasion, I remembered -- I guess I would be about seven or eight years old, living in a corner house on a street which had what they called wartime housing. These were houses that were thrown up quickly to house young military people coming out of the war and their young families. And they were basically your unimaginative ticky-tacky. The only variation was that the door on the first house was on the left and the second was on the right and there might be a little bit of color difference.
So the Mowette's back stoop and our back stoop faced each other, the houses were fairly close together. I was in bed. It was late at night. The Mowette's had, you know, a penchant for the booze. So they were sitting and howling on the back steps like a bunch of cats, and what they were singing was 'cool water, water,' drunk and loud. And Mr. Milne, who lived on the other side of them, suddenly appeared in his pajamas, and I heard him say, "Cool water? You want cool water? I'll give you cool water!" And he turned the garden hose on them (laughs).
So I remembered this thing and I thought, "God, with a little bit of a change here and there, you can change it from two old desert rats crawling across the burning sand and hallucinating for good water to Willie Nelson and myself looking for drinking water.
DJ: He has a minimal contribution but it works. When he appears on the track, he's immediately identifiable as being Willie but it's a nice track. Let's play it now then.
(Music up: "Cool Water.")
DJ: Joni Mitchell from "Chalk Mark in a Rainstorm," and that was "Cool Water."
And Larry, would you like to pull up a chair and get in front of a microphone? Do we have the technology to make that work? That's great.
Your voice, Joni, is deeper on this album -- in fact, over the last few albums, it seems to be getting deeper.
JM: Oh, yeah. I'm a chain smoker.
DJ: I was going to say due to your cigarettes or do you take vocal training at all? Because your voice was always in the past notable because of its high pitch.
JM: Like I was on helium (laughs). No, I really like what's happening. I mean I don't seem able to quit smoking. I've smoked since I was 12 so it was inevitable that this would do something. Smoking tends to, I guess, thicken your vocal cords, doesn't it? It gives them more bottom and less fiber. It also, like, kind of honks up your sinuses. So working around this handicap, I think I finally have enough grit and fiber in my voice to be able to sing rock and roll. Because it's been a very pristine soprano for most of my 20's and part of my 30's. So I quite like what might be considered by some in legit circles as the deterioration of my pipes, you know (laughs).
DJ: So what about this woman then, Larry Klein, in the studio? Is she easy to work with? Does she do a lot of improvising? Does she mess you around? Or are you somebody that likes to go in with your thoughts and music in your head before you start?
LK: I think Joan is -- she's very intuitive in the studio. I mean the less that is pre-designed and structured, the better for her. And I know that the things that she remembers from a record are generally the moments when things are about to fall apart and something magical happens and you get something kind of --
JM: A phoenix rising from the ashes.
LK: -- a phoenix rising from the ashes (laughs). The rest of the stuff are the things that are kind of structured and by the book, she never has any memory for at all. You know, the kind of ordererly, working stuff that goes on in a record. So I'd say that the way we work is as intuitively as possible and as unstructured as possible.
JM: Well, the structure comes from the song itself, you know, and I have definite opinions structurally as to what will and will not adhere to the song which is the voice and the guitar usually or the voice and the piano. And I have ideas if I'm adding players about where their entrance should be and where their exit should be. So there is structural order to it in that way, but it's true that my great optimism with any player that I'm working with is that he will surpass himself and that he will discover something that he's never done. You know, I think rather than hiring somebody for what he can do and saying, "Give me what you did on so-and-so's album -- "
DJ: Sure, sure.
JM: -- that's exactly what I don't want. I want them to -- to really also work from an intuitive place. Some of my favorite things have happened when players make mistakes or when they -- they are so intuitive -- you can be working from an intuitive place and simultaneously watching yourself with your intellect, which is mostly how you're operating in there. But there are those blessed moments when people go outside themselves and aren't even aware how well they played. And usually that's when I believe they surpass themselves. They make mistakes -- you know, most of the things you're going to discover in life have come from accidents.
DJ: Can you illustrate that with a song?
