Transcribed by Lindsay Moon
(Music up: “Good Friends”)
Pete Fornatale: That’s Joni Mitchell from the album “Dog Eat Dog” and the first single from the recording, “Good Friends.” Joni is with us on Mixed Bag. I couldn’t be more delighted.
Pete Fornatale: Joni, that particular song is a collaboration or at least a duet with another rather amazing musician of our time, Michael McDonald. Does bringing in another musician like that stir up your creative juices? Is that the thinking behind some of the more unexpected musical partnerships that you've had in your career?
Joni Mitchell: Well, in the case of a vocalist, by that time, the part is pretty much solidified, like Michael came -- it was almost as written. So in that case, he was chosen for his wonderful color. I just love the sound of his voice, and I'd never really had a song that had the right strength of groove, and this just seemed to be the perfect opportunity to sing with him.
When I bring in a player like Wayne Shorter, for instance, that's different. That -- I give him carte blanche. He's so intuitive anyway that I just sit back and as long as he is willing to do takes and as many tracks as we have, I just cut him loose, you know, because I'm always so curious, even though he's done magnificent licks on the first and second and third take, I can't -- when he's playing, I can't stop. I want to know, well, what would he do now, because he doesn't repeat himself. He's fluidly inventive. Everytime he does something it's different. I would say with Wayne more than anyone else, he's very exciting to me as a player because I think he has the entire musical gift. He has a sense of structure. He has a beautiful sense of entrance and exit, melodic -- and he also has a lot of wit. You know, he paints pictures with his instrument. It's beyond notes. Not many players have that.
(Music up: "Lucky Girl.")
PF: You use the phrase 'paint a picture' in as much as that is another one of your talents, Joni. How do the two overlap and how are they compatible and how are they incompatible, your musical talents, your artistic talents?
JM: Well, let me see. All through my musical -- I've been drawing all my life, drawing and painting. Music I didn't get involved in until I went to art school. So I started playing music really at about 18. And once I got involved in the music, I was always drawing and painting at the same time. So the first music that I made was simple, was folk music, voice and a guitar. And at that time I was mostly drawing, the work was also very simple. And when the music had a lot off adjec- -- when the poetry had a lot of adjectives and the music had a lot of grace notes, the painting was very filigreed, almost rococo, Aubrey Beardsley-ish.
As the adjectives and the grace notes, the baroqueness, fell off the music and it became more rhythmic, the drawing became more modern. As I began to overdub in the studio, the drawing began to have just a little bit of a color accent in the background. As the music headed further and further into the abstract, the painting also moved into the abstract.
(music up: Live recording from “Miles of Aisles” ‘Paint A Starry Night again, man!” quote and “Circle Game.”) The process of playing and the process of making music is very similar in its action. When you’re playing a guitar or you’re working on a painting, the action produces pretty much the same head space. Writing poetry is a different animal.
JM: Writing poetry, you have to go – you have to kind of go in and plumb the depths and you – you’re not always inspired. In other words, it’s not always fluid. Some of it is just craft and you’re almost like priming a well. And I think that poetry is probably the most difficult because it’s … because it’s so specific. You know, and because words mean so many different things to different people, because you’re dealing with symbols like, for instance, the word ‘love.’ You say just that word ‘love’ to seven different people and it will make one heart flutter, it’ll make another person angry, depending on just the simple usage of words. So the correct choice and juxtaposition of words is the most difficult art for me, I think.
JM: To get it so that you're satisfied with it. And even then it's amazing, like, the diversity of communication that it makes.
PF: Well, then you take the next step, whatever your intention was, whatever your meaning was pales in comparison of what someone out there in the larger audience gets out of it, takes out of it, what meaning that person he or she brings to it.
JM: Well, yeah, the words strike against every individual life. Like, for instance, in the interview that -- I did another interview here today, and we were talking about at the time he was going with a girl named Sharon and they used to go skating at Wollman Rink. So listening to "Song for Sharon Bell," it's -- the way it struck against that life was very specific.
PF: You give up control over your art in a sense --
PF: -- and it becomes someone else's. I guess that's pleasing and frustrating at one and the same time.
