Transcribed from the audio tape by Lindsay Moon [Lindsay's Note: Joni was the only speaker with a mike, so the audio quality of everyone on the tape but Joni is very poor. Where possible, I've constructed a logical question. Where not possible, I've put "inaudible." Joni's comments are still very interesting.]
Q. I was just wondering, when was the last time you performed at a folk festival in Canada?
JONI MITCHELL: Oh, gee, that's got to go back years I think. I think the Mariposa Festival probably before I started recording. Of this I'm not sure. But the Mariposa, if somebody knows, '65? I really copped an attitude at the Mariposa Festival. They didn't want anybody with too much drawing power at a certain point and me when I got banned. (Laughs.) It did.
Q. Why have you decided to limit the number of live performances you've done over the last five years? I think it's only three.
JM: Well, I toured extensively in '82, nine months on the road, an international tour. I had poor health for most of the '80s. I had some -- every decade I have like a -- I have to go a few rounds with death, you know? So I had another tussle with poor health. And I'm a polio survivor for one thing, and there's a thing called post-polio syndrome. Your physiology is affected as it turns out, and I have an allergy to air conditioning, so a lot of flying brings on strange symptoms. So at that point it wasn't diagnosed as to what it was. So flying, which heavy touring requires, had to be held to a minimum.
Q. Do you plan to pick things up now or (inaudible)?
JM: Well I'm putting my toe in the water. I'm just testing it out again.
Q. How would you describe last night's experience (inaudible)?
JM: Oh, yeah, it was a very interactive audience as far as -- as well as warm, you know, so I enjoyed them very much. And the spectacle of it with the candles was wonderful.
Q. Any thoughts of playing some other folk festivals across Canada perhaps?
JM: You mean this year? It's pretty much over, the festival season. I'm releasing an album in October, late October, so at this point in September I go into heavy PR mode and that is international and lasts for about four months so it will continue after Christmas. Then we'll see if I'm still standing because that's a lot of flying too. Then I would like to tour, yeah, I would.
JM: Thank you. I've never played in Winnipeg.
Q. Why perform solo?
JM: Why solo? For this? For this event? Well, for one thing, I don't have a band, you know. It takes a lot of rehearsal with my music with a band. It's complex music. It's not simple. It's not folk music at all. You know, it's somewhere between jazz and classical music and pop, pop rhythms, but economics for one thing --
Q. The reason I asked that question is that after all the time you've had off (inaudible) it would be easier to come back. Would that be the case or not?
JM: No, not really. I mean I don't know whether you notice, but the way I play guitar is almost like a band. It's hard for players to get in on it, you know, the bass parts -- there is a bass part already in it, there is a drum part already in it, and the caliber of players that can play my music are very expensive.
JM: Crosby. (Laughs). Crosby got the tunings from me actually. There were about four tunings kicking around the folk scene when I started: D Modal, Open C, and Open G. I heard harmony in my head. I listened to a lot of jazz in high school and went to a lot of rock and roll dances and had classical proteges as playmates as a child, so, you know, I like a lot of the different kinds of music. And the chords that I heard in my head I couldn't get with my left hand so I just tuned the guitars. I have 50 different tunings. You heard about eight of them last night and they are of my own invention. It makes it difficult to remember. It's also like if any of you are typists -- I'm sure you are -- imagine that your typewriter letters, somebody comes in and puts them in a different place every day and then -- you know, it takes a lot of rehearsing to get your left hand accurate because some of the shapes are similar and your hand could go like a horse to the barn, you know, like in the wrong direction at any moment. Except for the bar chords, you can't err there. But wherever there's a shaped chord you're getting into a complex vocabulary of shaped chords because of the tunings, but as a compositional tool it coughs up very fresh harmonic movement.
Q. I detected a bit of a battle last night with the tunings (inaudible).
JM: Oh, yes. Well, you tune up in a different temperature and you go on and the lights hit the strings and because the tuning, some of them are so slack, one of the tunings has a B flat on the bottom which is extremely low, and sometimes the second string is flapping like a rubber band almost, and it's only through damping and comping that you get the tone out of it. So when they are that slack, they start --
Q. You were losing tune like towards the end of the song --
JM: Well, also there was a new -- you break strings a lot with tunings, and there was a new string on the one song. It hadn't stretched out properly and it let go about seven notes all of a sudden in the middle of the song. So, yeah, there's problems -- the tunings are problematic for performance but they're wonderful for composition.
Q. Tell us about your relationship with Wayne Shorter and the chemistry between the two of you now. Was it an immediate thing or you just started working with him?
JM: The first record that I worked with Wayne was on "Don Juan's Reckless Daughter." He was in a band called Weather Report, and Jaco Pastorius, who I was already working with, had just joined that band. And I flew to London to put them on. They had to leave on tour before I finished my album. I never played with Wayne before and I'm a painter first. I think about music in terms of painting and shapes, and anyone who I add as a sweetening color, I want him to play more than notes, I want him to play somewhat illustratively.
I don't -- I read music tediously and I don't know the numerical system or the alphabetical system so I have no language as a musician, only the language of metaphor. So a lot of times I'd be telling a piano player to play a Chinese wave, you know, a Japanese wave here. And they'd eventually get it, you know, like (hums) like arc back on it. But Wayne was the first musician having all those languages himself. His native tongue was metaphor.
So the first record that I put him on, he said, "Now, what I'm going to play is it's like when you're in Hyde Park and there's a nanny and a baby and a boat and you're just nudging it, you're just nudging it," and he played all these little dotted lines. So that was a thrill because he was the first player that ever spoke to me in terms of illustration. So I can't do a record without him now. Like I'll say to him, you know, "Okay, Wayne, you're the bird here," or "Play me some high heeled shoes." He knows exactly what I'm talking about (laughs).
Q. Everything almost seems over-produced in terms of hearing the essence of you playing last night was (inaudible) and I'm sure Terry was happy to have you come to his festival with all the experience when you could have gone to such a larger venue, a stadium or something.
JM: Well, I had a lot of choices. I picked two gigs this year. Edmonton was one. I heard it was a lovely festival. You know, and I like coming back home. You know, the prairies are my home. Everytime I come back here, the smells and, you know, it's exciting for me. Small things excite me. Wooden sidewalks excite me, you know, like sneezing at goldenrod excites me. (Laughs). Stupid things like that. I really enjoyed it. It was a good choice I feel.
