Only of the late Twentieth Century?

by Jacques Benoit
March 2011

Certain artists leave a mark on their time but very few survive it. The overwhelming majority of them accompany the era that gave them artistic birth into its dilution and its final deletion, when it is replaced by the new. However, the works of a minority both mark their time and transcend it.

The musical and literary works of Joni Mitchell, a unique oeuvre, belong to this minority, and thus escapes the dismal fate to which the passage of time seems to doom it.

Apart from the quality of music, about which everything has already been said, the reason for this may well be the "introspective" aspects underlying the majority of the writings of this 'subterranean explorer of the soul'; writings that always reached way beyond the level of mere outpourings of some "Little Sister of the Broken Hearted" (a category into which it seemed so easy to store Joni Mitchell, and a lazy convenience in which a majority of critics indulged, condemning the progress of her career's early stages). Above all, her transcendence lies in the fact that her writings expressed the uniqueness of an exceptional character, a very personal point of view and a quite clairvoyant perception of the realities of the human soul.

Her work has lost nothing of its relevance, as it is timeless and universal in its concerns: questions related to youth that fades, to life that slips away, to love that tarnishes, with waivers depriving the first of its strength, with disillusionment that abuses the second by emptying it of its meaning, with compromises which corrupt the last, leaving the heart bruised with the bitter taste of disappointment and failure; concerns which are universal because they are everybody's - yours, mine, they were those of our parents and will be those of our children's children's children.

This work never was confined to a simple testimony, more or less opportunistic and clinging in phase with its epoch. It never bothered to consider solely the present moment, at least in its totality; a very tiny percentage of texts - such as "Ethiopia" (from "Dog Eat Dog", 1983), or "The Fiddle and the Drum" (from "Clouds", 1969) - representing the exception to this rule.

It is therefore impossible to relate the work of Joni Mitchell to the genre known as "Protest Song", with its fierce and somewhat naive criticism of the social or political system in force, a relationship that marked the heyday, and was the cash-provider for many of her contemporaries - as the artist of the 60s (from Bob Dylan to Joan Baez, who were its emblematic figures and since then, represent, rightly or wrongly, its caricature). Such identification with the era had an effect that was to date the posture of the entire movement, making its voice virtually inaudible to the generations that followed, as its contents appeared so quickly obsolete.

Don Juan's Reckless Daughter resolutely escaped these traps, not by editorial policy or posture, but by pure nature and authenticity of character - those topics did not seem to interest her. Very simply, her atavism pushed her to relentlessly hunt down and dissect in the manner of an anthropologist, the failings and cowardice, as well as the flamboyant flares inherent to the human condition.

In terms of pure form (and even without reference to the depth, sophistication and intelligence conveyed in the majority of her work), Joni Mitchell's texts and their discovery provide an absolute pleasure and engender a sense of wonder that never wavers. The language is beautiful, and it is no coincidence that some of these poems were included in college and university studies in the United States during the 70s. In contrast, in the age of Lady Gaga and "Cell phone zombies babbling through the shopping malls" ("Bad Dreams"/"Shine, 2007), when Pop music has become like a "Junk food for juveniles" ("Taming the Tiger" - 1992), such a thing no longer seems probable.

I shall not attempt to make a listing of the texts most representative of this excellence, for every album by Joni Mitchell from the first "Song for a Seagull" `(1968), to the last release "Shine" (2007), is rich with its own share of nuggets. Of course, the poetic prose running the totality of "Hejira" (1977), a poetry woven throughout the nine stunning pieces constituting the album, is arguably most entitled to symbolize the best of this excellence. However, as far as depth and the mastery of the language are concerned, texts as distant from each other, both chronologically and thematically as - "Come in From the Cold," "The Beat of Black Wings," "The Sire of Sorrow (Job's Sad Song)", "Don Juan's Reckless Daughter," "The Jungle Line," "People's Parties" "Dog Eat Dog," "Shine," "Judgement From The Moon & Stars", "Passion Play (When All The Slaves Are Free)", "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," "Otis & Marlena", "The Boho Dance" or "Chinese Cafe" - are in no way inferior to the peaks scaled in the composition of "Hejira."

Despite the passage of time, the literary merit of Joni Mitchell's work remains unique, timeless and strong. In addition, the work gains at least two extra dimensions through its musical side.

