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Anatomy of a Song Print-ready version

by Marc Myers
Grove Press
November 1, 2016
Original article: PDF

Joni Mitchell with Cary Raditz and her dulcimer in a park in Heraklion, Crete, in the spring of 1970. Raditz was the inspiration for Mitchell's song "Carey." Credit: Courtesy of Cary Raditz

From the book Anatomy of a Song: The Oral History of 45 Iconic Hits That Changed Rock, R&B and Pop

Carey
Joni Mitchell
Released: August 1971

In the summer of 2014, I pitched Joni Mitchell on an interview about the writing and recording of her son "Carey," which appears on her acclaimed album Blue (1971). Mitchell liked the idea and suggested we do the interview at her home in Los Angeles rather than talk by phone. I flew out in October, and after I arrived at her 1920s Spanish Revival house and parked on the steep decline of the driveway, I was ushered out to a covered tile patio bordering a courtyard. As I looked down at a swimming pool one level below on her wooded Bel Air property, a husky voice came up behind me, "Hey, New Yorker." Mitchell had arrived barefoot, her hair down, wearing a flowing white top and long skirt. For the next two hours, she chain-smoked American Spirit cigarettes and talked about her months in Matala, Crete, in 1970 and her relationship with Cary Raditz, the song's namesake.

When Mitchell recorded "Carey" in early 1971, the female singer-songwriter era was just unfolding. Mary Travers, Jackie DeShannon, and Laura Nyro, among others, had started the ball rolling in the early 1960s. Then Judy Collins had a hit with Mitchell's "Both Sides Now" in 1967. In February 1971 Carole King released the album Tapestry, and Carly Simon released her eponymous album featuring "That's the Way I've Always Heard It Should be." Joni's Blue arrived in June and it was clearly a more personal, long0form work, an anxiety-ridden concept album that connected with women on an almost secretive, metaphysical level. Though "Carey" didn't chart when it was released as a single in August, Blue reached No.15 on Billboard's album chart and is among her most critically acclaimed recordings. Blue was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999.

What I remember most about my two hours with Mitchell are her eyes. She had a way of making a point and then fixing on you with a locked gaze as she took a drag from her cigarette. The gaze tended to linger longer than it should have and seemed to be sizing up whether a point she had made resonated. Even though her articulation was clear and immediately understood, her eyes seemed to have their doubts or were seeking more animated confirmation, perhaps out of habit. Eventually, Mitchell let go and she moved on. To this day, her gaze reminds me of an overly cautious mother watching her kid board a school bus and following them with her eyes until they are seated.

Interview with singer-songwriter JONI MITCHELL

JONI MITCHELL (SINGER-SONGWRITER): Everyone said I broke Graham Nash's heart when our relationship ended in late 1969. But that's not quite accurate. We both knew it was over, and it wasn't an ugly ending. Reasons for the break are complicated, but Graham and David Crosby were becoming inseparable, which was increasingly tough on me. In late January of 1970, David asked me to sail with him on his boat, the Mayan. But when I came aboard in Jamaica in early February, no one told me Graham would be there. It was an awkward thing to do, to put us in that position. When we reached Panama, I left, flying to San Francisco to meet my friend Penelope and start a preplanned trip to Greece.

The truth is after Graham and I separated, I was really depressed. I believed in that relationship, and suddenly it was over. I had a hard time believing in my own word. I also lost most of my Los Angeles friends, who had been my constant community. When I left him, they took his side. All of this was very painful.

In Greece, Penelope and I spent the first two days in Athens. I didn't think I looked like a hippie, but I definitely didn't look Greek. My fair hair made me stand out. During the day, I'd pile it up on my head. It was a conservative look, like a schoolteacher. Still, my hair seemed to offend people, mostly men, who called out with a big grin on their faces, "Sheepy, sheepy, Matala, Matala." I asked around about the phrase and was told it meant "Hippie, hippie, go to Matala in Crete. That's where your kind are."

