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Candace Bushnell on Joni Mitchell’s ‘Free Man in Paris’ Print-ready version

‘Sex and the City’ novelist Candace Bushnell talks about how a Joni Mitchell song inspired her

by Candace Bushnell
Wall Street Journal
July 21, 2015

Joni Mitchell on stage in Berkeley, Calif., on March 1, 1974 PHOTO: LARRY HULST/MICHAEL OCHS ARCHIVES/GETTY IMAGES

Novelist Candace Bushnell, 56, is author of "Sex and the City" and, most recently, "Killing Monica" (Grand Central). She spoke with Marc Myers.

My friend Teddi had the coolest records. Every day after high school we'd go over to her house to gossip and listen to music. In early 1974, our freshman year, Teddi put on Joni Mitchell's album "Court and Spark." The song "Free Man in Paris" swept me away.

Teddi had older brothers and sisters, so she always had access to new albums. At my house, my father played records he thought were appropriate for three teenage daughters - like Steely Dan and Crosby, Stills & Nash. Joni was different. She sang about the secret desires of women.

What fascinated me most about her lyrics on "Free Man in Paris" was this idea of the female artist. Joni had both written the song and recorded it - art had liberated her. Art also seemed to cause her to have experiences that so many women didn't have then.

Even though it's been said that the song is about [entertainment mogul] David Geffen, Teddi and I didn't know that. To me, it sounded like Joni was singing about freedom from a man's perspective: "I was a free man in Paris / I felt unfettered and alive / There was nobody calling me up for favors / And no one's future to decide."

A woman singing those lyrics and referring to herself as a man living independently in Paris was eye-opening. The way she sang, in that high voice, captured the secret desires of women and their complex emotions - wanting to be independent and loved, not wanting to be too different, wanting to take a chance but not taking a chance.

Back in the 1970s, when I grew up in Glastonbury, Conn., I constantly struggled with how I was going to get out of there and pursue my dream of becoming a writer. Joni was an inspiration.

When I'm down and struggling, I play "Free Man in Paris" and feel as if Joni knows exactly what I'm going through. Wailing along with Joni at the top of my lungs is my way of getting the emotions out.

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Added to Library on July 21, 2015. (2670)


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