Transcribed from the audio by Lindsay Moon
Chris Douridas: Morning Becomes Eclectic continues on KCRW. This hour Joni Mitchell in a live performance with special guest Larry Klein.
(Music up: "Night Ride Home.")
CD: It's so nice listening to you guys play this song and to see your exchange of smiles at that one point in the song where you say, "I love the man beside me."
JM: Oh, yeah, this was a beautiful trip we took. It was. We went to -- fourth of July we went to Hanalei. Was it Hanalei?
Larry Klein: Yeah, it was Kawai, yeah.
JM: And we had a really nice evening and there was like a lot of, like, local kind of hula stuff while it was light, and then there was a band -- there were two bands. A traditional ukulele band, like slack-key band playing in one room, and then there was a rock band playing in the other. And we befriended the wife of one of the band members that night.
Then the drive home was really kind of surreal. Actually you've got to get kind of a pre-setting to it. We rented this house and before we left, the people who rented the house next to us had decided to have this barbecue on our beach. Now we weren't going to be using that beach that night, but when you pay for a private beach, it kind of like bugs you to see these people like frying burgers on your beach, you know.
CD: You want to at least be able to look at it.
JM: So -- and plus they were shooting off these rockets, right? And I was standing at the window thinking that's our beach, you know. We paid for that beach and everything. So anyway, then logic enters into it and you think, well, you know, we're not going to be using it, we're going on the other side of the island. So we go over to the other side of the island. We have a pleasant evening listening to this traditional music and a little bit of the rock. And we're coming home -- either we had a tinted windshield in the car or else there was a real blue moon, but the clouds were scudding overhead real fast. They were moving like, you know, on our route anyway they were moving right to left across, and there was a big blue moon hanging in the sky.
LK: Oh, yeah.
JM: And everything seemed enchanted. The dots on the highway seemed enchanted. The wires as they scooped along outside the window seemed more silver than ever and in the distance we thought we saw a flying saucer land. We couldn't figure it out. It was like this patch of light in the middle of the field. Well when we came up on it, it was a big yellow tractor with the headlights on and guys in overalls with one leg up on the bumper drinking beer and laughing in the middle of this cane field.
Then when we came to our turn-off, this horse loped alongside of us literally with the taillights of our car reflecting on his hide and his big eye staring in the window. When we got back to the house, we walked in and it smelled of burn. It smelled like wet firewood. Went into the bedroom, and we had just found a kitten a couple of days earlier, a little runty kitten, like, that was prematurely weaned and really high-spirited. And we left her in there. We came into the house and there was a stink of fire, wet fire. Went into the bedroom. The bed had been moved out into the middle of the room and all the bed clothes were soggy and there was a big hole in the roof and a note from the neighbors who'd had the barbecue on our beach saying, "Gee, suddenly your roof caught fire. We don't know how it happened, but we rented your house on our last vacation so we knew where the spare key was so we stuck a garden hose, like, up on your roof and we came -- " but they started the fire --
CD: With their rockets.
JM: -- because they were with their rockets at the beginning of the evening and this little kitten was in there. But the whole thing was kind of surreal and enchanted.
LK: Like a film.
JM: Yeah, it was like this funny little film.
CD: Well, aren't you astonished, Larry, at how vivid Joni's memory is?
LK: Oh, she's amazing. When it comes to that kind of information, you know -- I mean, she'll remember like several years ago, you know, we were in this room on, you know -- in this city and the drapes were blue and they had this pattern on them.
CD: Yeah, yeah, and what they smelled like, what they felt like --
LK: And they were well stitched also.
LK: There was maybe a mildew scent -- smell to them -- she gets --
JM: (Laughs) It was a good seamstress.
CD: She gets down to the very detail.
LK: Oh, yeah. She has amazing memory for that kind of information.
CD: Joni Mitchell in the studio with Larry Klein. I'm Chris Douridas, Morning Becomes Eclectic on KCRW. We're hearing a live performance.
(Music up: "Just Like This Train.")
CD: Joni Mitchell and Larry Klein live on KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic. You guys let out a big release at the end of that one. 1974, that song, "Court and Spark."