Q. Do you still have that special place on the ocean?
JM: Yes. Yeah, I do. I go there to write. As much time as I can take up there. I've been taking longer and longer every year. I get up there and unplug the phone and they can't get ahold of me (laughs).
Q. Who made that (inaudible)?
JM: Oh, the little guitar? The Collins? He's a loaner from Austin and he makes it from a Martin. He makes Martins basically the way Martin used to make them, 300 instruments a year, hand-made. They're just superb. They're like '50's Martins used to be before they got mass-produced. I'm in love with that little guitar. It's a barker too, isn't it? It's very loud and sweet for a little guy.
Q. You told the Edmonton Journal in an interview earlier this month that one of the things that you were considering coming back to Edmonton was that you worried sometimes whether Canadians regarded you as an expatriate. I noticed in the crowd last night --
JM: No -- excuse me. I don't worry about that. Many do. "What side of the border did you write that song on, eh?" (Laughs). I'll say, "Well, did you like it?" You know, what if I wrote about Saskatoon in New York, or I wrote about New York in Saskatoon? Like, you can never tell when a song is going to strike you.
Q. There were some in the crowd last night who were yell- -- I heard some people yelling things on stage -- trying to say -- (inaudible). How do you feel about that?
JM: Well, in the context of last night, I thought it was a warm invitation. It depends how it's presented, you know. Bryan Adams called me up a while back, and the heat was on him on this Canadian content thing. And he was being persecuted for playing -- recording elsewhere or something, and they were treating him like a traitor. And he called me for assistance and I couldn't think of anything to say at the time. And I came up with an analogy later on that I think is a pretty good one, and that is, okay, what if the Dutch, you know, went through the Van Gogh Museum and said, "Oh, we can't hang that here. He painted that in Arles." Like it's -- they've accepted the fact that a Dutchman went abroad and did work in other countries.
But Canada is like -- it's very hard to get a beginning here, at least it was when I was starting out. The moment I crossed the border I was appreciated. I had a hell of a time getting hired here in the first place. And then, like I say, the Mariposa Festival was resentful of Neil and I for our success and we both had bad experiences. Neil gave up his citizenship. He called me up one day and said, "Let's go up" -- for some unknown reason we went to Mariposa. We didn't even take guitars but we were invited to play. Neil went first and he drew a lot of people from an old tiny fiddle concert that was going on simultaneously and it drew down a lot of resentment on him and me. I don't remember playing. I might have but --
Q. You played with Jackson Browne. I was there.
JM: I did play? Okay. Anyway, we took a lot of flak for that. It was like, "How come you guys when you get up there you get like that, eh?" You know (laughs). That kind of thing.
Q. You sing a lot about women's issues and I'm curious to know your thoughts on how far you think women have come in the last 20, 25 years?
JM: Well, the new album is a lot about women's issues. I don't generally sing a lot about women's issues. It's just that women in -- I don't know, like I said last night, whether it's gotten -- the treatment of women has gotten worse or it's just come out into the open, but it was an appalling statistic for me to learn that 50 percent of women in Canada are battered, 59 in British Columbia. And I have a lot of friends that weren't polled. I wasn't polled, for instance, so we don't know how accurate that is. But if that is an accurate statistic, that's tragic, you know.
And I saw another program that said every other woman will be raped in her lifetime. This also is appalling. Something is dreadfully wrong between the man and the woman. My songs have always been relationship-oriented between the man and the woman, not women's issues. You know, it just turns out that there's a lot more battering and decapitating, and bobbing (laughs). And strange events going on in the world all at once and you could not look away. And children packing guns and, you know, it's very strange times, and L.A. is, of course, an exaggerated version of these times in many ways.
Q. You said that you like coming back (inaudible). I wonder how much opportunity you get to do that as a private citizen (inaudible) and enjoy yourself rather than (inaudible).
JM: Well, I always assume I'm anonymous, you know. I move around and then, oops, sometimes it's pleasant and sometimes it's inappropriate. You're on your way to something and you're impeded, you know. But I like to drive around alone, and I've taken several trips across the States and across Canada driving by myself, you know. So I can -- you have to do that. You just have to take it. Because otherwise the cost of exploiting your talent is too great. It's too much loss of private freedom.
Q. We all really enjoyed your rendition of Woodstock again last night. I thought I might ask you, this being the anniversary, what Woodstock meant to your generation and how it affected your music?
JM: Well, Woodstock was just a concert, you know. It was just a concert. But the thing that was interesting about it, it was -- I played at some of the earlier ones building up to it, and it was rumored to be a pretty interesting one and there were hippies, white middle class kids in every town kind of being persecuted for being odd. Which was good for white middle class kids to experience. It was -- the hippie thing had some beauty to it, but I don't think anyone realized how many hippies there were until Woodstock. You know, suddenly they descended on this community and at first the community was aggravated by it, and then they kind of looked around and said, gee, these are just white middle class kids, you know, with funny hair and beads. And we realized, I think, as a generation that we had a voting bloc, not that our politics were very sophisticated.
I mean, we were a generation -- I was apolitical, basically, but I would say my generation was pretty much intrigued by anarchy, you know. They were dissatisfied with the old way but they had no plan. So when the old generation -- we railed against the generation before us and we had some valid arguments, but we had no plan to correct anything. So when they kind of turned it over and said, "Okay, you do it," everyone just started to go (sound) and started sucking their thumb and then you got the apathy of the '70's leading to yuppiedom, you know, and then yuppiedom spawned Generation X which is a generation of Nihilists. So I don't know what, you know, is going to happen next, you know (laughs).
Q. Did it affect your music? Did you find that there were doors opened after that experience that you were talking about that allowed the kind of music you wrote and the kind of music you sang more appreciated?
JM: No, it didn't affect me anyway except that I was a frustrated person who didn't get to attend. And I wrote a song about it which kind of glorified the event and probably made more of a legend of it than it would have, you know, in a way.
Q. Why weren't you there?
JM: I got -- I was supposed to play Sunday night, but I had to play Dick Cavett on Monday morning, and when we got to the airport it was a national disaster. It was mucky and I went to the airport with CSN. We played in Chicago the night before and we were all supposed to go in. We went with our manager, Elliott Roberts, and our agent, David Geffen. And it was deemed that there was no way in, so David and I went back into Manhattan, the boys rented some kind of a plane and got in and got out because they showed up at my TV show the next day, so ... But that night on TV, as I watched it on TV at Geffen's house and I was the girl that couldn't go to the party, that's what it felt like, so it was from that perspective that the song was written.