In the first place, as an outsider whose guitar playing is characterized by the technique of "Open Tuning", a non-traditional way of tuning one's guitar, she gives the instrument a tonality so original that it could not be mistaken for any other. A "Joni Mitchell sound" was thus imposed, incisive and wide in terms of both melody and sharpness, an always attractive though eminently disconcerting tone - "Silky Veils of Ardour" in "Don Juan's Reckless Daughter" (1977) stands out as a perfect example among other amazing guitar renditions such as "The Wolf That Lives In Lindsey (from "Mingus", 1989) and "If" (from "Shine", 2007).

It is this famous "Open Tuning" that caused the row with Furry Lewis, the old Bluesman in Memphis who was in his nineties when Mitchell finally met him. Lewis ordered her to leave because she had dared to raise their common point, namely that famous "Open Tuning" feature... The old Bluesman obviously did not like to be reminded of this, although his reasons remain less than obvious - quite obscure to say the least! Nevertheless, the interview was ended abruptly, with Lewis' resounding, "I don't like you" directed at the blonde musician ("Furry Sings The Blues" / "Hejira" - 1976).

The second dimension given to her work by her music arises from her pioneering attitude: the innovative musical requirements that she was experimenting with by the mid 70s cleared the path for Jazz-Fusion and for a later, unlimited use by others of the musical genre called "World" (mostly a blend between African and Latin rhythms). Fellow composers and musicians successfully followed her in the 80s - artists such as Paul Simon ("Graceland"), Peter Gabriel (with his post-Genesis albums), and Sting (mainly with his solo outputs after The Police).

Although originating from the basic Folk-Song scene (regimented by the likes of Judy Collins, Buffy Sainte Marie and partly, Joan Baez), Mitchell, through excelling in fields where no one was expecting her to blossom, escaped the labels with which these artists were being stamped and thus thwarted similar classification. The true reason of this being, may be, that she never really belonged to that scene, as she repeated she never did whenever she was put into that category by some critics.

The first hint of this rebellion to standards and formatting was to claim, (against all odds, one might be tempted to add) that she was first and foremost a painter when everyone saw her as just being a musician. She purposely muddied the waters. And where some had filed her a bit too quickly in the Folk-Song drawer of "introspective" expression (indeed her first albums so wonderfully dusted and oxygenated the genre, from "Song to a Seagull" in 1968 to "Blue". 1971), she printed on the music of "For the Roses" (1972), a "Rock" turning point that would culminate in 1973 with the release of "Court and Spark."

Thus, the profession of faith contained in "Cactus Tree" (the song that closes her first album, "Song to a Seagull" in 1968, where a blunt Joni Mitchell asserts with poise that, in terms of love, her numerous and simultaneous lovers are losing their time waiting for someone that is "So busy being free"), relates equally to her art, underscoring the absolute coherence between the life style of the private character, and the philosophy of the artist - both free to experiment in whatever fields, love or art.

It is unquestionably freedom that drives Joni Mitchell to change gear as soon as the wedding with Rock n' Roll is consumed. When she was anointed in 1974 as "Queen of Rock n' Roll" by the profession, after releasing "Court & Spark" (and after its million sales in the U.S. alone) the Canadian was already elsewhere. The genre was deserted by the artist, drawn once more by the freedom that the musical structures of Jazz provided, a fascination that had been prefigured by subtle touches in her previous "Folk" work - some segments in the compositions of that period figure as yesteryear pebbles left as clues by a facetious "Little Poucet" musician (one thinks especially of the use of the clarinet in "For Free" in "Ladies of The Canyon" - 1970).

In retrospect, it is also as interesting as it is moving, to note that this is Joni Mitchell's terrible lucid insight into the values exported by North-American society (where money and sex are the ultimate benchmarks; where "what-you-look-like-is-the-only-thing-that-matters" and where the dictatorship of Eternal Youth extended at any cost rules). It made her interested in Jazz, and made her move towards that discipline - the only one apart from painting, where she confessed (and at a time when she was still only in her thirties), she could someday "age gracefully with dignity" - unlike the world of Rock music which would only tolerate the perpetuation of physical youth artificially maintained at the cost of blades and silicon (what the ruthless "Otis & Marlena" cruelly depicts in "Don Juan's Reckless Daughter" - 1977).

