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When Joni Mitchell Met Cary Raditz, Her ‘Mean Old Daddy’ Print-ready version

by Marc Myers
Wall Street Journal
November 11, 2014

Cary Raditz and Joni Mitchell. Photo courtesy of CARY RADITZ

When Joni Mitchell met Cary Raditz in early 1970, he was living in a cave in Matala, Crete. Today, he lives in Maryland and is an institutional investment strategist focusing on international nonprofits. During their two months together in Matala, Ms. Mitchell wrote "Carey" about Mr. Raditz and later referred to him in "California." Both songs are on "Blue," her 1971 album inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999. Mr. Raditz, 68 years old, talked about their relationship and the two songs. Edited from an interview:

How did you wind up in Matala?

In July 1969, I quit my job as a copywriter at an ad agency in Winston-Salem, N.C., flew to Luxembourg and hitchhiked to Munich to visit my girlfriend, who was interning for a chemical company. By October, the weather was getting colder and we decided to head to a warmer place, leaving the destination to fate. We stood in the fork of a southbound road in Munich and stuck out our thumbs. If our ride went right, we'd go to Spain. If the ride went left, we'd go to Greece, and that's how we wound up in Matala on Halloween of 1969. Two months later, I went to Afghanistan in a VW bus to buy jewels for a leather-sandal business I had started with a friend. When I returned to Matala in February, my girlfriend had gone home to the States.

When did you meet Joni Mitchell?

I think Joni arrived in Matala in late February. We met either while I was watching a sunset or when I was blown through the door of Delfini's, a taverna where I cooked. I knew Joni was in Matala. There was buzz among the 50 or so hippies who lived in the 30-odd caves in the cliff about a famous singer coming to the fishing village. I hadn't followed her career closely, so I wasn't sure who she was.

One night soon after she arrived, I was cooking at Delfini's when she came to have dinner. After she finished eating, she politely cleaned her table and brought the trash to me. She was just being a good person. In this taverna, we were used to drinking and dancing there until all hours and breaking plates and glasses on the floor in celebration. So I took her trash and threw it on the floor, I guess as an initiation. Not long after, I was outside on a break watching the sunset when Joni came over and started talking.

Or we may have met on the afternoon I was in the kitchen of Delfini's. One of the owners was fiddling with the stove. There was a propane tank in there that had been on. The guy had an unlit cigarette dangling out of his mouth. At one point, he reflexively took out his lighter. I didn't have time to stop him. He lit it and there was a big explosion. It blew me out the door and gave him second-degree burns.

Why did she refer to you in the song as a "mean old Daddy?"

Looking back, I wasn't as nice to her as I should have been - or to anybody, I guess. I was a little hard on people around me. One day we were walking around at these ancient Roman baths outside of town with friends. She showed me a piece of driftwood and said it looked like a mermaid, asking me what I thought. I said it looked like a piece of driftwood. Not very nice, I know.

Why were you so mean?

I had a nasty, aggressive character then, and I was feisty. I was always getting into fights at the taverna - probably losing more than I won. I suppose she hung around me after her friend left because she knew people wouldn't dare come up to my cave without permission, so it was a haven for her of sorts, even though the cave was small - around 8 by 16 feet.

In the song, she sings about your cane. Where did you get it?

It was a broken shepherd's crook that only came up to my waist. I guess a shepherd had left it behind in a field. It was useful for climbing the rocky hills around Matala. The "silver" Joni sings about refers to her jewelry, which she usually wore when she went out at night.

Did you hear her composing music?

All the time. It was a fascinating process. She was clearly a great musician with a great ear. She liked to try out these chords on her dulcimer - playing them over and over again like a mantra until she figured out where she wanted to go with them. She'd go into a kind of trance, and things would come out of that. I'm not a musician, but what sounded to the average ear like monotony eventually flowered. She's also a technician who likes to mess with the tuning of her instrument.

When did you first hear "Carey?"

On April 19, 1970 - my 24th birthday - in my cave. Joni played it for me as a present. She also gave me 10 Mickey Mouse chocolate bars. They came with these Disney character cards that the cave people traded. When she sang the song, I was surprised by it, since I'm the subject. But I wasn't blown away. It sounded like a ditty, something she had tossed off. I believe the song went on longer than the final version on "Blue." I think she changed some of the lines, too. As I recall, she sang something like, "Last night I couldn't sleep, the sea was full of sheep." One of the local expressions was that when the sea was choppy, the whitecaps looked like sheep.

Did the song sound like a farewell letter to you?

Yes - but Joni was leaving all the time. She was always saying she was going to take off soon, so her intentions were clear. Months earlier she was an elegant lady living in Laurel Canyon, and Matala was as foreign to her world as you could get. Life was very simple and raw in Matala, and eventually she wanted to return to her home and career. I liked Joni a lot and didn't like losing her company. But on the road, you already know that the friendships you develop are short-lived. That's built into the experience.

Where did you two take that photo together?

On Easter morning in a park in Heraklion on the north coast of Crete. We often went to Heraklion to visit or so I could buy leather there for my business. We drove there in the VW Joni had rented weeks earlier. While we sat in the park, an old photographer came up to us and asked if we wanted our picture taken. It was a tourist thing. He had an old wooden box camera on a tripod and we agreed. After he took the picture, he went into a makeshift darkroom to develop the image. Fifteen minutes later he emerged with the photo and we bought it.

How did you feel when she left for Paris?

It was painful, but I understood. I liked Matala and was preoccupied with my business. After she left, I traveled around Crete early that summer and returned to the States in July of '70.

When did you first hear "Carey" on "Blue?"

When I visited Joni in L.A. in 1971. She invited me to A&M Studios in Hollywood. [Engineer] Henry Lewy grabbed me and put me in a room with headphones. He played a tape of the album, which they just had finished. I thought it was fantastic. "Carey" didn't surprise me, since I had heard it in Matala. "California," however, was a shocker. I was taken aback that she referred to me as a "redneck on a Grecian isle." I was from North Carolina, so my accent was strong, but I was hardly that. But look, she was just writing songs. You can't really take these things all that seriously. And I did take her camera, as the song says, but I didn't sell it. I gave it back to her later.

Did you tell her she had misspelled your name?

I pointed that out later and Joni apologized and said it was a spelling mistake.

So you really didn't care when she left Matala?

The truth is I was in love with Joni and missed her. We had spent virtually every day together for nearly two months. But I knew I was in way over my head. I couldn't earn a living then, and she was way too talented for me. I tried for some time after not to become too caught up in the whole thing.

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Added to Library on November 11, 2014. (15755)


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