Q. So you were melancholy (inaudible) for the next three decades?
JM: Yeah (laughs). But, you know, there was some beauty in it too like there were some images, for instance, the bombers, "I dreamed I saw the bombers turning into butterflies ..." Well, you know, we were all fed up with that war. I was in a different position than most of my friends in that I entertained soldiers in Fort Bragg, I played for the soldiers. So I was in contact with boys coming and going from the war and draft dodgers. So I had a kind of a unique perspective on it and sympathy. There were a lot of kill-a-Commie-for-God-type guys that were nice guys otherwise. 'Forgive them for they know not what they do.' But they would come back, you know, all disillusioned with the reality of this dreadful war which was basically a drug war. It was like there was no righteousness to it, no reason for being. They come back with a sympathy for their enemy, you know. Either that or so messed up already they were just a killing machine and needed to go back and kill until they were killed because they were good for nothing else.
So when the bombers were going over at the Woodstock event, and they did it out of curiosity apparently, you know, they just kind of veered off and went to look at this big crowd, the contrast of the two camps, because America was divided, its youth was divided, into the gung-ho's and the, you know, all these kids that had popped acid and started thinking like Chief Seattle, you know (laughs).
Q. In 1975, you used the drummers from Burundi. I was wondering (inaudible) and have you followed the act (inaudible)?
JM: I saw the Burundi drummers play in England after the fact, you know. And it was interesting, you know, there's my band. Because I didn't know what those drums looked like, only that they had two sounds, a woody sound and a skin sound, and, you know, the massive ensemble sound of it. That was my favorite rock and roll track. I like the music of the Burundi province of Africa particularly --
JM: I had a record of African music, but the music of Burundi province in particular was interesting to me.
Q. Have you followed it since?
JM: When you say "follow it," do you mean go to concerts?
Q. Or listen to the music at all to find inspiration (inaudible)?
JM: I listen to -- yeah, I guess so. I listen to a lot of raw ethnic music still.
JM: I can't tell you really anything specific. I had a Russian friend, Jenya, and we spent many a Saturday night, some friends of mine and I, with his collection of -- I don't even know what half of it was. So let's say I absorbed a lot of ethnic music, anonymous ethnic music, origin unknown, but it still goes into your body and comes out in a song later, you know.
Q. Tell us about the show in Japan. I saw pictures of that (inaudible)?
JM: Yeah, it was really a great event. A lot of history around it. For one thing, the monastery that we played at was kind of a big park and the park was full of small, bowing deer. They were just delightful. You could buy biscuits on the grounds and put them in your mouth and go up to the deer and bow and he'd bow and then he'd eat the biscuit out of your mouth. So we spent the better part of one afternoon running around commingling with these little bowing deer, you know.
And there are several monastic structures on the property. The one that we played in front of where the stage was set up was the oldest wooden structure -- in the world?
(Male voice): It was built in 800 -- (inaudible) the oldest and the largest --
JM: -- in the world, I think. It burnt, like, a thousand years ago, part of it, so part of it is even older, but they don't really count it so they say it's a thousand years old, but some of it -- the structure is older than that. And the last time that music was held in front of this building was in -- was 1300 years before our concert, and they invited their enemies, the Chinese and the Koreans, to play there. So the abbott of the place was kind of excited until he heard the power of it because this is such a serene spot, all these little bowing deer and then, you know, little breezes and contemplation pools and things and then, you know, there was some screaming loud music in that show. He had to kind of adjust. But it was an interesting braiding of cultures, I think. Quite successful. Bobby played with the symphony and it was a miracle that he held to his structures (laughs).
Q. Sound good?
JM: Oh, yeah, I thought he was excellent. It was hard for him because he's used to stretching his forms and he's got his own time, you know, and he had to hold into pattern. I played with the Chieftains and a Chinese flautist named Rouie -- well, you could call him "Rouie" or "Louie" because somewhere in-between lay the truth. And Wayne Shorter of course. And Wayne played with Japan's Miles Davis. I don't know if you saw the show, but the night that we didn't film -- we filmed two nights and we played three nights, and the first night always -- the one that the cameras were blocking their shots was the one. I mean we were all so much better the night they didn't shoot. And the relationship between this wild trumpet player and Wayne on the first night was just killer-great. It was some of the best jazz I ever heard.
Q. Was it shot for cable (inaudible)?
JM: It was shot for cable, yeah. They -- yeah, they ran it in -- in Europe it was live broadcast. Well, it went out live to 50 countries, and I'm not sure what they were. America is getting it on tape. That's -- they exploit the big market that way.
Q. How would you compare it to "The Wall" show?
JM: It was similar. A lot of the same people involved in the production. Of course the setting was so different but they were both dramatic kind of historic- feeling events. They could have been two in a series. I think that's what they're going to attempt to do is six more very similar.
Q. Your songs are very poetic in structure and in imagery. Of course everyone has their inspirations if not their influences. What poets in particular have been influences do you think or inspirations for your work?
JM: Well, I don't really like -- I never liked poetry in school. I used to write it but I didn't like it because I didn't like the way it was taught and a lot of it was archaic, you know. 'Ode to a Daffodil' didn't mean that much to me, you know. And I had a very good teacher in the seventh grade who marked me like a college student in terms of writing poetry and insisted on me writing in my own blood. And it was very instrumental in the shaping of me as a poet. I would have to give him a lot of credit.
Bob Dylan, "Positively 4th Street," that particular song showed me that American -- I remember thinking the American pop song has finally grown up. You can sing about anything now. You know, "you've got a lot of nerve to say you are my friend." Just in that statement, it was a different kind of song than I ever heard, you know. And I never thought of songs and poetry as being -- to me they were apples and oranges. I loved "Tutti Frutti." Lyrics weren't important to me. I was a dancer. So if you could dance to it, I didn't care if the words were any good. But I wrote poetry secretively, you know. (Laughs). Didn't show it to anybody.
Q. A lot of folk music festivals have expanded their borders to many other different kinds of music. Does it make it easier these days for musicians to become less typecast, less suited for one particular style, get outside of what they (inaudible)?