A few days later, Penelope and I were on a ferry to see what Matala was all about. We arrived in Heraklion on Crete's north coast and stayed in a hotel the first night. The next day, I rented a VW Bug and we drove forty-five miles to Matala, a fishing village on the south coast. There weren't any homes in Matala, just two grocery stores, a bakery where the owner made fresh yogurt and bread, a general store with the only phone in town, two cafes, and a few rental huts. Most of the "hippies" who had traveled there slept in small caves carved into the cliff on one side of the beach.

After we arrived, Penelope and I rented a cinder0block hut in a nearby poppy field and walked down to the beach. As we stood staring out, an explosion went off behind us. I turned around just in time to see this guy with a red beard blowing through the door of a café. He was wearing a white turban, white Nehru shirt, and white cotton pants. I said to Penelope, "What an entrance - I have to meet this guy." He wasn't hurt, but all the hair on his arms and legs were singed from the blast. He was American and a cook at one of the cafes. Apparently, when he had lit the stove, it blew him out the door. That's how Cary [Raditz] entered my life - ka-boom!

The next night, Penelope and I went to the Mermaid Café for a drink with Cary. Several hippies were there, along with some soldiers. Someone recommended this clear Turkish liquor called Raki. I wasn't a big drinker, and after three glasses I woke up the next morning alone in Cary's cave. The stacked leather heels of my city boots had broken off, apparently from climbing a mountain the night before. I had no recollection of the climb. Later, when I returned to my hut, Penelope was gone. I was told she went off with one of the soldiers from the Mermaid the night before. That was the last I saw of her for many years.

With Penelope gone, I was alone - and vulnerable. You have to understand the fragile emotional state I was in. I was still in pain, and had no one to talk to. Also, I had a bit of fame by then, and wherever I'd go, hippies would follow. I latched onto Cary because he seemed fierce and kept the crowd off my back. Soon I moved into one of the caves.

Originally the Minoans had lived in the caves, and then the Romans came and improved them by carving sleeping crypts and niches for statuary. But sleeping up there was tough. To soften the surface, beach pebbles were placed on the stone slab and covered with beach grass. I borrowed a scratchy afghan blanket and placed it on top. But there was no real comfort. When the waves were high and crashed on the beach, they shook the stone in the caves.

I enjoyed Cary's company, and his audacity. He had steely-cold blue eyes and a menacing grin, and he was a bit of a scoundrel. We were constantly in each other's company, and spent our days talking, taking long walks, going swimming, cooking, and doing the laundry. We just lived. One time we were in a park in Heraklion, where we sometimes went for the day. We were sitting on a bench when one of the tourist photographers came up to us and asked if we wanted our picture taken. He had a colorful box camera on a wooden tripod, so we said, "Yes," the pictures developed in minutes.

I also had my dulcimer with me from the States. It was lighter and less bulky than a guitar, and I took it with me everywhere. I used it to write "Carey" over a period of weeks in different locations in and around Matala as a birthday present for Cary. When hippies didn't follow me on hikes, I'd find solitary places to write. My lyric, "Oh Carey get out your cane" referred to a cane Cary carried with him all the time. He was a bit of a scene-stealer, and the cane was a theatrical prop for him. Sometimes he'd twirl it or balance it on his nose.

When I played the song for Cary on his birthday, I don't recall his reaction. He was always detached and sometimes even disrespectful - either trying to belittle me or make me feel afraid. I think at the time he felt greatly superior to women, which is why I refer to him in the lyrics as "a mean old Daddy." As for the extra e in his name in the song's title and lyric, that was a misspelling on my part.

In April, theater people in Matala cast hippies for a Greek production of Hair. Weeks later, Cary and I traveled to Athens to see them in the musical. The lead actor was Greek and had shorter than Beatle-length hair parted on the side and a Frank Sinatra-style beige raincoat over his shoulder as he sang, "I'm a hairy guy," We cracked up. It was so funny.