This insight, combined with genuine curiosity and an artistic temperament, drove Mitchell to explore the wilderness of ethnic sound, where the figure of the Black Jazz Musician (a kind of romantic and mystic guru who holds the keys of initiation to Dixieland) and the expressionism of the sensuality of Black music, seemed to fascinate the blonde Canadian. The artistic and sexual freedom exerted by Mitchell, combined with her wonderfully fierce lucidity led to major artistic encounters - some virtual and based purely on a community of thought and goals (for instance with the music of Miles Davis, who always appears at the top of Mitchell's pantheon) or occurring for real (as with the bassist Charlie Mingus, with whom, at his own request, Mitchell would work, or with Herbie Hancock, a prominent pillar of the Jazz scene). This cocktail of lucidity and independence of mind and body would also help encounters where music and love definitely merge (one thinks especially of Don Alias, superb drummer and a black man, who accompanied the musician in the studio, on stage and also in her life).

It is no wonder, then, why Joni Mitchell (with this delicious spirit of provocation that characterizes most of her artistic acts) would turn up with a black face on the cover of "Don Juan's Reckless Daughter"... - a move inspired by the meeting on the eve of Halloween, on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles, with a "black smooth-operator" walking by her in a "diddybop kind of step" and a few whistles of admiration and remarks such as "Hey! Lookin 'good, sistah, lookin' good!" A sunny episode that would make Joni Mitchell rush to put on men's clothes and black makeup, and appear at the Halloween party in the guise and outfits of the Californian black sweet-talker, an evening during which none of her relatives recognized her, and which made her laugh a lot! (The musician adopted this character again years later - but in a much darker mood -, by appearing disguised in the video of "The Beat of Black Wings", evoking thus Killer Kyle, a Vietnam veteran destroyed by the war and whom she met at a concert in Fort Bragg (North Carolina), a man who had inspired this beautiful and desperate song, which appeared on the album "Chalk Mark in a Rainstorm" in 1988).

At this point in her career, Joni Mitchell, who had had it with the Rock scene, bifurcated to the sidewalks of Jazz, negotiating a bend towards narrative poetry, tinged with a social criticism and no introspective hues anymore - a move which some of her public, encouraged by the critics, would not forgive. The critics that matter are the American Music Press because their influence dominates radio airings, which themselves determine the charts and resulting sales, and ultimately the making and breaking of careers. In the beginning, the critics were reassured by the early "Nice Sister of the Heart Bleeders", but were then ruffled by the rocker and the man-eater, and were definitely taken aback in 1975 with the release of "The Hissing of Summer Lawns", an album with a content that is as magical and enigmatic as it is poetic and cruel. The artist abandoned the "I" and the exploration of the soul and romantic relationships to focus on a series of snapshots, often fiercely critical of the American suburban houses adorned with squares of lawn where sprinklers hiss throughout summer, a society emblematic with its housewives languishing in front of their television sets "with no colours and no contrast," abandoned every morning by their commuting husbands who go to their Downtown offices in cars purchased on credit and blocked in the traffic on congested asphalt highways, or sleeping aboard air-conditioned suburban trains (a premonition for the "Madmen" from the TV series of the 2010s, outlined by Mitchell with an insight about a forty years ahead of its time...).

"The Hissing of Summer Lawns" is a beauty, a musical manifesto which, concentrating all the experimentation and the liberty to act and to think, establishes the Canadian's "trademark". Rock and sexual freedom with "In France They Kiss on Main Street"; unashamed buoyant Jazz with "Harry's House-Centerpiece"; disconcerting World music with the Burundi drummers in "The Jungle Line"; sumptuous symphonic textures with "Shades of Scarlett Conquering"; deep Gospel with "Shadows & Light "; - the alchemy that binds these ingredients together being the lady's exponential talent, which explodes on every word and every note of music. Automatically watered lawns flooded by the rays of a dazzling summer sun, as bright as Mitchell's vision. In retrospect, the virulent rejection of this album by critics and "fans" of the first incarnation of Mitchell causes nothing but embarrassment and misunderstanding today.

But things do not stop there. Critics, with rare exceptions, already disconcerted by the output of "The Hissing Of Summer Lawns", would also disapprove of its successor, the album "Hejira", a "Road Movie of the Heart", which they did not know how to handle (perhaps the disappearance of the 'so engaging melodies' of the early albums' was responsible for this lack of enthusiasm... The seemingly austere and at first glance icy and monotonous "Hejira", released in 1976, is yet undoubtedly "THE" absolute masterpiece of Joni Mitchell, a work of a richness and density never reached by anyone else, that envelops the listener after only a few plays, giving birth then to pure hypnosis). Then the same critics would turn up their noses (and incidentally close their ears) at "Don Juan's Reckless Daughter" (published in 1977, one of the other true masterpieces of the Canadian artist), and would finally leave for dead the album "Mingus" in 1979, a collaboration between the jazz bassist and the blonde musician.