JM: I think it's still difficult in the commercialization of it because radios grab -- they say, okay, we're going to take boys from 16 to 22 and they like this, you know, and then you just get that all day long. Radio has been kind of locked in that way. And a lot of people fell through the cracks. In L.A. I don't know anyplace else on the radio station. I know in Canada they play like three songs of mine over and over again so, you know, it's like I only wrote three songs basically and those -- whereas in L.A. they play me on a station called The Wave which is kind of a jazz, not instrumental music on it, jazz-ish station.
Now there's a new FM station there that's quite broad, and there are a lot of people that weren't getting any airplay. I imagine right now it's very successful. It's got a -- I don't know how they rate those things if their listenership falls off it may become more formulated but, no, basically it's like churches. They don't want you to be a Baptist-Buddhist-Catholic, you know. They say you have to pick one and fight fiercely against the others, so that I lost my airplay when I made the "Mingus" album. The radio just cut me off. An expatriate once again. I've been kicked out of every school of music there is. Nobody knows what I do, you know. It doesn't fit. But now I've spawned some imitators so there's a school of people who also, you know, woe be to the person who wants to emulate my music because they wouldn't get on the air. Now there's a place for all of us, in L.A. at least.
Q. When you look back at your body of work, is there any particular albums that you feel where you got exactly what you wanted or that are particular favorites of yours, and to my knowledge there isn't a "Best of Joni Mitchell" record yet, is there?
JM: No. No I've kept that at bay as long as I -- I can't keep it -- they're going to make me do it now. I just signed a new contract, and I had to sign that I will do that now. But I wanted to keep my catalogs fluid, you know. I didn't want -- I just didn't like the idea.
Q. Do you get to pick the songs on it?
JM: Oh, yeah. I've got artistic control. That's one thing that's good.
JM: Well, I work on an album until I'm satisfied with it. You know, I've had the luxury of doing that. You know, there are things I would go back and change, but a lot of it holds up. You know, I think I got it right the first time.
There's a track here and there that I would like to cut again maybe in a different way. But, you see, I'm not -- I made 13 albums without a producer, which is unheard of. I don't think there's anybody else in the business that ever did that. Because I don't -- to me, I said, "I'm not lettuce. What do I need a producer for?"
In the beginning all you had to do was go in with your guitar and sing. And David Crosby produced my first album but basically he didn't. He just said he was going to so that they wouldn't try to make me into folk rock and laminate. So the record sold moderately and as long as the company made a profit then you had some freedom.
So the next 13 I made with an engineer with no producer. That way I can keep my -- Mozart didn't have a producer, you know what I mean? I don't need an interior decorator for my music. All the mistakes, the things you like about it and don't like about it -- evolved. I have no mechanical aptitude. So he turns it on and I play it. I've been able to fortunately make -- I don't have the regrets of other artists who were interior decorated out of their art, you know. They're all my mistakes and victories.
Q. We heard one collaboration between you and Don Freed last night. Don Freed's a real well-known musician in these parts. I wondered if you are co-writing with him?
JM: Well, we wrote that one, didn't we?
Q. Are you going to write any more?
JM: I don't know.
Q. Okay. I was just wondering if that's the sole --
JM: Yeah, that's his lyric and I set it to music.
Q. Have you known him since you lived in Saskatoon (inaudible)?
JM: He's a friend of my mum's. Because they both still live there and we became friends recently. But we've known each other, probably been in the same room, for 30 years.
JM: Oh, yeah. I mean since the London show, I have probably as much material. I've gone through two periods since the London show. When was that? I think it was '88. I think it was about three years ago. Because I go back and forth between drawing and painting and the camera. So I've had a show in L.A., quite a large show, of photographs since that time and Scotland. Also I had an exhibition and I've gone back to small landscapes like mountainscapes. I went back into Gaugin and Van Gogh-land, that period.
Q. Any chance we could get to see an art show (inaudible)?
JM: I guess that depends on organization and willingness and -- to -- it would be nice to send one across the continent, you know, like -- because, like I say, it's hard to exploit -- there's time to develop your painting talent and poetry and your music, but there isn't time to exploit them all. You know, like galleries want several shows a year, and that's the tricky thing, designating time.
Q. Listening to some of the music off your latest album, it's nice to return to the pretty strong vocal quality that you have, but what I notice about it (inaudible) most of it seems fairly quiet, meditative piece, nothing really up-tempo. Is that the result of a long period of time of doing this, or a specific objective you were working toward?
JM: No, it's just, you know, they don't come out like a litter of puppies. They come one at a time here and there, and I think it's hard to rock hard late at night by yourself, you know, but it's easy to kind of tickle the ivories.
Q. What I wondered about it is you've been talking about (inaudible) with the Chieftains and Wayne Shorter and all these wonderful, talented people and whether that influence has an effect on somebody. If you're with Wayne Shorter, for instance, after he just left Weather Report and they're pretty boppy, does that energy affect your (inaudible?)
JM: No. Not at all. As a matter of fact, Wayne is such a -- he's a composer in his own right and he's so sick of bebop. He's been through all of that. He's searching -- Wayne's talent, his own composition, is turning much more to classical composition. He's starting to write movie scores and things. You can hardly get him to play a bebop lick. His playing on this album is -- see, I just explained how I work with Wayne. I give him a minimal amount of pictorial instruction and he listens. He plays off the words. Most instrumental players don't. He's a pictorial thinker. He's a genius really. And so I just give him 12 empty tracks and go, "Okay, play high-heeled shoes or you're a bird," or, you know. "Oh, it's like acting," he says.
And watching him explore -- he never plays the same thing twice, and he may have an idea in Take 1, and play the idea that is the next leading idea on Take 7. So I compose him. I move him around with the Fairlight, I edit him, I cut notes out. I called him in to overdub one note on the first piece because he has an ascending line but he doesn't get to the apex, so he came and blew one note and left, you know. So it's very compositional the way we work, and he just says to me, "Okay, sculpt!" You know, in that atmosphere he doesn't have to worry -- he's just free to scribble and from the scribblings, this piece is magnificent, that's experimental, it's not congealed, it pays off four takes later. He knows I'm going to take his bad line out and keep his good line. And it's a wonderful way to work.
Q. (Inaudible) news conference we had a very strict access to television people, and today there's great accessibility with this news conference, but generally speaking do you have any local problem with the media? Do you have any problems locally?