CD: But I wonder. I mean it's funny, isn't it, how some songs sort of retain something for you after years go by and some don't. I would imagine that's true, that some of your songs don't --
JM: Most of them hold up.
CD: I mean some of them --
JM: Some of them die for a while like, you know, and then you get a new perspective on them. You get another experience that makes them fresh. That's the weird thing about, you know, the interview system. You finish an album, you go out and get, "What did you mean by that?" and all. It's kind of a shame because it limits it, you know, what you meant at the time you wrote it and -- even with the writer ten years later you could have another experience which puts a whole new slant on it, and of course as it goes out to the public, they all bring their own individual experience to it and, you know, it's kind of myriad and human nature is pretty much human nature and so -- but there are a lot of variations on perspective. And the author's perspective can change on a piece over time. So when that happens it kind of gives them new life.
CD: Yeah, it's interesting to me why you brought the songs that you did that were older songs --
JM: It's the only ones I remember (laughs).
CD: That's not true. But I mean obviously that -- this song right now is saying something to you and I'm not sure what that is exactly, maybe you're not even sure, but it seems to --
JM: I like it musically. It makes me happy to play that little funny pattern (sounds out) 'did-ip, did-ip, did-ip,' you know, like -- and I like the black humor in it (laughs). And I like the pastiche -- I mean I like the gangly kids and the old guys and, you know, the panoramic vista. It's still a picture I like to look at I guess.
CD: Yeah. I mean you are returning to live performance more now than you have in the last ten years or so, aren't you?
JM: Kind of. I did two gigs this year, you know. I didn't do anything much except a benefit maybe every two years for the last 12.
CD: Are you planning on getting out on the road more this year?
CD: It just depends, I suppose.
JM: It depends on a lot of variables.
CD: Such as?
JM: It's got to be fun, you know, like, something happens -- I've never liked the big stage, you know. I can't even tune -- because the tunings are a real handicap, especially with, you know, night air and lights, messing with them because the guitars are tuned so slack. Keeping them in tune in performance especially outdoors is really tricky. And it's -- I like it to sound good. I like it to be in tune. If it goes out it's unpleasurable.
CD: Oh, yeah.
JM: And then of course there's people out there with tape recorders recording it, and if it was just going up into the ether, that's one thing. But there are records left of it, you know, like I like the recording art because you have a certain amount of control, not that we need to punch in or, you know -- we're competent players. But, you know -- and sometimes more than competent -- but I always feel like some of the best of my ability, like, goes up into the midnight air when I'm alone. Like being as good as I would like to be on a big stage has been difficult. Technology is catching up with it. Just wiring a guitar, there are now good pick-ups that are fairly natural sounding, but through the old systems, the sonics put off by, like, EQ imposition, by the guy, like, at the monitors or something, can make it very difficult to tune when you go out and that makes it unpleasant.
CD: Do you think that -- does it happen that during a performance you're often thinking about --
JM: If it's out of tune, I'm thinking about it. Then I blow the words, then I'm bad and I feel bad and I never want to play again (laughs).
LK: There you go.
CD: Joni Mitchell and Larry Klein live on KCRW.
(Music up: "Moon at the Window.")
CD: Joni Mitchell in the studio with Larry Klein. I'm Chris Douridas, Morning Becomes Eclectic, on KCRW.
I was going to ask you, Joni, I was going to ask you to sort of play a little bit of a word association game with me when I was trying to think of what I wanted to throw at you. Well, you'll see. I mean, the first thing I wanted to throw at you was "Larry Klein."
JM: Word association?
CD: Yeah, yeah.
JM: Wonderful human being. Is that the kind of response you want?
JM: Yeah, that's basically my take, which is a funny take for a separated couple, but, yeah, I would say that would be the first thing that would spring -- all the way along, even in the worst of our travail, you know.
CD: How about Peter Asher?
JM: Peter Asher. Peter and I were friends for 17 years before he became my manager. Our friendship was always kind of blunt and confronting. His first wife Betsy used to say, "Oh, I can't believe he treated you like that!" I said, "It doesn't bother me." It kind of runs off my back, you know.
Peter and I always, like, we're kind of conflicted, you know, like -- oh, who -- somebody described it as Winston Churchill and Noel Coward. (Laughs). But which one am I? (Laughs).
