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Joni Mitchell says her music upset male artists in the 1970s Print-ready version

by Mark Savage
BBC News
November 12, 2022

Bonnie Raitt, Elton John, Joni, Brandi Carlile.

Joni Mitchell has said her music did not get the recognition it deserved in the 1970s due to music industry sexism.

The musician, whose introspective, confessional songs became touchstones of the singer-songwriter genre, said she "took a lot of flak" at the time.

"People thought that it was too intimate," the 79-year-old said in a rare interview with Sir Elton John.

"I think it upset the male singer-songwriters. They'd go, 'Oh no. Do we have to bare our souls like this now?'"

She added: "I think it made people nervous."

The star said she was pleased that contemporary artists seemed better equipped to express the feelings of loss and sorrow that she explored on landmark albums like Ladies of the Canyon (1970) and Blue (1971).

"It took to this generation, they seem to be able to face those emotions more easily than my generation," she told Sir Elton in an interview for his Rocket Hour radio show on Apple Music.

It is one of the singer's first full-length interviews since recovering from a brain aneurysm in 2015, which temporarily left her unable to walk and talk.

The pair became friends during Mitchell's rehabilitation, when she hosted "Joni Jams" with fellow musicians in her California living room.

"Music has helped you so much," said Sir Elton, as he described her "incredible" recovery.

Mitchell is considered one of the finest singer-songwriters of her era, once described by a critic as the "Yang to Bob Dylan's Yin, equalling him in richness and profusion of imagery".

Her gift is for writing deeply personal, folk-inspired, song-poems that explored the darker sides of life and love. Tracks like Both Sides Now, A Case Of You and River are considered standards.

But after her aneurysm, she had to relearn how to sing and play guitar, watching old videos of herself "to see where I put my fingers".

"It's amazing what an aneurysm knocks out," she previously told CBS News. "You don't know how to get out of a chair, you don't know how to get out of a bed. You have to learn all these things by rote again."

In recent years, the singer has attended concerts celebrating her music, and was given the prestigious Kennedy Center Honor last December.

US President Joe Biden paid tribute to the star at the ceremony, saying: "Her gift touches the range of human nature and the sense of struggle and how we overcome and how we love."

Mitchell made her return to the stage this summer with an unannounced performance at the Newport Folk Festival - where she first performed in 1969.

The show was arranged by country star Brandi Carlile, who has worked diligently to remind the world of Mitchell's legacy, performing tribute concerts and writing liner notes for the singer's archive box sets, as well as becoming a steadfast friend.

During the show, Mitchell performed tracks like Circle Game, Both Sides Now and Big Yellow Taxi, surrounded by friends on a set that recreated the look of her California living room.

Speaking to Sir Elton, the star said the entire concert was performed without a rehearsal. "Didn't have any," she laughed. "We just winged it."

The singer also addressed how her voice had changed over the years as a result of smoking and ill-health - noting that she opted to play guitar on Just Like This Train during her Newport concert instead of trying recreate the original's soaring vocals.

"I couldn't sing the key," she explained. "I've become an alto. I'm not a soprano any more, so I couldn't sing the song.

"I thought people might feel lighted [betrayed] if I just played the guitar part, but I like the guitar part to that song. So anyway, it was very well received, much to my delight."

Sir Elton hinted that the Newport Folk Festival performance was being lined up for an official release.

"Yeah, we're trying to put that out," Mitchell confirmed.

She has since announced another live appearance - her first headline concert for 23 years - in Washington state next June.

Sir Elton also had a suggestion for getting Joni back into the studio. "I want you to make an album in this room. Like Johnny Cash did with Hurt," he said.

"Every corner of this room is Joni. I've been to a lot of places in my life, but this room is one of the most special rooms I've ever been to in my whole life."

Accepting the compliment with grace, Mitchell declined to speculate on whether she would return to recording music.

"We did some background vocals up in the balcony once," she said. "That's the only time we've recorded in this room."

The full interview can be heard on Sir Elton's radio show on Apple Music from 17:00 GMT on Saturday, 12 November.

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Added to Library on November 12, 2022. (354)

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