JM: Yeah, I just feel that these festivals -- I remember when the media first began to intrude, and I'm glad they did in retrospect. That was on the Big Sur Festival, and I'm glad that there's a document of that. But the year before the festival was so much more fun and beautiful when everything just went up into the air and because I hadn't played for a long time and because there's a lot of -- it's exploitive in a way of me, you know, and it would just be simpler to just say this is a concert, period. You know, today this is a press conference. So, you know, I'm yours.
Q. Talk about the folk music and classical music (inaudible)?
JM: Wait a minute. Now, jazz, my music -- I have one jazz album, just to get something straight, and that's Mingus's contribution because I set words to his music and there's a couple of my songs that are jazzy. But any jazzer will tell you that my harmony is not jazz harmony, and my chordal movement is not jazz chordal movement. As a matter of fact, a lot of jazz musicians who are real orthodox jazz musicians really are offended by it. It's wrong to them. There are laws, just like there are laws of Cubism, to jazz movement and they get kind of defined and locked in and this is -- like Wayne said, "Well, what are these chords? These chords are not -- they're not guitar chords. They're not piano chords. What are these chords?" You know, so it's my own harmony.
Q. And you're talking about how your songs (inaudible) relationships in the past (inaudible) and I was wondering how the lyrics and the music (inaudible) just over the last two albums.
JM: Well, I can't remember really how the -- I usually write the music first and set the lyrics to it. It's harder that way, it's more interesting that way. That way you know by the score so to speak, by the complex emotion of every chord that -- and the release to another emotion, because that's what they are, emotions releasing into other emotions. Here you can put descriptive passage, here there's an ironic element to this chord, here you have to make a direct statement. You've got a very skeletal structure that the music is going to dictate before you even have a theme.
So, like, the one I do remember because it was one of the later ones was the "Magdalene Laundries." That music I had -- I tuned the guitar to the sounds of the British Columbia coastline, to the birds, to the -- to the tonality of the day, like a raga. They're like ragas, these tunings. And it was -- I had intended to put a cheerleader lyric on it like I mentioned last night and then I bought this newspaper and it was -- I didn't tell you all of the story in the newspaper.
The reason that the Magdalene Laundries came into the news again in 1994, you know, 1970 they were closed down was because the nuns in the Dublin Magdalene Laundries had sold eleven and a half acres to a realtor, and they started plowing for development and they unearthed 130 bodies of women in unmarked graves. So not only were these women incarcerated for life but they were just kind of thrown into the ground.
And it was really -- it just seems that there were so many -- like I said, I'm not a feminist because it's too apartheid. Yes, women have problems. I know that. But we -- you know, we don't get paid as well and all of those things, but the general feminist stance is too apartheid. It's ineffective, I think. It's easy to just dismiss like a man, I can think like a man (laughs). You know, whereas there is some I think practical feminism like the Irish leader. I think that too is really -- I really liked what she was doing in terms of it was more men and women discussing women's problems rather than women snarling at men, you know.
But when you think about it, this has been a really historically strange year, you know, for women. Between the Bobbit case and the O.J. case. These are the climactic and the ghoulish aspects of it, but there are hundreds and thousands of stories like this and they are leaking -- more than any other year that I can recall I heard more appalling tales of the male/female relationship.
Q. My question was to be about the Magdalene Laundry. I grew up a mile away from the convent that brought that to light. Since you pretty well answered that, I'd like to say publicly thank you for coming to the festival and maybe unlike Mariposa of the '60's we're not trying to restrict the audience and certainly helped broaden it a little bit. You're welcome back anytime, any year. Join the house band if you like. Neil is welcome back too if he'd like to come.
JM: Thank you.
Q. Joni, the happy song (inaudible). I enjoyed the concert but it wasn't sufficient numbers (inaudible). It seems to me that there is a Joni Mitchell signature sound on "Court and Spark," and the L.A. music machine (inaudible) but I wonder if you have any kind of information (inaudible) perhaps just a general sense (inaudible) create songs that are perhaps more acceptable to people (inaudible) the music machine and radio --
JM: You mean with the L.A. Express?
Q. No, no. I mean just this business entirely. Basically (inaudible).
JM: Oh, the star-making machine.
Q. All of a sudden you shut down. (Inaudible).
JM: No, but that happens to everybody. People are trained on the North American continent to get sick of things. And you have to get the "new and improved" to get them to buy anything. Every career undulates. You know, I did some of my best work at a time when I'd fallen from grace. Same with Bobby. You're lucky. You had five years of development when I started out generally. The attention span for an artist was longer than it is now. They reel you up and reel you down a lot quicker. It's tremendous resentment of what people perceive to be successful so the moment that the masses will support an artist when they're underground, as soon as they go into the public eye, the press attacks them. And people, because they're not educated to question authority and basically think for themselves for the most part, they're manipulable. Some of my best records, "Hejira," for instance, were pretty much slandered. You know, so I have no --
JM: So I have no --
JM: So that doesn't faze me, that stuff. I know when it's good and when it isn't.
Q. (Inaudible) the thing that I --
JM: You have to learn that, you know. (Laughs.)
Q. (Inaudible) cerebral kind of complex thinking in your music.
JM: Some people like that (laughs).
Q. Yeah, well I do too. It still is something that kind of puzzles me because I think that you love life (inaudible). I think of (inaudible). Are you a Muslim?
Q. What was there a reason for that? (Inaudible).
JM: I can tell you pretty much. My maternal and my paternal grandmother -- okay, I'll start with my father's mother -- wept for the last time in her life behind a barn in Norway at the age of 14. She cried. She wanted a piano. And she said, "Dry your eyes, you silly girl, you'll never have a piano." She moved to New Norway here, raised 11 children, "There, there, my babies," giving, giving, with a nasty drunk for a husband, you know, like, so she really, on paper, lived a kind of a horrible life. Giving, giving, giving, like an inspired, God-loving martyr.
My maternal grandmother played the organ and wrote poetry and she was a spitfire and in her frustration she married an oxen plowing prairie settler, who thought -- and she had a gramophone and opera records and classical music. And he thought she thought she was too good for him. He broke her records at one point. She kicked the kitchen door off the hinges in her frustration.
So I'm the one that got the musical gene, you know. It landed in female and it had to be taken home for the sake of those women I believe.
Q. (Inaudible) relative (inaudible) my great-grandfather founded.
JM: Is that right? Well, this was Anderson.
