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Mitchell 'storms' back Print-ready version

by Steve Pond
Rolling Stone
March 10, 1988

Photo © Larry Klein

New album boasts big names


"I don't feel that I'm part of the contemporary scene, but I do feel that my music is absolutely contemporary," says Joni Mitchell, whose upcoming album, CHALK MARK IN A RAIN STORM, features a varied batch of current pop musicians, including Willie Nelson, Don Henley, Wayne Shorter, Thomas Dolby, former Cars member Benjamin Orr, Tom Petty and Prince's former band mates Wendy and Lisa.

Mitchell says the hodgepodge of big-name guests was accidental. But she's long wanted to employ a variety of different voices on a record. "It's an idea I've had for a long time, to sing the narrative and cast my characters," she says. "'Cause the songs have a lot of 'he said' and 'she said' in them. So I thought, 'Who would be the perfect Old Dan in Cool Water? Who would be the perfect bully in Dancin' Clown'? Then it became fun, and I just started calling people when I would think of them.

Most of them, she says, dropped by the studio after hours. Billy Idol came by the night after the Grammy Awards, heard Dancin' Clown and insisted on calling in his guitar player, Steve Stevens; Willie Nelson pulled up in his Winnebago after a gig and began recording Mitchell's revised version of the country standard Cool Water at about 2:00 a.m. "Often," Mitchell says with a laugh, "I've put musicians on my albums simply because of their proximity."

Mitchell says the songs on CHALK MARK IN A RAIN STORM were inspired by such disparate events as her parents' courtship and a concert she gave for a group of gung-ho soldiers at the height of Sixties antiwar sentiment. The album is not, she admits, a hopeful work: "I feel these times are just pathetic. When I wrote this album, I was just hurting for the culture."

Mitchell has had her share of personal troubles over the past couple of years: as she was making her last album, DOG EAT DOG, the California State Board of Equalization ruled that she and a number of other musicians owed additional taxes for the period from 1971 to 1976, money she's now trying to recover in court. Her label, Geffen Records, put a lien on her songwriting royalties to recoup money spent on her.

Now, she says, she's not so outraged (and Geffen has given back her royalties). She says the label "has been very bad for me" and wonders if she'll ever regain the airplay she lost with the forbidding MINGUS album in 1979. Yet she stands by her last few records and says people seem to like the new LP.

Mitchell would simply like the pop audience to realize that she's a contemporary musician. "When you've been around for twenty years," she says, "people say, 'Oh, I remember you from the Sixties.' God, I only made one album in the Sixties. I went to meet and greet some radio programmers the other day, and one DJ said to me, 'I'm so glad you're making a comeback.' I said, 'A comeback? Where'd I go? Where am I coming back FROM?'

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Added to Library on January 9, 2000. (2991)

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