Oct. 2004 - Joni Mitchell talks with the media after receiving her Companions of Canada investiture at Rideau Hall.
Photograph by: Jana Chytilova , Ottawa Citizen
Joni Mitchell knows she has a knack for raising a ruckus with her words.
"I'm so candid that I always start controversy," the Canadian icon said in a StarPhoenix interview earlier this week, well before anyone read the words that set off a media frenzy in the city where she started playing music.
With an artist's eye, Mitchell uses her music to paint pictures of the world around her as she sees it. In comments this week, she described saskatoon, where she spent her teenage years, with a mix of love and disappointment while talking about the city's failed attempts at honouring her.
One comment in particu-lar - "Saskatoon has always been an extremely bigoted community" - drew criticism from a wide range of people, while others agreed with the legendary musician's assessment of the city's race relations.
"You have to understand Joni has a way of using hyperbole to make a point," said Larry LeBlanc, a senior editor with Celebrity Access, who recently was awarded a Juno for his work as a Canadian music journalist. "I don't know her that well, but I know her. Joni is often described as ornery, but I never found her that way. She is very animated and very bright, well read ... I think it's something about the prairies: She says exactly what is on her mind."
LeBlanc profiled Mitchell for a 1971 Rolling Stone magazine article. He spent time with her parents, Bill and Myrtle Anderson, in their Saskatoon home and has spoken with the musician during the intervening decades. The Andersons showed LeBlanc some of the items that Mitchell wants returned.
"Let's not kid ourselves - Joni has not lived in Saskatoon for decades," LeBlanc said by phone from Montreal. "Small towns can be difficult. She made a choice in her life to move away and do all the things she wanted to do ... She has very defined ideas about how she wants to be presented and what her legacy should be, and, in truth, all artists do."
An ad hoc group in Saskatoon has restarted discussions about how the city could celebrate one of its most famous citizens, following several failed attempts - from a Joni Mitchell cultural centre to a bronze sculpture - in the past decade.
Mitchell's comments about Saskatoon and her desire to stay away from the planning of another community project won't stop the group from finding a way to celebrate her work and influence, said former premier Lorne Calvert, who is part of the group.
"I would not be deterred from our efforts based on any personal opinions Ms. Mitchell may have expressed," Calvert said Wednesday afternoon, adding that he believes her assessment is inaccurate. "It perhaps reflects an experience of growing up here in the '50s and '60s. On the other hand, it's not a terrible thing to be challenged from somebody on the outside."
Calvert also confirmed that arrangements are in place to return the collection of memorabilia, which includes dresses handmade by Mitchell and dozens of scrapbooks about her career compiled by her mother over several decades. He called the disagreement between Mitchell and her father's friend, who was storing the collection, a "miscommunication."
Mayor Don Atchison on Wednesday morning said he had not read Mitchell's comments when asked for a response from reporters. Tourism Saskatoon, which hosted a meeting of the ad hoc group at its office, declined to comment. Longtime radio broadcaster Vic Dubois, who has played Mitchell's music over Saskatoon airwaves since the 1970s, said the city should find a way to celebrate her.
"Absolutely there should be something somewhere that bears her name," Dubois said Wednesday, adding that despite the "unfortunate comments" her work does merit celebration.
"Joni Mitchell spent her formative years here. She still has good things to say about Saskatoon ... If I try to put myself in her shoes, she's tired of the failed attempts to recognize her. She doesn't hate Saskatoon. She doesn't think we are all bigoted numskulls." LeBlanc has helped community groups organize memorials and celebrations of other musicians. Many of them fail, only to find success after the subject dies, he said.
"In all good time, Saskatoon will determine finally if it wants to honour Joni or not," LeBlanc said. "But it probably won't be with her blessing and it might not happen until she is dead."