Q. Do you get much of a chance to listen to other peoples' music in your spare time? Are there any other songwriters who've impressed you (inaudible) rap (inaudible)?
JM: Well, I had rap records when I was in high school. Oscar Brown, Jr. Rap's an old pimp's form. You know, pimps used to make up their rhymes standing on the curb waiting for the women. That's why it's so disrespectful to women, you know, 'my bitch is badder than your bitch,' you know, that kind of thing. And in this day of crack, you know, it was better when there was still some heart in the street life, when it was booze. But with the crack life there was none. I mean it really vulgarized, the songs and got worse and worse, but I think that there are young rappers that are politically inspired and occasionally you hear something good. And melody is beginning to slip back into it. And one thing that rap did was it so killed melody so broadly for so long that it's going to come back with a vengeance is my optimism, you know.
Q. With the number of records that you have, are you finding your creative forces (inaudible)?
JM: No, it's not the same and it's not methodical. The tunings keep coughing up fresh, melodic movement -- ooh! -- so that all I have to do is twist it into some unknown territory and have to rediscover the neck again, which makes it hell for performing without mistakes but for going on without becoming methodical, it seems to me that it's infinite. So musically I'm as excited as I was as a kid, maybe more, you know, because with the advent of synthesizers and things now I can orchestrate. Some people think somebody scribbled all over my music, but really it's my composition, I'm just expanding my palette, you know. You know, I have some craft I would say but I don't rely on craft. I still rely on inspiration, you know, it's no spottier than it ever was. It's -- you know.
JM: Just twist it into a tuning and take off.
Q. A new recipe.
JM: Yeah, it's like a new recipe.
Q. Joni, this is a personal question, but you've smoked six cigarettes in the last --
JM: Oh, that's nothing. It's good for me.
Q. (Inaudible) Have you ever tried to stop?
JM: Yeah. Many times.
Q. What do you think would happen to your voice?
JM: Oh, my high end would come back I'm sure. Yeah, it would clear up, this husk from smoking.
Q. But you've tried to stop (inaudible)?
JM: If you knew the history of my smoking cures, it's just -- everytime I quit I break a leg or -- it just seems that I'd be healthier to keep smoking than to quit. I'd have to go into a long history for you to know what I know (laughs).
Q. (Inaudible) James Brown's "How Do You Stop" and why Seal?
JM: Seal is a friend and -- let's see. Larry Klein played me "How Do You Stop?" when it came out, I guess, on James's record, and I didn't think that much of it. I kind of went -- ho-hummed it at first hearing. Then he did a show out in Detroit called James Brown and Friends -- I think that was the title of it -- terrific roster. You know, Aretha and so on. Did you ever see that? Well, in the context of that show, that song was outstanding. He did it very, very slowly and, "Relaxin'," he said and he just kicked way back on it. And it really got to me.
I'll tell you a funny story about the song. Gloria and I, one night we went to see Eric Anderson play in McCabe's which is a folk club in L.A. So Eric called me up on stage to sing some song that I'd sung years ago with him on a record. Then the audience got me to stay and I played a couple of songs, "Cherokee Louise" and "How Do You Stop?" So Eric said, "Come on back to my hotel afterwards. I've got to take Bobby Columby home, but I'll meet you there."
So Gloria and I went to his hotel. We were going to party. There were some people coming over. It was a residential area, and the hotel, you go down some stairs into the building and -- so we're sitting in the lobby and we're waiting for Eric to return. He doesn't come. I go up the stairs and I look right and look left. No Eric. Come back. I come back and sit some more. I go up the stairs, look right, no Eric. Third time I'm going up, I meet a man in a plaid shirt walking a dog on the steps and he stops and he points at me and he goes, (gasping), "Joni Mitchell!" I went, (gasping), "A man with a dog!"
So he said, you know, "What are you doing here?" I said, "Oh, we're waiting on Eric Anderson. We're going to have a party, you know, what are you doing here?" So he said, "Well, I'm a songwriter," and I said, "Oh, you're a songwriter. What do you write?" He said, "Well, I don't sing them myself. I write for other people." "Oh, who?" He said, "Well, James Brown." I said, "James Brown? I just sang a James Brown song tonight." "Oh," he said, "which one?" I said, "How Do You Stop?" He said, "I wrote that song." (Laughs). So that's how I met a man with a dog.
Q. You've seen a lot of your friends from the '70's and '80's sort of take the plunge with the excess of all the money that's come in. I was wondering how difficult it was --
JM: I have? Now, wait a minute. What excesses of money? This is, this is --
Q. What would you say about David Crosby or people like that? How difficult is it to watch friends sort of unravel in the public eye?
JM: Huh. (Pause). Well, Graham had to look at David unraveling more than I did, you know. Like, I caught a couple of glimpses of it. It wasn't a pretty sight, especially because David's eyes were distinctive. He had eyes like brown sapphires. They put off -- stars came off of them, especially when he was happy. You know, he'd squint a little and stars would come off them. So I did happen to look into those eyes at one point and see a void. Just nothing. And that was kind of -- but I kind of lost contact with -- especially when they go that far and, you know, they have a different circle of friends at that point.
Q. The Indians call this time now the quickening. Last night you mentioned that you wondered if we were speeding up. I was just wondering (inaudible)?
JM: Well, the Hopis said that, eh? Well, I can understand. The Hopi prophecy, you know, they say that the last world ended in flood and this one ends in fire and the Hopi are very strong spiritual people. And the day would come, the quickening, or the beginning of the decline in their mythology comes the day that they can't collect the snakes for their rain dance.
In August they grow this stubby corn in cracked dirt that any farmer in the world will tell you you're not going to grow anything there, and they plant every seed with a prayer, you know. And then they have to get this little bit of water in this area that doesn't get any rain in August, otherwise they get nothing. And they accomplish that by dancing with live snakes in their teeth. And they've traditionally for hundreds of years gathered those snakes in a certain area.
Q. So they make it rain by dancing?
JM: Yeah. They say they're the lightning in the ground. They're also the gossips. They're the messengers between the poles. They dance with them in their teeth, as many snakes as they can catch in three days, and there's two dancing partners that dance -- two tandem dancers and two referees. And then a whole line of animal priests that keep the groove, right? And they dance a certain amount of steps and then they put the snake on the ground and the referee with centrifugal force comes and he puts it back in the pit and they're acquainted with all the snakes they can catch in three days.