CD: Neil Young.
JM: Neil Young. Fellow prairie person, fellow polio survivor, fellow Scorpio, fellow songwriter.
JM: Dylan. "Positively 4th Street." (Sings) "You got a lot of nerve / to say you are my friend ..." When I heard those words, up 'til then I was kind of a detractor of Bobby's. I thought he was a copycat. I thought he was --
JM: -- a Woody Guthrie clone, you know. But when he wrote that, I thought, okay, the American pop song has grown up. Up until that point I separated songs and poetry. I wrote poetry privately. I didn't like poetry so I didn't really show it to anybody. I wrote some in class on assignment, had to, you know. But when I heard that song I thought now we can write songs about anything. It opened up the possibility of songwriting topically. It was infinite then, anything.
CD: Miles Davis.
JM: Miles Davis is, you know, my musical love, I guess you'd have to say. Almost any -- I'm tolerant even of the periods that I don't like so much, the later bands, you know, where it gets more fusion-y. I think there are better choices he could have made. I would like to have heard him -- Klein and I agree on this -- we both -- with Brian Eno.
I tried to get him to play with me. It wasn't until he died that I found out from his brother how I could have worked that. You know, I said to his brother, you know, I said to his brother, "You know, Miles wouldn't play with me because I was a white chick." He said, "No, no, Joni, it wasn't that. It was because you were a singer." You know, he did play with one singer and she was a woman that he grew up with.
CD: Shirley Horn.
LK: Shirley Horn.
JM: But basically he said, (in a whisper) 'Shit, they got the words, you know, I gotta do it without the words.' He was jealous of the words in a way. So if I'd known that, I could have given him the tracks bare, you know, no words, and he would have liked it, I think, because he liked melody, and he would have liked the chordal movement. He would have liked the harmony. He did as a matter of fact because his son said, you know, he asked me, "Did you give Miles any of your records?" I said, "No." He said, "Did you know that he had all your records?" And I said I was really happy about that. And also a month before he died he moved the prints of my paintings from his bathroom beside his bed. So, you know, Miles in a funny way I think liked what I did, but we just never got a chance to work together.
CD: What's the Brian Eno reference?
JM: Well, Brian had that, you know, music for airports, all that stretched out kind of stuff. To give Miles a new period, rather than going with the fusion bands that he ended up going with which was kind of noodly, we would have liked him go to play against all that space. I mean I know Brian Eno. He didn't want any people in that music. He didn't want any fenceposts. Those were landscapes. He might not have wanted Miles on that, but in all that space, I would have liked to see Miles wade through that space, you know. I wanted to wade through some of it myself, you know? Put some lyric to it.
CD: Sinead O'Connor.
CD: You know, the story about Sinead being booed at a Dylan concert for having --
JM: The Pope's picture? Tearing up the Pope's picture?
CD: Yeah. For having done that just, what, months before, weeks before the Dylan concert, she was booed off the stage of Madison Square Garden. To me, that just seemed like such -- such an ironic thing for a Dylan audience to do. What do you think of that?
JM: Well, I think -- when I wrote "Magdalene Laundries" almost immediately when the text was finished, I called Sinead because I thought, you know, that the song in a way is up her alley, thematically. It's taking a poke at the church, but it's taking -- I'm hoping -- I don't like to -- unlike Sinead -- radicalism, you know, separates. It creates division. What she did -- if you tear up a picture of the Pope, you're going to make Catholics pissed off. It's not constructive --
CD: That's a good portion of the world too --
JM: -- it's punk. It's punk. It's a waste -- it's a dramatic, showy, immature, ineffective gesture. But what is behind it I understand. You know, the church in Ireland could do much to help its people but doesn't, you know. So I just felt that the punk rebel image that she, you know, was shallow thinking on her part. Ineffective and it brought down a fairly predictable response, you know.
JM: You could imagine it going the way it did, but it's like Shakespeare, "Aye, the play's the thing wherein to catch the conscience of the king." Is there a way that you can keep -- that you can separate the wheat from the chaff so that you can --
CD: That makes me think of a thought that you have about the performing arts. Songs and plays are capable of slowing people down and touching their souls in order to generate thoughtfulness.
