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This song appears on the album 'Night Ride Home'

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The Only Joy In Town

by Joni Mitchell   Printer-friendly version of this lyric

I want to paint a picture
Botticelli * style
Instead of Venus on a clam *
I'd paint this flower child
"You are the air my flowers breathe"
He calls and the ladies turn around
On the first day of Spring
I'm looking at the only joy around

He's the only joy around
The only joy I found
The only joy in town

The Spanish steps * are crowded
Bunch of bodies brooding there
Dead pan side walk vendors
Hustling vacant stares
Making all the more exceptional
This fool in a flower crown
On the first day of Spring
I'm looking at the only joy in town

He's the only joy around
The only joy I found
The only joy in town

The Botticelli black boy
With the fuchias in his hair
Is breathing in women like oxygen
On the Spanish stairs
In my youth I would have followed him
All through this terra-cotta town
On the first day of Spring
We'd dance and sing
And be the only joy around

We'd be the only joy around
The only joy in town
He's the only joy I've found
All day

At night these streets are empty
Where does everybody go
Where are the brash and tender rooms
In Roman candle glow
Where are Fellini's circus'
La Dolce Vita * clowns
On the first day of Spring
I'm looking
At the only joy in town

He's the only joy around
The only joy I found
The only joy in town


© 1988, 1991; Crazy Crow Music

Additional information:

*Footnotes

"Botticelli"
Sandro Botticelli (1455 - 1510)
Although he was one of the most individual painters of the Italian Renaissance, Sandro Botticelli remained little known for centuries after his death. Then his work was rediscovered late in the 19th century by a group of artists in England known as the Pre-Raphaelites. Born Alessandro di Mariano Filipepi in Florence in 1445, Botticelli was apprenticed to a goldsmith. Later he was a pupil of the painter Fra Filippo Lippi. He spent all his life in Florence except for a visit to Rome in 1481-82. There he painted wall frescoes in the Sistine Chapel of the Vatican.

In Florence, Botticelli was a protege of several members of the powerful Medici family. He painted portraits of the family and many religious pictures, including the famous The Adoration of the Magi. The most original of his paintings are those illustrating Greek and Roman legends. The best known are the two large panels Primavera and The Birth of Venus.

Italian painter. Botticelli was Florentine and extremely successful at the peak of his career, with a highly individual and graceful style founded on the rhythmic capabilities of outline. With the emergence of the High Renaissance style at the turn of the 16th century, he fell out of fashion, died in obscurity and was only returned to his position as one of the best-loved quattrocento painters through the interest of Ruskin and the Pre-Raphaelites. His nickname "Botticelli" means "little barrel" and was originally bestowed on his older brother. For some reason the name was passed on to, and adopted by, the younger painter brother.

Botticelli's early years are obscure, but he seems to have been trained in the studio of Filippo Lippi whose style informs his earliest dated work, the Fortitude panel (1470, Florence, Uffizi). This was commissioned to be one of a series of seven, the others having been executed by Piero Pollaiuolo. A stylistic affinity here also with Pollaiuolo is perhaps due to the patrons' requirements for unity within the series (certainly it is never evident again). Many of Botticelli's paintings are undated, but an Adoration of the Magi (Florence, Uffizi) has been dated by modern scholarship to c1475. This is important because it provides evidence of Botticelli having already secured the patronage of the Medici whose portraits (according to Vasari) appear in the picture. So well did this work establish Botticelli's reputation that in 1481-82 he was commissioned to join Perugino, Ghirlandaio and Rosselli (the most celebrated painters of the day) to paint frescoes for the Sistine Chapel. Botticelli's two most famous paintings were painted around this time, possibly for Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de' Medici. They are the Primavera (c1478) and the Birth of Venus (c1483), both in the Uffizi. These are mythologies, not of the capricious Ovidian sort, but, it has been suggested, ones that embody the moral and metaphysical Neoplatonic ideas that were then fashionable in the Medici circles. Pure visual poetry, they are stylistically the quintessence of Botticelli: there is a deliberate denial of rational spatial construction and no attempt to model solid-looking figures; instead the figures float on the forward plane of the picture against a decorative landscape backdrop, and form, defined by outline, is willfully modified to imbue that outline with expressive power.