Well, the area where they catch their snakes, three or four years ago, is polluted so the snakes moved. So they're -- that's what they mean I think by the time is -- all of the Aboriginal peoples of the world are entering into their quickenings. The Aborigines in Australia, the end of the world comes for them when the young no longer carry their bones to the dream caves. Well, youth has abandoned their religion so that kind of -- so almost every --
Q. (Inaudible) youngest member is 15 years old.
Q. Their youngest -- they've stopped having children.
JM: So there's no new blood going into it.
Q. (Inaudible) is your birthday the 14th?
JM: You're a 14? Scorpio-land. (In a sinister-sounding voice) Scorpio. (Laughs.)
Q. Tell us more about the new album. What's your favorite track on this? Which was the most difficult?
JM: I can't speak of them in terms of degrees of difficulty. "Not To Blame" was pretty sparse. It was pretty much just piano and voice, but it seemed incomplete to me for a long time. That was --
Q. Is that about O.J.?
JM: It's O.J.-esque. It was written long before he perhaps did his dirty deed.
Q. Sorry, is there one on the album?
JM: A favorite?
Q. No, specifically about the O.J. incident?
JM: No, but it's about wife battering. "Not To Blame."
Q. So you mentioned something last night about (inaudible).
JM: Well, I said that it was interesting that the batterer -- favorite day for wife batterers was the Rose Bowl game, that there was somehow a correlation between football and slamming your wife into the floor (laughs).
Q. We were (inaudible) for the first three songs and need to talk about ourselves, but the question I want to ask is songs like "Hejira," (inaudible) songs that refer back to your childhood, are there often places that are stark reality to yourself that you use as a reference point? Do you go back and pick up the paper and bring in other experiences into a single song?
JM: You would hope so. Like you take a song like "Song for Sharon Bell." That song jumps all over the place. You're coming back on the Staten Island ferry, you're passing the Statue of Liberty. It jumps up to a reservation in Ontario where the little Indian kids -- Indians that go into the I-bar world of Manhattan come from one reservation where they played on these metal bridges. You know, they grew up with no fear of heights. Then it jumps to Maidstone, Saskatchewan, then it jumps back to Central Park, a hotel looking on the skaters and so on.
So you never know when you're writing with all your visual files of moments, what moment might not be triggered off as a remembrance against something quite diverse, you know. Yeah, there's just -- like, for instance, in "Borderline," there's a line "like a swan caught on the grass -- even a swan caught on the grass will draw a borderline."
I saw in upstate New York in a lake some people got out -- there was a swan with babies and there was -- it's a good thing we were there because there was a bully kind of guy and he was aggressing on them and they were caught on the grass and they're clumsy out of water and she was backing up trying to back her babies into the water and she'd pick up twigs and build a kind of a crude fence and drop them like that with authority saying 'Don't come across my line!' And it was such a pathetic defense against this guy who had really bad vibes. I mean I think he would have strangled this bird, I think, if we hadn't been there, you know.
But I always kept that image in my head, that swan building this defense which perhaps, you know, like playing possum, animals have flimsy defenses, but somehow they're honored within their own. Only man doesn't pay them -- that's no defense at all, I'm going to kill you (laughs).
Q. I'll just go back to "Cherokee Louise," I'll drive over the Broadway Bridge with more reverence next time.
Q. After (inaudible) last night and then hearing the album today, I really enjoyed hearing it stripped down with just the guitar and then I thought some people (inaudible).
JM: Well, I always start that way. I always start that way, but I make it as much for me as for the public. And I think that in the long run, that there's a minimal amount of layering on this album, and it takes -- it's designed to take a lot of listenings. You know, it's not designed to impart everything at first hearing. You know, the more you listen to it I think eventually the more beautiful it will become to you.
Q. I'm thinking of how Bob's lifestyle -- because he's gone back to just himself, and how wonderful those two sound (inaudible).
JM: No, no, I started this with that idea but as I went along -- [gap in tape] ... I think what's been added is enhancing. Especially Wayne. Wayne's playing is beautiful. A lot of people can't hear Wayne. He's too good. A lot of people prefer lesser saxophonists. But if you listen to him, like on -- he plays high heels like "skittering like a cat on stone" in the last verse of "Yvette" when she's walking along he goes doot-doot. If I was to do a video, I would synchronize a woman, close-up of high heels walking to Wayne's solo. There's a lot of stuff that he plays in there that is just kills me, you know. By the time I've got my performance down, I'm sick of it. Now I want to add something so that if I hear it on the radio or something, there's something for me to listen to (laughs).
Q. Can I just ask if you remember recording "Laughing" for Crosby's album? "Laughing" for Crosby's album.
JM: What about it?
Q. Do you remember recording that because it's just beautiful and you sound like Wayne Shorter's saxophone.
JM: Oh, no. I don't remember that.
Q. From Crosby's first album.
JM: Hm, I'm singing on?
JM: Oh. (Laughs.) I don't remember everything, no. I'd forgotten.
Q. I'm curious about your collaboration with the Chieftains. How did that come about?
JM: Well, we were told that in Japan we were supposed to braid in -- we had about 10 days to do it -- well, not even 10, we had about six, I guess, before they started filming to go there and scout around, and the Chieftains were being treated as a Japanese band really. I mean you could play with the Chieftains. Then there was a Western pick-up band with Keltner and so on. But as much as you could braid in to the Japanese culture so much the better. So I had this song which was an Irish story and I thought, you know, again, the tone poem aspect of it all, an Irish band playing it would be interesting. It isn't the way I recorded it. I recorded it much simpler than that, but given the opportunity with a new song with a theme like that, it was that simple. And then it was just rehearsing it and trying different things.
Q. So was there only the one song? Just the "Magdalene Laundries"?
JM: Yeah. Yeah.
Q. How did you enjoy that (inaudible)?
JM: Oh, yeah, it was fun.
Q. Did you enjoy that?
JM: Oh, yeah, it was great. It was a big band.
Q. I recall reading a long time ago that you were involved in a film project? Do you ever see (inaudible) when you get involved (inaudible)?
