This work-in-progress lists all currently known appearances, drawn from a variety of sources.
Researched, Compiled, and Maintained by Simon Montgomery, © 2001-2023.
Special thanks to Joel Bernstein for his contributions and assistance.
Latest Update: June 11, 2023
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A one on one chat with Joni and highlights from a symposium
on her music held by McGill University, where she also received
an honourary degree. Broadcast on Jan. 3, 2005.
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Michael: It was a crisp and sunny day that greeted me as I walked through McGill's main campus in downtown Montreal. McGill is nestled at the base of Mount Royal, which provides a stunning backdrop in its fall splendour. Redpath Hall looks like it was once used as a convocation hall. Picture a large hall, not unlike an Anglican church, with high ceilings and wooden floors, bathed in light from two-storey bay windows made of leaded glass, the walls crammed with paintings of former chancellors.
The symposium was put together by two professors from the music department, Lloyd 'Chip' Whitesell and David Brackett. The symposium was organized for the occasion of an honorary doctorate being awarded to Joni later that evening. The event was made possible through contacts with Howie Klein, former president of reprise records, and Joni's agents.
There were about 70-100 people in attendance at any given time. The audience members varied from students to boomers, the usual Joni crowd. There were three speakers in the morning and five in the afternoon.
Don Maclean, dean of the music department, opened the proceedings with a warm introduction. He discussed the gestation of the project, the late-night transatlantic phone calls, and finally, a meeting with Joni at her home in LA. He was pleased to report that Joni had indeed boarded a plane that morning and was headed to Montreal. He remarked that she might even show up for the end of the symposium, but no one should be holding their breath.
I cannot relate in detail all the content of the following presentations. What I offer here are my impressions of each talk, using the notes I scribbled during the day. This will compliment what you ve already seen and read in the media.
Lloyd Whitesell was the first speaker. He is an energetic redhead and a Joni scholar. His talk focused on the notion that some of Joni s albums, like LOTC and Clouds are simply collections of songs, while others, such as Blue, C&S, Hejira and Hissing are concept albums or song cycles. He spoke at length about Hejira, with its themes of rootlessness and travel. He described the songs as hymns to the open road, all written in the first person. He noted the repeated animal imagery: coyote, crow and deer. He spoke of how the technical production reinforced the spirit of the lyrics and music. For example, the doubled guitar tracks, slightly out of phase with one another, evoke a haunting sense of time and space. He spoke of Jaco's melodic and floating bass, with its questioning tones. The album both begins and ends in C major.
He then made a case for DJRD as an alternative concept album, full of songs of wildly contrasting tone. Talk To Me vs Jericho, for example. At the time of its release, critics called this album shapeless and schizophrenic. In Whitesell s view, DJRD is a concept album with clear thematic threads, split into multiple points of view that evoke a mythical sense of place. For example, Cotton Avenue is an urban setting, Jericho refers to the walled city, Otis describes a resort in Miami; mystical spaces are evoked in Paprika Plains, while the 10th world describes a kind of sonic tourism. Duality, another theme of the album, is evident by the two records, the dual nature of human instincts, the pull of the spirit vs the flesh, eagle against serpent, airplane against train, you against I. The lyrics also vacillate between detached ironic observations and personal yearnings.
The next speaker, Jennifer Rycenga, is a lovely and large lesbian who teaches religious studies at San Jose State U. She spoke of Joni s unique voice as a sonic document of feminism. Not an easy case to make, in light of Joni s refusal to be pigeonholed. She spoke of the uniqueness of this voice in pop music, namely that of a self-defined, sexually active white woman who described the world around her with both ironic detachment and self doubt. She made her case analysing several songs, including, People s Parties, Same Situation, Song for Sharon, and Sex Kills. She stated that no song on C&S defended the gender system status quo. She also commented on the dual gender in Joni s work, which moves from powerful dominance to surrender.
The last talk of the morning session was devoted to Joni s self-portraits as revealed on her album covers. Udayan Sen, a pop music aficionado, painter and frame conservator working in Montreal treated us to an eloquent commentary on Joni s art. He showed several album covers, discussing them through themes such as the seer and the seen, and the teller vs the tale. The red flower Joni holds on the Clouds cover is a Prairie Lily, the Provincial flower of Saskatchewan, which grows well in the Saskatoon region. There was lots of discussion, with many comments and questions from the floor after each of these sessions.
After lunch, Jacqueline Warwick, from Dalhousie University, made a case for Joni being the principal architect of a Laurel Canyon sound in the late sixties and early seventies. This sound is characterized by poetic and introspective lyrics, a light, relaxed singing voice, and a clean acoustic sound based on the guitar. This kind of sound was seen as revolutionary for the period, eschewing sophisticated arrangements, overdubs, etc. Others in this group would be Graham Parsons and CSN. She then expounded on Regina's Empire Hotel, cited in Raised on Robbery.
