Joni Mitchell will not be touring this year to promote her new Geffen album, "Night Ride Home," but don't expect the singer/songwriter to be invisible in 1991.
Videos involving Mitchell's creative input and a major multiformat push by her record label will keep her first album in three years very much in the public eye. "Night Ride Home," already is shaping up as a hit: It entered Billboard's Top Pop Albums chart at No. 68.
"I don't have plans to tour," Mitchell says as she tears into a meal in a Brentwood, Calif., restaurant. "It would be the logical time to tour . . . but unfortunately things have conspired and I will not be strong enough to tour at the right time. My body conspired against me."
Mitchell, who last toured the U.S. in 1983, cites health concerns and the unavailability of such key members of her band as drummer Vinnie Colaiuta (currently on tour with Sting) and guitarist Michael Landau as the main reasons behind her decision to stay off the road.
Instead, she says, "I'm gonna do videos."
Mitchell has always had an active interest in the visual arts: her paintings (some of which have graced her album covers) have been exhibited in gallery shows both here and abroad. The cover of "Night Ride Home," features a photographic self-portrait.
She dates her involvement with film to a 1983 live concert in Santa Barbara, Calif. A five-camera crew shot the show; two of the cameras broke down, and Mitchell subsequently had to fill holes in the continuity with other footage.
"That's where I learned film making, on this project -- working from found footage and making it work," she says. "I didn't know the rules, so I broke a lot of them. People kept saying, 'You can't do that, you can't do that.' What came out of it was a pretty strange, experimental kind of piece, but in England they liked it, they played it . . . A lot of early videos in England bore its influence."
Mitchell subsequently shot a Super 8 documentary of the '83 tour,"Refuge In The Roads," ("It's a home movie," she says). In 1988, she worked on three self-financed videos for tracks from the album. "Chalk Mark In A Rain Storm."
"None of these were authorized by the company," she explains. "Unfortunately, what happens then is that the outlet, the door is closed to you. There's no single with it, there's no push, no one sees it. [For] the money to make them, I sold some paintings in Japan, and I took my profits from that and plowed them back into video art."
The videos were met by resistance at major outlets. Mitchell says, "Finally I told my manager, 'Let's get 'em out somewhere, let's call little small stations . . . Let's just get somebody to play them, because they exist.' Small local stations took them."
Mitchell took a hands-on approach to the video for the current single, "Come In From The Cold," editing director Rocky Schenck's footage. "There were 180 minutes of film," she says hoarsely. "That's where I lost my voice -- a lot of takes . . . Down to 3:40, that's a lot of trim."
She adds, "I'd like to do more videos than the company would like to do. I have a little kitty, so to speak, which comes from the sale of my art, channeled back into art, so that way I feel there's no loss. With the barter system, you avoid the economic paranoia. I know if I deviate from what the company supports, then the audience is lost."
Mitchell need not worry about Geffen's support for her current project: The label is focusing its energies on creating a multiformat buzz.
"You have to open up your horizons to everybody," says Robert Smith, Geffen's head of marketing. "The Record's on three formats.'
"Night Ride Home" is being worked at Mitchell's traditional album-rock stronghold, as well as adult alternative and modern-rock outlets.
91X [XETRA-FM San Diego] added it this week, and that's a flagship alternative station," Smith says.
He adds, "Early press coverage was the crucial setup." Mitchell and her new album have already received high-profile coverage in Time, People, the Los Angeles Times, and The New York Times, among other major publications.
VH-1 will air a Mitchell special in mid-April that will include a new interview, an acoustic performance, examples of the singer's paintings and photography, and excerpts from her video for "The Beat Of Black Wings," a track from "Chalk Mark In A Rain Storm."
Geffen has produced a portfolio-style edition of "Night Ride Home" that includes reproductions of four Mitchell photographs. A limited edition of 15,000 were made for sale.
Smith says, "Everything about this record is museum quality, and not in a precious, canned way."