JM: That was a really hard project. I was initially approached to write the title song. It was a project called "Love." And it was an American who began it. He had the idea to get 10 prominent American novelists to write 10 short stories. He chose 10 then giving the theme of love and sex and he said when he got it back it was just cliched, you know. So he decided to give it to 10 women. So Liv Ullman was one. The woman who wrote "Cromwell," Lady -- I forget her name -- oh, who were all the participants? There was an American -- I'm terrible at proper nouns. The girl who wrote "Hockey." Do you remember that movie? She was a screenwriter.
Anyway, of the 10 projects when it came right down to it, I had just gone to a Halloween party right around this time and I had gone as a Black man and I was -- just as a costume, but to my amazement I was treated like a Black man. In the end there were people who photographed me, and people I'd lived with, and nobody -- the costume was so complete that no one -- so I wrote a story based on love and sex about that night, going to a Halloween party dressed as a Black man and your ex-boyfriend is there with his new girlfriend, they've come as Father and Mother Time, and there you are stuck in this black paint and wishing you'd come in something pink and fluffy, you know, and that was the essence of my play.
Well, the woman who directed it, Mai Zetterling, also had a play in and she was going through the change. She was not a happy camper. And to make it worse, she was going through the change and she had rented a house with two lovers who made out morning, noon, and night right over her head. So she came to work in a terrible mood every day (laughs). And my picture did not go well because it was a very difficult thing. I acted in it, wrote it, and requested editing. I should have directed it, but I didn't think I had the knowledge, and I still feel that she sabotaged a lot of the scenes.
Q. Did it ever come out?
JM: It played small film festivals here and there. Blessedly it went under. I was glad to see it kind of cack.
Q. Do you do any videos to go with your songs?
JM: Oh, I've done many.
JM: I suppose so. You know, I mean with Geffen Records, they didn't spend much money on anything, but David always believed promote minimally, you know, cream rises to the top. So I had no budget for videos. So I went to Tokyo and sold a lot of my paintings and I took that money and put it back into videos.
But without the company's support, you couldn't get an outlet for it. So there was a cable movie show that showed a lot of shorts. They showed "The Snip" and they showed -- let's see what else did they have on there? "Le Douve" (?) You know, they had these shorts running and they took a couple of mine and they were going to run like in high rotation for a long time. And then the guy who owned the station shot his girlfriend and shot himself, and it turned into a closed network sports station. So there went that outlet. But they exist. I've done a lot of videos but -- the other thing is M-TV went pretty much grunge across -- there was no real outlet in video for my generation except for maybe Neil because he was grandfather grunge and ... But since Tony Bennett did it, it must be opening up again (laughs).
JM: Because I think that generally speaking -- I'm not down on feminism, you know, nor am I down on women's issues, but that the feminists have caused -- feminists come a lot of them from the amazon camp. The leadership comes from man haters, and as a result it's been infected because it's too apartheid.
Q. But that may well be the leaders as opposed to the grass roots (inaudible).
JM: Yeah, but I think you're misunderstanding me. I think you're seeing -- I'm on your side. I'm a woman. You know what I mean? But I think that the feminists set things -- the feminists created this.
Q. I know a lot of people around are going to participate in some of the workshops. I don't know if you know yet, but what are your plans for the weekend?
JM: Well, I've got a lot of relatives. You know, they showed up here in a wave last night, and I've committed to some family socializing and, you know, I'm going to catch as much of the weekend as I can also. Thank you.
Q. I just want to mention that the line from "Borderline," "every notion we subscribe to is just a borderline," I'm looking for the words to explain this to us.
JM: Well, anytime you take a stance you come against an opposition. It's kind of a boggling thought like in regard to liberty itself. Because I was a freedom -- my early songs are like 'we love our freedom,' and the deeper I got into it, the harder it was to really find it lately. It became almost mythological. The more of it I had, the less of it I had. And it's so easy, like she and I had a kind of a minor difference over terminology when we're not in different worlds at all. So there are words like "God," oh, my God -- there's a word that will (sounds) borderlines spring up around that word. Orthodoxies, you know.
Q. Too much jargon?
Q. Where did you grow up? (Inaudible).
JM: Fort McLeod, Alberta.
Q. When did you leave?
JM: We moved to Calgary, I think, when I was about a year and a little bit. So, infancy. I was only there for maybe months of my infancy.
Q. That would be enough, though, that I would think that they would want to have you as (inaudible).
JM: Statue made? (Laughs).
Q. Haven't they?
Q. The town fathers are have never come to you?
JM: No. I went back there a couple of years ago to take a look at it, though, and I was looking for -- my father was in the service so he was stationed there during the war. And we rented a room from a woman named Mrs. Crow, Grandma Crow. I had four grandmas. Grandma Crow was one of them and she was a Cockney and she taught me -- she realized that you could program me like a mynah bird. She used to program me full of stanzas and poetry which is interesting. She probably prepared me for all of this. (In a broad Cockney accent) "Barber, Barber, shave a pig, how many hairs to make a wig, four and 20 that's enough, give the barber a pinch of snuff." Lord knows what else she had me sing.
Q. (Inaudible) from Europe (inaudible). Do you see an artist being responsible for (talked about?) issues whether AIDS or other things that are affecting him?
JM: I don't want to say what I think other artists should do, but for myself, yeah, in a certain point. I didn't feel as I entered into this the responsibility. I thought, you know, truth and beauty, like, used to be the artistic pursuit anyway. But at a certain point because of the elevation that we were given for whatever reason, the church had failed, the government had failed, and coming up on Woodstock, musicians had been put in the positions of leaders, and sorry leadership at that, you know, but they had been. So I thought, oh, my God, if we have this many ears, I felt personally that anything that I -- that came across my path that felt nutritious to me, that I had a responsibility to somehow get it into the art. You know, to pass on any nutritional information that I felt. But my peers didn't necessarily feel that.
Q. I didn't hear properly. "Sex Kills" is a pretty dramatic-type song. Can you explain a little bit about what it's about?
JM: Yeah, I mean it's kind of in the song. It was the last night of the riots and I saw this car and it had -- it was a stretch limo and the license plate was "JUST ICE." So I started thinking about justice and I got Plato's Republic, read, you know, the birth of Western thought basically, but it was ridiculous. You know, I mean -- the play begins with -- the antagonist goes around and asks the people "What is justice?" and all he can find -- the people say, "just the strong doing what they can and the weak suffering what they must." And then Socrates says to have justice you must have a just society, and he creates a society that's just to him, but it would be unjust to me
(Part Two of this article is here