What can I say? You sit there and laugh but you haven't gone through it. You haven't seen her.
I'm sitting there at the Canterbury House. Joni Mitchell walks onstage in a slying [sic] coruscating black mini-skirt and shoes with mystic buckles and some kind of amulet and a body, coming on just a little like what the good witch of the North was really like or would have been if L. Frank Baum and D.H. Lawrence had gotten together. Like the kind of girl you thought was ugly in junior high and then gritted your teeth over in the 11th grade when you saw here [sic] in the corridor with somebody else.
Then she starts singing and playing and moving. I'll have to divide that up; it's very hard. She sings with a voice of the type that you thought had killed itself off a few years ago, and somehow you're glad that it didn't. You wish that words like beautiful and expressive could still be said and have some meaning to people. When she says she's got bronchitis, you believe her only because she is the one who's saying it. A string breaks and she's up there all alone and sings "The Dowie Den's [sic] of Yarrow," and makes it come off.
It's the only song in the set that she hasn't written herself. Herself, that's the word for it. There's one called "The Gift of the Magi" patterned after the O. Henry story. It has - get this - a very subtle Latin beat - and (I'm not putting you on) it works. How can she do that? For god's sake, she does. Maybe it's because she's Canadian, and being Canadian is a good thing these days if you're a songwriter, or anything else, for that matter.
But this song, you see, isn't representative. The nice thing is none of them are. She's too hard to put in one bag (acoustical pop? - her expression) but I would say that she writes songs like Bob Dylan would have if he hadn't gotten turned off, and if he were a woman, and if he were Canadian. Imagery that is not only beautiful but coherent. The songs are about events, relationships, kids, religion, life, but not all at the same time; she doesn't need a kaleidoscope to see beauty.
Rhythmically, well, like I said before, she moves, but only when it's called for. Technically she can take an old Martin D-28 and give it Eastern overtones and a solid rock beat and use to propel a song that satirizes the acid business empire all in the context of a deteriorating love affair. She plays in open tunings that you haven't heard of, using chords you could kick yourself for not thinking up first.
Her sense of humor cavorts (I'm sorry, but that's the word) in and out of her songs. She smiles every now and then, and you love it. She says that Dylan is in reality Eric Anderson and David Blue having a tennis match.
The thing that kills me is that nobody reading this will believe it. I can see that, I understand. But you haven't been through it, my friend. You have not been through it.
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