JM: Well, it is. You -- for instance, I had -- I drew down a kind of a crazy person on myself, an obsessive fan at one point, who lived in the bushes for five years near my house and popped over the wall from time to time. And he was given my records at a very difficult time in his life when he was kind of locked in his room and, you know, listening to this -- and records are a very intimate form, you know. His sister had died on a public airline crash so when he heard "I shouldn't have got on this flight tonight...", it took on a very personal meaning for -- and I became confused as the gateway to God, the voice of his dead sister, so, you know, in a disordered mind -- and yet that's not so crazy when you think about it. I mean this song was as if he saw it as the voice of his dead sister speaking to him off the vinyl --
PF: It's the dangerous and scary part.
JM: That's the black end of the communication. There's nothing, in a way, that you can do about that.
(Music up: "This Flight Tonight.")
PF: Another of your lyrics, interestingly enough, relates very personally to what we do here. You once included as a lyric of one of your songs the line about the holy man on the FM radio.
PF: Also an inherent danger when misinterpreted, that darker side of the misinterpretation that could go on in the mass audience.
JM: Right, I know. There was a disc jockey in Los Angeles who was certain that I had written it for him, you know. It was somebody that I knew, you know, and it wasn't directed to him but that's the thing. The songs strike against a life and they become very personal to a person. And I guess the difference between the sane and the insane is, you know, whether you decide it was written exactly for and you for you only (laughs).
JM: Or whether you think, oh, this just fits me to a T.
Announcer: Would it be fair play to ask you where that reference came from or what you meant by 'holy man on the FM radio'?
JM: Well, let me put it generally rather than specifically --
PF: Yeah, sure.
JM: That's the other thing. I don't want to limit people's bringing their own experience to the words, so to tell you who it was for, I don't want to do that. But it was written about somebody who was played on FM radio. You are a holy man, you are enshrined on the FM airwaves.
(Music up: "Rainy Night House.")
PF: This is Pete Fornatale back with you on Mixed Bag with my special guest this morning, Joni Mitchell.
As you were talking earlier, and I’d almost recommend our listeners with vast Joni Mitchell record collection to do the same. I was thinking of what you said in terms of how your art has changed and your music has changed by looking at the self-portrait that you did for the "Clouds" album versus the self-portrait that you did for the "Wild Things Run Fast" album, and indeed what you said about the music and the art applies here, I think, don't you? The first one being simple --
PF: -- whereas the "Wild Things Run Fast" having many more layers of communication in it and could similarly the same thing be said about the music on these two albums.
JM: Looking at them now, because I haven't seen them side-by-side like that, they are stylistically more compatible than some of the others, don't you think? Like you can almost tell that they were done by the same artist. Some of them you would never know, you know.
PF: And, of course, the subject matter is exactly the same, yourself, but yourself in close-up and yourself from a distance. Oh, by the way, I always wanted to ask you, Eric Andersen told me that this cover was based upon a photograph that he took --
JM: Yeah, he took a Polaroid. It's true. He took the Polaroid of me leaning on the TV set like that.
PF: Oh, that's great.
JM: But I changed the costume, you know, and put the horses in --
JM: -- and cheated the perspective on the table there so you get another plane.
PF: Yeah. Well, you know, I'd like to stick with this idea for just a bit only because it does serve as a way of getting an overview of your career from this first album that I have here in my hands all the way up to the brand new one, "Dog Eat Dog."
We have a feature on the show called Maiden Voyage, where we play all or most of the first album by a major artist, and your first record was one of the earliest that we featured in that context.
And while I was listening to it that morning on the show, I was struck by the bareness of it, the absolute simplicity and beauty of it, and I measured that against all of the things that you've done since and wondered to myself, could you ever do an album like this one again?
JM: Well, my voice has changed considerably since then, so -- and my sense -- I couldn't do it exactly like that because I've assimilated the blues, I've assimilated -- I mean this is pretty much British Isles-influenced music. The blues haven't entered into the picture. It's very -- under the rule of Queen Lizzy, you know what I mean?
JM: I mean it's like very white Anglo Saxon.
PF: So in that sense you couldn't do an album?
JM: I could do an acoustic album, but it would be quite different. My rhythmic sense has changed, my voice has deepened. I've lost off the top and gained on the bottom. I have a different sense of expression.
(Music up: "Michael from Mountains" and "Night in the City.")
PF: This album, of course, was produced by David Crosby.
PF: And I wondered if you maintained a relationship with David over the years and how you feel about his current troubles.
