Library of Articles

  • Library: Articles

The SpeakEasy Interview Print-ready version

by Jana Lynne White
March 22, 2000

This is a transcript of a television interview with Joni Mitchell that aired on Canada's Much More Music station in March 2000. In this hour-long interview Joni talked to Jana Lynne White, host of Speak Easy, about her new album Both Sides Now, recently nominated for three Grammy Awards. Joni colourfully spins a myriad of interesting tales and shares experiences that have shaped her life and influenced her work. From her views on jazz to the influence Native culture has had on her life, this interview is filled with rare insight, interesting stories and lots of humour. It is one of the few television interviews Joni granted during her promotion of Both Sides Now and it was a memorable one. Enjoy!
-Andrew Ritchie

JLW: Hello and welcome to Speak Easy - I'm Jana Lynne White. For once all adjectives fall short and my prose pales when describing this particular legend. She's an international superstar, a Rock And Roll Hall of Fame inductee and one of the most influential singer/songwriters ever. It is my deep pleasure to welcome the simply indescribable, Joni Mitchell. Welcome!

JM: Thank you, it's a pleasure to be here.

JLW: We're in Los Angeles. This is part of your home turf - L.A. Beautiful day today, not too much smog...

JM: Beautiful day, beautiful season...This is one of our seasonal high points. It's the great moment. Everything is flowering here. It's the closest thing we have to a season - January and February. The rest of it is just kind of even. But right now everything is fresh and blooming - we get a little bit of rain this time of year.

JLW: Yeah, I was so happy that the rain had happened, so everything was clear. I could actually SEE Los Angeles!

JM: Yeah. The only weather usually is the wind blowing out of the desert.

[Clip from The Great Music Experience in Nara, Japan - 1994. Joni singing "Hejira" accompanied by Wayne Shorter: "Last summer I played a concert in Los Angeles, and I hadn't done that for a while. I played for about 45 minutes. I had done a song here and a song there, so I got a taste of it again, after about a ten-year lay-off. And because of that, I got a lot of offers coming in for this summer (1994) and I took this and Edmonton, go figure, right!"]

JLW: We're here to talk about your album, Both Sides Now. You probably don't remember this particular meeting, because it was brief - but we met in Nara, Japan during the Great Music Experience. I had a chance to talk to you briefly, but I had a lengthier interview with Wayne Shorter, who unabashedly adores working with you, and Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock are on this album. I wondered, in terms of musicians, what makes you come back for more? Why do to play with these guys, particularly?

JM: Well, Wayne is indispensable to music because there's no one like him. When I finish a project, because my virtuosity takes me up to the eighth note level but my music craves sixteenth and even thirty-seconds, he's the guy that does the decorative work on the ceiling, so to speak - and on the bottom. I like to watch him crawl across the music. He explores it like no one else. So, I usually save him about 10 or 12 tracks for a song. I let him come in and he just kind of explores. He may get to take three and say, "no, no, no - I don't want to play the horn anymore, I want to play strings!" And he'll change his whole concept and go off in another direction. So, what you witness when you work with him in this way, is him listening to a piece of music 12 times, actively. Rather than getting an idea for a lick and sticking it in somewhere and refining it, he just crawls over the music like a fly. He makes these sudden descant drops and he'll crawl along the bottom. You can always here what he's relating to at any given moment - "Oh, he's relating to that part; oh, he's relating to the voice; oh, he's relating to that chord; he just took it apart and added his own deconstructed version of it." There's no one like Wayne on the planet - and there never has been. He's a total individual. I'm addicted to him.

[Clip of Wayne Shorter on Art Blackey and The Jazz Messengers - 1963. Wayne playing "I Didn't Know What Time It Was."]

JM: And Herbie, this is only our second collaboration, but Herbie and Wayne and I, when there was a club alive in L.A. called the Nucleus Nuance, we used to spend Christmases together, you know, with our parents, and we shared birthday parties and so on. So, they've both been in my life for quite a while.

JLW: I think it goes all the way back to Mingus, doesn't it? Herbie played on Mingus?

JM: Herbie played on Mingus. I started with Wayne on Don Juan's Reckless Daughter, so Wayne's been with me a little longer. But musically, my favourite music, my standard in terms of music - was a pocket of Miles Davis' work when Wayne and Herbie were a part of the band - "In a Silent Way" and "Nefratiti." That was music to me - harmonically - and the degree of virtuosity was just astounding to me. Not that I emulated it, but when I was given an opportunity to work with those players, it was a dream come true.