JM: Wayne Shorter on this album. He was instructed as to where he was to enter and that he was to play after the tape even died out, that he was to keep playing at the end, and he was instructed to play like a bird. He played the first two figures that you hear on "Corrina, Corrina" and suddenly I looked out -- and I've worked with Wayne for many years and I've never seen him do this -- he was waving his horn wildly in the air and his brow was all furrowed and he was going, "No, no, no, no. Start me over." And I had just heard exactly what I wanted on the first take, the first two figures, just like a bird, mindless, like a bird. I said, "Well, Wayne, I'll punch you in there, but I'm not going to roll over that."
So he looked at me bewildered like, you know, for a moment, 'well, is she right? Is she wrong?' decided to trust me. We punched him in. He played the rest of the tune out. At the end he laughed. We gave him another track. He played wildly and bird-like and intuitively and quite different, take two, and at the end he laughed his head off like this was just silly.
Take three, same thing, at the end he laughed. Take four, he laughed. Take five, he laughed. Take six, he switched into another gear. Prior to coming to this session he'd been playing in Japan, and he'd been playing with a legit orchestra, and all of his -- what would you say? -- Debussy chops were up (sounds out quick, choppy sounds) so the sixth take was beautiful, classical composition, really architectural. Not really bird-like, very western classical --
LK: Like a piccolo trumpet.
JM: Yeah. I mean, you could have just said, okay, that's great classical composition and put it out, but it didn't have the painterly quality of the more mindless, spontaneous early work. So then -- and at the end of it, he didn't laugh.
Take seven, again, beautiful legit composition but very intellectual now, no laughter at the end, and so on up to take nine. Take nine, I thought I could keep going. Each one was more splendid than the last, but I thought, okay, I'm going to have a hard choice already, so I said, "Okay, Wayne, that's it." And he said, "All right, Joan, I'm going home now. Sculpt." Which is what I did.
I took the first figure that he played which was the most bird-like. Then I had a lot of choices between the next two -- you know, the next seven, eight, nine takes, how to make it lead. I switched to the more classical part about midway, and at the end I opened it completely up and ran them all together and dissolved them into bird song. And if you listen on CD or with cans on, you'll hear Wayne laughing like a maniac in the background, you know (laughs).
(Music up: "Corrina, Corrina.")
DJ: "Corrina, Corrina" from "Chalk Mark in the Rain" [sic]. Joni Mitchell, who is here with me and has been joined by Larry Klein, her husband, and bass player, who is responsible for the sounds on the album and presumably you mention CD. You think about compact discs, I guess, now when you're in the studio working?
JM: Yes and no.
LK: I mean we try and -- we don't think about CD per se, I don't think. I think we just try and make the sounds that we distill suit the song atmospherically as well as possible. And of course I mean technically we're kind of perfectionists in that we want it to be as clean and as sonically appealing as possible.
DJ: Sure. Going over your past albums, your past works, do you ever indulge yourself by listening to your past albums at all? I mean not hearing them on the radio, but I mean putting them on at home and hearing them.
JM: Only when I'm about to tour and I'm required to learn old material. I don't do it for my listening pleasure. It's too work mode. I mean I go into work mode.
DJ: Is it like listening to ghosts? Do you ever cringe or are you critical of things you've done in the past?
JM: Well it's very unstable. I mean it depends on the mood you're in, in a certain mood. And the mood you're in also depends on the direction of your next project. So I may be saying, "This time I want to go in such-and-such a direction," and I set perimeters during the times when -- okay, there's a period of broad-mindedness in which the critic must be laid to rest in order to absorb almost everything indiscriminately. That's an important part of the phase. And then there's another time when you lay down limitations. So during a period where I'm looking at it in a limited way which is necessary, unfortunately it's accompanied by greater criticism and in those phases, yeah, I could not enjoy a lot of my music.
I'll give you an example. There was a track that we recorded one night, Vinnie Colaiuta and Mike Landau, and Larry and I. We'd been cutting something and we all felt like playing. They said, "Do you have anything else?" So I had a piano piece, no melody to it at this point, certainly then no lyrics. Just chord changes. So I said, "Oh, yeah, I've got this thing I've been noodling around with." "Let's do it," they said. So we recorded it.