JM: I haven't seen him for a long time. I saw a concert that he and Stephen and Graham gave in Los Angeles some years back, and at that point he didn't look well. And, you know, I was kind of shocked because at that point I hadn't seen him for some years. And he reminded me that I shouldn't say anything to him while I was still a chain smoker (laughs).
PF: Oh, interesting. We spoke about the dark side earlier in terms of the audience. David is taking on this representation of the dark side for a living performer now, and I wonder how you have dealt with those demons over the course of your own career and if you feel you're in command of them in a way that David might not be currently.
JM: I'm still a chain smoker.
PF: What are we going to do about that, friends?
JM: There but for fortune, you know? Cigarettes and coffee are the things that I have a hard time giving up, you know. Having passed through rock and roll, well, you -- in a drug generation, I've sampled everything. But nothing was permanently obsessive for me. It all turned left, you know, sooner or later you realize when I take this substance, I feel worse than before I took it. So what's the point? You know, after you go through that a few times, and then it's easy to quit. With tobacco I'm truly an addict. I mean I'll smoke with chronic bronchitis. I'll smoke through it so it's just -- so I understand addiction.
PF: You've incorporated it into your art as well on the new album.
JM: Oh, yeah, the "Nicotine Attack."
PF: "Nicotine Attack" and also, you've used some unique instrumentation on your albums over the years, Joni, but a cigarette machine? (Laughs).
JM: Well, the way that came about was when we were making that -- that was recorded for the last album, for the "Wild Things" album at A&M, the cigarette machine was out in the parking lot and the guy who serviced it, who stocked it, didn't. He just didn't show up for months and months so first my brand ran out. Then the next favorite brand ran out, and soon it was down to Camel plains and Kools. You know, like you really had to be desperate. So one night I said to Skipper who was the assistant on that record, you know, grab an extension cord, we're going to mike the machine. Because the sound of the gears pushing out nothing when you hit a chamber that was empty --
JM: -- was so rhythmic and interesting it went 'chin-con-kwa-coo-doo ... hoo.' It had two feminine squeaks in the gears and so we stuck a mike up inside of it and that is neither sampled nor looped. That's acoustic cigarette machine (laughs).
(Music up: "Smokin' (Empty, Try Another).")
PF: Let's get back on the track here. I'm going to just -- I would almost assume that these two records, your first two records, can pretty much be considered together. One was an extension of and an outgrowth of the first certainly.
JM: The first two records, I had nearly all of the songs that compose those first two before I started recording. But the second album, the "Clouds" album, my voice changes radically because I'd been singing, you know, CSN was just forming at that time and we used to sit around and sing a lot, and in order to blend with them you had to adopt a kind of a vocal affectation to get the blend. In order for their three distinct voices to meld, they had to develop a common singing style even though their timbre and everything was different. And from singing with them I picked up some of that. So suddenly I have kind of an overt American accent, to my ear anyway, being Canadian, on the second album which kind of dies down by the time you get to the third.
(Music up: "Chelsea Morning")
PF: Pete Fornatale this Sunday morning. Let’s continue now with the title track from Joni’s second album at WNEW-FM.
(Music up: "Both Sides, Now.")
PF: Let's take the jump to "Ladies of the Canyon" then which, of course, occurred right in the middle of your Crosby, Stills, Nash connection. This, of course, is the album that contains songs like your version of "Woodstock" of course and the one we referred to earlier, "Rainy Night House." "For Free" is on here, "Willy," things like that.
JM: I haven't heard that record probably since I made it I don't think I've heard that.
PF: Really? Not even by surprise on the radio somewhere?
JM: Nope. It's been years. I can't even remember what's on that.
PF: Do you --
JM: Let me see the jacket a minute.
PF: Is it something that you avoid by design?
JM: No. It's just by the time you've finished a record, you've finished a record. You know, for instance, this record, we've been working on from February to September. So when it's turned in, it's -- unless somebody wants to hear it and you sit down and play it and then there's a kind of a vicarious pleasure from turning somebody on to it. You say, oh, and we did this here and we did that there, and, you know, you can get into it in -- but by the time you've finished listening to it and listening to it and mixing it and mixing it, you know, you don't really want to hear it for a while.