[Clip of Miles Davis from the Miles Davis Quartet in Stockholm, Sweden]

JLW: A lot of people discover jazz through Miles and Chet and Duke and Billie and Sarah, but in all honesty, my introduction to jazz was through that 1979 album of yours, Mingus. And I wonder, who awakened you to the colourful possibilities of jazz for your own expression?

JM: Well, I grew up in a house that had very few records. And that was typical of the time. My mother had Chopin and Brahms, she had several classical records, all lunar melodies: Claire d' Lune, Moonlight Sonata, that kind of thing. And my dad was a trumpet player and a trumpet teacher - he played in some small-town swing bands. And he had Leroy Anderson and Harry James. So, that's about as jazzy as it got in our household. But I was always an artist in school and when I hit my teens, when the beatnik thing was happening, the boys in the crowd that I danced with went off to New York. They came back with moustaches, if they could, and striped t-shirts and sandals, and a lot of jazz records. And one of them, Brian Anderson, wanted me to paint a mural of a jazz trio on his bedroom wall, and he paid me with a jazz album. I also received a jazz album for designing the Unicef Christmas card one year in high school. And I spent my own money to buy Lambert, Hendrix and Ross' The Hottest New Sound In Jazz which was a jazz vocal record. That was kind of my Beatles in high school. I knew every song on that record and admired it, but at that time I was not a musician, I was just a rock n' roll dancer, but that was what I privately listened to. My active participation in music was going to public dances and lindy hop. As my friends got a little older, going off to college - some of them prematurely... One guy skipped a lot of grades and went to college at 15 and he used to take me to these college do's. He was really a mischievous character. Anyway, at that time there was a partying that was happening at the college level, where people used to sit around and sing folk songs - but no one really played the guitar. It was considered de classe - like, country and western music, which was considered low class in the region that I grew up in. So, my exposure to jazz music was voluntary. I was listening to jazz music and folk music and rock music, for three different reasons. Rock and Roll for dancing, jazz for "oh my god, isn't that cool" and folk for group song at parties - it was a different kind of partying then, where people would sit around and sing these songs instead of getting drunk and rowdy. There was something exciting to me in the community of that. So, I started playing guitar because they needed someone to accompany them at these things.

[Clip of Joni performing "Sex Kills" at the Intimate and Interactive on Much Music in Toronto - 1994)

JLW: Life shapes us and it gives us definition and it gives us texture. If we notice it and we interpret that, it actually means the older you get, if you're working with it, the better you can sing jazz. Do you agree with that?

JM: I agree with that, yeah. It's like an old wine. Jazz was one of the few types of music that actually allowed for maturity. Rock and Roll is pretty much a youth-oriented genre - pop music too - reel the next cute one up and then tear him down. But jazz was for lifers.

[Montage of photographs of Joni through the ages with the new version of "Both Sides Now" playing]

JM: I took a lot of flack for that song, initially, from my husband, Chuck Mitchell; "Oh what do you know about life, you're only 21!" I was very young when I wrote it. And I didn't think too much of it in the collection at the time. To me it was kind of a failure - I was trying to do something I don't think I achieved. I don't even remember the other songs that I wrote at that time were, but I know that one wasn't my favourite out of the ones that I wrote at that time. Then Dave Van Ronk sang it. And he was a young man with a very old-man persona. When he sang it, I thought it was great, but I think I allowed my husband to influence me and I thought that I was too young to sing it, somehow. And I just kind of dumped it. Tom Rush sang it a little bit. I'm not sure where Judy Collins got a hold of it because she was singing it before I met her. So I guess it was either through Van Ronk or Tom Rush that she heard it.

JLW: But, why, now, for you? Because it sounds completely different, the treatment on this album. It sounds like a different song.

JM: Well, I heard Mabel Mercer sing it at the Algonquin Theatre in New York, and I went backstage afterwards, and I was in my early 20s and I said to her - she was in her 70s - I didn't introduce myself as the author. But I said to her, "gee I really like the way you sing that song "Both Sides Now." It's really great to hear somebody older sing it. It really requires that somebody older sing it..." And she just gave me the dirtiest look! (laughs) I thought, I guess you never tell a woman she's older even when she's in her 70s! But Judy Collins kind of made a career of it, and I just abandoned it - until now. It fit on the song cycle because I had a concept in mind to make this album traverse the arc of romantic love and it seemed to me that it was a good way to end it. I knew that "You're My Thrill" was going to open it. You start with the smitten part and it seemed like a good song to end on.

