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Mitchell Still Deserves Tribute Despite Lack of Grace   Print

by John Gormley
Saskatoon StarPhoenix
July 26, 2013

For many people, the mention of Saskatoon as the hometown of music icon Joni Mitchell is greeted by incredulous amazement. Small wonder.

The fact that the city claimed by a musical legend to be her hometown has not got around in 50 years to even erecting a sign pointing this out smacks, at the least, of bumbling incompetence, and at the worst, of small-minded envy.

Never mind her influence on generations of musicians and writers, Joni Mitchell's achievements are epic, including eight Grammies and being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

A recipient of Billboard's Century Award, Mitchell is ranked by VH1 as #5 on their list of 100 Greatest Women of Rock and Roll; 44th in the Greatest Artists of All Time.

Her face has adorned a stamp; she is a Companion of the Order of Canada and has been inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.

Aside from being adored in the music and art worlds, just her Top 40 hits alone are impressive: Both Sides Now, Chelsea Morning, Big Yellow Taxi, Raised on Robbery, Help Me and Free Man in Paris.

Moving to town at age 11 in 1954, Mitchell considers Saskatoon her hometown and credits it as the place she learned to write poetry, play guitar and perform. Her first paying gig was at a Saskatoon club in 1962.

As Mitchell conquered the musical world, her parents spent the rest of their lives in Saskatoon where Mitchell, as recently as a couple of years ago, was frequently spotted running errands and visiting her elderly dad before he passed.

Reputedly a private and quirky person who is rarely interviewed, around Saskatoon at least Mitchell has benefitted from the way people in a small, prairie city treat famous folks; her privacy has been respected and she's been given a wide berth as she kept to herself.

While Mitchell speaks fondly of her formative years, she hasn't exactly been an ambassador for Saskatoon in the same way that Hollywood type Shannon Tweed has, or beloved actor Kim Coates, who is an enthusiastic booster of all things hometown Saskatchewan.

So imagine the sting of Mitchell's words in a recent interview, when she lamented past failed attempts to honour her as being "laughable" and made the observation that Saskatoon is "isolated, very unworldly and doesn't grasp the idea of honour."

Then there was the shot that "Saskatoon has always been an extremely bigoted community. It's like the Deep South."

Mitchell is entitled to her opinion, as grounded in the 1950s and '60s as it might be. But let's call a spade a spade - this woman is behaving like a whiny and petulant ingrate who understands her hometown even less than she claims it understands her.

The obvious and visceral reaction, if Mitchell really feels this way, is to tell her exactly where she can take a big yellow taxi. Memories of her will fade, just as her record sales have in recent years.

But that would lower Saskatoon to the same level of churlishness in which Mitchell has been revelling. As a tribute to a gifted musician - and frankly it doesn't hurt tourism either - Saskatoon should do three inexpensive, easy and long overdue things now.

First, erect an official, permanent marker somewhere prominent in the city pointing out that Saskatoon is Joni Mitchell's hometown. It's where she lived and found her voice, her poetry and music.

Second, put up a plaque near the home where she grew up, identifying it and the years her family lived there.

Third, name something big and permanent after her. Easy and timely would be Saskatoon's first bridge in 30 years, the new "Joni Mitchell Bridge" crossing the South Saskatchewan River.

There is one more thing. With Saskatchewan's wealth and generosity, it should be easy in one afternoon to pull together a couple hundred thousand dollars to raise the money for a fitting statue of Mitchell to be placed in a prominent part of Saskatoon.

But if enough people feel the same way about Joni Mitchell as she evidently does about us, then good luck waiting for that statue.

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