Now the boys that night were really into boy mode. I mean their humor and everything was -- it was one of those moments where I really felt like a cat among dogs, and for some inexplicable reason, I became quite emotional about it. I felt left out. I mean, they didn't -- it was just an odd experience. So I said to Henry -- and my heart was sort of heavy -- I said, "Henry, set up the track again. Let me throw on a vocal." And I bring this up only in that the emotional state of my heart, the spontaneous melody that I then sang onto the track, I could never get it back because I could never get back to that emotional spot. And it had a beauty to it, didn't it Larry?
JM: It had a beautiful heart quality to it. We listened to it three years later in the studio, and I had been in intellectual mode, adjudicating and criticizing, "Nope, nope, we've got to do this ..." Producing, right? And I listened to it, and I thought, "Is that it?" It really sounded like nothing to me. Then I went home and kind of settled down and relaxed and put it back on again and the beauty opened up. So this is a piece of music that if your heart is open it will go in and it will be very, very nourishing. If it isn't, it won't communicate to you.
DJ: Right. What is the tune?
JM: Well, right now, it's called "Speechless" because it has no lyrics.
DJ: It's not on vinyl or CD yet, right?
LK: Sometimes in some moods nothing sounds good sometimes, you know. All you can hear if you listen to the records that you've worked on or done is the imperfections and the things you didn't quite get to feel exactly the way you wanted them to feel. So at those times you're better off reading a book or something. (Laughs.)
DJ: You do sound on record these days certainly a lot more contented with your marriage; presumably, that means you are. You're not singing about lost love as much as you are about socio-political things happening in the Western world. "Dog Eat Dog" was certainly an example of that where it was a lot of criticism and observation of the corruption, I guess, of capitalism and the American Right, the New Right, coming through. This album is, I guess, softer in that sense, isn't it? I mean you don't sound quite as angry on this album.
JM: Yeah. That's true. "Dog Eat Dog" was conceived at a period that I felt was alarming. You know, things which had not yet broken in the news had become apparent to me. We watched a lot of television during that time period, and in that way we were almost like researchers. Having watched a lot, things had reached perfection in a way. And it was -- you could see what was going to happen. It wasn't like you had a crystal ball. The news was already afoot but it was a particularly flag-waving period, eh? America, I felt, was -- it was a climate of ostriches. You know, they really wanted to believe that they were Number One and everything was wonderful, and Reagan was wonderful. And so into this climate came this social criticism, and it was not -- it was easier to say, "Joni's being negative" than to -- to look at it as something which was developing.
Two years later, of course, the Iran-Contra opened up and, you know, this is what I sensed in "Dog Eat Dog," and the church scandals began to unfold, and this is what I sensed in "Tax Free."
LK: The stock market fell.
JM: The stock market crashed, you know, and America was, like, no longer in first place in the world of commerce. So all of this I was anticipating in that -- things come to me. People solicit my time and energy to a lot of different causes. As a result, I am the recipient of a different overview than most people. It's then easier to see trends from my perspective than it is for people that are not recipient of these bits and pieces of literature, you know, asking you to devote your time to help them here and help them there.
DJ: Seeing all these things come to pass as you did, you must have felt a bit like a prophet or something, I guess, when you saw them unfold as they did from the stock market to the TV evangelists.
JM: Well, no, not like a prophet -- see, the seeds were already up out of the ground. It wasn't like they were dormant in it when I began to write about it. The thing I felt was, you know, amazed that nobody noticed these things sprouting.
DJ: Or was singing about them. People don't -- actually, you don't hear many songs or any artists anymore, really, apart from a young artist called Tracy Chapman, who you'll know, Larry Klein. But there's very few artists like yourself around making music like this anymore.
What is "The Tea Leaf Prophecy" about? It's one of my favorite songs on the album, and it's kind of like a couple of stories in one.
JM: It's fiction, first of all. I must clarify that. But it's based on an experience that's kind of interesting, speaking of prophecy. When my mother was a young woman, she had been a country school teacher, but she had moved into the city to work in a bank. At that time most of the men in the town were away at war except for the RCMP next to the bank and a few shopkeepers and farmers. She'd left the farm so she didn't want to marry a farmer. She was 30 years old and a beautiful woman and still unmarried. And one day her girlfriend and she went to high tea at a big hotel in Regina, and when the tea was completed, there was a teacup reader who came to their table and she read my mother's tea leaves. And she said, "You'll be married within the month and you'll have a child within a year." And my mother said this is crazy because, you know, "look at this town there's no men left / just frail old boys and babies / talking to teacher in the treble clef."