JLW: Why this creative arc about love? Because, let's face it, most songs are written about love. But why did you structure it in that way? Did the idea come from you?

JM: Yeah. Well... Who knows? ...I was working with my ex-husband. We were recently divorced, for one thing, so maybe that had something to do with it. We had a few songs on the list of what we were planning to do. "Stormy Weather" because that's how I got introduced to singing with a big orchestra. I sang that song one night here in L.A. with a 61-piece orchestra and said, I just have to do this again. Klein was musical director on that with Vince Mendoza as the conductor and arranger on that project. Then, my friend Paul Starr who heard me sing that night said that I should do more of this and he brought me "You're My Thrill" and "Comes Love" to do while I was on the road with Dylan. So, I worked up "Comes Love" and toured it, I played it on tour. It was my favourite part of the set, in a way, because I just got to stand there and put my guitar down - it was really fun! Dylan came up to me after the show and said, (impersonating Bob Dylan) "That voice...that voice... That's a different voice. Where did ya get that voice?"

["A Case of You" with a montage of Joni's paintings]

JLW: And you did another original cover on the album - A Case of You, a song from Blue. Blue was written in 1970?

JM: Was it? Yeah, I guess it must have been...

JLW: Rolling Stone, in 1987, named that record as one of the best albums made over the last 20 years and I know that Blue was a turning point for you in a lot of ways. Can you describe what kind of turning point that was? I know it was a really emotional, raw album to record - closed studio, lots of crying, lots of probing. But did things change for you after that? Did you approach the writing and recording of your work differently?

JM: Well, the whole process was a deepening process, and that deepening process is sometimes psychologically painful. There were two forces at work, really; I was trying to understand myself, and the world that I was living in - both were changing radically. I went from the relinquishing of my daughter, which was a very difficult thing to do, but I simply could not afford to feed and clothe and put a roof over her head. That was very traumatic, and a lot of the trauma was suppressed. The irony was that a few years later, I had a house and a car and a record contract. I didn't begin to write...until... Well, as I began to write I began to be a public person, and I was simultaneously introverting, right?

JLW: I understand...

JM: So, there was this kind of rip-tide happening. I was becoming more and more public while I was becoming more and more vulnerable in my personal, emotional life. There was a lot to work through and it became apparent that I was going to have to work through all of this in public. I didn't want a discrepancy between my public persona and my private persona - I didn't want to live behind a mask. So it was risky. Prince said to me once, "You used to be shocking, but I can cut you now!" And I said, "Look, Prince, it was never my intention to be shocking." I was shocked that people were shocked. And people were shocked by that record. Kris Kristophersson commented on it and basically said, "Joan, save something of yourself." He really thought I was laying myself on the line. Mind you, the press wasn't as vicious then, it was a kinder time, in a way. It turned shortly after that. It wasn't so much a choice that I made so much as it was something that just happened. I began to deepen and open and my writing reflected that.

JLW: That deepening and opening is what gave us this incredible body of work, which we're going to talk more about right after this. So stick with us as we have a conversation, a little sip of coffee, and some good chat with Joni Mitchell.

[Clip of Prince from 1987 - "Another big influence was Joni Mitchell. She taught me a lot about colour and sound. And to her I am eternally grateful."]

[Part two opens with an interview clip of Joni at the Juno Awards in Toronto - 1981. "I feel Canadian when I remember my childhood, when I think about things I did in Canada, I feel Canadian. When I return I feel like an American because I've lived there for 15 years and things have changed so much."]

JLW: Welcome back to Speak Easy and our conversation in Los Angeles with Joni Mitchell talking about her new album Both Sides Now. But this is the segment where we go back to the early years. And as I was looking at this very prolific body of work that you've created, and looking at some of the research, I discovered that basically five years after you started playing in coffee houses and folk clubs, you were selling one hundred thousand advance copies of your second album. You had met Bob Dylan, you had written the song "Woodstock" and Rolling Stone announced that you were ready to retire!

