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'I don't want to be honoured'   Print

by Jeremy Warren
Saskatoon StarPhoenix
July 24, 2013

Photograph by: ALLAN LEISHMAN, MONTREAL STAR

Joni Mitchell wants her stuff back.

The legendary musician with deep roots in Saskatoon says in an interview with The StarPhoenix that her attempts to retrieve a collection of personal items, including homemade dresses and dozens of scrapbooks her mother compiled, have been rejected.

Ron Lamb, who has held the possessions for several years, spoke to local media in June and suggested Mitchell gave Saskatoon an ultimatum - find a home for the collection or she's taking it back.

Mitchell said Lamb does not speak for her and she simply wants her belongings back.

"It's time to retrieve everything," she said in a phone interview. "All I want is my stuff back. I just want my stuff back. I have place to store it. It won't be of any use to Saskatoon."

Mitchell, 69, said she's called Lamb several times and asked him in no uncertain terms to return the collection, which has also been mentioned in a renewed effort to locally honour the singer/songwriter.

"It was a quick fix to a problem of where to store this stuff," Mitchell said. "The main thing is to get my mother's project into the hand of a caring curator. It's out of respect for her."

In a June interview with The StarPhoenix, Lamb said he spoke to Mitchell about the collection and relayed comments that she is "distraught that Saskatoon is not recognizing her."

Ron's wife Susan issued a statement Tuesday afternoon, but did not address the collection's future.

"Miss Mitchell's frustration over the memorabilia appears to be a result of a miscommunication with her L.A.-based agent who was not able to reach her to update her about this issue. The communication issue appears now to be resolved," Susan Lamb wrote.

Mitchell has been honoured in numerous ways in numerous countries - including tribute concerts and the Swedish Polar Music Prize, among other Canadian and international honours - but Saskatoon has yet to find a way to celebrate one of its most notable citizens.

Several attempts have failed in the past decade, including a proposed Joni Mitchell cultural centre at River Landing, a statue project, and a wing in a now-dead plan to expand the Mendel Art Gallery, where she would also have helped design a Joni Mitchell Cafe. An ad hoc group recently restarted the discussion of how to honour the artist.

Looking back, Mitchell said the attempts were "laughable" and she wants to distance herself from any more proposals.

"Suddenly I was besieged by the same thing I was besieged with four times already. The first one, the statue, they asked me if I wanted a statue of myself," Mitchell said. "That's a crazy question in the first place, isn't it? If you say yes, you have an ego. If you say no, you're unco-operative or snooty."

In that case, Mitchell said she found a renowned sculptor and together they designed a bronze bench that would face the Broadway Bridge. A statue of Mitchell would have leaned on the bench, which would have also featured the inscription "Cherokee Louise is hiding in this tunnel in the Broadway Bridge," a line from Mitchell's song based on a friend who was molested as a child and hid under the bridge when she couldn't find help. A group failed to raise enough money to fund the project, Mitchell said.

"All of these attempts involved me to a certain degree, and I tried to make them something inclusive or fun or educational for the populace," she said.

The importance of the collection remaining in Saskatoon is secondary to the new effort of finding some way to recognize Mitchell's creativity, said former premier Lorne Calvert, who is involved with the ad hoc group discussing the musician's legacy.

"We want to find something that is true to her person and her creativity," Calvert said in an interview.

Calvert said he understands that plans are in the works to return the collection to Mitchell.

The group planned to reach out to Mitchell with its ideas, and her desire not to be involved in another attempt to recognize her won't deter the effort, Calvert said. He added that this latest group is different than the others because of the people involved.

"On this occasion, I'm impressed by the number of people and the cross-section of the community - academic, business and arts people - that is getting involved," he said.

Mitchell's musing about failed projects hopefully won't sour interest in the project, he added.

"Some find that difficult. We recognize the forthrightness of Ms. Mitchell," Calvert said.

City inspired art Born in Alberta, Mitchell later moved to Saskatoon with her family and spent her formative years in the city. Her time in Saskatoon served as an inspiration for her songs and art.

"I love Saskatoon. Don't get me wrong," she said, recalling the friends and mentors she met in the city. "I had such enjoyable teenage years there. I started to play the guitar and paint there. My gifts began there. But I cannot go through another one of these. If you want to do something, leave me out of it. Just do it."

When her parents, Bill and Myrtle Anderson, fell ill years ago, Mitchell helped move them into a long-term care home, packed up their house, sold it, and set aside material that could have found a home in a proposed museum centred on her life.

The items included dresses handmade by Mitchell and several dozen scrapbooks her mother filled with clippings and other material from a long, influential career and life.

"These aren't just about me, she put it into historical context, so artists she knew, like Gordon Lightfoot, are in there too. This is a document of the times, her life's work and my legacy, really."

Ron Lamb, a friend of the Andersons, offered to store the collection until a permanent home could be found. Mitchell said she wants the collection returned so she can find a home for it and other personal papers and possessions.

"There are offers from several universities for this work," Mitchell said. "Those are better places for research material, anyway. There's better traffic for it. They made offers for my papers and this collection would be a part of that."

Later in the interview, she said, "I want to get my stuff out of there. There aren't enough people who know what I do. I need to be in a place that recognizes the international achievements." Saskatoon is not that place, she said.

"I feel that it's very isolated, very unworldly, and doesn't grasp the idea of honour ... There are so many things I want to do, that I should be doing, without getting sidetracked into these dubious and eventually nonexistent honours."

For the museum idea proposed by a group of Saskatoon citizens, Mitchell envisioned a place that would feature First Nations culture and opportunities to learn about how settlers and churches treated First Nations.

She said her involvement in these projects was always encouraged but often met with a poor reception.

"I feel like they shot themselves in the foot ... Saskatoon has always been an extremely bigoted community. It's like the deep south, and the museum was one thing I thought would be beneficial for people," she said, later adding that it seems like people just want to be associated with her name, not her work and beliefs.

"Don't think I'm offended. I was embarrassed by the way it was handled. People don't get me there. They don't get my ideas. They just look at me like I'm famous. That's a minor part of it."

For now, Mitchell said she's more concerned with her ongoing painting and a new ballet based on her music. "Honour me when I'm dead," she laughed. "I don't want to go through this again."

Calvert said people don't want to wait long to find a proper way to mark Mitchell's connection to Saskatoon. "Her creativity ought to be honoured long before she is dead," Calvert said. "We'll move ahead as best we can."

jjwarren@thestarphoenix.com Twitter.com/WaywardReporter

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JoniMySavior on 2013-Jul-24 at 10:22:51 GMT-5:
Right on, Joni! It's like someone throwing you a surprise party and then asking you to arrange the event!