The influential critic Michael Watts (whose opinion counted so much in those times) crucified the album, reaching thus the climax of ridicule; the Melody Maker edition of June 16, 1979 carried his unfortunate words: "This album really sees Joni Mitchell leaving her mass popularity, in search of a more personal style, and finding only idiosyncrasy".

Note the use of a last 'clever' word that definitively lacks any sense in the context of the sentence; an example of what has often happened when the critics, dealing with the work of Joni Mitchell, and probably impressed by the level of the lady's writings, attempted to play "equals" by using sophisticated words or concepts themselves. Here, as often elsewhere, the point is completely missed, and fortunately for Joni Mitchell and unfortunately for Mr. Watts' review, posterity will remember it only through the inappropriate use of "idiosyncrasy" and the first phonetic part of the word that sums up what it really sounds like.

As far as I am concerned, I will not try to chronicle here one by one the albums of Joni Mitchell, because all the pages of the Web would not suffice and many of them have already been noted with skill and accuracy (yes it does happen, please refer to site, which contains many interesting reviews - including the ones that are not necessarily always positive about the work of the musician -including Watts' "Mingus", incidentally).

However, and this is a very personal opinion, the albums "The Hissing of Summer Lawns," "Hejira," "Don Juan's Reckless Daughter" and "Mingus" are (IMHO), the four pillars of Mitchell's work ; pillars, and not summits, because the artist with different and sometimes less homogeneous albums, demonstrated that her genius had been and continued to be with her all the way through.

Her production of the 80s (a decade that the artist foresaw as "ugly", "hideous" and catastrophic, and God knows that it turned out to be so, with the exception of the oasis that her marriage with bassist, composer and arranger Larry Klein represented then), is considered by many as being too eclectic, and yielding to fads and facile trends - but I do not subscribe to that opinion.

Indeed, the three albums belonging to that period are very interesting, and beautifully consistent. Simply, each represents a break with its predecessor and not an evolutionary change (which was characteristic of her previous work at each new album's release starting with "For The Roses", and including all further collaborations with Tom Scott's LA Express band, her encounter with John Guerin, and then her opening to the musical idioms employed by Pat Metheny and Jaco Pastorius, finally leading to the "Mingus" apotheosis).

For this reason, the whole series of albums from the 80s is therefore more difficult to decipher than the wonderful previous quadrilogy that was inaugurated by "Hissing" and closed with "Mingus" (purposely, I neither include in this cycle the seductive and silky "Court & Spark ", that heralded the completion of metamorphosis to come, but because of its silky perfection did not to reach the radical adventurous creativity displayed by following albums, nor the sublime "Shadows & Light " of 1980, since this album was recorded live at the Santa Barbara County Ball and therefore does not show any original compositions - even if it represents the quintessence of the art of Joni Mitchell on stage, with the complicity of fabulous "Jazz-Rock Fusion" magicians that are Pat Metheny, Michael Brecker and Jaco Pastorius).

If "Wild Things Run Fast" (a "Back to Basics" 1982 album coloured with a touch of jazzy Rock and no longer an excursion into the fields of experimental Jazz-Rock, as "Court & Spark" had already led the way) is generally less elaborate than "Court & Spark" itself, the piece still contains its moments of grace with songs like "Chinese Cafe," "Moon at the Window," "Be Cool" and "Love."

Released in 1985, the album "Dog Eat Dog" suffers in the mainstream due to Thomas Dolby's sometimes invasive over production (even though poor Dolby becomes some sort of a scapegoat here, given that Joni Mitchell, Larry Klein and Mike Shipley are credited as well for its production), and the "big sound" of the Eighties. However, it also offers some lyrics and music worth listening to including "Ethiopia", "Dog Eat Dog," "Good Friends," "The Three Great Stimulants" and "Tax Free", the latter being co-written by Larry Klein.

For example, the depth, intelligence, sincerity, subtlety of analysis, the courage of the comment and the musical sophistication of the title track from the album are noteworthy - especially when expressed by a lone Mitchell on keyboards at a concert following the release of the album. This magnificent piece, stripped of all unnecessary arrangements, forces you to gauge its innate quality. Unfairly maligned on its recording release, time and distance increasingly rehabilitate it - if only because of the prophetic denunciations of the excesses of the Ronald Reagan era (which, because of America's cultural influence, infected the entire planet, and were magnified under the catastrophic presidencies of George W. Bush); denunciations performed by an artist who had more or less remained mute when it was fashionable to howl along with wolves (the famous "Protest-Song" period of the 60s), but instead found it necessary to call things by their name twenty years later, in a decade when, in her own words, "nobody else did".