JM: Oh, I was ready to retire from the beginning, because I got waylaid into music, you know. Music was deviant from my will, which was to develop my painting skills. When I decided that I did enjoy playing in coffee houses and realized that it was much more lucrative than working in women's wear, which was the only other thing I knew how to do, I decided to look for a manager. So, I went to Albert Grossman. He was supposedly the best in the genre that I was working in at the time. He was a very intimidating man. He smoked through his fist and he had these big, bushy, gray eyebrows. One night he took me out for sushi. I don't know whether I developed an appetite for it later, but the bean-curd soup smelled like urine that night and I had such a hard time with it. And he was sitting there smoking through his hand, looking at me like, "eat it all up, if you want me to manage you!" (laughs) And afterwards we went back to my little apartment and he walked in - Now, I had lived in Detroit before and on Thursday nights the rich people used to put out their broken furniture or the things they didn't want out on the streets. And I had accumulated a lot of this furniture and I had reupholstered it, and painted it. So, he walked in and he couldn't believe it - it was fixed up really cute. He couldn't figure out how I did it and he tried to talk me out of it. He said I was too domestic to be in the music business. He took me to his place and all he had was a pallet on the floor with black sheets. And he said, "So you see? YOU don't need a manager!" is what he said to me... (laughs)

[Clip of "How Do You Stop" video]

JM: I never liked the big stage. I liked the coffee houses. I never liked the idea of separating myself from people, or being elevated. Maybe it's Canadian! You know, stick your head above the crowd and we'll be glad to lop it off! But something in me made me not like the separation. As the stages got higher and higher, the fickleness of the crowds, suddenly this was being taken seriously and there were critics sitting out there. I disliked the formalization of it as it went to the big stage and this need for perfection. In the coffee houses it was so experimental, so casual, so friendly. I could jump off the stage and sit down with them, stay at people's houses, go out to dinner. There was no inequity. I remember the first night when I heard someone suck in their breath when I went by. And I ran! It filled me so full of adrenaline that I ran for about six blocks in the opposite direction: "That's Joni Mitchell (gasp!)" Boom! I was outta there!

[Clip of "Come In From The Cold" video]

JM: I'm probably one of the few people who entered show business who didn't ever want to be a star. And I really didn't. I didn't want the loss of privacy; I don't like envy coming at me. Certainly anyone can spend money - I enjoy that. But I could fix up a place real cute on a low budget. I made it through a year in Detroit with basically people's cast-offs, you know. The normal prizes that attract people to the business did not attract me. But as I got into it, I began to realize that I did have a gift, and in some ways, kind of a calling, and, therefore, a responsibility to it.

[Clip of Joni performing "Happiness Is The Best Face Lift" at the Intimate and Interactive in Toronto - 1994]

JM: I'm not addicted to the roar of the crowd like a performing animal. I'm able to enjoy it. I sometimes say to my manager, remind me that I had fun tonight, when I'm dragging my feet and saying I won't go on the road. Remind me that I had fun here and here.

JLW: You always look like you're having, what is bordering on, a mystical experience when you're performing. But when you're really in the music, that is joy.

JM: Oh, it is. And I've been blessed with the caliber of performers that I've been fortunate enough to play with. Even though it created a milieu that was demographically un-slottable. For all my whining and complaining, because it is in me and it does appear here and there, the things that were extraordinary were the collaborations with great musicians and the touching experiences with the people who really get the music. My frustration with the business has been difficult, the priorities of the exploiters. But that's the way it's always been. It's always been painful where art meets commerce.

[Clip of Good Friends video]

JLW: Are there other Canadian attributes that have served you well, that you know of? Because we're ALWAYS struggling with what it means to be a Canadian!

JM: Oh, I wish we would just drop all of that and just be! Canada is always struggling to define itself when if it would just quit it...(laughs) It just creates a chip because it's all about comparison. What is it that Desiderata says, "Don't compare yourself to others lest you become vain and bitter?" Canadians, in their constant search for their identity, are continuously comparing themselves to others and either coming up short or going, "We're better than them at something! We have one now!" I heard something on the CBC once and the commentator was claiming that Jack the Ripper was actually a Canadian and I thought, oh that's it! So desperate are we for celebrity that we're going, "He was a Canadian, you know!" (laughs)

JLW: Ah yes, our grand claim to fame! Well, we're going to be talking about some of the explorations of your own identity in the art world. And we'll be doing that right after the break, so stay with us as our conversation with Joni Mitchell continues right after this.

