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Interview with Kim Clarke Champniss Print-ready version

The Barnes Exhibit, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto

Citytv The NewMusic
December 7, 1994

Video Opens with Montage of Joni Songs:
"Woke up it was a Chelsea morning, and the first thing that I heard..."
"...Paved paradise, put up a parking lot..."
"...and we've got to get ourselves back to the garden."
"And the seasons, they go round and round, and the painted ponies go up and down..."
"...my secret..."
"How do you stop, before it's too late?"

Kim: Joni, one of the reasons why we brought you here - other than the fact that you are a painter - but Turbulent Indigo is inspired by Vincent Van Gogh?

Joni: Yes, the title song, and the album art.

Kim: Well, we have two Van Goghs over here, in the Barnes Collection.

Joni: Oooh! Exciting!

Kim: Yeah. Now, explain to me what exactly Turbulent Indigo is?

Joni: Ah. Well, it's the name of a song, which is about the creative process and especially about Van Gogh. "You want to make Van Goghs, raise 'em up like sheep. Make 'em out of Eskimos, and women if you please. Make them nice and normal. Make them nice and neat. You see him with his shotgun there, bloodied in the wheat? Oh what do you know about living in Turbulent Indigo?" It's addressed to the Canadian Council of the Arts, who, in a brief encounter with them, I'm not sure if they understand what art is. They want to make Van Goghs, or artists - that's their symbol for artists - they want to make artists out of Canadian natives, women, and other ethnic groups. So basically, you can see that the government pocket will open up to Canada's useless people. (laughs) So, I took offense to that really, and so the song is kind of addressed to them, it's the irony of making an artist. I think an artist is born. You know, certainly he can be groomed a little, and he can be exposed to things. But, he's a bit of a canary in a coal mine. He's always an outsider. He must have an alien eye. These things are part of nature, not of education.

Excerpt from a Performance of Magdalene Laundries:
"I was an unmarried girl, I'd just turned 27, when they sent me to the sisters for the way men looked at me. Branded as a Jezebel, I knew I was not bound for heaven. I'd be cast in shame into the Magdalene Laundries."

Joni: Of all of the descriptions of what art's function is, the one I like the best is that art - and that doesn't matter which field of the arts - art is an ax for the frozen sea within us. You know. So if it sings, whoosh, the ice is broken and something that has been dormant is released in the viewer or the listener.

Excerpt from How Do You Stop:
"One day you're too young, then in you're in your prime. Then you're lookin' back at the hands of time. How do you stop, before it's too late? You choose and you lose, if you hesitate."

Kim: You did a cover of a James Brown tune.

Joni: Right.

Kim: Now, this seems totally incongruous, you know, Joni Mitchell doing a James Brown song.

Joni: Why? I'm a rock 'n roll dancer. (laughs)

Kim: Thank you, you just explained it. Is that out of a... Everyone would say, Joni Mitchell, she's the folk singer, but you're a rock 'n roll dancer.

Joni: Well that's a -- that's -- Only in Canada do they say that. It's the only place in the world they consider me a folk singer. Um...because I guess I started here as a folk singer. But the moment I crossed, in 1967, into Detroit and began to write my own music, although I looked like a folk singer, a girl with a guitar, I did not sound like a folk singer. It was more like German Lieder, or classical song form. The chords are too modern to be considered folk music. But generally the guitar is looked upon as a folk instrument.

But you know, even with the synthesizers, and doing my own orchestration and so on, people don't seem to notice that. They still seem to think that I've been interior decorated out of my own music and they want to peel that off and get back down to the folk singer that's buried underneath of it... But it's a sheet of sound of my own devising.

Excerpt from Performance of Goodbye Pork Pie Hat:
"Sweetest swinging music man, had a porkie pig hat on. A bright star in a dark age. When the bandstands had a thousand ways of refusing a black man admission."

Joni: Not among my peer group, not among artists, but generally in the industry I've been undervalued. I've been likened to things which weren't really like me at all. And uh, you know, it's a black joke...a self-portrait of me with my ear cut off. You know, like the last decade of my career's been extremely frustrating. Every project has been rejected for very stupid reasons by the press in general and by the outlets that allow you to announce that your record is coming out. It was very frustrating to be doing good work and...and not...not being treated like you were in the game, you know. Or being treated like an also-ran, you know like... And lumped in with... If you're going to lump me in with anybody, you've gotta' lump me in, I think, with Dylan and Leonard. You know. There are really only three writers of all the generations in music. And of the three, I'm more musically adventuresome. So, you know, to always be lumped in with the girls, you know, and sometimes unfavorably as if they'd beaten me at my own game?

Hence, the bandage on my record cover. (laugh) Excerpt from Performance of Sex Kills:
"...the weak suffering what they must, and the gas leaks, and the oil spills, and sex sells everything and... Sex kills...oh, Sex kills.'

Joni: I've reverted back to the heart of my favorite pocket of painting, which is back with Van Gogh, and...right when, when photo realism was kind of breaking up into color fields. But still figurative. So I've returned back there, against the grain of contemporary art hipness, you know.

Kim: Yeah, yeah.

Joni: I just said, you know, too much ado is being placed on getting yourself into a museum here after all these little square things that you hang on the wall. You know, and either you like to look at them or you don't. But I mean, the modern world tried to break it down so that they were no longer a window into another world. I like painting to be a window into another world.

Kim: Yes.

Joni: I like the mere decorative aspect of it. And as for Picasso's "Blue Period," they always say, oh, you know, he was terribly depressed at this time. I think he was down to three colors, really. I think he was poor at the time!

Kim: (laughs)

Song Excerpt: "Come in, come in...Come in from the cold..."

Joni: You hit pockets of fluidity, especially on the piano, since it's an open instrument. I've hit pockets where guides took my fingers over and I couldn't hit a wrong chord and where the intellect is asleep basically, but you still have access to its guidance. Emotion, you know, is not overwhelming but you have access to its guidance. Clarity is with you. You have access to its guidance and you can hear that the spontaneity has a beautiful quality. And sensation is with you, you know, your touch is lovely and the tempo is just right. (laughs)

Kim: And the ego has taken a back seat.

Joni: It isn't there. You're on the center. The concept "I" is absent.

Video Excerpt:
"How do you stop before it's too late? How do you stop? You're lost if you hesitate."

Joni: An artist should never be thinking about his audience. He will eventually find an audience if he's true to himself.

Kim: But if you -

Joni: Maybe not in his lifetime, but...

Kim: Well yeah, Vincent's perfect (example) of that. Yeah, but if you've had a frustrating decade, what must've been going through your mind when you released this? Every transmitter needs a receiver, you did need to get on radio. So were you thinking...?

Joni: Well, radio came! Wouldn't you know it, suddenly radio sprang up. Right, you know, right when I needed it.

Kim: Yeah.

Joni: (opening CD) So. We're even gonna' have little tin ears fall out in the first ten thousand copies here. (laughs)

Kim: Pretty good. Just like my Shreddies.

Joni: Yeah, a little Cracker Jack prize.

Kim: Best of luck with it.

Joni: Thanks a lot.

Kim: Mm-hm. Thank you.

Video ends with excerpt from performance of Night Ride Home:
"Like some surrealist invented this 4th of July Night Ride Home...oh Night Ride Home...Night Ride Home...Night Ride Home (fades out)"

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