And finally, with "Chalk Mark In A Rainstorm" (1988), Mitchell summarized with panache - like thumbing her nose at her detractors - a decade that still avowedly leaves her followers somewhat disoriented (the electronic and somewhat confusing experiments of the Dolby period - such as "Empty-Try another" or, later after Dolby, with "The Reoccurring Dream", are largely responsible for this mixed perception). But "Chalk Mark In A Rainstorm" is a mastered, lush, ambitious and sometimes very dense delivery, containing brilliant tracks such as "My Secret Place," (one of the most intoxicating track written by Mitchell ever), "The Tea Leaf Prophecy," "Lakota", "Snake and Ladders" and "The Beat Of Black Wings." Thus, the 80s come to an end with this extremely sophisticated album - a very controlled disc, quite rich in its multi-layered sounds and occasionally very dense.

[Incidentally, "The Beat of Black Wings" is also interesting in more than one way, because it underlines once again the extraordinary duality of the woman and of the artist. Joni Mitchell uses the symbol of the "The Black Wings" to conceptualize death. However, to symbolize life, the urgency of life through the gross impulse of sexuality (a stigma there of the thirst for a male mate), the author uses exactly the same symbol, (if one considers the content of "Black Crow" ("Hejira", 1977), where the hunter here is the female crow which she identifies with, scanning the ground from the icy heights where she is lost and beating her black wings to better pounce on her prey - the complementary male. This example gives the full measure of the complexity of the character of Joni Mitchell, which seems to indicate that Shadow and Light, Yin and Yang, Good and Evil, Fascination and Repulsion are never anything but the polarities of the same vibration (something she had already mentioned so beautifully in "Shadows & Light" ("The Hissing of Summer Lawns", 1977), or synthesized in the unsurpassable "Down To You" ("Court & Spark - 1974) when she wrote: "Constant Stranger, You're a Brute, You're an angel, You Can Crawl, You can fly too, It's Down to You, It All Comes Down To You." Undoubtedly, these black wings belong to both Desire and Death, confirming that during all of our lives ("Between the forceps and the stone," "Hejira" - 1977), we do nothing but struggle between Eros and Thanet, with the desperation of knowing from the very beginning of the game whom the ultimate winner will be].

It was during the next two decades, with the issue of "Both Sides Now", and finally with the release, to date, of her last album of original material ("Shine" 2007) that Joni Mitchell chose to close the circle (a circle game, so to speak, that we hope is not over yet, as two albums are still theoretically owed to her label). The 90s and the 2000s saw her regain her public's attention and the respect of critics (needless to say, she did not give a fig for the latter!) as well as rediscovering her roots as a "Storyteller of the Soul", whilst indulging in parallel with increasingly sharp social observations, and persevering with invention and excellence in her music.

Joni Mitchell opened the decade of the 90s with one of her most beautiful and wonderful albums, "Night Ride Home". This was the album of a blossomed maturity and the culmination of a fruitful collaboration with her husband, the musician Larry Klein. Joni Mitchell had never been so peacefully beautiful, her music as full and her words as assumed, fair, efficient and moving.

"I am not old, I'm told, but I am not young, and nothing can be done" ("Nothing Can Be Done" / "Night Ride Home", 1991) tells us of a woman who, two decades earlier, was already solemnly concerned with "ageing gracefully and with dignity." Coming to this crossroads of age, it is once again, with a talent like no other, that Joni Mitchell reflects on her life in a series of ten pieces each more beautiful than the other.

I shall point out with this list, what specifically may be the synthesis of everything that Joni Mitchell has written: "Come In From The Cold" expresses all the motivations, cracks, enthusiasms and doubts of the artist as well as of the woman, establishing once and for all why she did what she did, and why she is who she is, and destroying all the clich├ęs bestowed on her, good or bad, confirming the simple human being, clairvoyant, wonderful and poignant, and the artist as she is - great, unclassifiable and fragile.

"Night Ride Home" was followed by "Turbulent Indigo" (1994), a more cerebral, dark and disillusioned album but also quite interesting and brilliant (and this time welcomed by the profession with two Grammy Awards), with tracks like "Sex Kills", "The Magdalene Laundries" and "The Sire Of Sorrow/Job's Sad Song", three examples reaching the heights of her most accomplished work, and then by "Taming the Tiger" (1998), where Mitchell seems to want to bow out smoothly, but still by the front door, with more discreet pieces but still exceptionally creative and moving ("Taming the Tiger," "Stay in touch," "Face Lift" or the melancholic "Man From Mars").