[Part three opens with a clip of an interview with Joni in Toronto in 1988 - "The Indians used to come and they had their own fair, adjacent to ours, and I used to sneak into the bushes to listen to them. I think they zapped me, quite frankly!"]

JLW: Welcome back to our conversation with Joni Mitchell on Speak Easy, here in Los Angeles. One of the things I want to touch on is something that is near and dear to me, and I think is connected to you. I think native philosophy has inspired you, maybe informed you and I wondered, has their been specific parts of the native culture and way of thinking, that has helped you sustain your commitment to honesty and to your walk in beauty, your appreciation of beauty?

JM: Absolutely. Yeah. At the end of his life, in his memoirs, Karl Jung said - he discredited his work - he said, "everything I've learned, I've learned from my patients, bright women. Nothing I learned from one could be applied to the other. You can't make a dogma out of any of this, and all I found was one good practical idea - and I got it from the Pueblo Indians." When the Native American culture was intact, it was gloriously psychological, keeping harmony with the inner arrangement and the outer arrangement. This psychology was literally embroidered on to their saddlebags - they literally wore their psychology on their sleeves. The idea of the medicine wheel is one I've lived with for many years. It's an idea that has as its rudiments a belief that the four directions influence our perspectives. The north influences intellect. The south influences emotionality. The east, the rising sun, influences clarity. And the west influences sensitivity and tactile intelligence, and the look-within place, the deepening place. If you believe in this then living with it on a daily basis and making observations, it teaches you. So, the way I've used the medicine wheel is in a very specialized way because I don't really know much about the animal lore surrounding it because I haven't lived in the woodlands. But I've used it in terms of human relationships and in terms of the arts. One of its functions is the attempt to speak a whole truth and in that function it's referred to as the Chief's Wheel. This means that if you get up to speak in front of a group of people you understand that they are perceiving you and perceiving what you're saying from one of the eight directions. And in order to speak a whole truth you have to be able to address all of them. Shakespeare knew this - you can only get intellectual so long and then you have to send fall staff in or you get the rotten tomatoes. A well-rounded work of art, then, would have emotionality, sensuality, and so on. For instance, if you're going to play an instrument it's best to be playing it from southwest or southeast because it needs the emotional influence. If you go to the west, your touch improves, your tactile intelligence wakes up. If you go towards the east your clarity wakes up, which means that the design would probably be less complex. If you're playing from the north the work is going to be very cold and mathematical. That's an idea that I've lived with all my life, and oddly enough, it's also a Chinese idea. Man once observed that the four directions exert an influence. It's hard in a world full of televisions and electrical gadgets to remember that. But that idea has been one of the major guiding tools of my life.

[Clip of My Secret Place video]

JLW: I have a friend in Toronto, Connie Gillotti, who did a cultural series masking for children who were blind and you agreed to take part in that. Yes, I have felt your face - what an experience. I wondered why that particular request was one that you responded to because I'm sure that someone of your stature must get asked to do a lot of things. What was it about that request?

[Clips of Joni's mask on display at the Institute for the Blind in Toronto]

JM: Well, it was interesting wasn't it? The idea that your tactile awareness could be so awakened as to get an overall picture of a face through your finger tips. I loved it, conceptually.

[Clip of Joni at the Intimate and Interactive in Toronto - 1994. "An artist is born. They're born with an artistic attitude. They're born to be the axe for the frozen sea within us. They're born to be in conflict; they're born to be an alien and an outsider."]

JLW: Is there something you can say, in your own knowing of yourself, that is true about how painting and music merges for you?