PF: Well, also there's another trick that I guess time will play that neither of us can have any idea about right now, for example, this is 15 years ago. Let's go 15 years from now and look back at "Dog Eat Dog," the song "Ethiopia" might have a completely different coloration -- I hope it might have a completely different coloration 15 years hence. Do you agree?
JM: Oh, yeah. I think that some songs have more -- some songs become classics. In other words, they are a general enough statement that they still have a validity in another decade. And some songs, if they're of a political nature, often they become kind of a historical curio with time on them. You know, they belong definitely to an era.
(Music up: "Ethiopia.")
PF: I've got to ask you about one specifically from "Ladies of the Canyon" which, of course, is "Woodstock." That had a specific meaning at the time. Do you think it maintains a general meaning for today that is applicable or not?
JM: Well, in this culture, of course, it's a curio. I would say it's a curio. It's associated with the past. But when we were touring in '83, playing it in Australia, which was just going through its social consciousness, you know, with their -- it was half punk and half hippie over there. And it took on a different -- many of the issues that we had dealt with here in the '60s, they were dealing with over there, conservation, ecology issues were coming up because it's a younger country than the States and it's about to make some of the same mistakes. So there in that context it took on a whole new vitality.
And the other place surprisingly, the place it really ignited, was in Ludwigshaven in Germany, and they have, of course, the Green Party.
JM: They're going through some kind of change, and playing it to that audience, it was a brand new -- it seemed to strike against that audience as a contemporary issue rather than a historic event.
(Music up: "Woodstock.")
PF: You have a song on the new album that I think is -- it's a non-specific song that I think applies equally to then and now and that's "Impossible Dreamer."
JM: Oh, yeah. "Impossible Dreamer" is -- these are funny times, in my opinion. The rock critics I think -- I don't know whether this is a trend that emanated out of England. I think that's where I first saw it. It's the fulfillment of Warhol's prediction, everybody will have their 15 minutes of fame, you know, and there's a hostility towards success.
Now, in England it goes to the extremes where a band -- it's like flavor of the day almost. As soon as a band gets air play, there's a tremendous amount of -- the press starts to tear them down almost immediately. It used to be that you could count on maybe four years of favor like a presidential election in this country. But now the press has become -- there's a tendency towards real vicious criticism. You know -- I don't know, maybe I'm still an idealist, but to me -- I read my reviews, for instance, and I think that I could be critical of this new record. I know where the bones are buried, you know, I know what I think is up to my standards and things that didn't quite come off, but that's where you get your direction for the next project anyway and you just don't make a perfect record.
But a lot of the criticism that I see comes back -- good criticism has the possibility to inspire growth. Bad criticism just makes you angry, you know. And there's a tendency, a style, in young journalists to be critical for critical's sake. The more negative things you can say about a project, you know, the hipper you are it seems to be.
Now, I don't want to give the impression that I've had only bad reviews, but when I've had bad reviews, the bad reviews that have come from this project have not been intelligent. They've just been kind of -- the things that they've attacked have been kind of injust. There are things -- it's like the same kind of injustice like attacking a person for being fat. There are things you can't do anything about, you know what I mean? To me, good criticism would adjust to -- well, anyway, we're getting off on --
PF: There's a kind of humor prevalent in this country right now on both television and in night clubs and on radio, unfortunately, that is very negative, very derogatory, and I think a complete and total waste of time. But you're right, another subject, another time.
PF: When I heard "Impossible Dreamer," I heard John Lennon.
PF: Now, you say 'yes' but with a reservation.
JM: Well, I guess the reason I went off on that tangent is that's why I say 'impossible dreamer' because certain kind of delicate emotions like this is the time it seems to me of -- with a few rare exceptions, this is not a heart time, this is not a time of heart. It's not a vulnerable time. Anything with that kind of delicacy is fair game in a way. It's a fun time, let's have fun. It's a time to -- so "Impossible Dreamer" comes from -- it's kind of a tip of the hat to the beautiful idealists that, ironically, most of them were assassinated. Almost like the very presence of that idealism drew down immense hostility.
PF: Yeah. So it's not only John Lennon; it's Martin Luther King.
JM: It's Christ, it's -- you know, heart people. All heart ideas. Kill the heart ideas. Right. So it's a tip of the hat to those impossible dreamers.
(Music up: "Impossible Dreamer.")