That Botticelli could work in more than one manner at a time (perhaps, like the Fortitude, adapting it for the context) is shown in his fresco of St. Augustine in his Study, painted in 1480 for the Florentine church of the Ognissanti and in rivalry with Ghirlandaio's nearby St. Jerome (both still in situ). Here Botticelli's style is more monumental, with a close attention to naturalistic detail. His workshop in these years was highly successful, one of its most lucrative lines being panels depicting the Madonna and Child, perhaps the most beautiful of which is the tondo of the Madonna of the Magnificat (c1485, Florence, Uffizi). Like his master Lippi, before him, Botticelli has created his own instantly recognizable type of feminine beauty, used for Madonnas and Venuses alike. His most remarkable painting is also the only one that is signed, the Mystic Nativity (1500, London, National Gallery). It is deliberately archaic with hieratic differences in scale (the Virgin and Child dwarfing the other figures) and carries a cryptic inscription (partly erased) forecasting the end of the present troubled world and the beginning of a new order. Many of his works datable to this period seem to be imbued with the same spiritual tension (which some scholars have attributed to Botticelli's association with the hellfire preacher Savonarola, although such an association has not been substantiated). During his last decade his style must have appeared absolutely out of date and he seems to have done very little work. Without doubt the High Renaissance style obscured his achievement and, despite his earlier success, he had no followers of any merit. His most important pupil was the son of his own master, Filippino Lippi.


"Venus on a Clam" Sandro Botticelli - Birth of Venus
c. 1485-86 painted for the villa of Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de' Medici at Castello; Tempera on canvas, 172.5 x 278.5 cm (67 7/8 x 109 5/8 in); now in the Galleria degli Uffizi in Florence

One of Botticelli's most famous pictures represents not a Christian legend but a classical myth - the birth of Venus.

The classical poets had been known all through the Middle Ages, but only at the time of the Renaissance, when the Italians tried so passionately to recapture the former glory of Rome, did the classical myths become popular among educated laymen. To these men, the mythology of the admired Greeks and Romans represented something more than gay and pretty fairy-tales. They were so convinced of the superior wisdom of the ancients that they believed these classical legends must contain some profound and mysterious truth. The patron who commissioned the Botticelli painting for his country villa was a member of the rich and powerful family of the Medici. Either he himself, or one of his learned friends, probably explained to the painter what was known of the way the ancients had represented Venus rising from the sea. To these scholars the story of her birth was the symbol of mystery through which the divine message of beauty came into the world. One can imagine that the painter set to work reverently to represent this myth in a worthy manner. The action of the picture is quickly understood. Venus has emerged from the sea on a shell which is driven to the shore by flying wind-gods amidst a shower of roses. As she is about to step on to the land, one of the Hours or Nymphs receives her with a purple cloak. Botticelli has succeeded where Pollaiuolo failed. His picture forms, in fact, a perfectly harmonious pattern. But Pollaiuolo might have said that Botticelli had done so by sacrificing some of the achievements he had tried so hard to preserve. Botticelli's figures look less solid. They are not so correctly drawn as Pollaiuolo or Masaccio's. The graceful movements and melodious lines of his composition recall the Gothic tradition of Ghiberti and Fra Angelico, perhaps even the art of the fourteenth century - works such as Simone Martini's Annunciation.

Botticelli's Venus is so beautiful that we do not notice the unnatural length of her neck, the steep fall of her shoulders and the queer way her left arm is hinged to the body. Or, rather, we should say that these liberties which Botticelli took with nature in order to achieve a graceful outline add to the beauty and harmony of the design because they enhance the impression of an infinitely tender and delicate being, wafted to our shores as a gift from Heaven.

This secular work was painted onto canvas, which was a less expensive painting surface than the wooden panels used in church and court pictures. A wooden surface would certainly be impractical for a work on such a scale. Canvas is known to have been the preferred material for the painting of non-religious and pagan subjects that were sometimes commissioned to decorate country villas in 15th-century Italy.

Upper-Left: The West Wind
Zephyr and Chloris fly with limbs entwined as a twofold entity: the ruddy Zephyr (his name is Greek for "the west wind'') is puffing vigorously; while the fair Chloris gently sighs the warm breath that wafts Venus ashore. All around them fall roses--each with a golden heart--which, according to legend, came into being at Venus' birth.