Athens was a turning point for me. I had had enough of Matala and, as I wrote in the lyrics to "Carey," I missed "my clean white linen and fancy French cologne." My hair was matted from washing it in seawater for months, I had beach tar on my feet, and I was flea-bitten - this was very rugged living. I also realized I was still heartbroken about my split with Graham.

Instead of returning to Crete with Cary, I flew to Paris. There, I wrote "California" and referenced Cary in the lyrics as "the red, red rogue who cooked good omelets and stems." "Carey" and "California" are really part of the same musical novella, so Cary is in two scenes.

Back in the States, I wrote additional songs, and in early '71 I went into A&M Studios in Hollywood to record Blue. "Carey," like the rest of the album, is pretty sparse, instrumentally, and we recorded it behind locked doors. If someone came in, I'd burst into tears. I was in great psychological pain while recording all of Blue. It took several years for me to get over how I felt. On "Carey," I played the dulcimer and Stephen [Stills] played bass.

For me, recording songs like "Carey"- about deeply personal experiences - presented an artistic challenge. Songs I wrote were already a day, a week, a month or ten years old when I went into the studio. To rekindle my emotions, I used sense memory - which is like method acting. It happens naturally with me and helps me recall my feelings - the joy, anxiety, and vulnerability I felt when composing the song. I was emotionally wide open when recording Blue, and incapable of guile.

I haven't spoken to Cary in years. We remained friends, then he married and we lost contact. But every so often Matala comes back into my life. A couple of years ago, a friend sent me a newspaper article about Matala.. It has been built up a bit, and there's an annual musical festival held there now. The article said that in Matala I'm more popular than Zeus. I thought that was funny, you know?

Tracking Down the Real "Carey"

Interview with financial executive CARY RADITZ, the subject of Joni Mitchell's "Carey"

After interviewing Joni Mitchell about her song "Carey," I realized I needed to find the real Cary Raditz, to capture his side of the story. It took a little doing, but five calls later, I reached him, and we had a warm conversation about his time with Mitchell in Matala, Crete, in 1970. Over the phone, I could hear in Raditz's voice the intensity that Mitchell had talked about during our conversation in Los Angeles. But I also heard someone who was still deeply moved by Mitchell and treasured the time they spent together - free of responsibilities and most modern conveniences. For both Mitchell and Raditz, their Matala months would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, immortalized in the lyrics of Mitchell's song. Cary wasn't such a "mean old Daddy" after all.

How did you wind up in Matala?

In July 1969, I quit my job as a copywriter at an ad agency in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, 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 tavern where I cooked. I knew Joni was in Matala - there was buzz among the fifty or so hippies who lived in the thirty-odd caves in the cliff about a famous singer coming tot 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 lunch, surrounded by fans. I resented how her fame had turned my friends into adoring sycophants. After she finished eating, she politely cleaned her table and brought the trash to me. She was just being a good person. IN this tavern, we were used to drinking and dancing there until all hours and breaking plates and glasses on the floor in celebration. So I shrugged and threw her trash on the floor, I guess as an intended slight to her fame. Not long after, I was outside on a break 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 see 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. I suppose I was taking a swipe at her poetic fantasies.

Why were you so mean?

I had a nasty, aggressive character then, and I was feisty. I was always getting into fights at the tavern - probably losing more of them 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 eight by sixteen 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 discarded it in a field. It was useful for climbing the rocky hills around Matala. The "silver" Joni sings about refers to her Navajo jewelry that 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 twenty-fourth birthday - in my cave. Joni played it for me as a present. She also gave me ten Mickey Mouse chocolate bars. They came with these Disney character cards that the cave people traded. When she sang the song, U 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 sandal shop. 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 State in July of '70 to visit her.

When did you first hear "Carey" on Blue?

When I visited Joni again in Los Angeles 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 thing all that seriously. And I did take her camera, as the songs 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 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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