PF: That's Joni Mitchell from the new album, "Dog Eat Dog" here on Mixed Bag at WNEW-FM in New York. We'll continue right after these words.
To go along with our special program today, we have an extra added bonus and that is five complete sets of Joni Mitchell albums to give away, and all you have to do is write the name of your favorite Joni Mitchell song -- maybe not as easy as it sounds, come to think of it -- on a post card along with any other comments you may have about today's program and send it with your name and address to Mixed Bag, care of WNEW-FM, 655 Third Avenue, New York, 10017. One post card per person please. We'll pick five cards at random and those winners will receive complete sets of Joni Mitchell albums courtesy of her three labels over the years, Reprise, Asylum, and currently Geffen Records. And it is all courtesy of Mixed Bag and "this is the place where rock lives 102.7, WNEW-FM, New York."
This is Pete Fornatale back with you on Mixed Bag with my special guest this morning, Joni Mitchell. We've been taking a tour through her albums. And I realized that if we stopped to talk about each one to the degree that we should, we'd be here well into next week.
So maybe, Joni, the way to handle this since we do want to bring it up to date is kind of get off-the-top-of- your-head impressions of the albums as I hold them up to you. And we had just arrived at one that was a very important one in your career and a very important one in the hearts of your fans and that's the "Blue" album.
JM: The "Blue" album is -- I like that album. There's a cleanness to it. At the time I made that album -- I don't know how to explain this. I had -- I was a reluctant star, okay? You know, like I liked playing little rooms, but the big roar, there's something always unnatural about drawing that much attention to yourself.
PF: Somehow, I think we knew that about you.
JM: (Laughs). So that album was -- that's a very pure album. There's not a beat of artifice on it. I mean, it's like -- at the time that I made it, I had no defenses. Now, you can't go around in the world with no defenses, and soon I had them. I grew claws again. But during the time that it was conceived and performed, I didn't have any. And, you know, I was a real vulnerable creature.
PF: Painfully personal.
JM: It's painfully personal but I guess that's the beauty of it. I mean I'll never be like that again, you know. I have defenses now.
(Music up: "A Case of You")
PF: Were the defenses in evidence by the time “For the Roses” came out?
JM: That’s a build-back, that’s a build-back. You know, I withdrew – I went into my hermitage there. I retreated to a piece of property that was infinitely interesting. The light was different on the water every day, there was a lot of wildlife. I got myself back to the garden. I thought, you know, I took my own advice and went back there to – with the optimism of living off the land. Well, I am too urban as it turns out and in a year or so I was back in the cities again. But it was a good – it was a good period of retreat.
PF: Dare I open this two-fold cover?
JM: (Laughs.) We were going to put that on the front cover at one time. Joel Bernstein, we went up to Mt. Baldy which is a mountain outside of Los Angeles. We were going to put a starry sky over it so it would be like a Magritte, half day and half night. It was supposed to go on the front cover, and Elliot (Roberts) said, “Joan, how are you going to like it when you see ‘$2.98’ plastered across your ass?” (Laughs.) So, you know, I put it on the inside.
PF: That’s wonderful. And it’s a beautiful picture by the way.
JM: I think it is, you know, it’s supposed to be like – you know, Aphrodite and the clamshell pose? It’s “awt, it’s awt” (in a New York accent). (Laughs.)
(Music up: “For the Roses”)
PF: It’s almost like flash cards here. We are up to “Court and Spark.”
JM: “Court and Spark” is, you know, still kind of a return to society. You know, coming back to society. There’s still a lot of – I don’t know how I would like the world to be. It’s funny to be … I don’t know what to say about that album.
PF: It’s great just watching you think.
JM: (Laughs.) There’s a lot of dissatisfaction still with lifestyle. You know, I mean ours was an experimental generation. Definitely we had something to rebel against. You know, and the act of rebellion was a necessary one and even the generation that we rebelled against finally said so. You know. But the trouble was that like all critics, we had a lot of strong opinions, negative opinions but we didn’t have any solution on how – we didn’t have a plan. We acted against it having nothing to build in the future. That’s one reason I never got involved in the No Nuke things was, you know, I thought at the point where – supposing we got our way? Supposing the nuclear plants were all taken apart and so on, this would be great news but what do we do then? You can’t just tear something down without really having something intelligent to – as an alternative. And, you know, the little old lady in the Midwest with a toaster and a Mixmaster and a blender and all of these appliances, you know, is not going to relinquish them.