Upper-Right: The Wooded Shore
The trees form part of a flowering orange grove--corresponding to the sacred garden of the Hesperides in Greek myth--and each small white blossom is tipped with gold. Gold is used throughout the painting, accentuating its role as a precious object and echoing the divine status of Venus. Each dark green leaf has a gold spine and outline, and the tree trunks are highlighted with short diagonal lines of gold.

Right: Nymph
The nymph may well be one of the three Horae, or "The Hours'', Greek goddesses of the seasons, who were attendants to Venus. Both her lavishly decorated dress and the gorgeous robe she holds out to Venus are embroidered with red and white daisies, yellow primroses, and blue cornflowers--all spring flowers appropriate to the theme of birth. She wears a garland of myrtle--the tree of Venus--and a sash of pink roses, as worn by the goddess Flora in Botticelli's Primavera.

Center: The Shell
Botticelli portrays Venus in the very first suggestion of action, with a complex and beautiful series of twists and turns, as she is about to step off her giant gilded scallop shell onto the shore. Venus was conceived when the Titan Cronus castrated his father, the god Uranus--the severed genitals falling into the sea and fertilizing it. Here what we see is actually not Venus' birth out of the waves, but the moment when, having been conveyed by the shell, she lands at Paphos in Cyprus.


"Spanish Steps" Rome: The Spanish Stairs (Spanish Steps)
The most striking architectural element in the Piazza di Spagna--indeed, one of the most striking in all Rome--is the renowned Scalinata della Trinità dei Monti (known as the Spanish Steps, or Stairs). The staircase is a rare case of the failure of French cultural propaganda, for while they are called the Spanish Steps--the Spanish Embassy moved onto the square in the 17th century--they are unequivocally French. First suggested by the French about the time the Spanish Embassy was being installed, the idea was approved by papal authorities 100 years later and paid for with a legacy from a French diplomat. The stairs ascend to the French-built church and convent of Trinità dei Monti, begun in 1495 with a gift from the visiting French king Charles VIII and restored by Louis XVIII.

Charles Dickens described the steps as thronged with unengaged "artist's models" in regional costume. They are still crowded with loiterers in distinctive dress, students from all over the world. Artists were among the first to move into the area, and some few who have not been shouldered out by galleries and ultra-modish shops retain their studios among the walled gardens of the Via Margutta. Since the end of the 16th century, the Piazza di Spagna, with its innkeepers who followed the artists, has been a stopping place for tourists. Young lords on the Grand Tour of Europe left their heavy touring coaches for refitting in a side street still called Via delle Carozze (Carriage Street). The room on the piazza in which John Keats died in 1821 has been made into a museum. The surrounding streets at both the top and the bottom of the steps are among the smartest shopping streets in Rome.


"La Dolce Vita" La Dolce Vita (The Sweet Life) (1960)
When La Dolce Vita burst upon the world in 1960, Fellini became a household name.

The film spans seven days and seven nights in the life of Rome, seen through the eyes of Marcello Rubini, a gossip columnist and would-be serious writer. His endless pursuit of happiness takes him deep into the bowels of some of Rome's most seedy nightspots.

The screenplay was written jointly by Fellini, Ennio Flaiano and Tullio Pinelli. For inspiration Fellini frequented the pavement cafes of the Via Veneto, where most of the film was set, scanning newspaper headlines for the most bizarre items of the day. Many of these found their way into the script, in one form or another.

As sections of the script were finished Fellini would give them to his friends for their perusal and comments. One friend, the director Pasolini, would be picked up by Fellini in his car - and driven around the city whilst he read. These trips would also serve as location-spotting exercises.

Fellini had never seriously considered anyone but Marcello Mastroianni for the part of Marcello. When he met Mastroianni to discuss the project, he told him that he had been chosen because he had an everyday face. This didn't impress the actor; nevertheless, he agreed to take on the role. When one producer considered him 'not commercial enough', and suggested Paul Newman instead, Fellini dug his heels in - and won. He admired Newman as an actor but didn't feel he was right for the role.

It wasn't an easy time for Fellini. He went through 12 different producers before he found one that was right for the project. When the film was released, he was innundated with telegrams, complaining of atheism and communism. The film is particularly notorious for its striptease scene and for another where a statue of Christ is flown over Rome dangling from a helicopter. There were calls to withdraw his passport and ban the book.

Despite this, La Dolce Vita was a great success and played to packed houses for months. It was awarded the Golden Palm at Cannes and an Oscar for Best Costume Design. 

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