JM: Yeah, I think the arts at their best do that. They make people look at things they wouldn't ordinarily look at and maybe plant the seeds of difference, like a different way of looking at things.
CD: So somehow within the player of a song you can make a discovery as a performer that other people may see in watching the performance, that they can make the discovery themselves?
JM: That's my optimism, that you could actually -- that art could change somebody's course, change the way they look at things.
LK: Like that Kafka quote, is it "Art is the ax for the frozen sea within us"?
JM: That's a good one too. "Art is the ax for the frozen sea within us."
CD: Joni Mitchell live on KCRW.
(Music up: "Magdalene Laundries.")
CD: "Magdalene Laundries." It's from the new release "Turbulent Indigo" in stores today from Warner Reprise. Joni Mitchell performing live on Morning Becomes Eclectic, joined by Larry Klein also in the studio on bass. I'm Chris Douridas.
And there's one song on the album that I think is literal in that you were driving in traffic I suppose in Los Angeles or somewhere --
JM: Last day of the riots.
CD: -- last day of the riots. And you came up to a car --
JM: It was either a limo or a Cadillac. A big long white car. And the license plate said "Just Ice." Probably a rapper, you know, whoever they are out there. They know -- this is probably a registered L.A. license plate. I'd never seen the word divided like that. It's like Evian water. Evian is "naive" backwards. I suspect it's French tap water (laughs) (in French accent) and the French are making some money at our expense. "Those ignorant English people, we'll sell them our tap water!" (Laughs).
CD: Joni Mitchell live on KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic.
(Music up: "Sex Kills.")
CD: "Sex Kills." Joni Mitchell live on Morning Becomes Eclectic. I'm Chris Douridas. Also, joined in the studio by bassist Larry Klein and the two of them performing live a song that comes from the new release "Turbulent Indigo" which is in stores today from Warner Reprise.
This is true for a lot of people I guess, but for you I understand that chords --
JM: Have an emotional meaning, each one.
CD: -- yeah, depict emotions.
JM: Very complex, emotional meanings, too complex for some people. They just go 'Joni's weird chords.' I always like to think that Americans unlike Brazilians, say, Brazilians can take a lot of complex emotion, being an emotional people --
CD: It's at the root of their --
JM: -- and the peasant there -- I always think why can't Americans take that much rhythmic sophistication and that much harmonic sophistication? But they seem to like their tragedy minor and their happiness major and the most they can handle is a seventh and anything after that is weird. Whereas, like, because I invent these open tunings that I play and these modalities, a lot of times specifically for the lyric, trying to avoid tragic statements underscored with minors, you know. That's generally the pattern.
LK: You know, I think that American harmony is based -- kind of based -- and this is part of what I love about it too on the positive side -- but it's based on church music, and the church was --
JM: The record company.
LK: -- was a very repressive kind of force in music, you know? And especially as the music developed, you know, it was if you didn't stick to these very pure harmonies, it was deemed as devil's music.
JM: Oh, yeah. Klein pointed out, because he's -- I'm a sophisticated intuitive, right? But Klein's musically educated. In "Sunny Sunday," the first cut, I used the devil's change. Isn't that what it's called? Unwittingly. What is it called, the devil's --
LK: The tritone? Or movement --
JM: It was forbidden by the church.
CD: No, really?
JM: Yeah. And -- I didn't know it, just within the course of the tunings there's, you know, your chords, the certain shapes, when you set up a new tuning, you -- I explore it with a vocabulary of shapes. The shapes may appear in different positions, but I have a very simple left- handed fingering, but very complex chords come out of it, you know. So within that tuning, I needed to underscore the apex, you know, the main gable on the architecture of that piece of music. I found, "that one little victory, that's all she needs." Isn't that what it underscores?
LK: Oh, yeah.
JM: The church forbade it. You know why? Because it evokes doubt. Every chord must be designed to keep the eyes lifted up to the cathedral ceiling, you know, and somehow or other this put, you know, the chords are diagrams of emotions. That's why the "Stand By Me" changes have been reworked so many times in pop music because they're straight to the people's heart. You know, it's like a cliche in pop and yet there are thousands of songs written in that formula. But people like that. It goes straight to the heart.