JM: My harmonic sense and the way I move chords is quite individual. Some people think it's jazz, but it's not. Jazz has its own set of harmonic rules. My frustration as a fledgling guitarist was that I couldn't get my fingers to achieve the chords I wanted - I could if I went to the piano - but I couldn't get them off the guitar. I just simply tuned the guitar to the chord that I heard in my head, or I would tune it to the sonic frequencies of a place. Every place has its own sound - in the pitch of the local birds - it has a resonance. The sounds surrounding you depict a place. That was one way I did it. But when I would sit down to play, I would be in an emotional state of one kind or another and I'd play and realize that wasn't how I felt. So, I'd change the harmony - no, I don't feel quite that tragic; no I don't feel quite that sunny; ah, that's just right! It's like spicing soup. So, I'd end up with chords that depicted my emotion at that exact moment. Then the next time, it was like moving the letters on a typewriter - you had to start all over again, finding where the chords were available, just using basic, standard shapes. Open bars would give you a lot of them, but you'd have to find the minors and how to make a pure major if you wanted it. It turns out that my taste was for suspended chords. In fact, Wayne Shorter, when he was trained at Berkley in the 1950s, was told never stay on a sus chord too long and never go from a sus chord to a sus chord. In other words, get in and get out. The only reason I can see for the prejudice against suspended chords is that they depict doubt. But I call them chords of inquiry. Not knowing what a suspended chord was, I named them chords of inquiry. They were neither major nor minor. They had a streak of dissonance running through them. They just basically seemed to depict my life, which was basically pretty good but just a bit of discord at the center. For that reason I think a lot of people, especially jazz musicians, had an aversion to the way I moved harmony, not the great ones, but the lesser greats. Some of them even thought it was wrong. And, God, I've spent my whole life hearing about "Joni's weird chords" from the rock community. But even in jazz, and that really surprised me. I only found out later on that it remained a law of music - never to go from a sus chord to a sus chord. And I'm going from sus chord to sus chord and I'm getting in and out on a minor and a major. Not in all my music, but in the ones that seem to be harmonically controversial.

JLW: Well, rules were meant to be broken. I think that's why Mojo magazine named you number 77 in their one-hundred best guitar players of all time - did you know that?

JM: No.

JLW: Well, stick with those sus chords, Joni! (Joni laughs)

[Part three concludes with a clip of Joni performing "Hejira" at the Intimate and Interactive in Toronto - 1994]

[Jana introduces Part four.]

JLW: Welcome back to our conversation with Joni Mitchell. I'd just like to know more about the great stories and the great native traditions that have touched you and your music.

[Clip of "Lakota" video]

JLW: "I am Lakota." You wrote that in the first person, from the perspective of a Lakota person. Tell me a little bit about that.

JM: That was something that I thought about. I had written Charles Mingus' soul in the first person - and he had encouraged me to do that - but I was a bit nervous about writing in the first person about a people which it's debatable whether I belong to or not. I have some aboriginal blood, but it's not discussed in the family. But when I wrote Lakota I needed an Indian to tell me that it was okay. I had a friend who was a Zapotec Indian - Fredericho was his name - and he owned an Indian artifacts show. He ran this in conjunction with a Chippewa Indian, who I called Buffalo Chips - at his encouragement! - and I was his apprentice medicine woman. We would open the Indian affairs thing here where both Indian and white retailers would come with their artifacts, some of them very holy and some of them made later for commerce. But the show had to be blessed before it opened to the public because of the holy nature of some of the artifacts. And I was his assistant smudger. So I had some friends in the community. I had just recorded that song in Santa Monica, a few doors down from Fredericho's shop and he said to me, "there's an Indian artifact show tomorrow - are you going to go?" And I said, "gee, I'm in the studio, I don't think I can go." He said, "just come for an hour or so." So, we were working on "Lakota" and I said, "Look, I'm just going to run over to Venice and see the show." And my husband said, "Joan, you can't leave, we're right in the middle of this thing." I said, "I'll only be gone for an hour - I'll be right back." He said, "Oh yeah, sure - you have no sense of time. You won't be back in an hour." I said, "I WILL be back in an hour!" And we had this big argument. All of a sudden, the machines broke down. So, I said, "AH! Down time! You're going to have to get an engineer in here and by the time I get back you'll have this all together."

JLW: The elders work in mysterious ways!