Next up was dapper Daniel Sonenberg, from the University of Southern Maine. He is actually a member of JMDL! His 220-page dissertation is entitled "'Who In The World She Might Be': A Contextual and Stylistic Approach to the Early Music of Joni Mitchell" - CUNY Graduate School (Ellie Hisama, advisor). It features close readings of three of Joni s songs, "I Had a King"; "The Last Time I Saw Richard"; and "Court and Spark," looking at them in their full biographical, music-industrial, historical, and music theoretical contexts. His talk was an excerpt drom his dissertation, discussing the jazz structure in The Last Time I saw Richard. It was a very technical talk, unfortunately beyond my level of comprehension. There were a few comments from non-academics afterwards, suggesting that perhaps this kind of technical analysis did not serve the music well, as it attempted to dissect integral elements of the art, which worked as a united whole.
At about 4pm, during a refreshment break, we were treated to a great surprise. We were all casually milling about when Joni breezed into the room through a side door. A great round of applause erupted. It was quite miraculous really. There she was, standing there in the flesh, her skin and hair glowing white, as radiant and beautiful as ever. She wore form-fitting red and balck clothes and open-toed high heels. A media scrum ensued and she was immediately encircled by sound booms, tape recorders and cameras. She answered questions for about 20 minutes. It was impossible for any of us to approach her individually, and difficult to hear what she was saying. I took a few pictures through the crowd, but it felt almost rude and parasitic. Everyone seems to want a little piece of her!
The media were eventually asked to give her some space, and the symposium continued. Joni sat up front, to the side, across the room from where I was sitting. Kilauren then appeared out of the blue and quietly joined her, unnoticed by most present. They both have the same silken, blonder than blond hair. Three of the best presentations of the day followed. First up was Greg Tate, a very cool dude. He is a founding member of the Black Rock Coalition, the author of several books and a staff writer at the Village Voice. His writings on art, music and culture have appeared in the New York Times, Rolling Stone, Washington Post, Premiere, and Downbeat. He read a prose poem entitled, How Black is Joni Mitchell? He began each line with the phrase: Joni Mitchell is so black, that The lines were so cutting, hilarious and true! Joni got a huge kick out of it and laughed heartily all throughout the piece. Some of the lines were so black, that black folk hear her as an inventor and not a vulture. It ended with, "Joni Mitchell is so black, that she is finally getting an honorary degree in her motherland after four decades!" He finished with a gentle air kiss - a very sweet moment. The Dean commented that he wished he could scrap his speech for the evening ceremony and have Greg do his number instead!
Next up was John Kelly, whom Joni had hugged tightly when she first entered the room. He described his art, as well as his Joni-based work. At one point he played a recording of himself singing Woodstock. There he was, standing on a podium, holding a hand mike to a boom box, while his Joni-voice wafted out over the sound system, with Joni sitting 12 feet away! He said, "This is so surreal!" He also played a couple of video clips in which his characters sing songs like River and Down to You, to further the emotional narrative in some of his non Joni-based performances. He was a charming and engaging speaker.
Ann Powers is senior curator at Seattle's Experience Music Project. She gave us her brilliant musings on each song from Blue. She said one of Joni s gifts was the poet s ability to tell a story without telling the whole story. When it came time to discuss Little Green, she hesitated, and said, "I have to stop here a moment because I know I m just gonna cry." She then looked out at Kilauren and said, "I'm an adoptive mother myself and I know you re sitting there." By this point Kilauren had not been officially introduced to the gathering. She had simply been sitting discretely at Joni's side. Most people present were unaware of her presence. Joni let out a compassionate "Aww" as Ann held back her tears. It was a very touching moment. Ann composed herself then finished the presentation. Several audience members stood when they applauded. It was a wonderful piece, full of insight and beautifully presented. I asked her afterwards if she would be willing to send a copy of it to JMDL for the archives. She said she would, and said that the JMDL was an invaluable resource.
At this point, Joni thanked the speakers for their contributions and said she was speechless. Following this, there was a round-table discussion with questions from the floor. Howie Klein, former President of Reprise Records joined Kelly, Powers Tate and Whitesell. After a few minutes, Joni herself joined the panel, to the great delight of the assembly. One lady behind me let out a very loud whoop as Joni sashayed her way to a place at the table.
This whoop elicited a slight wince from Joni, who clearly she did not appreciate this kind of fervour. She lit a cigarette and fielded a few questions about the music business, jazz influences and working with Jaco and Mingus. A young student said that his generation didn t know her work well. She said she wasn t at all surprised, since his generation's values were based on shock and shopping! On the subject of producers, she said that although Crosby had been her first producer, but that he was too lazy to be a producer! When she saw how little a producer does, she decided she could do without and went her own way!