Well, two weeks later, she met my father on a blind date, a friend of a friend, and he was just passing through town. And two weeks after that they were married, and a year later I was born (laughs). So gypsies -- there's a prophet for you.
DJ: Absolutely, yeah. What about the war aspect? That was just as a result of the situation, the time it was set in, the second World War?
JM: Well, from then on, the song goes basically into fiction. I mean my mother didn't lean over my cradle and tell me, you know, that Hiroshima had destroyed the world. But from there on, I just used it as a vehicle for drama, theater.
(Music up: "The Tea Leaf Prophecy.")
DJ: You are an accomplished painter. You've had exhibitions. By the way, what do you do with your pictures? Do you just keep them all at home?
JM: Yeah -- you know, I was reluctant to put a price on their head for many years. But at the end of every graphic project, putting together the albums, we would have -- Glen Christiansen, who is my art director and I -- we would have bits and pieces that we felt were fine art as opposed to commercial art. So we would make a limited edition. This limited edition was traditionally paid for by the record company. We would then split the pieces fifty-fifty. They would give them out at Christmas to their A mailing list people, and I would give mine away to friends. And I enjoyed this process of being able to give my work at Christmastime, and, you know, if I go into the homes of my friends, this is all prominently displayed, whereas the A mailing list people began to sell theirs.
DJ: Oh, boy.
JM: So commerce started without me. I found this out from Mike McDonald, whose wife is a fan of mine, and for several Christmases, Mike had been asking me to sell him a painting for Christmas. I just couldn't put a -- I couldn't -- I would stutter and stammer to figure out how much to sell it for. So finally this last Christmas, I sold him a painting and after I said the price I dove under the table. And from under the table I heard him say, "Oh, that's not as bad as I thought it would be. We paid almost that for a print last Christmas." I said, "What?" So people had been buying these prints which were really to be given free, you know. So now I'm selling (laughs).
DJ: I'll have to find out from whom. But why don't you then as a natural process from your music and your painting do some films then?
JM: Because I -- if I -- I have either a lot of confidence in my ability to an arrogant degree sometimes you might say, or none at all. I believe I'm a good film editor. I'm missing a piece. It's like while I have experience in directing players in the studio, the idea of directing a film, I'm still missing a piece. I'm not entirely confident at that level of directing shots. I know how to frame it up, but it's soliciting performance. I think I'm not quite tough enough, am I, Larry?
LK: Well --
JM: In a way. I think I'm not quite tough enough yet to be really good at it. I'm waiting to get older. (Laughs).
LK: The people mover aspect of being a director maybe I think is what you're talking about --
JM: Yeah. That's my weak suit.
LK: -- like the manipulation of large -- as large a group of people as you have to on a film is a whole other side of filmmaking that you don't usually think about, you know. These guys have to tell -- oh, God, just a very large amount of people where to go and what to do at each specific moment. And you've talked about maybe possibly working in conjunction with someone else who could handle that area of it --
LK: -- and then possibly you handling the --
JM: A more forceful personality to whom I could speak and they could then speak for me. That might be one way around it. But I tend to be too cooperative, 'oh, that's okay, that's good enough,' when I really on the art level don't mean it. So I would come back with unsatisfactory results in that I couldn't be enough of a bulldog on the set. That could be a problem.
LK: On "Cool Water" when Willie Nelson was in the studio, he's a very, very relaxed guy. I mean he's not self- critical at all or judgmental about his performances. He kind of goes out and sings, and, you know, if you ask him, "What do you think of that?," he'd just say, "Yeah, that sounds pretty good. What do you think?" And so --
JM: I slacked off on him.