I think we’ve gone too far into this technological society which runs on juice. Where’s the juice going to come from? You know, the nuclear idea is a horrible idea but there isn’t a better one. You know, even the dams that – which is the old idea – the damming of the waters does unbelievable things to our weather. So nearly everything, I mean basically we’re like a monkey and suddenly we have all of this brilliant, twinkling wiring running all through our society. You know, like sometimes I get this technological overview and it drives me crazy. I know that we have to go forward. But we’re so sophisticated but we’re so primitive. And everything that we do positive backfires somewhere in our environment.
(Music up: “Free Man in Paris” / “Help Me”)
PF: There’s something else that was going on at the time of “Court and Spark,” Joni, which was that you were at the height of your commercial powers and success at that time. And that’s also the point that people would point to that you chose to move away, move in other directions. Is that accurate? Is that so?
JM: Not to me. To me, the change from “Court and Spark” to the “Hissing of Summer Lawns” was subtle, as subtle a change as it was from “For the Roses” to “Court and Spark.” And yet when “Hissing of Summer Lawns” came out it was just a disaster.
PF: Vilified as I recall.
JM: It was just awful. I think what happened, because I’ve seen it happen to other artists since. It happened to Steely Dan. “Aja” was followed by “Gaucho.” “Gaucho,” to me, was every bit as interesting an album as “Aja” was. I think if “Gaucho” had been released first and “Aja” released second, the same thing would have happened. I’d be willing to bet on it. There just comes a certain point where people’s attention span only goes so far and all of a sudden ‘they’ve been around long enough, tear ‘em down, next!’ You know, people raved about “Aja” and hated “Gaucho.” I saw a lot of negative press on that. And the weird thing was was the ability to make two such solid albums in a row, nobody gave them credit for that.
I feel it was the same thing with “Hissing,” that to me the changes were, you know, not that great. Suddenly people were saying that I had gone into jazz. I was using a lot of the same players that I used on “Court and Spark.” It was called narcissistic and yet it was the least auto- -- I could figure that out either. It was less autobiographical –
PF: Right. We’re not talking about a “Blue” album here at all.
JM: -- and it was portraits of people, mainly portraits of the trapped suburban housewife.
In rock and roll at that time, there was a limited amount of themes. There were love songs, songs about rock and roll, celebrating the medium itself. It hadn’t ventured very far into more short story like topics, so on that level I was kind of pushing – pushing what a pop song was topically, I guess. But I still don’t understand the drastic reaction to it.
(Music up: “The Hissing of Summer Lawns”)
PF: Don’t you feel vindicated, though, isn’t there some sort of revisionist movement going on right now that sort of casts this album Hissing in a different light? You know what I’m talking about.
JM: Well, in a way. I think this is what happens. I think people that like the first one and the second one, times were slower then. They could hold their interest for me for about five projects apparently, the peak being the fifth one. And that point they just had enough of me. I think that’s what happened. Now, you take Prince for instance, who recently – I love him for this – you know, any good review for this record is such a joy to me because it wasn’t that bad. I mean, you know I’m not saying it was a great record but it certainly wasn’t as bad as it was made out. He loved the record. He said so recently in an article. And he was very young at the time it came out. Probably young enough that he didn’t even know about –
PF: Know your history.
JM: Right. So maybe that was the first record he heard so therefore he approaches it with an open mind. You know, any one of these records if somebody was to hear it if it was the first one that they heard, I would think that they would have an easier time than getting into it after – especially when they really – when people really love something, if they had – say you had a really good time. You went to a restaurant or a club, you had a fantastic time, you went home and you told everybody, ‘Man, I went to this place, I had a fantastic time, let’s go there tomorrow night.’
PF: And it doesn’t recreate the experience exactly for you –
JM: No, I think it’s got more – it’s got to augment the second time, it’s like the first one’s free. It can’t even be as good. The next time you go there in order to get the same rush, you gotta up the ante, it’s got to be even more amazing, you know?
So I think it was just a chronology problem because I can’t understand it any other way. I mean it – I can understand people don’t like a project but that it was all so unanimous. I think all the critics got together and had sushi and ragged on me (laughs.) And said, “Let’s get her!” or something. I don’t know.