The symposium came to a close at about 6:15 pm. Cameras flashed once more, and Joni retreated to a small side room where she chatted briefly with some of the day's speakers. She left quickly and discretely by a side door for a break before the evening ceremony.
I have to say that I was surprised by my reaction to seeing Joni up close. I was certainly very pleased, it gave me a great sense of satisfaction to have finally shared the same space with her, even at a slight distance. However, I cannot say that I was overjoyed by the experience. Happy, yes. I think my meetings with Joni will always remain in the realm of the heart and mind; meeting with her in person seems next to impossible. I feel we live in different worlds, and that she has very little time to connect directly with her fans.
The special convocation ceremony honouring Joni and other student grads was held at 8pm in Pollack Hall, McGill s music performance auditorium. It was a very formal event. Every seat was full. Thankfully, some swing and levity was introduced by members of the 20-piece McGill student jazz band, who played original arrangements of five of Joni s songs. These arrangements were made by McGill staff or students an unrecognizable The Priest, BSN and ACOY, with vocals. These were all fairly deconstructed and free flowing arrangements, often departing significantly from the melody line. The final two numbers, S&L and DCFDesMoine were much closer to the original versions.
Joni later commented that, while grateful, she was a tough cookie to play for, and that people were usually scared of her, and that she would adjudicate later! The actual award ceremony was prefaced by a procession led by pipe player, followed by the Chancellor, Principal, Provost etc, and Joni , all dressed in full academic regalia, complete with long red shiny robes and big black floppy hats. Cameras flashed and Joni made a short speech after being handed her diploma. She began with a joke, 'Well, from now on they're gonna have to ask, "Nyaa, what s up doc?' he then said, "Rarely am I at a loss for words." A pregnant pause, then a short description of the medicine wheel, the four directions, and the need to balance emotionality, sensitivity, clarity and intellect in art (music) and in life.
This event made the nightly national news and the front page of the next day s National Post. I took a few pictures, with my camera zoomed out to the max. Not great shots, but perhaps better that nothing. Let me know if I can post them somewhere for you to see.
Tonight, Saturday, Joni was made a companion of the Order of Canada in Ottawa. That's our Joan. Isn't she grand?
Susan: I got to Redpath Hall five minutes before the end of the afternoon panel at 3:30 - I'd have to wait until 4pm before the last part the Roundtable...everyone got up to go out side for a break...and in comes Joni Mitchell from a side door followed by a stream of cameras and reporters and journalists...boom mikes. She looked stunning - red blouse and sleevless top red and grays and blacks...a very fashion statement skirt and red shoes ...kinda like Dorothy from the Wizard...
She was immediately surrounded by the media ..at this point people came back into the room hearing that she had showed up ...
I think due to my grief...I wasn't quite in a normal state of mind...
I walked slowly over toward herandgot myself positioned right behind her and a little to the left...she couldn't see me...I was the only non-media person in the group...every one had a mike or a camera and asked her questions...the usual stuff...finally the dean who was with her said , "Okay that's the last question, we need to start the round table now"...and at that moment I stepped forward and touched her arm (her blouse was like a very soft red crinkly crape paper that you would find at a kids party table) in fact I didn't just touch her arm I kinda gently rubbed it with my index finger...and at the same time I said her name..."Joni" and she turned around and looked right at me with a very open and receptive look....
So here's what I said, "Joni...did you ever get to spend any time with Laura Nyro"
and Joni said looking into my eyes..."Yes I did - I spent some times (and she specified it as plural) with Laura and she smiled.
Then I asked her, "Did you like her?"
And Joni replied, " Yes I liked Laura...and we had times together...but the way Laura was you know...and I nodded ...she was a strange girl...it wasn't easy to get to know her...she didn't let you in too easily...and the time I spent with her ...it was strange...but certainly NOT alienating...and she smiled and really looked into me...you know...and I nodded yes ...I knew...then I sort of went brain blank and was just smiling at Joni...and then they took her away...
but it was a beautiful moment...truely...
I canceled my last class tonight ...so I could go to the convacation...how lovely it was ...Joni giggled alot ...she had to sit beside the chancellor...and she kept bursting into little teenage giggles...from time to time...I don't blame her -you should have seen the hat she had to wear...those graduation clothes are a hoot....but her little red shoes were ever so cute...she was called down to the platform in a procession with all the other graduates ...led by a scottish bagpipe in full regalia- Mr McGill being a Scott-
anyway when Joni had to get up and say something after receiving an honorarydoctrate...she looked stunned that she had to speak...she walked over to the mike and said - you know its very rare that I feel speechless...then she paused ...and said, Well I guess from now on they'll have to say... "Uh What's Up Doc" (in her finest imitaion of bugs bunny)...