LK: -- there was a couple of points where I had to become the bully a bit, not that he was at all reluctant to go back in and sing bits again. He was very sweet and cooperative about it --
JM: But it was late at night and he'd just finished a concert and it was gracious of him to come down in the first place. And I, you know -- unfortunately, I was in heart mode when I should have been in intellectual mode, and I couldn't get from one place to the other. So I was in the wrong place for the moment. Klein said, "Joan, you know, it's not quite right and, you know, ask him to do it again." So this is what I mean. I don't like living in intellectual mode. It's a chilly place to live. And I can go there, but I like to go there and get out, you know, as quickly as possible, and I think you have to live there longer than I like to in order to really do this art -- the art of filmmaking, that is. Unless you had a small and familiar repertoire of self-starters like Henley. I have no problem, like, directing Don Henley. He says, "No, no, no, no, that's not right," and he'll go right after it. So if you had a certain kind of repertoire of players. Maybe that's the thing to do. You would get, like, a band together of --
LK: That's what Woody Allen does, right?
DJ: Right, sure.
JM: Sure, Woody may be similar, the way he works.
DJ: Yeah. I want to play one final track. Unfortunately we are running out of time, but I wanted to just find out if the rumors that I had recently read about you working with Prince were true.
JM: Oh, I didn't work with him. We just jammed a couple of times for fun.
DJ: So it's unlikely that at this point we'll be hearing anything on vinyl from the two of you?
JM: I don't know. It would take a special project that we mutually agreed upon.
DJ: So what does the immediate future hold for you? I'm talking about the next six months then. I mean, you're doing a lot of promotion for this album. Are you going to have a rest, or are you going to go out on the road and do some live concerts, or are you going to go back to playing bingo in Canada? Or what?
JM: (Laughs.) Bingo in the bush. Larry and I got hooked on that. It's so funny. A lot of chain-smoking women daubing with felt pens rapidly.
Well, first of all, we go -- in the process of doing this press tour, we go to Tokyo for the opening of my first for sale art exhibition. That's on the 20th of May. Following that, we continue on the press tour wrapping sometime early June. Then I think I would like -- there are things I would like to do. I have choices here yet to make. I'd like to get out a printed book of my poetry and songs. I would like to put out a book of the paintings since they're going away from home now, they're leaving me. I would like to try my hand at writing short stories. We're talking now about touring perhaps in the spring. The drummer that we want to work with, Manu, is out with Peter Gabriel in the fall, and Peter has approached me about going out on this Amnesty tour also along with him. These are all considerations but nothing has been nailed down.
DJ: Right. But you're pretty buoyant about the future then?
JM: Oh, yeah, I've got a lot to look forward to, eh? (Laughs).
DJ: Now that's a real Canadianism. I haven't heard that for a while, eh.
LK: You've got new songs too.
JM: Oh, yeah, I've got new songs. We've been -- on this tour we needed a short song in Paris, and the song I chose to do is an unrecorded song called "Fourth of July, Night Ride Home" which is very -- people -- it's an instant communicator. People seem to like it immediately. It's brief and it's pictorial. It's very cinematic and it's friendly, and nice melody, you know. So I've been singing this around on this tour. Whenever asked to play, I play this. So we need to do some recording. We've got a few things in the can towards the next album, and it's a gentler collection of songs -- well, it's funny. It's gentler and harsher, isn't it? It's like really --
LK: It's sparser. It seems to be instrumentally sparser but some of the stuff is pretty hard-edged lyrically --
JM: Emotionally, yeah.
DJ: So we won't have to wait as long then for a follow-up, then?
JM: Well, we'll see. Because all the legs of the work get longer and longer. It takes longer to make an album. It takes longer to promote an album. The tours get longer, you know, as it becomes an international business.
JM: So that's why it takes -- I mean it used to take two weeks or a week and a half to make an album. I'd just go in and sing my songs. There was nothing to it.
DJ: Do you think you'd ever like to do an album like that again?
JM: Well, we're thinking -- not that I like to pre-think what I'm going to do on an album too much, but it's kind of fun to hear it bared down again. It's fun to play it that way. Even in terms of touring, we were thinking of taking out bass, drums, and maybe one other guitar player, you know, just a quartet, so it would be fairly sparse, and it would break down into duets and trios and solos.
LK: More like chamber music.
DJ: That's a nice idea. That's a nice idea. All right. The final piece of music, then, is the song that's scheduled to be the single in the UK, which is "My Secret Place." Is this a favorite of yours on the album of all the songs? Would this be in the top three would you say for you?
JM: I like all the songs on the album. You know, I like "The Beat of Black Wings" which in America because of the cussing in it will never get airplay.