JM: The whole thing was mysterious! So, I went to the artifact show. I walked in and, immediately, I was confronted by a Cyclops. Up came this woman with a camera and said, "why are you here?" I said, "well, I don't have much time but I'm just going to look quickly at some artifacts." And she said, "have you met Iron Eyes Cote?" I said, "no." And she said, "would you like to meet him?" So, I said sure. She went and got Iron Eyes Cote - he was an actor in Hollywood for many years, in John Wayne movies and everything. So, up came this older Indian man with an Indian wig on with the string tied under his chin. I guess he had a bald gene from his white side! (laughs) And the camera was still on the both of us, so we introduced ourselves. And I said, "do you know any Indian songs?" You see, I wanted to add some authentic chants into the background. And I had invented some from memory. The Cree Indians used to camp on the side during our sports days, and I'd sneak into the bushes and listen to them. So, I had invented some but I needed some reassurance that the background vocals had a ring of authenticity. So, I said, "do you know any Indian songs?" And he said, "sure!" So, I asked him to sing one for me. And he tilted back his head in the middle of this artifact show and went, "hay-a-ho...hay-a-ho-oh, hay-a-ho, hay-a, hay-a..." So I said, "wow, that's great!" And I said, "can you come back with me?" He said, "well, I'm supposed to go out to dinner with some people." And I said, "could you come just for a minute to our recording studio and put down a few tracks?" And he said, "well, sure, I'll see if I can get out of it." So, to make a long story short, we got back after an hour and fifteen minutes. I was fifteen minutes late. And I walked in with four Indians and a film crew ....(laughs)....and the machinery was still broken down and then quickly, as we returned, it repaired itself. I played the piece for Iron Eyes and I asked him if I was in a vulnerable position with this. And he said (impersonating Iron Eyes), "Oh no! I think you turning Indian! It's got the haunting!" And I said, "would you sing that little 'hay-a-ho' thing onto the tape?" And he said, "Oh, so you want me to overdub?" (laughs)

[Clip of Lakota]

JLW: Hejira, which is an Arabic word for fleeing or escape...

JM: With honour...

JLW: Because of its association with Mecca?

JM: Leaving the dream no blame - that's how I think of that word.

JLW: Is there a personal Mecca for you, a place, an attitude, an environment that gives that to you?

JM: Mecca for most of my youth was love - a stable love. I felt that that was an important thing to be able to do - to love and be loved. That's kind of what the reference was there.

JLW: And that is Mecca for you still?

JM: Yeah, I still think it's the most important thing to die with the least amount of shackles - to die with a good heart, which is really an art. Depending on the dramatic nature of the raw fodder of what is handed to you to deal with.

JLW: And all the accolades you've garnered over the past few years - finally, for some of them! - the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Billboard Century Award, Grammies, Junos, the list goes on. Do they mean something to you?

JM: Frankly, most of them rang pretty hollow. It felt to me that if you were correctly honoured, it would humble you. In the instances when I truly felt honoured, there was a natural humility, whereas if you are improperly honoured, you become arrogant. Most of them made me arrogant. When people come up and genuinely love the music, it's a humbling experience for me. But a lot of the awards felt like a copy-cat crime, that it was felt like it was the right thing to do, but they weren't really quite sure why.

JLW: So, at the end of "Both Sides Now" you can truly say, "I've looked at life from both sides now and I really don't know life at all?"

JM: Well, yeah, it's a lot to know! Who does, I mean...!

JLW: Maybe the Lakota. Finally, Joni, is there a video, near and dear to your heart that you want to go out on - as we roll the credits...

JM: (long pause)...I like "The Beat of Black Wings"...and "Nothing Can Be Done"...It depends on how you cut your text. The Lakota one is quite beautiful. I might mention that the camera people for the Lakota video were the children between the ages of four and fourteen. These children had never had toys - they played with sticks and stones. My youngest camera person I caught on several occasions dropping the camera into the ground like it was a stick - so most of the footage has little pebbles and flotsam and jetsam rolling around in it. Also, the babies that shot it, didn't even look through the lens, they just kind of rubbed it over the objects - they pulled the trigger and kind of massaged over the car wheels and up into the elders' faces...

JLW: Well, we've already seen some of that, so that might be a little bit low-fi. So I guess, maybe, I get to pick.

JM: You get to pick! You're the producer - and the director! (laughs)

JLW: And, Joni Mitchell, it has been my deep pleasure to meet you, to have a conversation with you. Thank you for spending time with us.

JM: Thank you - it was really fun!

JLW: So, this is the video that I got to pick, by Joni Mitchell...

[Credits over Night Ride Home video as program ends]

Copyright protected material on this website is used in accordance with 'Fair Use', for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis, and will be removed at the request of the copyright owner(s). Please read Notice and Procedure for Making Claims of Copyright Infringement.

Added to Library on January 10, 2006. (6861)


Log in to make a comment