Joni Mitchell still trying to quit music business

by Barrett Hooper
National Post
February 28, 2002

After first listening to Joni Mitchell's emotional, masterful 1971 album Blue, Kris Kristofferson reportedly said, "Joni, save something for yourself."

Ms. Mitchell, of course, ignored his plea just as she has ignored the beck and call of mainstream music throughout her career. "I hate the music that's on the radio," she said recently, "because there's no muse to it."

Following her muse, whether in the form of one-time lovers James Taylor, David Crosby and Graham Nash, or the random pain and pleasure of everyday life, Ms. Mitchell's music has only ever been incidentally commercial.

She is a songwriter, a singer, a musician, a poet and a painter -- she considers herself an artist first ("a painter -- unlike a musician -- is driven to innovate") and her work has graced several of her album covers as well as the wall of Tom Cruise's apartment in Vanilla Sky.

But as a musician her track record is incomparable. She has made 21 albums in the past 30 years, from her Crosby-produced self-titled debut in 1968 to 2000's Both Sides Now collection. She has won five Grammy Awards, including one for Both Sides Now, and Blue was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame three years ago.

Last night, the one-time Toronto folkie-turned-jazz chanteuse was honoured with a special Grammy Award for lifetime achievement.

Born in Fort Macleod, Alta., Ms. Mitchell emerged from the New York folk scene in the late 1960s with such songs as Help Me. She won her first Grammy for her 1969 album Clouds, which featured Both Sides Now and Chelsea Morning.

But this was merely a prelude to the impact she would have in the 1970s, beginning with Big Yellow Taxi and The Circle Game from the album Ladies of the Canyon.

Then came Blue, perhaps Ms. Mitchell's most complete recording, from its euphoric, almost pop-sounding All I Want to the inescapable sadness of the title track, which Rolling Stone has called "a distillation of pain and is therefore the most private of Joni's private songs."

By 1974, she had graced the covers of both Rolling Stone and Time. She is still recognized, almost 30 years later, as an inspiration to countless female artists who followed her.

"In many ways she is as influential as Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie," said Bonnie Raitt. "You felt her life was inspired," singer Natalie Merchant has said. "She [makes] you want to live an inspired and exotic life."

By the late 1970s some of her audience -- and radio stations --abandoned her for rock 'n' roll. But thanks to improvisational albums such as the jazzy Hissing of Summer Lawns, Don Juan's Reckless Daughter and Mingus, the critics were loving her.

Through the 1980s she continued unabated, with studio efforts such as Wild Things Run Fast, Dog Eat Dog and Chalk Mark in a Rain Storm. She returned to a more classic acoustic sound in the 1990s with Night Ride Home and Turbulent Indigo.

Now, Ms. Mitchell's voice is not the sweetly soaring soprano of her younger self. It is edgy and clipped and nicotine stained and "coated with the raspy feel of experience," said the Los Angeles Times.

In interviews, Ms. Mitchell has joked that she has been quitting the music business since the moment she arrived.

She is thinking of calling her next album, a collection of 24 of her songs (such as Coyote, The Sire of Sorrow and Refuge for the Roads) recorded with a full orchestra, Swan Song.

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