DJ: That is my favorite track as a matter of fact.
JM: Is it?
DJ: It is. I like that a lot. But "My Secret Place" is the one that Peter Gabriel is on as well.
DJ: Can you just tell us the story behind this song?
JM: Well, Peter and I are singing lead, but it's not boy singing to or at girl in the traditional duet sense. Our voices change sometimes in the middle of a word. It was something that developed, but in reflecting on it, it reminds me of Song of Solomon in the Bible where the gender keeps changing. You don't know from time to time whether it's a man addressing a woman or a woman addressing a man. It has the sound of -- a man and a woman at the beginning of a relationship when there's a heightened alertness to each other. It's the time of a relationship when sometimes you'll say exactly the same thing at the same time and burst into laughter, when bonding is taking place. This is -- it's a love song at the beginning -- at the tentative beginning of a romance.
(Music up: "My Secret Place.")
DJ: The track I like best on the album -- I guess it's because the track I liked instantly best from the album when I first heard "Chalk Mark in a Rain" [sic] was "The Beat of Black Wings." And this lyrically, as you pointed out, is difficult for airplay unless it was edited, but presumably that's something that you wouldn't wish to happen. Can you tell us the story behind this song?
JM: Well, again, it's fiction but it takes as its point of departure an incident that happened to me during the Vietnam War. I was living in New York at the time, and I played a coffeehouse circuit down the Eastern seaboard which included Fort Bragg in North Carolina. And my audience there were young soldiers coming and going from the Vietnamese war. Some of them were very gung-ho which was a new experience to me living in a rather bohemian scene in New York City. Everyone I knew was avoiding the draft one way or the other, feigning homosexuality or insanity, clutching their guitar to their bosom, you know, as they went into the draft saying, "No, no, don't take it away," any trick in the book.
So in Fort Bragg I met -- one night, I performed and at that time my music was very romantic, I think, ornate, and I had finished singing and I came into my dressing room and there stood a kid really, red in the face angry, both fists clenched, and he said to me, "You got a lot of nerve, sister," and I kind of stood back. He looked almost dangerous but he was little. I figured I could take him if I had to (laughs). I said -- he said, "You got a lot of nerve, sister, standing up there singing about love," he said, "because there ain't no love in this world." "Oh, no," he said, you know, "love is gone, love is gone for me, and I'm gonna tell you where love went." And he was shaking, his face was red, beet red, and he told me the most horrible series of events that had happened to him in Vietnam and ended up with me holding him, you know, and him crying his eyes out.
He said he was Killer Kyle of the 92nd or 82nd airborne and that all he felt was left in life for him was to go back and avenge a friend of his who had died in his platoon and he had been a medic. He had had to pick up the pieces of this dear friend. He'd transferred and transferred to get into the same platoon. They were walking through the jungle -- oh, and one of the things he said was, "Give Charlie a hair pin and he'll blow us all away. All our fancy equipment means nothing because it's their war, it's their right, they've got the will. We don't know what we're doing there," you know.
So anyway apparently they had been out on some kind of maneuver, and the way this bomb was triggered, the first person in the line triggered it and then there's a delay on it 'til it gets to the middle of the line, and then it blows it all to smithereens. He was like at the end of the line and as a medic it was his job to pick up people and put them into body bags and so on. And among the people that he had to put into bags was this childhood friend of his who he was very close -- so he was destroyed. That -- and among other things --
The other thing that had happened to him was he had to go into a village and shoot down into a well, and when he looked down, there were children in a bucket down there. So these were two of the things that had just destroyed him. He said he could never touch a woman again, you know, that he was such a mess that how could love ever come do him? How could he ever give love with the visions of these atrocities?
So the song doesn't really go into any of his personal experience. It doesn't make for a song, you know --
DJ: It contains the title of the album, this lyric, this song too, doesn't it?
JM: Yes. So it's just a general description of a young soldier with a sense of himself being used and abused by the war machinery.
DJ: Joni Mitchell from "Chalk Mark in a Rainstorm," and this is "The Beat of Black Wings."
(Music up: "The Beat of Black Wings.")
DJ: Larry Klein, thank you for being with us today, and, of course, Joni Mitchell as well. Good luck.
JM: Thank you.
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