PF: The Joni Mitchell conspiracy theory exposed here for the first time on Mixed Bag.
(Music up: “In France They Kiss on Main Street” / “Coyote”)
PF: I’m sure I’ve been mispronouncing the title of what was your next release all these years, so I’m going to have you do it.
JM: (Pronounces) “He-JEER-a.”
PF: I’ve been mispronouncing it all these years.
JM: People think it’s a Spanish word, right? You say it with a “Y”? (Pronounces) He-YEER-a?
PF: Well, it means a respite of, a journey.
JM: It means the same as exodus, it means leaving, no blame. The origin of the word is when – it’s leaving Mecca. In other words, it’s kind of the opposite of AWOL, it’s leaving without blame.
JM: Turning your back on something.
PF: What a great –
JM: Like exodus.
PF: Sure, yeah. How does the album fit into the configuration that we’ve been talking about, Joni.
JM: That one was written on the road. I traveled across country with a couple of friends of mine. That in itself was an interesting journey. We drove from California to Damariscotta, Maine to kidnap this guy’s daughter from the wicked grandmother. It was really, uh, we were just companions to his intent, you know, so he was like the worried father driving to get – you know, it was one of these custody battles like you see these kids on milk cartons now that are being torn apart and families … so it was one of those kind of modern phenomenons.
Anyway, I drove home after his mission was completed, it was my car, so I drove back to California by myself and I took my time. It was ’76, there were parades all through the South. It was like a lot of jubilee celebrations going on, right? And the songs were written as I traveled. So it’s a travel album absolutely. It’s nostal- -- you know, it’s – I don’t know. It’s a hejira.
(Music up: “Hejira”)
PF: Now, if people thought that they had you pinned down or pigeonholed by any of your previous records, they certainly lost that sense with the next (gap in recording?) for a number of reasons. First of all, it was a two-record set. That was the first, other than the live album, that was the first time you attempted something like that. And it had to have been in the opposite direction of anyone’s expectations of you at that point, I think.
JM: It followed on the tail of this persecution, and at that point since they had, you know, unanimously it was like my career was dead (laughs) so it didn’t really matter. I just had this contract to fulfill so that album is very experimental.
PF: Someone decided that over sushi again.
JM: (Laughs) Yeah, I figured what have I got to lose? So I played around with forms. “Paprika Plains” was an extension of form. It was almost like trying to add vocals to a sonata. I mean I don’t know really classical form, but I was trying to see how far you could stretch a song.
PF: In retrospect a successful experimentation? Artistically; forget whatever happened.
JM: Oh, it’s very spotty, I think, that record. But it has some – it was a necessary part of my development. I learned a lot from doing it and that was the record that attracted my attention to Charles Mingus. So speaking in terms of fate or karma, everything was unfolding as it should be.
(Music up: “Dreamland”)
PF: This is Pete Fornatale back with you on Mixed Bag with my special guest, Joni Mitchell. We were up to your collaboration with the late Charles Mingus, which really didn’t get acceptance on the radio at the time. Were you angry about that?
JM: No. No, after I – they kicked me to the ground with “Hissing” and after that I grew some claws (laughs).
PF: Ah, a little thicker skin, that’s great.
PF: I guess you need that.
JM: Yeah. After that I thought, you know – because I thought that was – it’s not even a matter of thinking. It was an injustice, you know. It was – you could have said something nice about that record. It’s not – you know, I mean they could have said something nice. It was like they bloodied the nose of my sixth child, you know, on the playground and it hurt. Because it is like maternity. There’s a gestation period, there’s a tremendous amount of tenderness and thought and care that goes into a project. So when it gets grand-slammed like that, you know, I mean you just say whoa! You know, like I mean you gotta take your pleasure with your pain but this was like a really – extreme.
PF: But again you can be proud because it’s just a question of timing. Look at what happened to Sting this year that could just have easily been Joni Mitchell and the Mingus project. Timing dictated otherwise. Is it that simple? Or am I being too –
JM: I don’t know. There now is a trend towards the incorporation of ja- -- first of all, Sting was a much bigger star when he attempted this collaboration. Drawn to it for the same reason that I was, the temptation to play with really fine musicians who have that spontaneity is irresistible. You know, um – I don’t know. He had more personal power when he made that transition than I did. Maybe that’s it. Maybe the times are ripe. I think it’s a lot of things.
