The license plate read "Just Ice." On a car driving around in Los Angeles' Brentwood section, it could have been another hip-hop nickname.
But when Joni Mitchell spotted it, she saw the word "justice" broken apart. And that planted the idea for what became the theme of her 17th and latest album, "Turbulent Indigo."
"It got me generally thinking, ‘What is justice, and what is injustice?' " explains Mitchell, 50, a new nominee for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame who keeps residences in Los Angeles and in rural British Columbia. "Injustice is everywhere. You see acts of justice as small kindnesses here and there. But for the most part you see that the culture is greedy and unfair and violent and sick.
"Coincidentally, in my search for justice, the injustices that seemed to be jumping out at me from most places were women's issues."
"Turbulent Indigo," due in stores Tuesday, offers a wide ranging examination of these issues across its 10 songs. Some are angry; others are brooding. And the album is filled with images of the suffering and sulking – some compared to Job and to Blanche Du Bois from "A Streetcar Names Desire" – beaten down by the injustices society has wrought.
"I never was a feminist," explains Mitchell, who co-produced the album with husband Larry Klien. "I always thought the feminists were too apartheid for in their thinking.
"But I've always felt that that work had to be done, that the relationship between man and woman definitely needed adjustment. We're not that different; it's our role playing that made us different. Now, with women working shoulder to shoulder with men in the work force, the roles are changing. A more sympathetic and androgynous creature is developing here and there."
One of "Indigo's" songs, "Not to Blame," takes direct aim at the subject of battered mates. In conversation, Mitchell reels off statistics from a variety of studies, concluding that "half the population of this continent is bleeding, I believe, unduly."
But she is disconcerted that most of the attention towards this song is aimed at the first verse, which many feel is an indictment of fellow musician Jackson Browne and accusations that he beat his former girlfriend Daryl Hannah: "Your charitable acts / Seemed out of place ? With the beauty / With your fist mark on her face."
Mitchell claims that "it's not about a specific thing…..To lay it on one person is both stupid and missing the issue. My songs are very composite, and people have always liked to read things into them. Sara Dylan used to say it was confusing to her; she'd recognise herself in one line of Bob's songs, but the next line would be about another woman."
Ageing is another issue Mitchell is confronting these days, mostly away from music. Having turned 50, she's run head first into the inequitable standards applied to men and women. Happy and healthy – save for the effects of Post Polio syndrome that have kept her from touring since 1983 – Mitchell says she feels "much better than I ever have."
But she doesn't like ageism or sexism, hence the song for her next album titled "Happiness is the best Face-lift."
"Writing is a cathartic experience," she explains. "in pursuit of happiness, you try to lighten your soul as you go along. As a writer, I've got a lifetime of experiences I'm dumping and dumping on you. You don't want to be carrying that stress, that baggage, into your later years, if possible."