In 2000, Joni Mitchell offered a magnificent tribute to the repertoire of jazz standards, recording a new album that she named after of one of her finest compositions, "Both Sides Now", a title re-interpreted for the occasion with the help of a symphony orchestra (the piece appeared originally in the album "Clouds" in 1969).

Again, the intelligence of the purpose challenges the mind, as its depth moves the heart: the selection of songs evokes the chronology of a passion, with the foundations of first love ("You're My Thrill") up to the ruins of the break ("Stormy Weather ") and the renewal of life that finally - hopefully - wins, and the desire to love again, a love that will flower again one day if all goes well (" I Wish I Were in Love Again "). Across the tracks from the album, Joni Mitchell looks back on her own life, giving the two tracks she selected out of her own repertoire the most poignant and most beautiful treatment that we have ever heard ("The Last Time I Saw Richard" and "Both Sides Now"). Between 2000 and 2007, Joni Mitchell seemed to disappear from public view for good, to the despair of those who followed her for so many years.

With the exception of "Travelogue", through which Joni Mitchell revisited her repertoire like in some sort of "Hejirian" musical journey, colored by a definite jazz coloration, updated with her voice of today and accompanied by a symphonic orchestra (as it happened with "Both Sides Now"), only a few compilations were edited, as well as a series of Greatest Hits mischievously entitled "Hits" and "Misses". Among these compilations, "Songs From A Prairie Girl" proves to be indispensable, if only because this compilation shows new pictures of the photo session on the frozen lake which gave birth to "Hejira"s masterpiece artwork, showing Mitchell iceskating on some wintery lake or river, and also because it offers a superb remastered version of "Paprika Plains", where Joni Mitchell has deleted the phrase "Gotta get some air", which originally figured in the released version of the track in "Don Juan's Reckless Daughter".

But like the "scorpion" woman she claims to be (her astrological sign), stimulated by adversity, and like any good phoenix rising from its ashes, Joni Mitchell moved back to full light with "Shine," a flaming twilight of the image of the Indian summers that ignite the territories where the musician was born.

If Joni Mitchell did not mince words in "Dog Eat Dog", with "Shine" anger and despair appear to be the major feelings that present times inspired in the Lady of Saskatchewan... and rightfully so. Terrorism spread by religion, "Holy War, Genocide, Suicide, Hate and Cruelty ... How can this be holy? If I had a heart, I'd cry" ("If I Had A Heart I'd Cry " - " Shine "/ 2007)... Bombs, wars, pollution, extinction of animal species, desecration of life, the rule of Big Money that has become God, overpopulation, destruction of the planet, killing spree of men, programmed self-destruction of Mankind ...! In this regard, I have often wondered whether Joni Mitchell did not point with the line "We've set our lovely sky on fire" ("If I Had A Heart I'd Cry " - "Shine "/ 2007) to the madness of men at work in the Gakona area of Alaska, close to the land of Canada so dear to her heart... * * *

No matter what specific monstrosity some of the "Shine" tracks are all about; the album unquestionably does point to human folly through the majority of its compositions. So, is "Shine" definitely bitter and hopeless? This would be strange to the author, who (although totally pessimistic about the future of our societies and the one that we reserve for the planet because of our selfishness, greed and blindness), intends still to shine a little light in this dark ocean of lucidity.

Thus, Joni Mitchell closes her last album of original material published to date by reinterpreting "If", the poem by Rudyard Kipling, to which she gives some of her finest music. Where Charlie Mingus compositions had offered her "Joni I-VI" so that she could give them a title, some words and finally sing them, thus leading to the magical tracks of "Mingus". Whereby, she tackles the reverse process by putting to music the words of another. And what words! "If" so perfectly expresses what Joni Mitchell herself seems to think. The language is so beautiful that it is difficult at first listening, if you're not a connoisseur of Kipling's work (which was so in my case), not to imagine that this text did not pour directly out of the pen of the Canadian musician. Yet this is the case. Only at the end does she add to the original text with these concluding words, "I Know You'll Be All Right, 'Cause you've got the fight, You've Got The Insight."

No one could compose a fairer conclusion to a text upon the work of Joni Mitchell than that given by Joni Mitchell herself, in these words. They fully define her, in the grandeur of her fights, in her uncompromising philosophy of life, in her unrivalled insight of the human soul.

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