So church music was kind of the same thing. But this particular chord change, like, was -- so the chorus goes like this, so here's this woman, she's standing with a gun, she's taking pot shots at the street light outside, and she keeps missing (plays chords and sings) "But the day she hits / that's the day she'll leave / that one little victory / that's all she needs / that's all she needs." That is the devil's interval and it was forbidden by the church.
CD: It's pause to consider.
JM: Something in it, the harmonic thing, puts a (makes a choking sound).
LK: Well, it's the -- yeah --
JM: It makes the heart tilt. It's not -- it takes your eyes off the cathedral ceiling and makes them look at your toes (laughs).
LK: If "Stand By Me," you know, that like, you know, that chord progression, if that hits you in the heart, where do you think traditional kind of chord movement in church music hits you? Like where physically would you think?
JM: It's a little more cerebral than that, don't you think? Gregorian.
LK: Like would it hit you up here or -- or where --
JM: Stays away from your genitals, I'll tell you that! (Laughs.)
CD: It's going to go up rather than down.
JM: At all costs. Nowhere near. (Laughs.)
CD: You've brought with you today some new songs, too, songs from an album that has not been recorded yet, the next project.
CD: This is, I'm guessing, an album that's in progress; it's not completely worked out?
JM: It's just those two songs because now I'm in, you know -- I'm on the campaign trail, 'a vote for me is a vote for honesty' (laughs). So all the energy goes pretty much into promoting this now. So it will be a while until you get the chance to internalize.
CD: Has the album after "Turbulent Indigo" taken shape?
JM: We've started it, eh? We've got "Love's Cries" with Wayne on it and everything, although I think the way I performed it then -- well, you can imagine. It's a very tricky situation in a way because, you know, I think the performance of it requires a certain kind of -- I played it in Edmonton to a live audience with lovers in the front row right in my face, you know, and seeing them respond brought out a sparkle and a mischief in the performance. Whereas the one that I have on tape is kind of equally valid, but it's kind of restrained. Mainly because -- out of respect to Klein. Klein, you know, and I are in separation and he's got a new -- or had at that time -- a new girl, but still we're close and it's hard to see your partner going off with someone else. So it was -- the performance we have on tape is kind of respectfully restrained.
CD: Well, let's go for one live here and see what we come up with here today. Joni Mitchell and Larry Klein live on KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic.
JM: Hey, Robbie!
(Music up: "Love's Cries.")
CD: "Love's Cries." That's new material from Joni Mitchell and Larry Klein live on Morning Becomes Eclectic. This is a song that's from an album that's still in the making, but we are today celebrating the release of "Turbulent Indigo" which is in stores today from Warner Reprise. We're just getting a little ahead of the game today by sharing with you some of the things that are down the road yet for Joni Mitchell. Great new stuff and boy it's nice to hear --
JM: Oh, thank you.
CD: -- a sampling of what's around the corner. And I understand you brought another one with you. This is called "Facelift."
JM: It's called "Happiness is the Best Facelift."
CD: "Happiness -- " that's the full name?
JM: Which is true, you know. Like (laughs) it lifts all the muscles like right up.
CD: Well, (laughs) I'm getting one right now. Just the title makes me laugh. It's been a real pleasure. I don't have the words to explain how thankful I am for the two of you coming down.
JM: Oh, we really enjoyed it.
LK: Yeah, it was great fun.
JM: It was great fun. Thank you.
CD: It's been very, very special for us.
JM: Klein's got to go off on the road, you know, so he was kind of gung-ho for us to play before I go off on my press tour and he goes off with Shawn on the road, you know. So it was an opportunity for us to -- Larry play a little bit -- to play a little bit live which is great because I'm trying to get enthused about playing in front of people again. Trying to get back in the saddle. So every little bit like this helps, you know. Every time it's fun you remember, oh, yeah, this is fun. So thank you for letting us rehearse here on the air.
LK: Exactly. And rehearsed it was (laughs).
CD: Anytime. It's been great having you. Joni Mitchell and Larry Klein on KCRW. Thanks again.
JM: Thank you.
LK: Thank you.
(Music up: "Night Ride Home." "Happiness is the Best Facelift.")
(End of interview.)