(Music up: “The Dry Cleaner from Des Moines”)
JM: At the time that “Hissing” was made, music was much more apartheid than it is now. And at that time jazz was jazz and rock was rock and never the twain shall meet. And the jazz musicians I knew at that time hated rock and roll. It was like the enemy. And the rock musicians I knew hated jazz. I knew very few people – Tim Hardin was one person who liked both. You know, but very few people kind of swung both ways, you know, in their musical taste –
PF: Kenny Rankin.
JM: -- and players, there were very few players who could play ambidextrously, you know, who had an instinct for both idioms. Now there are a lot of players like that. The band that I play with now, Dog Cheese, my husband’s band (laughs), you know, Larry, my husband, played with Freddie Hubbard and so he’s got a jazz background and he played rock and roll in high school. He studied classical music at the college level and came out and did six or seven years in jazz clubs all over Europe and likes heavy metal. And, you know, I know a lot of musicians now who have a very eclectic taste in music, but in the early days they were very rigidly into camps. The funny thing about it is now, at the time when the musicians themselves I think were more orthodox, radio was more liberal, now I think that musicians are more liberal and radio is more orthodox –
JM: -- it’s like ironic because for my taste I’m always dialing around. I can’t find one radio station that I can leave my dial set on because I get sick of the similarity of any one program.
(Music up: “You Turn Me On I’m a Radio” (live version) / “Why Do Fools Fall in Love”)
PF: We didn’t hear from you for a while after that project and then you came back, new label, new era, a wonderful record, “Wild Things Run Fast,” filled with – I mean this is the love song album. This is Joni’s love song album. The obvious thing would be a tribute – to attribute that to the marriage that preceded the release of the album. Yes? No?
JM: Oh, yeah, this was definitely a celebration of being in love, you know? Ironically, true to form, my timing was atrocious (laughs) and at the time that this album was released, it was probably the most cynical period that I can recall in rock and roll. Sneering, studs, hell fires, M-TV at that time, every image that you saw was Satanic. This went on for – at the time this was released, this was – sado-maso images were dominant. And so when this album came out everybody said, again critically it was not particularly well received because it was considered kind of mushy.
And I remember thinking surely the goodness, you know, it’s not like I object to black leather studs and sneers and hell fires, but the dominance of it, is that all everybody wants? I mean is there to be nothing else now?
PF: I sure hope not.
JM: And all of a sudden what happened was along came this song (sings) “I want to know what love is,” and, man, it was a huge hit, it was like the thing that broke music open. And now I’m told – now I’m doing interviews for this album which is like again it’s into – again I’m probably out of sync with the times, I don’t know. Now I do a political album in the middle of what I’m told is (laughs) the new romantic age. And all these reviewers are saying to me, ‘oh, you know, what, no more love songs, Joni?’ So I said, well, look, you know, why don’t you go buy the last album (laughs).
(Music up: “Underneath the Streetlight” / “Chinese Café (Unchained Melody)”)
PF: From “Wild Things Run Fast” that’s Joni Mitchell and “Chinese Café” incorporating a bit of “Unchained Melody” as well. The best is still to come.
Do you realize what we have done here? We have almost brought things full circle – pardon the reference to yet another of your songs – would you do something live for us?
JM: Oh, well, I would love to.
(Music up: “The Three Great Stimulants” – Live Performance)
PF: Joni, thank you so much for the music. Good luck with the new album and thanks for being with us on Mixed Bag.
JM: Oh, you’re welcome. We should put in one plug: thanks to Manny’s for loaning me this guitar. (Laughs.)
Announcer: And thanks to Joni Mitchell once again for sharing so much of her music and her thoughts with Pete Fornatale on that very special and exclusive program which we were able to rebroadcast this morning on Mixed Bag here at WNEW-FM. Pete is preparing for the fourth annual Mixed Bag anniversary party at the Village Gate this afternoon. If you’re one of those many people who wanted to go but were not able to get tickets, do no despair. We are recording the festivities as we do every year and you can look forward to hearing them broadcast next Sunday from 8 to 11 on Mixed Bag. All the festivities this afternoon will be on next Sunday morning on Mixed Bag. Stay tuned for “Ticket to Ride” from 102.7 WNEW-FM in New York.